Coulee is a geologic term. It means a ravine or, at least, a deep gully cut by water. This really does describe the dam and its environment, but it does not begin to describe the experience of seeing it in person for the first time. That would take weeks for some to accomplish and involve much background. It was Ruth’s favorite sight on our recent trip and a first time wonder of a place. I am glad now that we saved Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams for now. Seeing them almost together in a single year is a genuine treat, and I’m glad we saw Lake Mead at a historic low. This lake was 100 feet down when we saw it. The Columbia River is the main water source for the Grand Coulee Dam. I learned from this experience that just seeing either dam is only a beginning. The total experience requires taking one’s time to really explore. Many, many people see both eventually. Time of year is important. Where you go is important. We have, at least, made something of a beginning.
One is never prepared for their first sight of either dam and Hoover is smaller by comparison. One can drive across the top of Hoover Dam and must pay to park to see it, but not Grand Coulee. It and its laser show are both free attractions. We saw it in Washington rain for the first couple of hours. I now understand why the young man behind the counter at Grand Coulee Dam said there is nothing to do in the area after seeing it. Most of the rest of the experience is scenic drives to the north. He even discouraged us from going to see the Chief Joseph monument north of town. That’s where Lake Roosevelt is. Ruth and I have driven across Northern Washington and seen Kettle Falls, but we had never seen Grand Coulee Dam that dwarfs the Pyramids in Egypt. How big is it? It makes a million train engines seem small by comparison. It was the largest structure built on this planet until the Chinese built a huge dam a couple of years ago.
There are 4 towns near the dam. They include Electric City, Coulee Dam, Grand Coulee, and Elmer City. Ruth and I stayed in Coulee Dam, where there are many modest homes but no chain motels. It has 2 grocery stores, however, including a Safeway. It’s a very nice place to be if you like road construction. Elmer City is entirely on the Colville Indian Reservation, and we didn’t go there. Coulee Dam lies within 3 counties. In Electric City you can fish year-round. We stayed at a not-so-nice local motel in Coulee Dam. It was, in retrospect, our 2nd worst accommodation ever.
There is an Indian casino in Grand Coulee called 12 Tribes, but we did not go there. There was a laser show at the visitor center across the street from our accommodation, but it does not start until the end of May and begins at 10 pm. The best place to see it is probably at the casino. The visitor center doubles as a tourist info place, but its displays are old-fashioned and not so compelling. This building is round and has great views of the dam. My favorite activity there was a film about the building of this dam. This took a lot of time, however, and was a rather old film having been made 9 years ago. It interviewed a lot of people who built it.
Grand Coulee Dam is basically on the dammed Columbia River that begins in Canada where it makes an extremely large and southward flowing loop after going north from some marshes in eastern British Columbia. We have been to the Columbia’s. source and are familiar with its many dams that may be removed. The Columbia is one of the most dammed rivers on this planet and there are several tributaries that flow into it like the Spokane and Kettle Rivers.
Grand Coulee Dam is one of the largest hydroelectric projects on Planet Earth and one of the largest concrete structures ever built. There is so much concrete in it that you can build 2 sidewalks encircling the world at the Equator from the concrete used. It was begun in 1933 and was not completed until 1942. It employed a lot of people some of whom had just built Hoover Dam in Nevada.
Hank. (to be continued)