A Big Dam

As I write this on a rainy (yes, we're back in the Northwest!) Thursday morning, we're camped at a very nice Cabelas store in Lacey, WA., just a little ways south of the Seattle/Tacoma metroplex. We had a long 325 mile day yesterday... longer than planned after my first overnight camp selection at a Walmart just north of the big city turned sour and we opted to battle both rush-hour traffic and rain to make it down here by nightfall. Have I mentioned lately how much I like big cities? I'll write more about yesterday in my next post.

What I haven't covered yet is our visit to the Grand Coulee area of Washington. Since our trek west on US-2 comes within a mere 30 miles of big Dam, and since Dar hadn't seen it yet, we diverted from our path at Wilbur to check it out.

photo by Farwestern / Gregg M. Erickson
We arrived at the Grand Coulee RV Park by early afternoon and hustled on down to the visitor center after parking. The dam is an impressive thing to see, even if you've seen it before. It was built in the 1930's by the Bureau of Reclamation using a lot of WPA labor.  It was the largest concrete object in the world, but it's now billed as "one of the largest". I believe the Three Gorges Dam in China beat it out recently... maybe others too. Not sure.

Originally built as a means to irrigate large dry expanses of Central and  Eastern Washington, its primary purpose changed to power as demand for electricity boomed during the build up to World War II. Today it serves those two functions as well as recreation along the 150 mile long Lake Roosevelt that stretches from behind the dam all the way to the Canadian border.

We explored the visitor center exhibits and wandered around outside to shoot pictures. We also came back after dusk to watch a laser light show which uses the dam itself as the projection screen -- something you don't experience everyday. But the highlight of the afternoon was the drive along Banks Lake.

The term "coulee", as used in this part of the country, refers to the steep-sided canyons that were formed by the erosive effects of ancient massive floods originating from melt water as glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age, oh, some 10,000 years ago. The massiveness of the flooding was the result of ice dams alternately forming and breaking, releasing huge quantities of water that scoured and scraped eastern Washington. One of the features of all this erosion is the coulee, and the largest of them is, (ta-dah,) the Grand Coulee. A portion of it is behind the dam, but another portion of it is now Banks Lake which, due to it's higher elevation above the river, isn't the result of dammed water. In fact, Banks Lake is now a reservoir and most of the water it contains is pumped up from Lake Roosevelt behind the dam.

State Highway 155 runs along the eastern shore of Banks Lake between the town of Grand Coulee and Coulee City. The 28 mile drive is one of the most scenic we've ever experienced. Cameras were clicking away as we drove the highway both ways, stopping at every pull-out we could find. It was the real highlight of the day.

For more photos of Banks Lake and Grand Coulee Dam, Dar promises to have them uploaded into an online photo album in the next few days.

Eyes hurting from all the beauty...


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