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From Desert to Waterfall


By Julie Williams, Wellness Instructor

On the Rivers of Adventures itinerary on the Legacy, I got a chance to go hiking at Palouse Falls State Park and spend some time enjoying the amazing geology, flora, and avifauna that surrounds this river that winds through the high desert.

The draw, of course, is the spectacular 187 ft. waterfall that we were able to see from several vantage points from trails along the rim of the gorge. The story of the area starts with the bedrock geology, layers and layers of basalt lava that cooled at different temperatures some of it forming colossal columns now visible along the trail as river eroded down through it. The river is here because a catastrophic flood took place around 13,000 years ago, when a giant ice dam, forming a 2000 foot deep glacial lake the size of Lakes Erie and Ontario combined, broke and sent floodwaters racing across eastern Washington and into the Columbia River Gorge at speeds estimated at 65 mph. The force of the floods diverted the original Palouse River into the Snake River and as it moved through basalt fissures created the magnificent waterfall.

As we hiked through the high desert, we were surrounded by sunflowers and sagebrush. Native desert plants have specialized roots to enable them to draw out water during very sparse rainfall; shallow ones for gathering water quickly during a downpour and a deep taproot to draw up water that has already soaked in. As we hiked, we were on the lookout for the resident marmot that lives near the rim of the overlook. In the blue sky, I could see a red-tailed hawk soaring, swallows devouring insects and just because I happened to be looking in the right direction, I was lucky enough to see a peregrine falcon in a dive off the cliff, hunting for smaller birds. It was exhilarating to get a chance to not only read the past in the rocks I was now touching but also see that rivers flowing through the desert were vibrant and alive places.


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