Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Palouse Falls and Palouse River Canyon - Whitman County Side

Hikers enjoy lunch break at Palouse Falls.

The Ice Age Floods from Glacial Lake Missoula and other sources carved the Palouse River canyon and created spectacular Palouse Falls.

I felt fortunate to be allowed to join a group of six other Ice Age Floods enthusiasts on a hike along the east rim of the Palouse River Canyon. The area is privately owned and has been maintained in a pristine condition by a family that obviously appreciates this unique and spectacular landscape.

Lloyd Stoess organized the hike and arranged for our entry with the landowner. I can't thank him enough for letting me tag along. The arrow-straight upper channel of the Palouse River Canyon and Winn Lake Canyon are Ice Age Floods features I've always wanted to view.

- Click any image to expand -

Our hike began in the rolling Palouse hills several miles east of the canyon. These windblown loess deposits on top of the basalt, have accumulated at depths up to 250 feet. This image was taken near the margin of a huge channel swept by the Ice Age Floods.

Wheat farming ends where the floods stripped away the soil. Mounds shown beyond the wheat are Streamlined Palouse hills that withstood the floodwaters. These large mounds are erosional remnants of Palouse hills.

Another Streamlined Palouse hill along our route. Note exposed basalt bedrock between fence and loess island.

I found the quote below in geologist Bruce Bjornstad's book "On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods":
"The 'islands' of loess which make striking features on many broad scabland tracts are almost invariably elongated with the gradiant of the tract and are almost invariably scarped on the sides and upgradient end ... Many such hills or hill groups are separated by narrow scabland channels. Some stand alone in the scabland, miles from others of their kind."

J Harlen Bretz (1928)

View east - back to the wheat fields.

In early October, Findley Lake looks better on the GPS and maps than it does in person.

  1. Findley Lake

  2. Animal trail to seasonal water

  3. Scabland

  4. Palouse hills east of channel

Google Map terrain view shows one of the Streamlined Palouse hills in the area. Use mouse to navigate map.

Lloyd leads the group through several miles of scabland on our way to the Palouse River Canyon.

I shot a few short videos during the hike. Click arrow to play. Sorry I'm not very steady with the camera. The tripod was home in closet.

Amazing place when you try to visualize the floodwaters that created these features.

The floods scoured out many depressions in the channel that today serve as seasonal water sources for livestock and wildlife.

Google Earth view of the upper Palouse River Canyon. Note deep tectonic fractures in the area that were eroded and scoured out by the Ice Age Floods. The view in this image is to the north ... Arrow marks Palouse Falls ... Washtucna Coulee runs east to west at top. During some Ice Age Flood events, Washtucna Coulee was too small to carry the floodwater. When the torrent overtopped the coulee rim, it flowed south to the Snake River carving the Palouse River Canyon.

Another Google Earth image. View looking south from Washtucna Coulee. The straight 4.5 mile trench in the upper canyon sure is facinating.

View from canyon rim looking north - Up the 4.5 mile trench.

Railroad bridge in upper canyon.

Union Pacific equipment on west side of canyon. Bruce Bjornstad hiking along east rim.

Geologists Bruce Bjornstad and Gene Kiver patiently answered our questions about Columbia River Basalt and the Ice Age Floods.

Laminated deposits on the right confused me. I was behind the group when I noticed these.

View of Palouse Falls State Park viewpoint from behind falls.

Here's a shot for Tyler Bradt in case he finds this page. The flow on the day of our hike was much lower than it was when he made his 186-foot kayak drop off the falls to set a world record earlier this year. Link at bottom of this page to interview where Tyler describes his thoughts as he went over the edge.

Not the best lighting with half the falls in shadow.

View across canyon to Palouse Falls State Park viewpoint. I'm standing in line with a fracture in the basalt that's been scoured out by the floods (large cracks on both east and west rim of canyon line up).

The terraced inner-canyon is pretty amazing. The Palouse River Canyon and nearby Devil's Canyon are good locations to examine Columbia River Basalt flows.

Canyon resident

South of the falls we found several interesting basalt towers.

Hikers stand below group of columns that withstood the floodwaters.

Lone column along canyon rim.

Winn Lake Canyon is an incredible Ice Age Floods feature. A classic example of a flood carved coulee. Walking into Winn Lake Canyon was my favorite part of the hike.

Another shot of loess islands in the channel.

Hikers (bottom left) walk around the upstream end of a Streamlined Palouse hill on our way back to the wheat fields.

The glossary in Bjornstad's "On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods" describes loess as:
Windblown silt and fine sand that has collected downwind of sedimentary basins along the floods route, especially in the Palouse country where it accumulated into rolling hills up to 250 feet thick. Loess began forming about the same time as the earliest Ice Age Floods (about 2 million years ago) and continues to form today.

Images below (2) show examples of windblown loess in the Columbia Basin.

Image recorded by NASA on 4 October 2009. Blue circle marks Pasco, WA.

Arrows label Moses Coulee (1), Grand Coulee (2), Telford-Crab Creek (3) and Cheney-Palouse (4) Ice Age Flood tracts that are well defined in this high altitude image.

NASA TEXT: Visibility dropped to zero in parts of eastern Washington on October 4, 2009, as a large dust storm blew through. This image of the storm was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite shortly after noon (Pacific Daylight Time). According to local news, the storm brought strong winds gusting to 43 miles per hour in places that propelled the dust across the southeast corner of the state. After numerous multi-vehicle accidents, sections of Interstate 90 near the town of Moses Lake and several local roads had to be closed for several hours.
The dust storm persisted for several hours and was still visible when Aqua MODIS flew over the region at 2:00 p.m. local time. The Terra MODIS image shown here is available in multiple resolutions from the MODIS Rapid Response System.

Open large 7 mb NASA Image of dust storm.

Dust Devil

GPS track shows 14 mile hike route. Thanks again Lloyd!!!

At least I know where Hooper is.

These two patrol the streets of Hooper. Bruce has a story about the big one.

The fractures are pretty distinct in this Google Map terrain view. About five clicks of the "Right" arrow will shift view to the Streamlined Palouse hills shown in several images above.

One more look over the lip of Palouse Falls. I'm so impressed with Tyler Bradt's trip over the falls! Link to Tyler Bradt interview below.

Click above to play interview with Tyler Bradt that describes his world record kayak drop over Palouse Falls.

Link to images and photos of Palouse Falls in winter.

Link to images and photos of Palouse Falls near flood stage.

Link to USGS Palouse River flow at Hooper.


David said...

It's all good, but the waterfall photography is great!

georgeo said...

Great work traking one of Gaia's recent incarnations. WA scablands feel so unique with stark fresh geomorphology. Those planar to ripples stilts & sands may be waning stage surge "rythmites." Ask the pros. Love your document / photo / map share & brief explanations.