Palouse River, Washington

Oct 09, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Lion

At 6:00 a.m. the National Geographic Sea Lion dropped anchor on the Palouse River. Dawn was just breaking and soon early light glowed on the buff colored grasses of autumn that trim out the dark brown cliffs of basalt that surround us. A waning gibbous moon stood high in a clear sky and bright Venus hung low in the east. A flock of Canada geese flew by the base of a cliff, heard, but unseen against the dark rock.

We began our exploration of this scenic area early. Some took an expedition landing craft shuttle to shore to meet a bus for the drive to Palouse Falls, crown jewel of the Palouse area. Palouse falls drops nearly 200 feet into its green plunge pool from where it flows away into the rugged and beautiful Palouse Canyon. Others set off on expedition landing craft tours and cruised up the Palouse River and into that canyon, carved by Ice Age floods. We stopped for close looks at columnar basalt while enjoying the bracing fragrance of sagebrush—the smell of the West. Ring-necked Pheasants flew into tall grass. Up the river a red-tailed hawk soared over the high cliffs while two mule deer ran through the brown grass and over a hilltop. Sumac bushes burned crimson on the talus slope above us.

Back on the Snake River in the afternoon, we cruised along enjoying the mild weather, sunshine, and beautiful scenery. We had frequent sightings of western grebes, double-crested cormorants, and ring-billed gulls. A special sighting was a pair of common loons swimming near the ship. We had an adventure at Lower Monumental Dam when many of us went through the lock in the expedition landing crafts—quite a treat and an interesting perspective on locks. This was followed by a presentation on the Ice Age floods that demonstrated the power of vast amounts of rapidly flowing water that sculpted this landscape.

In the evening we watched Paradise Road, the story of Sam Hill and the Historic Columbia River Highway, a highway we are to drive on tomorrow. This brought us to the end of another memorable day on the rivers.

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About the Author

Grace Winer


Geologist and naturalist, Grace is a Montanan now living in Seattle. Grace received her degrees in geology (BS and MSc) from Montana State University. Funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society, she pursued her master’s degree in Alaska’s remote Pribilof Islands. Here she investigated the volcanic evolution of St. Paul Island, creating a geologic map, and predicting volcanic hazards in the event of a future eruption. Her knowledge of the Pribilof Islands and the Bering Sea region led to her work as a consulting geologist on St. George Island for NOAA’s Pribilof Restoration Project.

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