Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

Grand Coulee Dam, Surprise Visit, and Getting to Bellevue

1452 miles later, and we're safe in John's parents' house. It's been quite the trip!

I didn't manage to get up with the boys, as I had some trouble sleeping. Still, they made me a waffle, and by the time they came back from breakfast, I was moving about a little as if awake and alive. *laughs*

We got moving by 8, as we are now on Pacific time, and the boys were still on Mountain Time. It was quite the contrast in weather, too, as it was rainy and cool, only in the 60's, after cruising through high 90's and outright sunshine for most of the trip. Since we only had 300 or so miles to cover, we could take our time. The last time we drove along the Columbia, Grand Coulee Dam wasn't doing tours, but John checked and this time they were doing tours.

Sometimes I'm utterly amazed by what people can do, and what they'll do if given the chance to just do it.

Especially with the laser light show at night, which we, unfortunately did not get to see. We did, however, get to see something much rarer, which is actual *water* going over the spillway at Grand Coulee Dam. My feelings about how much extra water has fallen in the West was correct, both this year and last year, the spillway was actually used at the dam; however, for the fifteen years previous, the water's never been high enough for them to let any of it slide. Every cubic inch goes through one of the turbines.

Also, since 9/11, all traffic was kept from going over the dam, instead a 30's era bridge has been taking the brunt of all the traffic across the water, there. And since that time the tours were stopped, begun again in limited form, and only in the last two years have visitors been allowed back on top of the dam itself.

It's first come, first serve, but there's a tour every single hour. 40 people can go on it, and we were nearly at capacity, and it's the same capacity as the elevators at the dam have, so it was a pretty tight fit. But we got to go into the Third Powerhouse, the one that was added later on, where they actually dynamited part of the original structure to allow enough water to flow into the Third Powerhouse. Since the Third takes six penstops, each of which shoves 25,000 gallons per second into the turbines (about twice the flow of the whole of the Colorado River where the Hoover dam catches it), and creates about 4200 megawatts, it's... impressive. The whole dam generates 6800 megawatts, and lights up most of the Northwest, one of the 805 megawatt turbines in the Third Power house can light up all of Seattle alone.

We got in at the ground floor, and could see the tops of the turbine, but then they took us into that nicely crowded elevator and we went down to see the turbines. One was being maintained, so was actually still so we could see all the parts and hear the tour guide talking. Then they took us to one of the working turbines and we could see it spin at 150mph. It was loud and amazing to see in action.

Once done there, we went up to the top of the dam itself, and got to look down onto the spillway. It was dizzying at first, but beautiful up there, with a view down the valley and on the other side we could see all of Roosevelt Lake, the lake formed by the dam. It's 27 miles long, all the way up to the border of Canada.

There's also Bank's Lake, which is formed by the water they pumped out of the Columbia to fill the Lake. It's used to irrigate over half a million acres of land. The land around Grand Coulee, itself, is high desert, which only gets, at most, seven inches of rain a year. So nearly all of Eastern Washington farmland and orchards are watered from Banks Lake.

The museum and gift shop were pretty fun. A lot of the dam was built after the first World War, and trying to get out of that depression, they'd done the dam as a public works. So many men worked on it, it was amazing, and the things they did! Carving the foundations out of the rock, diverting the water with smaller dams to just get at the bedrock. One winter when the sides of were sliding down, men drilled 100 pipes into the hillside, and filled them with supercooled brine!! The whole hillside froze solid long enough for them to get the work done to support it all again, and so they managed what seemed an impossible problem with sheer manpower.

Since it was during the Depression, some jobs only lasted two days, and then folks would rotate out of them to allow other people the jobs. There was a 140 man island habitat they built for all the men that had to do the work on and in the water all day. So they didn't have to come to land while they were working the job.

The collective effort was just astonishing to me. Thousands of people, millions of dollars, an unimaginable amount of effort over multiple decades to create this thing that runs without fuel to power most of the north western quarter of the United States.

Tipi Drive In
Of course the towns that were built with the dam thrived and prospered as well, and we ended up going to Grand Coulee, the small town, for lunch. We found the Tipi Drive-In right on the main road, and the guy running it was fun, friendly, and gave Jet refills on his root beer float. The food was good, and when John ordered, he was given five dice to roll. If he got a Yahtzee, he'd get his food for free! It actually brought the locals in a lot more often than when the owner didn't have the offer, and he showed us pictures that said that the place was established back in 1937. The Tipi had been more prominent back then, but building and food code was different back then, too. *laughs*

We headed West again, and I slept a little, and then started driving once we got back to the Interstate. From the green of Idaho, we were now in the high desert of Eastern Washington. Like the Front Range after the Rockies, Eastern Washington is dry after the Cascades wring all the water out of the clouds. The only water over here is irrigation water from Lake Burns or the Columbia herself. With all the orchards in Eastern Washington, we looked for fruit stands, as the cherries are out now. And, of course, the Rainer cherries.

Dry Falls Middle
The funny thing is that the landscape is actually shaped by the melting glaciers of the Ice Age. The mounds and lumps, the deep coulees (dry river beds), and cut cliffs were all shaped by water from way back then. Huge floods happened at the end of each of the advances by the ice, and the resulting huge rivers carved the landscape. One of the strangest of these is Dry Falls. Three and a half miles of what used to be the biggest waterfall in North America, you can compare that to the one mile of Niagra Falls, but they're now utterly dry as the water that carved them came from melted glacial ice. The falls themselves cut 20 miles worth of arroyo, going from south to north as the water from the falls dug the land out from under them, the cliffs would crumble away, and the falls would move another foot upstream.

So we just drove.

And as we drove it got more an more familiar. The Columbia itself started John on a memory, and he called his parents to see if they had the number for old friends of ours that we knew lived up in Cle Elem. Just as we were about to reach the first of the exits for the town, Isabel called back with the number!

We got lucky.

John Randlett came down to greet us and lead us up the mountain side to their place. They have several acres up there, and have built all kinds of small places. There's a tiny snug cabin, a big barn that they've converted to be a kitchen, laundry, running water bathroom, and bunk house for the boys that come visit them. There's locked storage for the tools, toys, and tractors. There's the outhouse, which I remembered with fond nostalgia as it was out of the more cutting of the wind, and, yes, when the running water restroom was otherwise occupied, I used it just to remember. *laughs* And it was warm in there, just like I remembered.

Snorkle Stove Tub with a View
I think that seeing the Snorkle Stove hot tub still out there really brought it home for me that we were back among old friends. It's a wood-fired hot tub that we brought up there for them and built with them in 1993. They've had to replace the rings on the tub itself, but other than that it's worked for them up there for decades. You just throw firewood into the stove, heat up the water in the tub, and climb in. There's a guard grate to keep you from burning yourself on the stove, and it's the best way to have a hot tub in what's essentially a camp atmosphere.

They're now living up there six months out of the year, and building a new addition, an enormous "art studio" with plate glass all pointed north. It's a beautiful little building, and they're in the process of wiring and finishing the enormous beams for the open contemplative space upstairs. The other six months John and Yolanda are spending in California, at her old house, and they're very content to do that. The summers up here are cool, and the winters there are temperate.

And they both have family in Northern California, including their daughter and her two sons, one of which was at the Woods and working on things with them.

It was really great to just visit for a while, and have them interact with Jet for a while as they've never seen him before! *laughs* They remember Fezzik better than Jet, which is kind of cool to think over. But they had fun getting to know who Jet was, as we got to learn a bit about their grandson, Alex. They've invited us to stay, any time, so long as it's summer. They're even willing to drive the hour into Seattle to get us, too. So we'll have to plan some time with them the next time we're in the Northwest.

We only stayed two hours, as befits a surprise visit, and then went on to Issaquah, where we stopped at our favorite Toshi's, where we get quarts of teriyaki sauce every time we visit, and had dinner there before heading over to John's parents' house.

They're moving out on Friday, so the house was shockingly empty. Five bedrooms and 45 years worth of history, cleaned out, sold, or given away. Just a bit more left, as we're going to get them into their apartment on Friday, as much as we're able, and we'll go with them into their guest room there. I got the pictures loaded up, and this partially written then, and am finishing this in the morning as I was so exhausted it seemed good to just sleep in this familiar place.

Today, I'm off to see Chronomorphosis and his place in Olympia, while the folks here ferry a bit more stuff into the apartment. Yay!
Tags: travel

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