Palouse Falls in eastern Washington is just over an hour’s drive from where I live in north Idaho. Like Dry Falls in north central Washington, this region is part of what’s known as the Channeled Scablands. Its hundreds of square miles seems to throb with ancient myths of creation and destruction.
Lava began flowing here about 17 million years ago and continued until about six million years ago. The oozing red masses, capped with smudgy grey-black, slowly drizzled across the land like streams of molasses. These astounding lava outflows bubbled up from fissures deep below the Earth’s crust. Scientists believe as many as 300 lava floods occurred, each separated by thousands of years.
During the long periods of volcanic inactivity, water and sediment accumulated in valleys. Wind deposited layers of dust that became soil. Forests and grasslands flourished. Plants and animals appeared. Their existence—preserved by fossil records—terminated with each new cycle of lava flows.
Then came catastrophic floods, possibly over 100, during the most recent Ice Age. Towering ice damns holding back Glacial Lake Missoula exploded every 50-60 years. The glacial meltwaters roared across the land at freeway speeds—gouging, carving and sculpting everything in its path!
These days, I cannot think of any other landscape I’d rather spend time thinking about. Now, I just need to settle on a material, something ripe with metaphor.