2018-09-10.Steamboat Rock State Park and Grand Coulee Dam
We reluctantly left the Pend Oreille River area in Idaho and drove across the eastern/mid-central section of Washington State through miles of hilly farmland. We passed green fertile farms; areas that looked as though the soil was volcanic and other areas that were dry and desert like. Our destination was Steamboat Rock State Park near Grand Coulee Dam. Wow! We had no preconceived notion of what to expect of this area but given the farmland we passed, we were not expecting to see huge granite mesas and spectacular scenery along Banks Lake through to the Grand Coulee Dam and up along the Roosevelt National Recreation area. The state park is located on Banks Lake which is the reservoir created to irrigate the central Washington crops separate and distinct from Roosevelt Lake. (Roosevelt Lake is formed by the Grand Coulee Dam and extends to the Canadian Border and beyond). Steamboat Rock state park gets its name from this huge monolithic granite butte that sits among the sagebrush desert surrounding Banks Lake. We were in Site 29B, a huge, paved, level spot with full hookups. We faced Steamboat rock in the front and Banks Lake to our rear. What a spectacular location and such a surprise! The road to the park, Washington 155, hugs the base of these high buttes whose flanks are covered by scree slides but with tops rising straight up to the sky. The road itself is an engineering marvel as it was cut through some of the granite bluffs. It follows the lake's shoreline til it reaches Electric City. From there, the road continues to the Grand Coulee Dam. And "grand" it is! We drove to the dam to catch the free nightly lazer light show at 8:30 p.m.. The dam was lit and you could see its mile long face flanked by the power houses. This dam produces the most hydroelectric power in the world which is pretty amazing. It also provides irrigation to millions of acres of farmland. The face of the dam had only a few streams of water running down it until it was time for the show. Then, gradually, they released enough water to make the entire face of the dam white and then used that as the backdrop for the production. Pretty impressive and a nice way to tell the tale of the dam's construction and what it meant both to the Indians, whose way of life fishing for the salmon that sustained them was ruined by the dam as well as the farmers and US WWII war effort that were supported by the dam's output of electric and irrigation.
Today, we went back to the dam for a free (did I mention the word "free"!)tour and, though interesting, it was a little disappointing because you couldn't go out across the dam. Security was really tight as well. Still, it is an impressive place and the little towns surrounding the dam owe their existence to this structure.
We had planned to kayak today but it was really windy when we got up so we hiked on the rocks at Northrup Point to get a view of the lake and then hiked into Northrup Canyon where we saw vast stretches of desert floor, though camouflaged by sage and rabbit brush, filled with completely rusted cans. We later learned that this was the dumping spot for the cans used by the workers who constructed the dam. The hike into the canyon was interesting and we did see a smallish hawk in the words at the bottom of the canyon. We walked from sagebrush desert to aspen, pine and fur forest but never did find the water source that must exist to support this type of vegetationt. Along the way, the scree covered slopes of immense cliffs reminded us of the danger to be found in an instant. That said, it was a wonderful hike.
This park had three campground loops with paved sites, a marina and many areas of sandy beach but no internet or cell service. We saw turkey, quail and deer. Definitely a gem of a park and a lovely place to play. Surprisingly, the park was almost full even during the week and it is open year round for fishing. Nice spot! Next time, we'll go north to the Roosevelt Lake area.