This morning my mom and I woke up bright and early to head out on a small road trip to Portland, Oregon (Full slide show at the bottom). My older brother, who lives in Portland, is moving into a new house. We are to help in the effort. Rather then take the hum drum usual rout to Portland from Spokane we consulted our atlas, guide books and road maps. We sought to make a rout that would take us through the dramatic and awe inspiring landscapes of the Palouse.
The Palouse and the scablands are the large amounts of land that is most of south eastern Washington State and south-central Idaho. Formed by the cataclismic Missoula Glacier floods of about 14 million years ago, the Palouse is a rolling, rocky and absolutely stunning landscape. The floods moved millions upon millions of gallons of water across the land. The hills are actually wave lines. If you can picture a wave in the ocean pulling back leaving small ripples in the sand. The hills of the Palouse are like that, but only huge. So if you sit back and take in the vista, you can start to imagine the size of the waves and the strengths of the currents that could create such immense wave lines.The Palouse was also shaped by lava flows which add striking rock formations that seem to come out of nowhere.
The Palouse is also the heart of Washington’s agricultural industry. On the Palouse is ranching and mostly wheat farming. The small towns that dot the landscape primarily exist because of the grain silos and the trains that pass through picking up the grain.
We plotted a course which took us south to Ritzville then to Washtucna, the Palouse Falls, Stark and a many small towns in between. The highway is narrow and lies like a dark ribbon across the hills. The frost held tight to every bush, tree, shrub and stalk of wheat making everything look crystallized. The clouds where heavy with snow and before long it started to come down and a fog rolled in as we hit Walla Walla.
We made a pit stop at the Palouse falls, a stunning 200 foot fall. It was
moving but the pool the water falls to was nearly frozen as was the foam. The deep canyon surrounding the falls was lined with row upon row of long icicles.
After passing through Walla Walla we hit the Wallula Gap. This is where the millions of gallons of water in the Missoula Flood was forced through a narrow channel. It is a dramatic entrance into the Columbia River. I can not fully describe how much I love and long for the Columbia River. To see it is to feel joy and great
sadness. The daming of the Columbia is one of the great acts of cruelty done by Indo-Europeans to the land and to the Natives people of this region. The Columbia is, for some reason, so very special to me and its inability to flow freely has always made me feel remorse as well as anger and fear. There are Native elders who can tell the story of sitting by the river near The Dalles as the rising water from the newly built dam up in Boredman quieted the rapids and ragging current.
Passing through The Dalles my mom pointed out a very small Native American settlement along the highway. She has a friend who is a lawyer and a number of years ago he negotiated new fishing rights for the tribe that traditionally fished along that stretch of the Columbia River, which before the dams was a rolling and tumbling Cielo Falls. For years the men of the tribe would be arrested trying to regain fishing rights to the shores of the Columbia. Finally they were granted such a small piece of land which to settle. But the Columbia does not rage past. It slops ashore like a lake.
The snow really began to fall around this time. It was near white out conditions. Across the river I could see a train making its way along the far bank, chugging away. It made me smile and think of my train ride out here and the train ride to come when I head home to Boston.
We inched our way towards Portland, arriving at 6pm. Portlanders really don’t know what to do when it snows except slam on the breaks and go absurdly slow.