Palouse Falls & River, and Lyons Ferry

Oct 17, 2019 - National Geographic Quest


The day began as the sun rose across the Snake River, illuminating expansive basaltic landscapes connected by historic bridges. Completed in 1912 for a staggering sum of 2 million dollars, the 3920-foot-long bridge – with supports dug 65 feet below the riverbed – stands 260 feet above the Snake River. Guests enjoyed a buffet breakfast followed by a presentation on the Columbia Basin basalt flows caused by the Missoula Floods (“Fire, Ice, and Flood”) by Grace.

Guests then embarked on two excursions, the first 8 miles from Lyon’s State Park launch to the Palouse Falls, and the second cruising up the Palouse River in Zodiacs.

Arriving at Palouse Falls, guests were inspired by the power and majesty of basaltic flows that formed dramatic landscapes. The 200-foot Palouse Falls was formed from ravished basalt canyons, still pumping thick mist hundreds of feet in the air and thrusting 100 cubic feet per second white water toward the Snake River Basin. The sediment-laden water penetrated through cracks, fractures, and basalt columns causing sections of the falls to calf or fall off into the plunge pool below. Guests listened intently to our historian’s account of the connection of historical Palouse Indian fishing at the falls, and its immense spiritual value to tribes from all over the region.

Other guests took Zodiacs up the Palouse River absorbing the vast basaltic landscapes formed when the dramatic Missoula Floods scoured the region from Montana to Oregon through the Columbia Gorge. Over 15,000 years ago, catastrophic floods carved out coulees and canyons that sculpted the Palouse River Basin. Guests learned about 10,000-year-old human remains found in the Marmes Rockshelter, excavated in 1962, but unexpectedly flooded during the construction of Lower Monumental Dam in 1969. They witnessed first-hand how the floods formed distinct colonnades overtopped by thick entablatures and receded by steep talus slopes. The canyons bustled with abandoned cliff swallow nests, clumsy coots, soaring ravens, fluttering northern flickers, majestic golden eagles, and commanding bald eagles.

Following the Zodiac and bus tours in the Palouse River Basin, National Geographic Quest passed through Lower Monumental Dam at dusk, the third of four dams on the Snake River, dropping over 95 feet approaching the Columbia River. Guests also gained expertise on smartphone photography, followed by animated recaps and a gourmet dinner. After dinner, guests were treated to a historic talk on Thomas Jefferson’s obsession with Lewis and Clark’s journey to open the Pacific Northwest to the world.

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Patrick MacQuarrie

Patrick MacQuarrie

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