19 July 2012

Dry Falls and the Grand Cooley

Some years ago in my USAF life I spent several short stays at Fairchild AFB in Spokane WA!  During one of those trips I had some time off and myself and coworker drove west.  I remembered two significant things from that day trip – Grand Cooley Dam  and a magnificent 1,000 ft. deep gorge that was very wide! Since we have been out west I have been looking for that gorge.  My coworker, Lenore, who we spent last Thanksgiving with doesn't remember the gorge!  BJ is beginning to think I am crazy – so what's new! 
At any rate while at Fairchild AFB on this trip BJ and I took a day trip out to Grand Coulee Dam and I kept asking around and finally found Dry Falls!  It was just as magnificent and they had expanded the roadside pull-off from just a spot for 3 or 4 cars max to a small State park with a visitors center and educational displays around the edge of the parking lot looking down into the gorge.  And, the geological history behind this gorge is really interesting.
Dry Falls across the center of the pic. Imagine a wall of water  3 times as high as Nigrara Falls and 3 miles wide rushing over it at 65+ mph!
The first picture is from the parking lot looking across the 900 ft. gorge to the Dry Falls.  During the last several thousand years of the last glaciation of the North American continent a large ice dam would form periodically across a valley near Missoula MT.  This ice damn was a thousand feet high and Lake Missoula formed behind it.  The lake had half as much water as in Lake Michigan!  Eventually the water eroded the ice dam and when it gave way the water rushed toward the Pacific scouring the land as it went.  Another smaller, but still large dam on the Upper Columbia River Basin sometimes was also a factor that increased the water flow. 
The gorges formed by these massive floods are called Coulees and Grand Coulee is the largest of them all.  Thus the name of the dam built across the Grand Coulee.  Debris included boulders as big as houses and anything else in its path!  Including soil.  When it got to the mouth of the Columbia River, mountains on each side of the mouth forced water to back up in the valleys behind the mountains! When the flow slowed, a lot of the sediment dropped out.  In the case of the Willamette Valley running north-south from Portland to Eugene the deposited soil created a rich, fertile valley that today is a cornucopia of produce!
Banks Lake, the irrigation reservoir
Back to Dry Falls! When the water from Lake Missoula reached what we call Dry Falls it was moving along at 60+ mph and was about 3 miles wide and nearly 1,000 feet high.  Geologist today estimate that flow had more water then all the rivers of the world today!  Dry Falls was originally 20 miles downstream from where it is today.  They estimate it took Lake Missoula about 2 weeks to drain.  That is a lot of water quickly moving across the land! The force of the water over the hundreds of time this happened carved the rock under the falls and when it collapsed the new edge was further back upstream! 
Grand Coulee dam
Several miles south of Dry Falls at Coulee City a dam has been built that backs the water up into a reservoir that reaches north nearly to Grand Coulee damn.  However, this is an irrigations reservoir only and can be replenished by pumping water up to it from the reservoir behind the Grand Coulee dam if necessary.  Interestingly, the pumps can become generators if the reservoir becomes too full, water can be drained  from it thru the pumps which will generate electricity as water is moved from this reservoir (Banks Lake) to the much larger reservoir behind Grand Coulee dam.  
This was the addition that doubled its elec generation capacity, added in 70's
Us waiting for the light show!

In the evening they had a laser light show at 10 PM.  They projected multicolored line drawings on the white water flow of the dam and gave you the history of the Columbia River Basin from ancient times to today.  We had seen/read most of the history in the Visitors Center and other displays so it was not that interesting to us, but if Reagan and Addison were with us that would be different!

Always at home no matter where we are!

17 July 2012

Canyonland National Park

Canyonlands National Park is about 30 miles north of Moab UT and is an entirely different, but no less dramatic and beautiful landscape then Arches NP!  When the sea drained it was flat level plain for as far as the eye cold see.  But there were 3 distinct layers under that level landscape! As the area weathered over the millennia 3 different and distinct levels formed that are very evident today.  The top part is the hardest rocks and is the level we were on.  About 1000 ft. below is was the next level that is a vast plain with deep gouges in it.  Those gouges were worn in by water and flowing across the land and at the bottom of theme is streams and also the Colorado River in the biggest and deepest gouge/gorge!
An overview looking down on the next level with the gorges carved in it!
The Colorado River winding thru the bottom of the landscape!
Another view showing the levels!
The winding road up to the top level!
These two buttes were named over a  100 years ago the Monitor and the Merrimack!
 Always at home no matter where we are!      

Arches National Park in Moab UT

We spent 3 beautiful days in Moab UT after the beautiful drive through Monument Valley!   Moab is home to two national parks (Arches & Canyonlands) and one equally beautiful state park (Dead Horse).  Individually and collectively they are all magnificent, beautiful examples of the western terrain.  They also are a tribute to early pioneers who insured they were preserved for us to all enjoy.  Let's hope our descendants can say the same for us 100 years from now!
The road to Moab from Monument Valley is just more dazzling sights, one after the other.  Once in Moab we had a little confusion as to where our campground was.  Due to some phone number confusion we were talking to one RV park getting directions to it and looking for another completely different park.  Eventually we got it all worked out and got parked in a nice park on the south side of town.
The next day we headed out to Arches National Park which is immediately north of town, just over the Colorado River.  It had a 15+ mile loop road that took you to many beautiful geologically beautiful sights!  This whole area was the once the bottom of a huge salt water sea.  As the sea drained and subsequent weather events occurred the land was worn and washed away with the harder, more durable parts remaining and softer materials being wash away and Arches continues to be affected by the weather. 

One of many arches!
And another!
A dual arch!

A favorite gathering place!

There were many other impressive structures in Arches NP besides the arches.   

Balanced for the ages!

Another balancing act!

A spire!

My sister's dogs, Chloe & TD were always good travelling companions !

And could be an attraction themselves!

Three wise man formation

And a baby arch that will grow up in a dozen centuries or so to a big arch!
Always at home no matter where we are!