Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Side trip to Grand Coulee Dam

Jill and I had a flight from Spokane to SLC late afternoon... so we left Moses Lake early and went on a little 'side trip' to do some sightseeing on our way to the airport. We drove North to the Grand Coulee Dam, and then over to Spokane for our flight.

I really enjoy little trips like this were we can stop and learn about new things. We stopped first at the 'Dry Falls' - the world's largest falls... well they were during a flood stage in the Ice Age. Melting ice was trapped behind an 'Ice Dam' and the lake that formed covered a large area in Montana, when the Ice Dam broke, the volume of water greater than Lake Superior came flooding across Washington in a large sheet 300 feet deep, and carved out these 'Coulees' or dry canyons along its path.
This waterfall would dwarf Niagara Falls - This is the 'basin' that was left after the last flood. The base of the falls started 20 miles further away, and the cataracts eroded the face of the falls that entire way to here...

(Canyons are carved by rivers... Coulees are carved by floods and then rervert to their dry status)

Rocks and ice from this flood found their way from Montana all the way to the end of Willamette valley in Oregon...

Then we continued up the long Coulees to the Grand Coulee Dam.

A very impressive structure... it doesn't look like it though. It is so massive the mind plays tricks with what it sees. It is four times bigger than the Hoover Dam we've been to near Las Vegas... and produces three times the energy.

Just one of the three power plants produces enough energy to power all of Seattle and Portland! It has enough concrete to pave a sidewalk around the equator... twice! This large project built by the Bureau of Reclamation in the late 1930s, finished in 1941 was a huge undertaking... and resulted in not only 'taming' the mighty Columbia River, but allowing for an irrigation system to turn 600,000 acres of sagebrush into fertile fields. All of central Washington farms exist solely because of this project. The Columbia River had eroded the Upper Grand Coulee gorge some 300 feet below the Lower Grand Coulee gorge... so part of the Dam's purpose is to pump millions of gallons of water up those 300 feet and the feed a series of reservoirs that irrigate all the land south of the coulees.

This one dam is just one piece of a very large Water Management system in the Pacific Northwest.
Some quick facts about the Grand Coulee Dam:

  • 12,000 cubic yards of concrete
  • 7,000 workers for 8 years
  • nearly 7,000 Megawatts of power
  • nearly a mile long
  • Largest Dam in North America
  • The lake behind the dam is 151 miles long
  • Pumping capacity of 3,600 cubic feet per second
I enjoyed taking pictures, talking with Jill, watching the movies of the Ice Age and the Building of the Grand Coulee Dam in the visitor centers and having an enjoyable drive. After the dam, we drove across some 90 miles of 'dry farms' - non irrigated farms that are too far above the Coulee system to get much benefit... so they have these HUGE farms, square miles big... growing wheat. Mile after mile of farm after farm on our way toward Spokane.

It was a nice day together with my wife!


Gram said...

I liked your post and glad you and Jill had a day to yourself. It was interesting that I had just watched a "Nova" that told about the ice age flood and how the coulees were formed. So this time I understood what you were posting.

Gramps said...

I appreciate the info about the dam and that you had a good time with Jill.

nanajan said...

That was fascinating. Thanks for sharing!