In my ongoing quest to explore Central Washington, appropriate weather or not, I headed north. This was a great adventure through the lower Grand Coulee which would have probably been more fun in warmer weather but had a unique beauty in the cold. You have maybe heard of the Grand Coulee Dam which sits at the northernmost point of the upper Grand Coulee and pushes irrigation water from the Columbia River into the coulee to support agriculture in the Quincy basin.
At the southernmost point of this coulee is Soap Lake, which is a large meromictic soda lake (some layers of the water don’t mix normally, and it is very alkaline). It was formed by events around the Missoula Floods, and gets its high mineral content from overflow groundwater that had leeched from lava. Many believe in the medicinal powers of the lake, and native peoples (Tsincayuse) have been coming to the region throughout all of known history. This is the best compilation of the history of the area that I found if you want to learn more.
As you notice above, the water has a foam on it that looks like suds (hence Soap Lake). You can also see a frozen waterfall in the background that is not made out of suds.
Another attraction near the lake is the largest human-figure sundial. The town of Soap Lake is really into it. Unfortunately for us it was cloudy when I was there, and also way too cold to be out of the car for very long.
As you drive further north in the lower Grand Coulee, you go by a series of lakes. One of the most prominent is Lake Lenore, which also has caves near it. The columnar basalt in the coulee is spectacular even by the high bar of this region.
At the northernmost point of the lower Grand Coulee, you get to Dry Falls which separates the upper and lower portions of it. This is a giant cliff that Wikipedia says is the “greatest known waterfall that has ever existed,” and is “five times the width of Niagara.” At the moment there is no waterfall, but when massive floods of debris and water ripped over the landscape during the last ice age and carved out the Grand Coulee this would have been the place to be.
This is the swanky interpretive center perched at the lookout point over the lower Grand Coulee.
On a side note I realized that I had actually been here before but didn’t realize it, as I was in the park that includes the lakes at the bottom. Full circle!