All Afternoon in the Coulees

After a lovely morning visiting an abandoned ghost town in central Washington (which you can read all about here), we had a lovely lunch and headed for the coulees.


Here I am, waiting for Sarah to catch up. You can catch up, too!


What’s a coulee? Well, there really isn’t a hard and fast definition. The word comes from the French, and means “to flow,” but usually (and maybe always), coulees don’t have a stream or a river flowing through them – those are canyons (though not all canyons have water in them, either).


The coulees in Washington were formed about 15,000 years ago. That’s right, just 15,000 years ago! About six million years ago, this land was covered in lava flows. When they ended, there was just normal flat ground everywhere (since lava settles true and level). Then, with the ice age came glaciers, which covered the land for about two million years, ripping and tearing it up as they went.


But they also brought another thing: glacial lakes. The ice would dam up vast amounts of water. As the ice age was ending, around 15,000 years ago, one of these lakes let loose. Many times. The floods took advantage of the scrapings and riverbeds and literally carved out the coulees.


So what looks like a canyon that took millions of years to form, actually was created in an incredibly short amount of time (maybe about 2,000 years).


We absolutely love coulees. This is us standing on the rib that divides the two sections of Potholes Coulee. The rib extends beyond us for another two-ish miles. We wanted to hike the whole thing, but would need climbing gear (and the ability/desire to climb).


We pack light when going on these hikes. Just a shoulder bag full of cameras and, of course, water. If you’re going to the desert, you need to carry water. This is fairly essential.


There are two main lakes in Potholes Coulee. In the southern section, you’ve got Dusty Lake, and in the northern section, you have Ancient Lake. Last year, we hiked to Ancient Lake quite accidentally. Sadly, I don’t think we ever wrote about that.


Following our little jaunt to peer over the crest of Potholes Coulee, we decided to head to Frenchman Coulee. We’ve probably visited this coulee more than any other. The weird thing is that we’ve only hiked it once.


From the first time we visited and peered over the edge, we noticed that Frenchman Coulee is apparently the place to improperly dispose of cars. Either that, or an amazingly skewed number of bad drivers prefer Frenchman to any other coulee.


The hike down reminded me quite a lot of Minas Morgul, minus the orcs, of course. The path was steep and rocky, but we made it, so I guess that one does simply walk into Frenchman Coulee.


And at the bottom, of course, we found the cars. This is what it looks like when a mid-90s truck goes over a 300 foot cliff.


They were all sorts of mangled.


I think this was an AMC Matador.


The path up and out of the coulee leads past the waterfall, which flows all through the year. See the rubble all around it? That’s erosion. When the floods stopped flowing, the cliff walls continued pretty well straight to the ground. Over the past 15,000 years, the crumbly basalt has chipped away. Another 15,000 years and there won’t be much left.


Bidding us a friendly “so long” was this tiny fence lizard.


And so we bid you a friendly “so long.” Thanks a bunch for following us on our weird little adventures!


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