Sunday, November 9, 2008

Palouse River Canyon Hike

Ice Age Floods Institute members hiking in the Palouse River Canyon.
Palouse River Canyon Hike

-Click any image to expand-

A hike in Ice Age Floods region that I always enjoy is the walk from Lyons Ferry at the confluence of the Palouse and Snake rivers to the Palouse Falls overlook. For several years I'd wanted to explore the Palouse River Canyon but wasn't sure about land ownership so I viewed the canyon from the Palouse Falls overlook and the road (SR-261).

One evening I was talking with Dale Middleton and he mentioned that Lloyd Stoess was leading a hike through the canyon and provided me with contact information. A few days later I was following Lloyd and a large group of Ice Age Floods enthusiasts into the Palouse River Canyon.

The trip distance is about eight miles with several ups and downs. Lloyd does a great job and describes the geomorphology, geology, botany, zoology, Ice Age Floods, early Indian history and local families that have lived and worked in the area for years.

During the Glacial Lake Missoula flood events, Washtucna Coulee was filled beyond capacity. Water began to spillover to the south carving out the spectacular Palouse River Canyon.

Geologist Bruce Bjornstad describes the canyon a "Chaotic maze of coulees, recessional cataracts, abandoned spillways and buttes".

Saturday was the third time I've tagged along on Lloyd's hike ... and even though the weather wasn't the greatest with off-and-on rain, I sure enjoyed the day.

Geologist Bruce Bjornstad, Gene Kiver and local history expert Lloyd Stoess.
Bruce Bjornstad, Gene Kiver and Lloyd Stoess

With his background in geology and understanding of the local history, Lloyd could easily lead these trips by himself but adds two more experts to the mix: Bruce Bjornstad author of "On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods" and Gene Kiver - Professor Emeritus of Geology at Eastern Washington University and Ice Age Floods Institue Executive Committee member.

On this hike you only take a few steps off the pavement before stopping so Lloyd can begin to give you a taste of the incredible history that has taken place in the immediate area. In 1805 the Lewis and Clark expedition visited this site on their trip west.

Lewis and Clark Visit - Nobody's Home

When the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived at the mouth of the Palouse River in October of 1805 they found the village of Palus. The village that appeared to be a "great fishing place" was empty as the Palouse Indians had traveled to the Blue Mountains to gather roots/berries and hunt. After (as Lloyd puts it) "Borrowing a few things" the expedition continued downstream to the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers where many Indians were gathered.

At the camp along the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark presented a Jefferson Peace Medal to at least one Native American leader. In 1964 a Jefferson Medal was recovered during the excavation of a cemetery at the confluence of the Palouse and Snake rivers in Franklin County - The starting point of today's hike.

Link to the story of the Jefferson Peace medal at Palus:Jefferson Peace Medal

You might have the coin pictured above in your pocket.
In 2004 the U.S. mint released a series of coins that commemorates the 200th anniversery the Louisana Purchase. The "tails" side of the first coin in the series features the Jefferson Peace Medal.

Link to U.S. Mint site that describes the: Peace Medal Coin

John Clarke of the Pacific Fur Company

In may of 1813 John Clarke of the Pacific Fur Company arrived at the confluence of the Palouse and Snake Rivers (Called Pavion and Lewis rivers at the time). During the visit a silver goblet owned by Clarke was stolen. The theft of the goblet resulted in Clark ordering one of the Palus Indians to be hung on a gallows constructed with the poles of his own lodge. Word of Clarke's action quickly spread through the various tribes in the Mid-Columbia region.

Soon after the violent act, Alexander Ross recorded the words of Tummeatapam (Chief of the Walla Wallas) - "What have you done my friends. You have spilt blood on our lands."

Learn more about the ramifications of Clark's violent act by searching: Fur Trade Historical Documents

Lyons Ferry and the Mullan Road

Lloyd always does a great job explaining Lyons Ferry that was in operation at this location for 108 years (under several names) and points out that it was part of the Mullan Road constructed in 1858.

Lewistion Tribune story: A River Runs through the Lives of Lyons Ferry

Woolly Passengers on Lyons Ferry:
Every year, rancher Mervin DeRuwe crossed 2,000 to 3,000 sheep at a penny a head. The operation took two to three days and required a chase boat to fish out sheep that jumped overboard. -Lewiston Tribune

Ice Age Floods Institute members viewing the Marmes Rockshelter site.
Viewing the Marmes Rockshelter Site

The Marmes Rockshelter is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Pacific Northwest, unfortunatly the site is now underwater, a result of the construction of Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River. Evidence obtained at the site suggests human activity in the area dating back more than 11,000 years.

Marmes Rockshelter (HistoryLink)

Marmes Rockshelter (NWC)

Marmes Rockshelter (Wikipedia)

Inspecting a cave carved by the Ice Age Floods.
Inspecting a cave carved by the Ice Age Floods.

The Ice Age Floods sculpted several nice caves in the canyon. These caves always seem to be a popular stop on the hike. Some of the matting used by Native Americans can still be found in the caves. It was apparently used to cover and protect their food cache. It is believed that the caves were used as storage areas rather than dwellings.

Ice Age Floods carved cave.
View from cave.

Palouse River Canyon hikers lunch break.
Lunch break on the trail of the Ice Age Floods.

Palouse River Canyon gravel bar.
Here's a shot for Gene

Gene Kiver seems to appreciate a nice gravel bar. This shot was taken in the spring and shows a large tongue shaped gravel bar just below Saturday's lunch stop (marked as "L"). Note the buttes in the distance.

Palouse River Canyon Buttes, shaped by the Ice Age Floods.
Palouse River Canyon buttes

These huge buttes are my favorite Ice Age Floods features in the lower canyon.

Palouse River Canyon - view looking north
Looking upstream Palouse River Canyon

According to a story of the Palouse tribe, the Palouse River once flowed smoothly into the Snake. But four giant brothers, in pursuit of a mythic creature called "Big Beaver" speared the great creature five times. Each time Big Beaver was wounded, he gouged the canyon walls, causing the river to bend and change.
The fifth time he was speared, he fought the brothers valiantly and tore out a huge canyon. The river tumbled over a cliff at this point to become Palouse Falls. The jagged canyon walls show the deep marks of Big Beaver's claws. -From WA State Parks site

Palouse Falls viewed from the State Park overlook.
Almost dark when we arrived at the falls.

Washington State Parks Ice Age Floods interpretive panel.
J Harlen Bretz interpretive panel.

The new Ice Age Floods interpretive panels recently placed by the Washington State Parks department sure look nice. This one shows a high altitude view of the scablands and J Harlen Bretz who was the first to push the idea of catastrophic flows of water shaping the Channeled Scablands. If you click to enlarge image you might be able to see the mention of James Gilluly. One of Bretz's critics that "saw the light" when he visited the Palouse River Canyon.

Palouse Falls State Park
Click below for directions to Palouse Falls State Park.

Palouse Falls State Park

I should mention that Lloyd and Gene are members of the Cheney-Spokane chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute. If you live in that area I would encourage you to attend one of their chapter meetings.

Cheney-Spokane IAFI Contact Information

Thanks for the great trip Lloyd!!! See you in the spring.



Jeff said...

Great Photos! I just completed the spring version of this hike yesterday but the sun was absent not to mention the fact that your framing of shots is much better than mine!

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Anonymous said...

Fortunately, I came across this beautifully documented & written article from the "Bing" feature phot with information and links. I ALWAYS learn things from Bing each day & I certainly did from this article too! I'm from Oklahoma and have never been to Washington State, so I'm very intrigued & want to visit this very spot! THANKS for writing this piece(and ESPECIALLY placing the magnificent phots)!!

David G. said...

I'm a huge fan of the eastern edge of the channeled scab lands. Another great area is the stretch of land from Bonnie Lake South to Rock Lake. Unfortunately most of the land is privately owned and some of the land owners are worried about people falling to their deaths on their land, so they prefer to restrict access.

David R said...

Another area to check out on the eastern edge of the channeled scab lands is the Bonnie Lake/Rock Lake area. Unfortunately most of the land is privately held and some of the land owners are worried about people getting hurt or falling to their death, so they limit access. Generally the northern half of Rock Lake and the southern half of Bonnie Lake are the most spectacular.

Anonymous said...

So is this on public land? Can I go there and do hike it? Beautiful photos. Looks like a fantastic trip

Cascadian Kim said...

I'm so impressed! I would love to arrange a hiking tour of this Palouse River Canyon route with my club. The Cascadians (in Yakima, WA) would thoroughly enjoy the trek and would appreciate your guiding us and teaching us along the way! If you have an interest in sharing your wealth of knowledge, please contact me. Kim Hull, President of The Cascadians, 5zero9-8five3-8six98.