Friday, January 2, 2009

Palouse Falls State Park in Winter

December Morning at Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls is a rewarding destination during periods of very cold weather ... If road conditions are good.

Photos posted here were taken during visits to the park in January and December 2008.

In southeastern Washington State, the Palouse River flows through a spectacular canyon cut into the Columbia River basalt between Washtucna Coulee and the Snake River.

During Ice Age Flood events, Washtucna Coulee was too small to carry the large volume of water sweeping down the Cheney-Palouse Scabland tract. In several locations floodwaters overtopped the south rim of the Coulee and stripped away over 300 feet of loess soil before attacking the Columbia River Basalt.
Several large fractures in the basalt existed at this location prior to the ice age floods. The weakness in the basalt along with a 500' elevation difference between Washtucna Coulee and the Snake River allowed floodwaters to shape this awesome canyon that is today occupied by the Palouse River.

The Palouse River Canyon was a key piece of evidence that finally helped convince many critics of J Harlen Bretz that catastrophic Ice Age Floods from Glacial Lake Missoula and possibly other sources had created the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington.


Click arrow to view video of this amazing Ice Age Floods feature in winter. A large screen version of the same video is available at:
Ice Age Floods feature video

When Teresa and I visited in January, there was no snow on the ground as we approached the park. When we arrived at the viewpoint we enjoyed the site of frost and ice plastered canyon walls and an ice-covered plunge pool.

This shot was taken in January of 2008. Next winter I need to hike to the bottom of the canyon for better shots of the ice.

The falls and canyon are amazing to view and the setting even more incredible when you try to visualize the Ice Age floodwaters that cut this canyon and scoured out the huge plunge pool below the falls.

With record December snowfall in the Spokane area, things seem to be shaping up for high-volume Palouse River streamflows one of these days. For anyone interested in checking flow rates prior to a visit, I've included the link below to a USGS site with flow data obtained at Hooper (about 15 miles above the falls).

Palouse River Streamflow

Palouse River Canyon

The Palouse River flow was impressive during our January visit. Every 5-10 minutes a loud cracking sound originating from the plunge pool ice cover echoed through the canyon

Watch for deer in the park and along SR261 northwest of the park.

When visiting the falls in conditions similar to these, you'll occasionally hear a loud crash when sections of ice behind the falls break loose and drop.

I like the snow cover but not when it hides Stev Ominski's artwork on the recently installed interpretive panels. Note the brink of the falls beyond fence.

About a 300 foot drop.

Palouse Falls November 2008

Photo above was taken at the conclusion of a hike from Lyons Ferry to the Palouse Falls overlook. Click below to view images and trip report.
Palouse River Canyon Hike


Even though Palouse Falls State Park is centrally located between Washtucna, Kahlotus and Starbuck, I don't find myself traveling through the area very often. I was just there last week, but I hope to make two more trips in the next four months. The frozen canyon in these photos will soon thaw and river flows will swell a rate similar to the volume shown in the video below. A month or two after that the canyon wildflowers will burst into bloom.


When I first saw this video I couldn't believe it. I had no idea that jetboaters could navigate the canyon between the Snake River and the Palouse Falls plunge pool. I sent an email to the guy who posted the video asking about his trip. He replied that his group had monitored the USGS flows and when they reached 4,000 cfs they made the run. He also mentioned that the river was filled with "trash" (I'm guessing that means wood and wads of tumbleweeds). Jetboat video posted by easchurman.

Notice the large amount of Palouse soil transported by the river during periods of high flow.


The USGS station at Hooper (mentioned above) collects more than streamflow data. Suspended sediment transported by the Palouse River is also measured. Results from the sampling confirms erosion control practices used by today's farmers have drastically reduced erosion when compared to samples obtained in the 1970s.

Soil Erosion in the Palouse River Basin


Another video from the Youtube site. This incredible canyon created by the Ice Age Floods provides opportunities for recreation to some. This slow-paced video illustrates how peaceful the inner canyon can be. nwwoodsman posted this video of his canoe trip from Lyons Ferry to the Palouse Falls plunge pool.

Use your mouse to navigate the map below. Choose between map, satellite or terrain view. The travel and zoom controls are also active.

View Larger Map

Driving directions from the Washington State Parks site (I like the "turn left at grain elevator" part):
Located 17 miles southeast of Washtucna.
From State Route 261 Washtucna: Drive southwest 5.8 miles to the State Route 261/260 junction, and turn left at the grain elevator. Follow State Route 261 southeast for 8.7 miles to Palouse Falls Road. Turn left, and follow the road to the end (approximately 2.5 miles). to learn more about Glacial Lake Missoula, Lake Bonneville and the Ice Age Floods.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful information and great videos & photos. Thanks for blogging.

Anonymous said...

Is the Palouse Falls Rd paved? We would like to visit on our motorcycles this spring

Anonymous said...

Sorry ... Road to Falls Overlook is gravel.

Laura lok said...

so how did you get to the bottom of the falls???
can you email me info on that?