Living Wenatchee, Tourism

Ice Age Floods Tour

While spending most of my growing-up years in the Wenatchee Valley, I was very familiar with the looks of the geological formations that surrounded me – basalt cliffs, sand and gravel bars in the rivers, ripples of land covered in sagebrush, HUGE boulders in the middle of wheatfields where no other rocks appear.  For years, I never took the time to find out why these formations are where they are.  It’s kind of like living in San Francisco all your life and never riding on a cable car.

At first, the prospect of riding around the countryside in a bus all day to get up-close and personal with rocks and dirt might not seem appealing.  However, the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center immediately dispels that idea via its offering of the Ice Age Floods Geological Tour.  I was an excited participant of this tour, which turned out to be an informative, educational, and interesting geology field trip for grown-ups!

The day-long tour began at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, where we met our field trip guide, Brent Cunderla.  Brent turned out to be The Man when it comes to knowing and showing the thousands-years-old history and resultant geology of the Ice Age Floods in and around the Wenatchee Valley.

Before boarding our bus – the big, comfortable, cushy type, complete with overhead PA system and bathroom – everyone received a fantastically well-done booklet of what we’d be seeing.  The booklet alone is impressive:  55 pages of color photos, topological and digital maps, and accompanying descriptions of what we’d encounter on the tour.

Brent proved to be a skilled lecturer who kept our attention without having to yell at anyone for wandering off.  He employed the use of a cartload of laminated posters to illustrate his talks (formerly known in pre-tech days as “visual aids”), a much-appreciated addition at each stop.

Our first stop was at Soap Lake and nearby Lake Lenore, where we viewed the cave/alcoves formed by water washing away the columnar basalt from under the entablature that forms a “cap” on the top.

Our stop at Sun Lakes/Dry Falls was fascinating and especially helpful in supplying great conversational topics when it was my turn to share during “What did you learn today?” time at the dinner table.  Contrary to popular belief, Dry Falls never was what we picture in our minds as a waterfall.  The Dry Falls cliffs are 400 feet tall and the Ice Age water was 300 feet deep over that.  All that water didn’t “cascade” down over the cliffs as much as it just “flowed” over them.  But Dry Falls is inspiring to view, nonetheless, as it is almost 2½ times taller and much wider than Niagara Falls today.

Another stop found us overlooking Grand Coulee Dam and learning why the dam was built there instead of at a narrower place in the river.  Then on to Banks Lake and Steamboat Rock in the middle of the lake.  Another dinner table plus:  Steamboat Rock was formed by a waterfall that divided into two and in layman’s terms, “dried up,” leaving an island of rock behind.

 

 

Our last stop was at Monster Rock, one of those humongous boulders all by itself in the middle of acres and acres of sagebrush.  We all got to relive the childhood thrill of climbing over a barbed wire fence (okay, okay, it was thoughtfully cinched up and covered with a rug by Fearless Leader Brent) to walk right up to the rock to get a sense of how truly big it is.  To give you an idea of how powerful the Ice Age water was, Monster Rock weighs over 1,500 tons and was carried to its present resting place by raging water!

All in all, the Ice Age Floods Tour was a fabulous way to spend the day and I highly recommend checking it off your Bucket List.  And don’t forget the cable car ride in good ol’ San Fran!

 

Jackie Brown-Fairbanks