Columbia Basin


Eastern Washington's climate is in stark contrast to that in the western part of the state. Dry coulees, eroded into thick basalt flows by catastrophic glacial floods, alternate with irrigated areas, generally developed on patches of glacial loess that were not eroded away by the floods. The view of Moses Coulee, above, gives some idea of the nature of the area prior to development. Dry falls, below, was the world's largest waterfall during the Ice Age floods. That these floods occurred was first recognized by Albion College Alumnus, J Harlan Bretz.





Our tour began in the Grand coulee area. We camped at Steamboat rock, a basalt mesa in the coulee. Several students took the trail up the basalt cliffs to view the sunrise. The tiny speck at the top of the cliff below is Ben.



A major environmental issue in the Columbia Basin is the effects of the dams on the river's ecology, especially on the salmon that once were the basis of the Native American's economy. We visited the Grand Coulee, Ice Harbor, Dales and Bonneville Dams.





The fish ladder at the Dales dam (above) and Native American fishing platforms in the shadow of the dam (below) show the stark contrast between traditional and modern approaches to the environment of the river.




All of the dams have windows for counting fish passing up through the ladders. This salmon has made it all of the way up to the Ice Harbor dam on the Snake River.





Our last views of the Columbia basin were in the Columbia Gorge, where the river has cut through the Cascade arch. The tremendous erosive capability of the river has created a spectacular gorge, with magnificent waterfalls where lesser streams meet the Columbia.