Tag Archives: Yakima River

The Crossroads

Lower Crab Creek provided water. In Eastern Washington, that was a godsend. Temperatures on the Columbia Plateau routinely soar to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summertime, and rain is scarce. Cleaning irrigation ditches with a shovel west of Othello as a boy, many were the prayers I sent for even one scanty cloud to shield me from the overbearing sun.

The Sinkiuse Indians who lived there before me probably shared my distaste for the relentless sun. But they didn’t have the benefit of a well of cold water I could retire to, an air conditioner that cooled the house when I took a break. They were stuck with the weather the way it was: hot in the summertime, cold in the winter. They took a more basic approach to living on the Columbia Plateau: they stuck close to water, or if that weren’t possible, they found the shortest route from one water hole to the next.

Over centuries of migration and travel, humans developed routes that guided them along the most direct lines of travel from one pool or stream of potable water to the next. Continue reading

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A Picnic to End the Dustbowl

Farmers and ranchers and their families mingled with promoters and dignitaries to hear about the progress being made. From the top of the mountain they gazed north on the desert lands that Grand Coulee Dam would make into a garden.

Farmers and ranchers and their families mingled with promoters and dignitaries to hear about the progress being made. From the top of the mountain they gazed north on the desert lands that Grand Coulee Dam would make into a garden.

They gathered on top of Saddle Mountain in the heat of August, 1927, on a patch of sand and basalt at the top of the cliffs that form the western edge of the landmark that gave the mountain its name. Every car and truck that arrived ground the powdery soil in the road into a finer dust that hung in billows over the hillside before drifting slowly away. As they arrived, the cars were directed to a makeshift parking lot, a vacant hillside spotted with small sagebrush. But the passengers were dressed in their finest clothes, as if coming to a wedding. And in a sense, they were.

The State of Washington would look a lot different today if Grand Coulee Dam hadn’t been built…something that probably couldn’t happen today. My purpose here isn’t to debate whether or not it was right to so dramatically alter the environment of the Eastern Washington desert (indeed, because my family has been so closely tied to the enterprise, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it). To get a brief history of the dam, you can find this excellent, pretty well balanced, article on HistoryLink.org.

It’s hard to imagine what the farmers who attended that picnic on Saddle Mountain were feeling. Over the years many of them had watched their neighbors and friends give up or fail on the lands they had invested so many years of labor to develop. Continue reading