July 30, 2009
We left KOA around 10 AM heading to Grand Coulee with plans to tour the Grand Coulee Dam. The road leading into Grand Coulee was long, winding and ribbon like with wheat fields for as far as the eye could see.
Arriving at the Kings Court Campground we were surprised to see its’ location and how small it was. Not to mention the unsavory people hanging around the campground fighting with each other. It was blistering hot (Washington is having an unheard of heat wave with temps in the 100’s) and we weren’t planning on living there so we settled in and promptly turned on the AC. It was 101 degrees outside so the AC was needed for sure. The spaces were so tight that if we wanted to use the picnic bench we would have to share with the camper next to us.
Around 4:30 PM we headed to the Grand Coulee Dam for a tour. The temp was still high but the sun was cloud covered so it wasn’t so steaming.
The Grand Coulee Dam is one of the largest concrete structures in the world, containing nearly 12 million cubic yards of concrete. You could build a sidewalk four feet wide and four inches thick and wrap it twice around the equator (50,000 miles).
The Grand Coulee Dam is the largest hydropower producer in the United States with total generating capacity of 6,809 megawatts. It is the fourth largest producer in the world behind Three Gorges Dam in China, (20,000 megawatts) Guri Dam in Venezuela, ( 10,000 megawatts) and Itaipu Dam on the border of Paraguay and Brazil (12,500 megawatts). In contrast, the most famous dam, Hoover Dam only generates 2,078 megawatts. Coulee stands 550 feet high (Hoover Dam –726 feet) and is 5,223 feet long (Hoover Dam 1,244 feet)
Congress authorized Grand Coulee Dam in 1935, with its primary purpose to provide water for irrigation. When the United States entered WWII in 1941, the focus of the dam shifted from irrigation to power production. It was not until 1943 that Congress authorized the Columbian Basin Project to deliver water to the farmers of central Washington State.
The Grand Coulee Dam was instrumental in providing power for the manufacture of aluminum for airplanes during WWII. It also provided power for the Hanford Plutonium reactors that produced the plutonium for Fat Boy the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
In the United States there are a total of eleven major hydropower dams along the Columbia River. An additional six dams are located on the Canadian side of the Columbia River.
We have been to the Hoover Dam and were thoroughly impressed but the size of the Grand Coulee Dam dwarfs Hoover. Unfortunately, the incline elevator at Coulee wasn’t working so we were unable to tour the powerhouse but the rest of the tour was great.
We stopped at the visitor center and watched a great film on the Ice Age Floods that formed the Northwest. Torrents of water, ice and earth roared across the Northwest carving new canyons, creating monstrous waterfalls, instantly transforming the face of the landscape.
When geologists first saw the vast Columbia Basin, they recognized that a large volume of water sculpted the landscape of canyons (coulees), buttes, dry cataracts, boulder fields and gravel bars and felt that it was caused by normal flooding and erosion during the Ice Age.
In the 1920’s J Harlen Bretz looked more deeply into the unusual landscape and believed that the area was not formed by normal flood waters but by massive flows of very fast moving glacial water. The source of such catastrophic glacial flooding eluded Bretz and his theories were rejected by his professional colleagues.
Another geologist Joseph Pardee, earlier in 1910, described evidence of a great Ice Age lake, “Glacial Lake Missoula,” in northwestern Montana. He discovered giant ripple marks fifty feet high and 200-500 feet apart had formed on the floor of the lake. This finding proved that Glacial Lake Missoula had suddenly emptied to the west with tremendous erosive powers.
Through the work of many other geologists, evidence of more then one flood was discovered and it has been established that there were scores of Ice Age floods that swept across the Northwest. Some of which were largest and most powerful that have ever occurred on earth.
Much of the Ice Age floods story is revealed in spectacular and unusual landforms that can be seen along the highway. We were astounded to see such unusual and beautiful rock formations. It is amazing to think that the glacial waters craved through the volcanic Basalt and made the glorious canyons and boulder fields we have seen in our travels here.
We had never expected to see such spectacular and different landscape and would not have if we hadn’t taken route 155 looking for a campground for Friday and Saturday night. What a great find for us since we enjoy the unexpected surprises.
Later in the evening we went back to Grand Coulee Dam to watch the laser light show with the water rushing over the dam as the backdrop. They open the floodgates nightly for the laser light show. The light show was great but there was a glitch so we didn’t get to see the last five minutes.
Back at the campground our neighbor came out to talk to us. She and her husband are full-time RVer’s and have been for four years. Hubby is not well and is on oxygen so she does the majority of the driving. She was adamant she would not be like other wives, have the husband die, and be stranded somewhere with an RV. (Sounds like me) She does everything and will continue her life on the road when hubby passes.