The Grand Coulee Dam

I mentioned that I checked out the lower Grand Coulee in my previous post, and this one covers the rest of the journey north along Hwy 155 through the upper Grand Coulee, ending at the Grand Coulee Dam at the northernmost point where the coulee connects to the Columbia River. INFRASTRUCTURE!

Immediately north of Dry Falls is Banks Lake, which is a 27 mile long irrigation reservoir. This is filled by the Grand Coulee Dam using electricity it has generated to pump water from the Columbia River into the Grand Coulee. We drove next to this lake for hours, it is huge. Lots of water, and columnar basalt which is typical of this region and coulee specifically. Along the way is also Steamboat Rock State Park, a place to for sure stop at some point in the future when the light isn’t fading quickly.

IMG_0070IMG_0072DSC_0085At the final destination, there was the dam itself- The largest concrete structure in the United States.

DSC_0092And also the giant reservoir built up behind it, named Lake Roosevelt. This reservoir on the Columbia River extends all the way to the Canadian border.

IMG_0073IMG_0074Grand Coulee Dam was an idea being tossed around in the Wenatchee World newspaper and various government offices for 20 years until it finally caught hold. FDR approved initial construction of the dam in 1933, creating thousands of jobs during the depression and a huge influx of people to this mostly empty region. Construction continued through 1941, and today it is still the largest producer of hydropower in the United States.

Electricity produced by this dam was used immediately after its construction during WWII to power aluminum plants in Washington, earning the slogan “the dam that won the war.” Also powered by the Grand Coulee at the time was the Hanford site in Richland, WA where the plutonium was produced for the Fat Man nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Since then, the electricity has been used for general power consumption across the state and also to power the irrigation pumps to get Columbia water into the central Washington basin, now a huge agricultural center. Prior to the dam’s construction the region’s fertile soil was mostly unused due to poor rainfall. Now we get the most delicious apples, so thank you FDR.

DSC_0096Unfortunately, not everyone benefitted from the dam. Most harmed were the native populations who relied on the salmon in the river as a main food supply. The dam was so steep that they couldn’t install fish ladders and after a few years the once abundant salmon run upstream to reproduce completely disappeared. Much land was also lost to the sheer size of the Lake Roosevelt reservoir which flooded much of the Colville Reservation as it filled up. While native populations were compensated for their land, it was not timely or significant, according to this documentary on PBS (which I very much enjoyed, check it out).

For what it’s worth, the dam has a wonderful visitor’s center full of period piece exhibits, information, and people that are really into it all. It was awesome. If you make it up this way, plan on spending a good chunk of time here. It also introduced me to this song, which I’ve decided is pretty much the theme song for my time in central Washington:

It also lights up at night. So festive! Presumably the electricity to power these lights is pretty cheap…

DSC_0122But seriously, I wasn’t able to take good pictures of how big this dam is. Completely awe-inspiring. Check out other people’s images here. Or seriously, watch the documentary!

Aaaand some gratuitous sunset pictures, because I can’t get enough of these.

IMG_0405 IMG_0417My time in Washington is drawing to a close, but I’m hoping to make it back in a better season when the dam is open for tours. Beautiful place!