Palouse Falls

Plunging into a cavernous ravine from atop the Columbia plateau, Palouse Falls descends 200 feet into the Palouse River in southeastern Washington. The canyon scoured by this water is almost 400 feet deep and has sheer basalt walls. Like most geology in the inland northwest, it is a result of the Glacial Lake Missoula floods millions of years ago.Ninety-four acre Palouse Falls State Park was created to preserve this dramatic geologic wonder.

First Impressions

The land dropped away as I approached the park from the Palouse’s rolling hills. I had expected there to be more hiking opportunities here. As it is, the trails run along the rim from a south viewing canopy to the north falls. Fencing and warning signs are everywhere along this trail. Parts of the park were permanently closed after four people died here between 2016 and 2018. The closed trails were not made by Washington State Parks and Recreation but rather “social trails” that visitors had made over the years and were never intended to be used as such.

The Falls

The falls are impressive, creating clouds of spray, mist, and moisture on the canyon walls.

There is a wide riffle fall just upriver from the main plunge.

The basalt columns have an artistry all their own. Rapidly cooling lava from eons ago creates these uniform columns. The hues and shapes are a result of erosion and time.

Rock doves congregate near the top of the falls. Ravens play in the updrafts created by the gorge, speeding past too quickly for any pictures. Just before leaving, I would spot a raven’s nest spilling out of the cliffs and make a note to return.

Raven’s Nest

The Highlight!

But the real highlight of this trip is the marmots. They easily outnumber the people by five to one. What a delightful surprise!

There is one that is huge compared to the rest. He must be the colony boar. The rest of the marmots are his females and yearling offspring. Although it seems early in the breeding season, there is a nursing female curious about my presence.

Sometimes, when I pass by, the marmots alarm, sending the smaller ones scurrying into their burrows; other times, they continue to graze and approach too closely, and I have to distance myself. Look at how many marmots are in the background of this video!

They’re charismatic, rotund, gregarious, adorable, wobbly giant guinea pigs. I can’t get enough!

Papa chuck, flanked by the kids.

As the shadows grow longer, I hear the distant call of coyotes carry across the steppe. It’s time to start the drive back. This was a fulfilling experience walking the trails, marveling at the basalt, watching the water cascade, and the endless entertainment of those charismatic marmots!

The long shadows on the canyon walls remind me of an African savannah scene with a proud lion to the right of the falls.

If you’re interested in purchasing or licensing any images you see here, please email me at SNewenham at exploringnaturephotos.com, and I’ll make it happen.

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