Take a ride on the Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway, an amazing 150-mile road trip revealing the story of the Ice Age floods when vast reservoirs of water flooded and receded from this valley hundreds of times. One of the most unique natural landscapes in the United States, this area was formed as the force of water fought against the strength of basalt rock. The result is a geologist’s mecca.
Sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world, Grand Coulee Dam is as high as a 46-story building. Constructed during the Great Depression, the dam features and excellent visitors’ center, showing actual movie footage shot during the construction of the dam in the 1930’s. The Dam also features a self-guided tour.
Dry Falls , located at the south end of Banks Lake, is one of the geological wonders of the world. It is thought that the mighty Columbia River once formed a giant cataract two and a half times higher and five times wider than Niagara Falls. Geologists believe the glacial flood waters of half of North America thundered through this historic river bed, making it the mightiest waterfall of all time, four hundred feet high and three and one half miles wide.
Located at the top end of Billy Clapp Lake, a favorite fishing and water skiing lake in the region, Summer Falls State Park includes a grassy picnic area, tables, sun shelters, rest rooms, lots of trees and a boat launch. The falls are formed by the main canal of the Columbia Basin Reclamation Project as it plunges over a 165 foot basalt cliff into Billy Clapp Lake. The falls are only present during the spring, summer and fall months when irrigation water is running through the canal system. A 94 megawatt power plant was constructed just east of the falls in 1984. The new power plant does not affect the beauty of the falls.
One of the basalt flows in the Grand Coulee yielded an important piece of evidence regarding the kind of life existing when the Columbia Plateau was much younger. Not content to cover logs, trees and minor plants, this flow killed a rhinoceros and made a cast of the body for the record. The rhino is thought to have been covered by highly fluid, rapid-moving basalt. Before the rhino could find an escape it was trapped and destroyed. The fluids within the animal cooled and hardened the rock so that the cast took the shape of the rhino’s body. Today, near Blue Lake, the positions of the legs are marked by four cylindrical holes in the basalt, and the rounded contour of the body is arched over the leg cavities. One side of the cave is open, showing the shape of the rhino.
Winding around Banks Lake on the drive to Grand Coulee Dam, on the left lies Steamboat Rock, 800 feet high and 2 1/2 miles long, standing in the old channel (the dry coulee) of the Columbia River. Its layers of basalt look like the decks of a huge steamboat. Geologists think that thousands of years ago, when the river ran through what is now called the Grand Coulee, Steamboat Rock stood between two tremendous waterfalls, each of them 800 feet high and 2 miles wide. There is a State Park at the Rock which offers full facilities.
What do you like to catch? Bass, walleyes, trout, perch, crapppies, catfish, burbot, sunfish, carp, lake whitefish? Banks Lake winds its way down through the ancient and magnificent Grand Coulee, varying from one to two miles wide. The Coulee is rimmed with stupendous basalt cliffs. You can fish, water ski, bask in the sun, bird-watch, eagle-watch, deer-watch, camp, and explore all along its forty-mile length. Banks Lake was home to the largest large-mouth bass caught in Washington State in 1977.
Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is a 4,027-acre camping park with 73,640 feet of freshwater shoreline at the foot of Dry Falls. Dry Falls is one of the great geological wonders of North America. Carved by ice-age floods that long ago disappeared, the former waterfall is now a stark cliff, 400 feet high and 3.5 miles wide. In its heyday, the waterfall was ten times the size of Niagara Falls. Today it overlooks a desert oasis filled with lakes and abundant wildlife.
The Lake Lenore Caves are located on the east wall of the lower coulee above Alkali Lake, just off of Highway 17. There are several caves, and access to the superior ones is available by moderate climbing and walking along a well defined trail. It is best to wear good walking shoes as some parts of the path are covered with crushed basalt and walking can be a little difficult. Between the latter spring months until the early autumn months, watch out for rattlesnakes. They, too, enjoy basking in the sun on the warmed basalt rocks.