Life is short. And if you want to fill it to the brim with the good stuff, make a bucket list of things that you are capable of doing or achieving. When I came over here almost eleven years ago, my husband had told me to come up with a list of places that I wanted to see here in Washington State. I cannot tell you how grateful I have been for this inspiration and how many unforgettable moments we have created together due to this list. One of the items on there were the Palouse Falls. Palouse, by the way, is French for “land with short and thick grass“. Little did I know what stories unravel once you are there.
Last weekend, we drove out to the Palouse Falls after we had spent the night in Moses Lake. The landscape that we drove through was incredibly impressive – desert, pastures, canyons, rivers, all topped by a sky with fierce, dark clouds. The road in the State Park leads you right to a parking lot above a view point of the fall. And what a landscape you find there – breathtaking!
First of all, the biggest Palouse Fall has created a pretty circular hole in the rocky high plateau, and the river winds itself through a curved canyon that is so steep and deep that you fight vertigo just looking down. There is a viewing point a little offside that offers an even better view. It is named after geologist Roald H. Fryxell, who played a huge role in Washington’s geological finds in the sixties and early seventies. Among others, he found a novel explanation for the near-perfect preservation of wood at the Gingko Petrified Forest near Vantage, where he was employed as a superintendent early in his career.
Another of Fryxell’s accomplishments was to prove that glacial floods were the cause for Eastern Washington’s scablands. The Palouse river is a remnant of these glacial floods, and its carved canyon is proof for what created many of the – now dry – canyons in the area. While exploring the river canyon, down near the confluence with the Snake River, Fryxell found the Marmes Rock Shelter with bones and artifacts 10,000 to 12,000 years old, older than any finds in the western hemisphere till then. Unfortunately, the dam that had been built to protect the site from water broke, and the cave was flooded before the excavation was complete. Fryxell did so much more in his very short life span – I’m glad the overlook is named for him, because this man alone is legendary.
Back to the falls, though. My husband and I went all along the paths that have been worn around the central, massive fall with its height of 198 feet (it is debated whether it’s not a few feet less, by the way, but does it matter?!). There are some paths that lead into the canyon, but there are warning signs all over the place that they are not safe. Guess what – I wouldn’t even want to step close to the edge of the canyon anywhere!
It is hard to believe that in 1984 somebody proposed a dam to create hydroelectric power for over a third of Franklin County in which the Palouse Falls are located. Thankfully, the population preferred the uniqueness of this scenic landmark to cheaper electricity.
Little did I know – until I checked Wikipedia – that in 2004 white water kayaker Tyler Bradt created a world record in waterfall descent – here’s the video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNXh9gXDd2Y&ab_channel=RiverRoots . (And I disapprove of talking on the phone while driving, and I have to tell you that he sprained a wrist and received “a massive hit” in the process of taking on the Palouse Falls). Nor did I know that the Falls are actually higher than the Niagara Falls. Nor that the Palouse Falls are Washington’s state falls. Nor that there is a rare marmot in that area – and I forgot about the rattlesnakes one might encounter in that area, too.
We easily spent an hour just around this stunning area. My bucket list is an item shorter now. But what a gain this one hour is to my memories! So, if you have a little time to spare – have a go at the Palouse Falls. I promise you – your experience will be absolutely unique.