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The Seven Wonders of Washington State

A view of the Palouse Hills from Steptoe Butte, photo by Howard Frisk

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The Columbia River Gorge is 4,000 feet deep in places. It offers spectacular views and a climate that undergoes a dramatic transformation east to west. Photo by Howard Frisk

Next we have the Columbia River Gorge. It is really amazing to see a river flowing right through the mountains. This roughly 90-mile-long canyon cuts east to west through the Cascade Mountain Range, forming the border between Washington and Oregon. In some places the gorge is 4,000 feet deep. Unlike the other six wonders of Washington State, the best place to see this one is not in Washington State, but in Oregon, from the Vista House. Vista House was built atop a bluff 700 feet above the Columbia River in 1918 as a rest stop for travelers on the original Columbia River Highway. The climate and vegetation along the Columbia River go through a dramatic transformation from west to east. In the west, near the Bridge of the Gods, is a temperate rainforest that can get over 110 inches of rain annually. As you travel east, the climate gets drier and drier until it becomes semi-desert near Arlington, which can receive less than 10 inches of rain per year.

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The Palouse Hills are not only a landscape unique in the world, they are photographer Howard Frisk’s favorite of the ‘Seven Wonders’

Fourth is The Palouse, a region in southeastern Washington. The Palouse is the most serene and pastoral of Washington’s seven wonders, characterized by gentle rolling hills covered with wheat fields. Seen from the summit of 3,612 foot high Steptoe Butte, these hills look like giant sand dunes and were formed in much the same way. In the spring they are lush shades of green when the wheat and barley are young; in the summer they are dry shades of brown when the crops are ready for harvest. The same climate that is ideal for wheat is also great for growing grapes. A relatively recent development in the southern Palouse is the appearance of vineyards, which have the same latitude as the Bordeaux wine growing region of France. The Palouse hills are not only a landscape unique in the world, they are beautiful to behold, making them my favorite of the Seven Wonders of Washington State.

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The geologic story the Channeled Scablands tell is mind-boggling, including mega-floods and an ancient waterfall that was the largest in the world. Photo by Howard Frisk

Our fifth and probably least known are the Channeled Scablands. The story of how the Channeled Scablands were formed is mind-boggling, and all the geological evidence is there for you to see for yourself, if you know where to look. During the last ice age 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, part of a glacier blocked a river in northern Idaho. This created an ice dam that caused the river to form a 3,000-square-mile lake in western Montana containing as much water as Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined. The ice dam collapsed and created one of the largest mega floods in the history of the world – a flood as great as the combined flow of all the rivers in the whole world, times ten. The most dramatic evidence is Dry Falls: a cliff three and a half miles wide and 400 feet high. During the Missoula Floods, it was the largest waterfall in the world. Geologists believe that the mega floods happened more than 40 times and only stopped when the ice age ended. Each mega flood compounded the erosion of the previous one and culminated in the bizarre landforms we now call the Channeled Scablands.