Drumheller Channels and the Largest Waterfall Ever

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With the sun comes trips across the Columbia River. For most that would probably mean a day in Portland, but for us it means a trip to the Big Bend region. For this trip, we wanted to try something different. We usually find our way to Frenchman or Grand Coulee, but this time, we decided to delve deeper into what’s known as the Channeled Scablands.

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The name is fitting. Massive ice age floods 15,000 or so years ago carved out channels, stripping away soil until all that was left was a deep canyons and craggy, scab-like rocks. Little beyond sage and wildflowers grow here.

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We started along Crab Creek, which turns out to be the longest seasonal stream in the United States. Here, near its mouth at the Columbia, the valley, known as Red Rocks Coulee, is greener and teaming with birds, as I found out while trying to photograph an old bridge.

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At the end of the coulee, and just past the town of Royal City, there’s an old substation that used to serve the Milwaukee Road. It’s long been abandoned, and now sets rotting in the sun.

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On our hike to the substation, we met the owner. He was understandably upset that we were about to visit his property, which had been pointlessly ravaged by vandals over the past decade or so. Showing him my bag of cameras (I was carrying four), we explained that we merely wanted to photograph the place.

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Though he was gruff at first, he turned out to be a kind enough fellow. I offered to turn around and leave if that was what he wanted. But in the end, he was okay with us being there as long as we were only taking pictures.

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From how he greeted us, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was his work. But I’ve long ago discovered that if you show someone respect, and can convince them that you really mean no harm, you have just as likely found a friend. He lives nearby, just on top of the hill, so if you plan to go there, keep in mind that a) you are trespassing and b) he might not be as kind to you as he was to us. I think he takes things on a case-by-case basis.

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Even with permission, we didn’t tarry long, continuing on our way to the Drumheller Channels. During the floods, the water dispersed in this area (near Othello, Washington), backing up and churning. As it did, it carved almost countless smaller coulees. You could get lost pretty easily here. (You’ll notice in this photo the vast number of tumble weeds held fast to the cliff.)

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It was midday, and we decided to stop for lunch. We bring our own cook stove and ate near this patch of springtime wildflowers. Goose Lake is in the background.

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We explored the area some, vowing to venture back for a day-long hike.

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But on this day, there just wasn’t time enough for the seven or eight miles we wanted to walk. And so it was back to the car to find our next stop in the Drumheller Channels. Along the way, we saw this gentleman. There are five or six species of rattle snakes in the Channels. Mostly, they stick to the rocks (which make scrambling over the rocks a bit more challenging that one might otherwise consider).

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This is a fine view of most of Drummheller. You can see just how flat the ground was prior to the floods. Upon a closer look, however, you’ll see the channels carved out.

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Our next turn off was unplanned. We followed a sign pointing to Crab Creek (it winds through the channels as well). What we found was a beautiful assortment of basalt columns. These were created by the swift cooling of lava that poured through the region 15ish million years ago.

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The floods largely exposed these columns, and now they’re showing signs of age.

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Physically unable to restrain myself, I decided that I needed to be atop the columns.

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While Sarah stayed at ground level, I made the easy climb (watching out for snakes, of course). This shows you how large the columns actually are. These are some of the smaller ones we’ve seen.

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With not enough time to make a longer hike, but too much time to call it a day, we traveled north up Grand Coulee to Lenore Caves.

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Like most things in the area, these caves were carved out by flood waters rushing down the coulee. Some are pretty small, though this one was surprisingly roomy.

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Here’s a view a Lake Lenore. It exists only because of a dam. Naturally, the bed of Grand Coulee would be dry.

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Our trek was about to draw to an end at Dry Falls. At one time these waterfalls were three and a half miles wide and were ten times the size of Niagara. Now, however, they are dry. The flood waters are long gone and all that’s left are the cliffs.

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For the first time, we traveled down to the base of Dry Falls, passing by Umatilla Rock, which was an island when the waters came through.

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Looking up, we could see the visitors center. Though it was a fun little sideshow, viewing Dry Falls from the bottom just isn’t as impressive.

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Up top, on the other hand, is a view we never get tired of seeing.

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Thanks again for following along! See you next time!

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2 responses to “Drumheller Channels and the Largest Waterfall Ever

    • The columns are amazing. We didn’t get a good photo of the really pristine ones, but I have a feeling we’ll be going back. That area was wonderful.

      We watched out for snakes, but sadly only saw one on the road.

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