Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Glacier N.P. & Pacific Northwest

by Kathy 15. February 2011 17:26

Back to Glacier National Park & Pacific Northwest Index Page

<< Washington: The Omak Stampede | Mt. Rainier National Park >>


Washington—Dry Falls

Every once in a while, we come across a place that is astounding in its historical or geological significance, and yet we weren’t even aware that it existed. We are flabbergasted, asking ourselves, “Why have we never heard of this place before?!”

Cahokia Mounds, near St. Louis, was one of those places. We encountered another on this trip--Dry Falls in central Washington.

Here was the site of THE largest waterfall that had ever existed in the world—3 ½ miles long, and 400 feet high.

Granted, there is no longer any water cascading down the rocky cliffs. Yet we still found the site to be impressive. Here is a panoramic view from the overlook near the Dry Falls Visitor Center, starting from the left and sweeping to the right:

This waterfall skeleton was created about 13,000 to 20,000 years ago, when glacial ice covered portions of Washington, Idaho and Montana:

A huge finger of ice crept down and blocked the flow of water along the Clark Fork River in Idaho. The river had nowhere to go. It slowly backed up behind the ice dam, forming a massive lake (now called Glacial Lake Missoula) that was almost half a mile deep and stretched back over 200 miles into Montana.

The build-up of water put pressure on the ice dam, and eventually it burst, sending a catastrophic flood of water that buried portions of Idaho, Washington and Oregon under hundreds of feet of water. The water sped over the land at a rate of about 65 miles per hour, with a flow that was ten times the current of all the rivers in the world combined.

This churning water roared toward the Pacific Ocean, ripping a deep channel into the earth, and carrying along soil, rocks, and anything else in its path. Deep canyons, called “coulees,” were gouged out of the earth in a sudden swoop. The biggest of the canyons is called “Grand Coulee”, which we had seen earlier on this trip on the day we visited the Grand Coulee Dam. The giant surge also deposited thirty-story mountains of gravel downstream and left 200-ton boulders far from their Rocky Mountain home. Moreover, the swirling flood waters sculpted 3-story high “ripple marks” that would perplex 20th century geologists.  

Eventually the ice dam reformed, the water built back up, and the dam broke again—over and over and over, for several thousand years.

An exhibit showed how the waterfall may have looked during the last flooding, about 13,000 years ago:

Another drawing showed how the falls may have looked as the waters were receding:

The glaciers gradually melted at the end of the latest Ice Age. With no more ice dams or floods, the waterfall was left high and dry.

The water flowing over the falls is believed to have been over 300 feet high (or 30 stories). That torrent would have towered far above Genevieve in the photo below.

We were fascinated to learn that the waterfall once began 15 miles south of here, at Soap Lake.

The blue waters of Soap Lake:

The powerful force of the pounding water had created deep plunge pools in Soap Lake and eroded away the base of the waterfall cliff. The resulting overhangs had collapsed over time, and the waterfall had gradually moved backwards, upstream, to its current spot.

As the waterfall moved backwards, it sliced through the dark rock, carving out a long narrow canyon called the Lower Grand Coulee. Here is a small part of the western wall of that canyon:

The Lower Grand Coulee contains a number of lakes, and is part of Sun Lakes–Dry Falls State Park, popular for hiking, camping and boating:

At the Dry Falls overlook, we could see some remaining plunge pools that are now fed by an underground stream.

Sebastian used his binoculars to get a closer look at the dry waterfall:

And to get a better look at me!

Genevieve, who loves geology, was eager to check out the visitor’s center, located near the overlook:

Outside the center was a table with different types of rocks and a map showing the path of the flood waters:

Working at the table was volunteer Shirley Mackey, a geologist, who answered all of our questions and encouraged Genevieve and Sebastian to pick up the rocks and feel their weight and texture. Here is Genevieve with a hefty chunk of basalt, a volcanic rock that covers much of this area:

Inside the visitor’s center were exhibits on the Dry Falls, as well as environmental changes, rock formations, animal fossils, and early humans in this area. One of the most interesting exhibits, however, contained the story of a geologist named J. Harlen Bretz (born in 1882), who was an expert in stream and glacial erosion.

In the late 1920’s, after years of exploring the coulees and rock formations in eastern Washington, Mr. Bretz presented his opinion that they must have been formed by a catastrophic flood. Previously, geologists had believed that the maze of coulees were formed slowly over time by glaciers or rivers.

Mr. Bretz’s conclusion was met with ridicule from his peers, who labeled it “preposterous” and “incompetent.” One of the main problems was that he hadn’t yet figured out the source of the flood waters. (In the 1930’s, a geologist named Joseph Thomas Pardee developed the theory that the water came from Glacial Lake Missoula, but Mr. Bretz didn’t embrace that idea until 1956.)

In the 1950’s, with the aid of aerial photography, giant ripple marks (up to 50 feet high and 500 feet apart) were clearly visible from Montana to Washington—ripples that could only have been made by the movement of water.  These ripples shined a light of credibility onto Mr. Bretz’s “catastrophic flood” theory. Finally, in 1965, the International Geological Congress acknowledged that Mr. Bretz had been correct. Fourteen years later, at the age of 96, Mr. Bretz received the highest geologic honor (the Penrose Medal) from the Geological Society of America. He died two years later, fully vindicated, and revered as a forward thinker and brilliant scientist.

Bravo to Mr. Bretz for standing his ground, for putting forth a controversial new idea, and for not backing down in the face of scorn and derision from his colleagues!

One last look at Dry Falls before we headed south:


More Information:

Dry Falls Visitor Center is located about 7 miles southwest of Coulee City in central Washington.

Visitor information for Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park. 

Directions to the Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park. 

Historical information about the Glacier Lake Missoula floods. 

Back to Glacier National Park & Pacific Northwest Index Page

<< Washington: The Omak Stampede | Mt. Rainier National Park >>

Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview

Map of Our Journeys

(click the map to enlarge)
Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin