Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Witnessing the Greatest Flood on Earth

Imagine. A flow of water greater than that of all the rivers of the world- combined, measured in cubic *miles* of water/hour. A waterfall three miles wide, five times the width of Niagara. A wave 1,000 feet high running at 80 mph. This is the Missoula Lake Flood, the largest flood that we have conclusive evidence for in recent times- larger than the possible Black Sea Flood, far more recent than the Mediterranean Flood 5.5 mya. The Missoula Lake Flood was only 13,000 years ago, when humans were around. And I've seen it.

Or at least, its results.

I will let the Earth direct my story, since the story belongs to the Earth. So we back 270 million years, to the Pliocene. This was a time when a strange plant family was widespread over the Earth, called Ginkgophyta- including in North America. Today, only one species of this family remains, and that only because of cultivation over 1,000 years by Buddhist monks. The range of the tree became more and more restricted, until it was only found in China. Today the Ginkgo tree remains only because of domestication, as one species, discovered by Europeans the 1600s. And there is only one petrified forest of Ginkgos, which I found on my way to the Missoula Flood, and picked up a live version for my brother's birthday. Those that didn't make petrification became coal.

Outside the Ginkgo Petrified Forest was a vast channel cut into the rock. Something large- much larger than this river- had thundered through. The multiple lines indicated whatever it was had come through multiple times. I was getting close.
Ginkgo on its way to becoming coal.

Glacial Lake Missoula formed in Montana as a result of glacial dams, eventually reaching half the size of present-day Lake Michigan. 90% of ice is under the water, so as the lake level rose, it slowly began to float the ice. Once the water was over 90% of the height of the ice dam, it floated the dam, and the water burst forth, breaking the glacial dam into chunks that floated out through the massive surge. This happened not once, but about twelve times (though some like David Alt suggest as many as thirty-six), with great amounts of water flowing out, draining the lake, and the glacier moving slowly forward to again dam the lake, beginning the cycle again. Since this was the end of the Ice Age, each glacier was a little thinner, meaning the lake filled more quickly each time, and so the greatest flood was the first, and each one afterward slightly smaller. This is the record we see in the accompanying pictures- the widest lines are the highest, and the oldest marks of the great flood.

From the Ginkgo Petrified Forest I crossed the Columbia and drove up the channel to Dry Falls. This was the fall spoken of in the first paragraph of this article.

I drove to the top of the great falls, and considered the torrent that would have here flowed, and overpowered, had there been one to see it.

The deluge broke apart the igneous rock into columns, slowly widening the dry coulee valleys, making them larger than any river could.

videoThese segments are a mere fraction of the falls- only 1/4 of it is viewable at any one time from the ground. Imagine with me then, a wave of water coming over the plain, to plunge down into these pools- these plunge pools, incredibly deep from the force of tons of water excavating hard igneous rock. But the remember that the first flood, when it first came, didn't come here. It came 15 miles downstream, and over many floods, and many years, it undercut the rock cliffs, crashing them into the sea of water, pulling the rocks with it downstream, and pushing the falls further upstream. Only the strongest rocks, like this ridge in the middle of the photo, remained.

The Visitor Center at the top of the falls had information and some great CGI from a Nova video. This is where I also was informed on the dangers of ticks. I thought that was just an East Coast thing. Evidently, we just don't have Lyme Disease, but it's also an Eastern Washington thing. They showed me a tick, and talked about needing to wear long pants and socks, and after the hike, when you get back to the car, check "those areas that you usually don't check."

I thanked them for the tick talk. (Yes, I actually said that. You try it. Say it three times.) Then I headed down below the falls.

videoThe hike below the falls was much more of a walk, Screealong gravel road, but punctuated by fear that a small arachnid would find a never-ending feast in my skin. Along the way I passed an old friend- scree- and was reminded of sliding down a hill of liquid rock to the cliff of nothingness. On the right was a giant rock, one of the erratics- giant multi-ton rocks scattered erratically all over the Eastern Washington, all the way down to the Willamette of Central Oregon, witness to the great power of this flood.

Underlying the Earth's story is the story of the discovery of the floods. We didn't always know about this catastrophe. The problem is that for many years most Europeans and Middle Easterners believed that the literal flood of Genesis had actually occurred. It wasn't until the 1700s that scientists were able to prove that geology happens slowly, gradually, and not through catastrophic events. But that wasn't an easy sell, and took many years and the accumulation of much evidence. Thus, scientists were loath to accept any ideas that smacked of catastrophism.

It took a pioneering individual, J Bretz, willing to endure ridicule for decades, to change the nature of geology. He had ample evidence to indicate a catastrophic event had occurred, but geologists were reluctant to give up their sacred cows, or welcome back into the fold something that smacked so closely of religion, like allusions to a great flood. It was only after decades of insisting on the evidence that Bretz was able to convince the geologic world of the Great Missoula Food.

I had one last stop on my journey - to visit the fabled Channeled Scablands, so carefully studied by Bretz, near the town of Othello. Unfortunately, that meant staying the night in Othello.

The people in the hotel were incredibly sweet and kind. They did things like offering me an upgrade to a queen-sized room because the sink in my original room was clogged up. However, the clogged sink was rather indicative of the rooms, with burn marks on the bed, and iron stains on the rug and this for $50/night rooms.

And the rooms were indicative of the town. I asked if the smell lingering everywhere was perhaps the result of large cattle ranches nearby. I was in turn asked, "What smell?" There were a couple items I needed to pick up for my car, and I kept on being directed to Walmart. When I told people I would never in my life enter a Walmart, they were shocked, and wanted to know why, as if they'd never contemplated the idea of boycotting Walmart. When I told them why, they were pleased. Sadly, Walmart has eviscerated the town of Othello, with many stores boarded up. One resident told me Walmart had had a negative impact on business years ago, and the town had never recovered. This was the feel of Othello.

The next morning I was out to visit the Channeled Scablands. The Scablands are like nowhere else on Earth, and were the pivotal place which indicated these Biblical floods. Unlike the rest of the Eastern Washington flood plain, there isn't one channel, but many- 100s of channels, cut back and forth through the land. And the smallest channel is hundreds of feet across.

It has the appearance exactly like the water from a hose, crawling through sand. But it is the hose of a giant. There is the same tear-drop shaped formations, and interlocking channels, magnified 1000s of times. And there is only one other place where we see these formations.

Yes, nowhere else on Earth. But the plains of Mars show an eerie similarity, but with structures much larger. It is for this reason that we began to suspect that there was once great amounts of water on Mars- after we had identified the source of these structures here on Earth, in Washington.

Though come to think of it, I have seen structures that are very similar here on Earth. Some of these canyons, particularly those in the video, look much like what I saw in the Hadremowt of Yemen. Makes one wonder how that might have formed.

I found a marked trail heading up the mesa, so that I could view from above and below the many channels I walked through. This was more of a hike than through the Dry Falls basin, but it was still far too easy. I think climbing the tallest mountain in North Africa has spoiled me.

I climbed to the mesa top, and in the midst of the high winds contemplated my future, the possibility of someone breaking into my car below or of getting ticks, and my need to trust in God that he has my good in mind. Below me was a vast expanse, once filled with rolling waves of fury. And I was struck with how great is the power of God.
videoAs the waves churned through the land, they created giant tornadoes of water, like waterspouts but within the water, like whirlpools but far more intense. These were the kolks. They were intense enough to form holes in the land, digging into solid basalt rock, which later filled with water, creating strange circular ponds throughout the Scablands.

The floodwaters continued on, each time they continued on, till they reached the Columbia Gorge. There the narrow canyon concentrated the flow, increasing the speed and height of the wave to 1000', but down to a measly 500' by the time it reached Portland. And I can imagine native tribes in Portland, hearing the thunder through the Gorge a full hour before it came, and then the wall of 80 mph water approaching, as they contemplate what true apocalypse is, in the few seconds they had left.

Time passes, and nothing stands still- her land nor life. The kolks filled with rainwater, and humans built a dam, allowing the water to seep through, creating a wetlands in the midst of the Scablands, which became a bird flyway, and home to many other animals.

This was particularly fun. I caught a red-winged blackbird chirping next to one of the ponds.
videoThe video was too quiet for humans to hear over a distance of 20 feet, but evidently not for birds. I played it back for the blackbird, and immediately he stopped, and then changed his voice.
I played the second video back, and the blackbird changed his voice a third time.
videoOn the hunt for gas under $4/gallon, I stopped in Ellensburg on the way home. I'm glad I did. It's so rare these days to be able to find hitchhikers and give them a lift. Eric was homeless, on his way from Nebraska by way of Las Vegas to Seattle, to visit the graves of his father and grandfather on Vashon Island, and see some of his family that are part of the Blackfoot Tribe. Las Vegas was to be somewhere where it was warm, but unfortunately he got fined for panhandling there, $150, and has to return in a month for a court date. I encouraged him that we are more hospitable in Seattle. We had a good time sharing on the drive over the Cascades, and, as we approached Roslyn, it turned out that not only had he never been there, but he was a huge fan of Northern Exposure. If he wasn't in the car I wouldn't have thought to stop in and visit. I'd been there before with my brother and sister-in-law, but in the years before digital.

The entire series was filmed in Roslyn, but in real life, it's a camel, not a moose.

This is the story of the land. A time of myth and legend, with floods out of apocalypse, shaping and shifting the land to become a home for new life. And eventually, humans, building their homes and their cities, and using them as models for new stories, of a wild land, far to the North, shaped by the elements.


quaintance said...

Too tired to read all of this interesting post now, so it awaits my free time. Some thoughts:

1) I recall learning a bit of this stuff in Prothero's class
2) My favorite tick-phrase-- "Chick Tent Tick Check"
3) I heard a red-winged blackbird on one of the vid-posts
4) Yay for travel!!

@bdul muHib said...

Thank you! I wouldn't have known what bird that was if you hadn't said. And indeed, it was black, with red on its wings.

Now can you tell me what that honking bird was, that you can hear in two different videos?

mom said...

Have you seen the latest Narnia flick yet? Saw it yesterday w Sophia. Wait for when Aslan recreates the flood...

@bdul muHib said...

Yes, saw it. The CGI of the flood was great, but the movie itself a disappointment. See y review on Amazon.

Omar said...

Some of the photos of those barren rocks, valleys and mountains are strikingly similar to parts of Wady Hadhramout.

It's very clear, that most of the valleys in Wady Hadhramout - were (years ago) parts of rivers, some very strong and deep.

Compare some of these photos to what you have there:

@bdul muHib said...

I was thinking, if you strip the vegetation off, especially in some of the videos I took, how similar it is to parts of Hadremowt I saw. It makes me wonder- for a long time they said that Eastern Washington was created by rivers, too, and not a great flood. I wonder if they might discover a different origin for Hadremowt if they researched it further. Maybe not; just basing it on a surface similarity.

drh said...

Red-winged blackbirds attacked me while I ran in college. I wrote a story involving red-winged blackbirds for a creative-writing class I took in college, too.