After the Floods

Unraveling the mystery behind the Northwest's channeled scablands

  • Dry Falls, near Coulee City, Washington, where Ice Age floodwaters ran up to 250 feet deep.

    Eleanor Lee
  • Palouse Falls spills into a giant plunge pool.

    Eleanor Lee
  • Giant current ripples were created when floodwaters scoured through what today is Kittitas County, Washington.

  • A large granite boulder that the Ice Age Floods deposited in today's Tri-Cities area.

    Eleanor Lee
 

Page 4

This is the roar which lies on the other side of silence. The Earth certainly doesn't lack for stunning tableaus, like the Grand Canyon, or the Himalayas. But they are byproducts of age, spectacles born of the dull plod of time -- persistent trickles, or tectonic plates that move an inch per year. The Ice Age Floods are the reverse: the waters' hyperbolic thunder (Ten times the flow of all rivers! Two trillion tons of water! Blasting like a fire hose!) is gone, and much of what remains is remarkable, true, but it is also still and silent, concealed if not buried outright by roads and highways and towns, or fields, or the Grand Coulee Dam. To comprehend the Ice Age Floods is like realizing that when your parents were young, they had wild, rollicking lives, before you showed up and bent them to your will.

Sunday morning, before I leave for Seattle, Kleinknecht has one last thing for me to see. "I want to show you a rock," he says. It's an isolated erratic that probably rafted in from Idaho, and it's among the largest in the area -- an enormous granodiorite boulder that is almost 10 feet tall and weighs more than 100 tons. It sits at about 850 feet in elevation on the southeastern face of a hill near Badger Coulee, in the Tri-Cities area.

Soon, we're wending through one of Kennewick's upscale neighborhoods. I look around but don't see anything approaching a 10-foot-tall rock, and still haven't when Kleinknecht stops his car and gets out.

"There it is," he says. I can't immediately tell what he's referring to. "It's over there," he says, pointing. "Above that gray house, past the garage, a little bit up the hill." 

I follow his arm, and what I see, about a quarter mile away, is a large gray spot. Half-hidden by the hill on which it rests, the erratic doesn't look much bigger than the decorative stones some of the residents have used to bracket their driveways and mailboxes.

Kleinknecht seems chagrined at the anticlimax. This rock has a special significance for him. He tells me later that, after his father's funeral, he visited it, and was comforted by its connection with distant time. He used to be able walk right up to it, but now a recently retired NHL player owns the land, and he isn't so keen to have people traipsing around his property.

"I wrote to him a few times and have sent him plenty of literature," Kleinknecht says. "He never responded. So now we have to content ourselves with looking from here." He shrugs, and we stare at the rock for a moment more, then head back to our cars. Just before we go our separate ways, Kleinknecht nods at nearby Badger Mountain. "By the way," he says, "those houses up there are only at about 1,200 feet. You know what that means." He grins a little impishly. "But the top of the hill is around 1,400 feet or so. The people who live up there, they're the smart ones. They'll be safe. You know, the next time."

I look at the small, nondescript mountain and follow its modest slope upwards. Through the waves of afternoon heat, its summit shimmers like water. 

Eric Wagner writes from Seattle, Washington.

For more information, visit:

The Ice Age Floods Institute

Nova's Mystery of the Megaflood

The National Park Service's assessment of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail

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