About Dry Falls
Dry Falls is the geological legacy of one of the largest waterfalls ever documented (albeit through geological forensics since no one was actually there and documented it when it happened).
How big of a waterfall are we talking about?
It had a rim that was 3.5 miles wide and 400ft tall, which allegedly would have made it the largest waterfall in the world.
To give you an idea of how this compares to what I call the “Big Three”, Iguazu Falls is nearly 2 miles in cumulative width, Victoria Falls is about a mile wide, and Niagara Falls is nearly 0.6-mile in cumulative width.
While other large waterfalls have disappeared or been severely impacted due to manmade intervention (e.g. Sete Quedas or Guaira Falls), Dry Falls was an exhibition of Mother Nature’s violence.
Experiencing Dry Falls
As far as visiting the Dry Falls, it was pretty much as simple as driving up to the Dry Falls Visitor Center, where there was a fairly large parking lot (see directions below).
Throughout the parking area, we were able to look out at the cliffs that once harbored the massive waterfall, but there was one corner where a lookout protruded further out from the cliffs near a shelter.
On the opposite side of the parking area, there was a visitor center as well as some refreshments or ice cream stands.
During our visit in mid-June 2021, that visitor center was closed (likely due to COVID-19) so we can’t say anything more about what else we could have learned and experienced from within its confines.
In any case, as far as witnessing the view before us, it was hard to wrap our heads around the scale of the Dry Falls, especially since the overlook only seemed to reveal the western third of its overall width!
We couldn’t even see the other two-thirds of its overall width due to an elongated butte or island obstructing the far right side of Dry Falls.
I did notice some vehicles driving an unpaved road within the basin of where Dry Falls once flowed, and perhaps there may be other opportunities or ways to experience the falls, but we haven’t pursued them.
Why Talk About A Waterfall That No Longer Exists?
Technically, Dry Falls shouldn’t even have a write-up on this website since it isn’t really a legitimate waterfall.
Indeed, it’s really more of a geological attraction than a waterfall attraction, but then again, aren’t waterfalls in general also a consequence of the earth’s geology at some point in their history?
Regardless, I decided to devote a write-up about Dry Falls because it is the geological legacy of one of the largest waterfalls ever documented (albeit through geological forensics).
Of course, using the term “waterfalls” can mean different things to different people because shouldn’t the waterfall have had some permanence when it was flowing in the way that Niagara Falls perennially flows?
However, in the case of Dry Falls, we’re really looking at a blip in the geological time scale because it was pretty much a flash flood for all intents and purposes.
So should ephemeral flash flood waterfalls be considered legitimate?
I’ll leave that up for debate, but when we drove towards Coulee City, we noticed that there was a dam that actually held up water that would have drained and fallen over Dry Falls!
Therefore, Dry Falls could have actually still been a legitimate waterfall (albeit a much smaller version of its former self) had the dam by Coulee City as well as the Grand Coulee Dam even further upstream not been there to obstruct its flow to the Columbia River.
What Caused Dry Falls?
The prevailing theory of its formation so far is that an Ice Age glacial ice dam held up the Glacial Lake Missoula, which was about the size of Lake Huron covering most of Western Montana.
At some point, the ice dam failed, which released most of the lake’s waters in what seemed like the mother of all flash floods.
It left a geological legacy known as the Scablands throughout Central and Eastern Washington.
Dry Falls is one of the remnants of the Great Missoula Flood, but it was also responsible for a re-route of the ancient Palouse River to its present course resulting in the Palouse Falls.
There is apparently evidence to suggest that the Great Missoula Flood was not a singular event, and that it might have occurred multiple times throughout past Ice Ages.
For more information about this geologic puzzle, there is a well-made video showing a computer simulation of the flash flood event, which you can view here.
I’ve also found an in-depth article about the Great Missoula Flood from PBS, which you can also read about here.
Dry Falls resides in the Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park near Coulee City in Grant County, Washington. It is administered by the Washington State Parks. For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Since we stayed in Ephrata when we visited Dry Falls, I’ll start by describing the driving directions from there.
From Ephrata, we’d drive for about 6.6 miles northeast on the WA-28 to the WA-17 at Soap Lake.
Turning left onto the WA-17, we then drove another 18 miles to the Dry Falls Visitor Center Parking Lot on the right.
Had we come from Coulee City, then we’d drive about 1.7 miles across the dam responsible for Banks Lake, then we’d turn left onto the WA-17.
Once on the WA-17, we’d drive southwest for about 2 miles before turning left into the Dry Falls Visitor Center Parking Lot.
For some context, Ephrata was 29 miles (a little over 30 minutes drive) southwest of Coulee City, 94 miles (over 90 minutes drive) north of Kennewick, about 123 miles (under 2 hours drive) west of Spokane, and 171 miles (over 2.5 hours) east of Seattle.
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