It's not every day you find yourself walking the streets of a Bavarian town located deep in the Cascadia mountains of eastern Washington State. Mind you, it’s not the first time I’ve seen a German village manifest thousands of miles from Europe. In Brazil, there’s a town called Blumenau which has a similar look and feel of Washington’s Leavenworth, but a far more German-ey sounding name. Both towns have a manicured appearance and attractions that is somewhat charming and a little sinister. My friend Jon described Leavenworth as “a Joseph Goebbels designed Disneyland.” Fortunately, we’re not here for the schnitzel, which regrettably, wasn’t worth writing about anyway. We’re on a road trip to the Channeled Scablands, site of what once the planet’s largest-ever waterfall.
Picture a five-foot brick wall. Place a penny on it, and that would be the size of Niagara Falls compared to the cataclysm of water that flooded Dry Falls during the last ice age. There are a number of theories as to what caused this massive flood, and it took decades for one particularly determined geologist named J Harlen Bretz to convince the scientific community that the aquatic destruction in northern Idaho, northwest Montana and southern Washington was simply unprecedented. Did the walls of an ice dam break, unleashing the flood? Did a comet strafe the polar ice caps, causing a sudden melt that not only resulted in the world’s largest waterfalls, but inspired the ancient stories of Noah's Ark and Atlantis? I contemplate this standing on an extended viewing point overlooking Dry Falls, a canyon stretching 3.5 miles wide and dropping 400 feet. Ten thousand years ago, the surf was up. When it comes to geological wonders, you have to use your imagination, although illustrations in the adjacent visitor centre paint a vivid picture of 100ft waves smashing into the plains. Water picked up giant rocks and dropped them like seeds hundreds of miles away. Incredibly, people and animals were living in this area at the time. If any survived, how would they have described such an event? The end of the world? Punishment from the gods? There are over a dozen Native American flood myths which describe exactly that. Some of them include a great ship built by an honest and noble man to save two of every animal. Sound familiar?
Exploring the side roads of the Scablands
Dry Falls, site of the biggest flood in history
In search of cherries
One of my favourite authors, Graham Hancock, visited the Scablands and makes an excellent argument in his new book about the tell-tale signs of a lost civilization, forgotten to history due to a cosmic cataclysm. New research does indeed point to some form of celestially-inspired impact - a comet or asteroid - triggering massive floods about 10,000 years ago, pretty much rebooting humanity. Survivors of an advanced civilization might have well regressed back to the Stone Age. The geological evidence is on show in the Scablands. It’s fascinating stuff, and the theories are way too intricate to get into here. But it did inspire me to come and have a look at the Scablands for myself. Unlike the badlands of Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada (or Montana and Wyoming in the US), the Scablands resemble streaks of havoc through fertile, largely flat farmlands. It makes for an exceptional road trip from Seattle, Portland or Vancouver, crossing mountain passes and gorgeous forests until you arrive in the fruit-growing region of Washington, and press onto the stark, cracked and dry Scablands. Along the way expect to see some unusual roadside attractions, like:
The road is long, with many a winding turn
Checking out land ripples
Dry Falls is a Washington State Park Heritage Area, and the small but useful interpretation centre is a roadside attraction for bikers, RV'ers, and curious bucket listers. The viewpoint, as you can see below, is well worth the pit stop. It doesn’t really surprise me that many people who live in the region don’t know about the fascinating, historically significant and scenically stunning Scablands. My efforts to contact anyone who actually serves to promote tourism in Washington were as fruitless as the pock-mocked Scablands themselves. Not too far away however, plump apples and pears are bursting in the groves that line the highway. There is always hope.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.