I started out this year to explore eastern Washington, but I don’t always end up where I set out to go.  The route from Point A to Point B offers many opportunities for those with the inclination to notice them.  There are side trips and detours.  There are discoveries.  One can put on blinders and take the shortest route between A and B, ignoring all those other distractions.  Or one can take off the blinders, slow down, and see what there is to see.

I could easily have chosen to spend an intensive week or two traveling this highway and that.  Instead, I chose to break up my explorations into two or more shorter treks.  The goal and destination of the first trek was to see courting sandhill cranes and to meet a photographer I knew from Wunderground’s photo gallery.  Along the route to those destinations, I mapped out some wildlife refuges and back roads.  As it turned out, I never did spot a sandhill crane.  I did meet Backwardguy and he showed me a wonderful birding spot near McNary Dam that I will be sure to visit again.

In the course of my wanderings along back roads I discovered a fascinating geological aspect to eastern Washington that sparked curiosity about the glacial loess hills of The Palouse and the great Missoula Floods that carved away much of the loess to expose the rugged terrain of the Scablands.  Everywhere I went, each aspect of the terrain I discovered, led me to an increasing sense of wonderment at what Mother Nature had wrought.

Scablands near Connell, not far from Palouse Falls (shown in Part II)

4312-near Connell

I touched on what I saw in my April 6th “Washington Desert Photo Trek Part I” and continued in more depth on April 11th with The Palouse — “Washington Photo Trek Park II”, both documenting my March 28-30 exploration.  On April 29th, I made another one-day foray into the central part of the east side, again on a quest for sandhill cranes.  The highlight of that trip?  No, not sandhill cranes, but 28 miles of primitive road through Lower Crab Creek Coulee.

Lower Crab Creek Coulee

I had to learn more about how the Ice Ages had shaped eastern Washington.  There have been at least five major ice ages in the past billion years, but the eastern Washington of today is mostly a result of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet about 15,000 to 17,000 years ago.  Several times during this period the glacier advanced to block the Clark Fork River near present day Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho.  The glacier formed a 2,500 foot ice dam that turned the river into a glacial lake containing as much water as Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined — as much as 500-600 cubic MILES of water.  When the water reached a depth of approximately 2,000 feet, the ice dam failed.

Quoting from glaciallakemissoula.org:

“It is estimated that the maximum rate of flow was equal to 9.46 cubic miles per hour (386 million cubic feet per second). This rate is 60 times the flow of the Amazon River, the largest river in the world today. At this rate, the lake probably drained in a few days to a week. Water moving at speeds between 30 and 50 miles per hour raced across eastern Washington.

“The floodwaters from Glacial Lake Missoula moved through eastern Washington on a 430-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean, forever changing the landscape by stripping away topsoil, and picking apart the bedrock. The floodwater carved an immense channel system across eastern Washington.”

And that happened repeatedly!

I highly recommend you watch the video featured in the link for Hugefloods.com in the Reference section below.

This image from Hugefloods.com shows the ice dam and glacial Lake Missoula
Scablands 2

This image from Wikipedia shows a little more detail about the channels carved through the Scablands
Scablands 1

While on my March quest for Sandhill Cranes, I spent quite a bit of time in the Drumheller Channels portion of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

4325-Columbia NWR


This awesome view of the Columbia River was found at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, just off I-90, near the town of Vantage.

Columbia River at Vantage


While exploring the huge Lower Crab Creek Coulee I finally managed to find Lower Crab Creek, named for the crayfish that populate this stream.  One of the few year-round streams in the area, Crab Creek originates near the Potholes and meanders for 163 miles before flowing into the Columbia River.

Lower Crab Creek


I saw one solitary Great Egret near the Potholes Reservoir.  This area is not part of the Great Egret’s normal range.

Great Egret


While I have glimpsed quite a few of these birds flying about during my explorations, this is the first time a Black-Billed Magpie landed long enough for me to snap a photo.  Finally!

Black-Billed Magpie

There are more of the Scablands to explore and, although I do not yet have another trek scheduled, I will go back and see what else there is to see.  And when I do, you can be sure I’ll blog about it.  In the mean time, thanks for coming along with me to explore the Scablands of eastern Washington.


If you would like to see more photos from my eastern Washington photo shoots, you’ll find them on Flickr in my Eastern Washington album at https://www.flickr.com/photos/53470892@N08/sets/72157644200398444/

References and additional information:
http://hugefloods.com/Scablands.html  This page includes an excellent YouTube video segment by BBC, lasting about 6 minutes and well worth watching.  Don’t be put off by the 59 minute duration of the video; it is cued up to just the right spot to watch those 6 minutes.  “Earth The Power Of The Planet — Ice”


7 thoughts on “The Scablands — Washington Photo Trek Part III

  1. Interesting about the ice sheet as well. During the last “Cosmos” I watched Neil deGrasse Tyson explained how the fluctuations in the climate/ice ages went into a much more calmer and less “catastrophic” era about 10k years ago. And that we are still in that “benign” period currently and would probably be for another 50k years if not for all the CO2 being pumped back into the atmosphere.


    1. Not only that, but if not for CO2, Earth would actually be in a bit of a cooler period. Extremes of any sort do not make for very nice living conditions. Personally, I’ll take “benign” any time. Though “catastrophic” probably does more to promote evolution.


      1. Yes, Tyson pointed that out also. The cooling led to the rise of the mammals (us.) I liked how he ended the program with how humans had this unlimited free source of energy, the sun, and didn’t use it (yet.) He spent a lot of time discussing the life at the depths of the oceans.


  2. Funnily enough, my interest has been peaked by a TV programme I watched documenting how volcanoes and the Ice Age shaped Britain, particularly in the north. I am planning a few days north to visit family at the end of June, and may even go further north to photo the glacial formations along Hadrian’s Wall.

    I was surprised to see that even London was covered by ice up to a MILE thick during one of the ice ages, and during the mini-ice age, in the seventeenth century (1683–84,) the river Thames was completely frozen for two months, with the ice reaching a thickness of 15 inches in Central London. The last time it froze was 1814, and only to the depth of six inches.

    Some beautiful photos, thank you for sharing your trip with us:)


    1. I hope you do explore the glacial formations along Hadrian’s Wall. That should make for a lot of fun as well as a fascinating blog. I have been curious about Britain’s geologic past since you blogged about geothermal and about water upwelling as a result of the exceptional rains this past winter. I know there is quite a variety of terrain types from gentle pastoral hills to peat bogs to rugged highlands. I can hardly wait for your trip!

      It is hard for us to imagine a wall of ice a MILE high, isn’t it? I very much doubt of such a thing exists beyond Greenland or the Antarctic these days.


  3. This is a really good blog, Briar! Learned a lot from it! Nice photos, too! Southern Indiana has a lot of hilly bits that were the result of glaciers pushing the ground up. I think the Ohio River was near the boundary.


  4. Thanks Wiley!
    It is hard for me to think in terms of mile thick glaciers or glacial floods shaping the land, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if southern Indiana’s “hilly bits” had something to do with ice age glaciers.


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