News Archive

Columbia Basin


Eastern Washington's climate is in stark contrast to that in the western part of the state. Dry coulees, eroded into thick basalt flows by catastrophic glacial floods, alternate with irrigated areas, generally developed on patches of glacial loess that were not eroded away by the floods. The view of Moses Coulee, above, gives some idea of the nature of the area prior to development. Dry falls, below, was the world's largest waterfall during the Ice Age floods. That these floods occurred was first recognized by Albion College Alumnus, J Harlan Bretz.





Our tour began in the Grand coulee area. We camped at Steamboat rock, a basalt mesa in the coulee. Several students took the trail up the basalt cliffs to view the sunrise. The tiny speck at the top of the cliff below is Ben.



A major environmental issue in the Columbia Basin is the effects of the dams on the river's ecology, especially on the salmon that once were the basis of the Native American's economy. We visited the Grand Coulee, Ice Harbor, Dales and Bonneville Dams.





The fish ladder at the Dales dam (above) and Native American fishing platforms in the shadow of the dam (below) show the stark contrast between traditional and modern approaches to the environment of the river.




All of the dams have windows for counting fish passing up through the ladders. This salmon has made it all of the way up to the Ice Harbor dam on the Snake River.





Our last views of the Columbia basin were in the Columbia Gorge, where the river has cut through the Cascade arch. The tremendous erosive capability of the river has created a spectacular gorge, with magnificent waterfalls where lesser streams meet the Columbia.


Northern Cascade Range


We drove across the Northern Cascade Range upon leaving Seattle, enjoying spectacular views of glacially carved peaks along the way. We spent the night at beautiful Lake Wenatchee, shown below.






A raft trip down the Wenatchee river provided some thrills, a chance to see a wild river, and a chance to see the habitat zonation related to elevation on the west side of the Cascade Range.


timbob3In the quieter reaches, we got to horse around. Here Tim and Jen got to show off their rodeo skills.jenraft3




In Seattle, we had a tour of habitat restoration efforts along the shorefront. Metropolitan Seattle occupies a series of estuaries, and these are almost entirely altered from their natural state. Wetlands have been filled, banks stabilized with riprap, and channels deepened and straightened. Brackish estuarine habitat traditionally is where salmon smolt pause and adapt to salt water before entering the sea, so efforts are being made to restore some of the wetlands that provide food and shelter to the young salmon in this critical point in their lives. Below, a restored wetland must be protected with string to prevent geese from devouring the plants.


Dr. Jeff Cordell (U. Washington Fisheries) and his graduate student and Albion Alumna Melora Hass lead the trip. Below Dr. Cordell shows students one of the few areas with remaining natural vegetation. This is important as a model for restored areas.


Olympic Peninsula


We also visited the coast, mountains, and saw the controversial Elwah River dams while on the Olympic Peninsula.




The geology along the coast is fascinating. The rocks are a jumble of blocks of all sizes, a chaos created by the collision of North America and the Pacific Plate. Here students are pointing out one of the blocks.



The biology is equally fascinating. Here students are looking at zonation in one of the tide pools.






Hurricane ridge is in the Olympic range and looks out over the high peaks of the Olympics. There was still a lot of snow on the trails, and we had to drive through the clouds to get there, but the view was spectacular.... and well worth the drive.


Elwah River has two controversial dams constructed early in this century to provide power for Port Angeles. These are too tall for fish ladders (which were required by state law at the time of construction; fish hatcheries were constructed instead). These are located within the boundaries of the Olympic National Park. There has been a lot of discussion of, but as of yet no funding for, the removal of these dams. The picture on the left is of the upper dam. Below is a picture a natural stretch of the Elwah River.

More Articles ...