Friday, July 25, 2008

Columbia River Plateau

High drama nearly always involves the unexpected. And there is something spellbindingly dramatic about coming over a hill in dry, rocky terrain and seeing water. Not just a stream or a puddle, but great expanses of cool, blue, sparkling water. And therein lays the secret of the high plateau to the north of the Columbia River. It is strangely theatrical country.
Driving Interstate 90, Moses Lake in Grant County and Sprague Lake in Adams and Lincoln Counties are the most easily seen evidence of this natural dualism. But once off the beaten track, these handsome lakes seem like mere drops in the bucket. Potholes Reservoir south of Interstate 90 in Grant County is the largest in a collection of lakes where birds by the thousands collect to feed and rest on migration routes. Up north in the county, Soap Lake and the Sun Lakes are prime splashing grounds for Washingtonians in search of the old-fashioned kind of summer fun that includes blistering days and chilly water. And for perspective into what this area might look like without the blessing of H2O, visit the Dry Falls of the Columbia.
Dry Falls formed when a torrent of ice and water caused by a massive ice dam break, forced the Columbia to change course in one cataclysmic event. When the river receded to its original course, it dried up the falls and left behind some of the most spectacular rock formations and landscapes on the continent. The dry falls are an excellent lesson in ancient geology.
Banks Lake at the south end of Grand Coulee Dam straddles Douglas and Grant Counties. Often photographed, it is a scenic wonder with dark water framed by soaring cliffs. It’s worth several hours around Steamboat Rock just to watch the play of light and shadows on the cliffs. The broad ribbon of Columbia River water above the dam forms the northern border of Lincoln County. The little towns of Grand Coulee, Electric City, and Coulee Dam are fun to poke around. You’ll find several good restaurants and collectible shops where treasures like wagon wheels, rusted barbed-wire wreaths, and old saddle blankets are in good supply.
The Columbia River Plateau is a land of sunny days and starry nights. It’s easy to speed through traveling Interstate 90, but don’t cheat yourself. Slow down, make a turn or two. Have a meal. Take a dip. Soak up some sun. The air is clean. The folks are friendly. And you can well expect to idle away many a happy day without a hassle because the only high drama here is in the rocks and the water.

Grant County

Eons ago, prehistoric lava flows and mammoth ice age floods profoundly impacted Grant County’s Columbia Plateau. These giant geographic hands sculpted a landscape teeming with drama. This region has its own brand of beauty; the light here somehow glistens brighter as the stark beauty of the surrounding hills display intriguing shades of shadows.
With over 150 volcanic eruptions covering this eastern Washington area, the area has a vast lava field that is something three miles thick. The Grand Coulee, Dry Falls and Drumheller Channels all contribute to a geologic smorgasbord rich with rugged cliffs, canyons, lakes, and arid sagebrush grasslands. A virtual wonderland for visitors, Grant County’s splendor promises a surprise around every corner.
At the northern tip of the county is the astounding Grand Coulee Dam. The Visitor Arrival Center offers guided tours of the dam and each evening, from late May through the end of September, the laser light show features animated graphics against the dramatic white wall of water that cascades down the giant spillway.
Just south of the dam is Dry Falls, created when glacial Lake Missoula, now covering much of the area we know as Montana, burst through its ice dam in a cataclysmic event of massive proportions. Today as you view the 3.5 mile wide, 400 foot high ancient riverbed, it is easy to imagine the power of the falls that once thundered on this site. In its heyday, the waterfall was ten times the size of Niagara Falls.
Spelunkers will want to travel south on Highway 17 where time stands still in the Lake Lenore Caves. There are seven accessible caves, formed during the Montana floods 12.000 years ago. If you get a bit dusty from your explorations, venture into nearby Soap Lake, known for its “healing waters” by early Indian residents.
The lake population is hearty in Grant County, with Blue Lake perfect for family fishing, Sun Lake State Park & Resort offering a full menu of amenities for enjoyment. Banks Lake, filled with water from Lake Roosevelt, is famous for great walleye and bass fishing. And, for an out of this world experience, venture to the Potholes Wildlife Recreation area with 35,100 acres of dunes and marshes and a landscape that looks like a perfect setting for a moon walk.
There are several appealing towns and cities within Grant County. Ephrata, on Highway 28, is site of the Grant County Historical Museum and Village, containing a 29 building village of authentic and reconstructed units including a saloon, dress shop, school, printing office, barbershop, blacksmith shop, and livery stable.
The town of Quincy, just west of Ephrata, is in the heart of the farming and agricultural processing industries in the county. There’s a spectacular Columbia Basin view from the top of Monument Hill overlooking downtown.
Moses Lake, set at the shores of one of the state’s largest natural fresh water lakes, offers visitors a wide range of outdoor recreation options, with parks, campgrounds, and a city filled with amenities. Visit the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and the Centennial Theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre located on the waterfront where free concerts entertain visitors and residents most summer Saturdays.

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