March 19, 1995

Grand Time In The Coulee Fish, Fowl And Flowers Are Coming Alive In The Hollows Of The Great Floods

Rich Landers Outdoors Editor
 
Tags:geology

Alone. That’s all I wanted to be last Sunday. Just one 12-hour break from the chaos of rearing kids and enduring friends who call only when they know they have caught significantly more fish than I have.

Those calls have been coming way too often lately.

So I left the puppy that needs training, the whining kids, the sink full of dirty dishes, the screaming kids, the garage that needs purging, the shrieking kids and countless home projects that are started but not quite finished.

The sun was peaking over the horizon as I gathered enough gear to accommodate most March whims - fly rods, float tube, daypack, maps, camera, binocular, turkey calls. About the only things I left behind were the kids.

Didn’t know where I was going until the pickup turned itself west on Highway 2. A smile slowly began to emerge as I passed Wilbur, Hartline and Coulee City, a smile that finally bloomed as a 3-pound cutthroat tugged line through guides on my fly rod at Lake Lenore.

I thanked the fish as I released it and reeled in for good. More than fish, I wanted solitude, which was elusive among dozens of anglers bobbing in tubes and boats and prowling the shore. I swapped fishing waders for hiking shoes, the fly vest for a daypack, and set off on foot. The Grand Coulee seemed open to such whims as it wrapped around me like a deep brown bun.

The Great Floods that scoured the channeled scablands at the end of the Ice Age had left me a vast masterpiece to explore. Chukars were calling from the rimrocks above. Geese were waddling in pairs through the sage below. So much to see, and only eight hours left.

I scrambled back 6,000 years to a ledge where cave dwellers once sought shelter. I might have lingered longer here, but a chill ran up my spine at the sight of a family hiking behind me.

I prepared for the worst. But the kids were quite cheerful and charming. Much like my kids are, most of the time.

I left the caves and the rattlesnakes to the family and drove north to Steamboat Rock. After scrambling up from the state park campground, I made a brisk hike around the broad mesa atop the massive lava remnant that held together against the world’s greatest floods.

Waters that burst from glacial Lake Missoula around 15,000 years ago raced over Steamboat Rock at 65 mph - nearly 10 times faster than any flood a modern man might see. The volume of water in one of these floods was roughly equivalent to 10 times the combined flow of all the rivers of the world.

With only four more hours to see what was created over millennia, I drove past Martin Falls, which plunges this time of year into a punch bowl beside Highway 155 at Milepost 17. Then I headed to the jewel of the coulee. Northrup Canyon.

I ate my lunch at a near jog up the trail, alternating between gasps of air and bites of apple. The buds on cottonwoods were only a few more warm days from bursting open. Buttercups beamed underfoot.

An hour later, I was searching for signs of trout in Northrup Lake. Two redtailed hawks cried out overhead as they ushered a golden eagle away from their rimrock haunts.

I left the trail and followed my whims and a map over mossy granite slabs to a hidden lake, still half-covered with ice, yet inviting for six mallards, a goldeneye and two thirsty mule deer.

Surrounded by miniature peaks of granite, the lake and meadow were a misplaced Shangri-la.

The kids would love this spot, I thought as the sun cast long shadows across the canyon. I found myself anxious to bring them here, where kids could scramble through the rock of ages and watch in awe as the hawks do the shrieking.

Another day.

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