Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lower Crab Creek Coulee - Buttes, Mesas and tsmee-toos?

This early March hike took me by two clusters of buttes and mesas in the Lower Crab Creek Coulee.

Several of these mesas may have been used as defensive positions by early Columbia Plateau residents. Mesas occupied by Native Americans were known as tsmee-toos by the Sinkiuse. The Lower Crab Creek Coulee features shown were shaped by Ice Age Floodwaters and the Columbia River.

Columbia Basin Wildlife Area
Lower Crab Creek Unit

Click any image to enlarge

In 1973 amateur archaeologist Nat Washington released a report titled "Mesa Top Cliff Dwellers of Eastern Washington". Washington found evidence that Native Americans occupied the tops of at least 55 mesas in the Columbia Basin at some period. The sheer basalt walls are thought to have provided protection during attacts.
Ladders may have been used to gain access to the mesa top and would have been pulled up once the group was in position.

Native Americans living in the Columbia Basin have used the lower Crab Creek drainage as a travel route for thousands of years.

The Saddle Mountains rise sharply and form the coulee's south rim.

Huge basalt boulders scattered below the coulee's north rim.

View from north rim, looking east up the massive coulee.

View from north rim of coulee.

Wahatis Peak in the distance.

This butte is surrounded by red-winged blackbird habitat. March is a great time to view birds in Lower Crab Creek Coulee.

Aerial view of organic fields on the Smyrna Bench. Arrows mark Lower Crab Creek Coulee. The mesas and buttes shown above are marked by the last two arrows.

If you slow down to study any one image in this post ... I hope it's this one.

Geologist/Author Bruce Bjornstad created this map showing the path of the Columbia River when the Okanogan Lobe of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet was in place. Bruce has marked Lower Crab Creek Coulee with the number 38. It was a combination of the Ice Age Floods and this Columbia River diversion that shaped Lower Crab Creek Coulee.

If you have a few minutes --- Click the map below to enlarge and follow the Columbia River's course shown on Bruce's map in Google's terrain view. The old river channel is easy to trace through the Drumheller Channels, Moses Lake area (Big Bend) and up through Rocky Ford to the Lower Grand Coulee.

This shot looking NE to the upper coulee, was taken several years ago from the Smyrna Bench.

It sure is neat to see the work done by the floods scrubbing away basalt. Where remnants of the upper basalt flow remain in the form of buttes and mesas, it's interesting to note well-defined moats sometimes present on the upstream side.

Interesting balanced rock in the distance.

Should have ended up with a better shot of the rock. Saw no hope of getting on top of the rock before my 20 second camera delay expired.

One of two sharp summit basalt formations in the area.

Local deer seem nervous.

Red-tailed hawk soars above the north coulee wall.

Looking SW into the west end of the huge coulee. Try to imagine the dust stirred up in 1906 when 5,000 wild horses were rounded up between the Saddle Mountains and Ephrata. Newspaper reporters from as far away as the Boston Herald were sent to cover the event known as the Last Grand Roundup.

The Lower Crab Creek area was important to early ranchers that raised cattle and sheep. This display of equipment used by these men is located in the Wanapum Heritage Center a few miles up the Columbia River from the mouth of Crab Creek Coulee.
Wanapum Heritage Center

Lower Crab Creek Coulee could one day be used to store irrigation water. USGS image above (note Columbia River at left).

The Bureau of Reclamation and Washington State Department of Ecology are exploring several coulees created by the Ice Age Floods for additional off-channel storage of Columbia River water. Lower Crab Creek Coulee is high on their list with a potential active storage capacity of 2,300,000 acre-feet. Columbia River Basin Storage Options

Link to: Columbia River Mainstem Storage Options, Washington Off-Channel Storage Assessment Pre-Appraisal Report (Large File 7.4 MB pdf)

With transmission lines already in place and a reliable wind on the Saddle Mountain crest, the ridge looks like a windfarm waiting to happen.

This photo was taken pretty close to the point that I turned to the north and climbed up on Dry Island.

Marsh area near the Clementine Lake trailhead.

Plenty of room to roam on the refuge. This hike was just over 20 miles.

The next two images are from the Drumheller Channels north of Othello.

Deadman's Bluff

Over the years, buttes and mesas created by the Ice Age Floods were put to other uses. This large mesa along the Morgan Lake road in the Drumheller Channels has a gentle slope on the south end (this view from north).

The mesa was once used by local cattlemen as a sort of a "Corral in the sky" for their herd. The cattle were driven up the south side and one or two men were all that was needed to keep them on top. One April night in 1880, 15-year-old Edward O'Rourke was assigned the job of keeping the herd on the mesa. At some point during the night, Edward and his mule tumbled off the east side to their deaths. A rock-pile marker visible from the road marks the point of impact.

The mesa is known today as Deadman's Bluff and the nearby lake used to clean Edward up before he was returned to his parents is Deadman Lake. (Lake located just SW of the Morgan Lake - McManamon intersection)

Former Land Manager of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge Ron Anglin has written an excellent book on central Washington history that includes descriptions of the Last Grand Roundup, tsmee-toos, and O'Rourke's tumble off the mesa. Forgotten Trails

Washington found that one of the characteristics of mesas used as defensive positions was a reliable nearby source of water. I need to catch up with Washington's report to see if this Drumheller Channel mesa along Crab Creek made the list of 55.

Click to open WDFW's: Lower Crab Creek Unit - Detailed Land Ownership & Resource Map

Eagle perched above Columbia River near Wanapum Dam.

View Larger Map

Note tiny Crab Creek wandering through the massive Lower Crab Creek Coulee. Use your mouse to navigate map.

Links to Lower Crab Creek trip reports posted by others:

Crab Creek Wildlife Area Hike

Seattle P-I Hike of the Week

1 comment:

Jimh. said...

Thanks for the walk through of Crab Creek and the Coulees and history thereof.