Dry Falls—Earth’s Largest Waterfall—and Climate Change 8


Maureen Kay, author, at Dry Falls. Natural and human-caused climate change

Hiking at Dry Falls State Park in eastern Washington State. This cliff is a tiny portion of the rock wall that is three-and-a-half miles wide, four hundred feet high, and was once the precipice for the earth’s largest waterfall.

Snow in the Cascades of Washington State

Snow had fallen near White Pass along our way. Our nights were wintry.

Autumn foliage in Washington State

The last weekend of October was a beautiful time to drive to the dry eastern part of Washington State.

Our family drove to eastern Washington this autumn. We encountered stunning views shaped by massive geologic events. The weekend trip inspired me to think about climate change–both climate change caused by natural forces since the beginning of Earth, and climate change caused by human forces.

Traces of our region’s tumultuous past abound in central and eastern Washington. Potholes State Park, where we stayed, is named for the small bodies of water scattered around the area. Depressions–dozens of feet wide and up to sixty feet deep–formed during the last Ice Age.

Cabin at Potholes State Park, Washington State

The pet-friendly heated cabin we rented at Potholes State Park. Cooking over a campfire is extra special in the middle of autumn.

Rock wall, part of historic Dry Falls, natural climate change

A bit of the rock wall, with a pothole of murky water.

We drove north to Dry Falls State Park to hike and learn more about the geologic history of the region. Dry Falls was the largest waterfall to have existed on Earth–two and a half times higher and five times wider than Niagra Falls. It developed during the last Ice Age as a result of an enormous sheet of ice that dammed up rivers, creating Glacial Lake Missoula. The water broke through the ice dam, causing repeated floods, turning many square miles of ground into what is called the Channeled Scablands, and creating a monster waterfall.

Road to hike at Dry Falls, Washington State

We drove a mile on this bumpy rode in Dry Falls State Park to reach the beginning of our hiking trail.

Evidence of tremendous, natural climate change surrounded us. This reminded me of a presentation by a professional climate change skeptic I heard when I happened to attend a Rotary Club meeting in Medford, Oregon in 1991 or 1992. The man spoke for a long time, citing fact after fact about the great geologic and meteorologic changes our planet has experienced naturally over many thousands of years.

Before hearing him, I thought it likely climate change was intensifying due to pollution, but he inundated us with data to build his case that climate change could all be explained by natural phenomena. I left unsure, and open to either possibility. Over the years, my belief grew stronger that humans were causing our dangerous rapid climate change, and I felt Al Gore’s 2006 film about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, built an irrefutable case.

Our son, Maureen Kay's blog on Dry Falls and climate change

Our adult son met my husband, daughter, and me at Potholes. And had fun with our dog.

It has become clear large corporations that profit from the burning of fossil fuels insidiously have paid scientists and others to distort the evidence of human-caused climate change, much as tobacco companies hired scientists and public relations personnel to confuse the public regarding the link between their products and cancer.

The Palisades, created by an ancient lava flow

On our way home we stopped to see The Palisades.

I appreciate having heard that detailed presentation by a professional climate change skeptic; it helps me better understand the deluge of information that has convinced so many people climate change is solely a natural phenomenon. But here are four points worth making to people unsure whether human pollutants are disrupting our climate:

The Palisades of Washington State

Columns of rock created by an ancient lava flow at the Palisades in central Washington along Highway 12.

1. The skeptic I heard presented himself as having extensively and objectively examined the scientific studies involved in global warming. Yet it is a great hypocrisy that such skeptics rely heavily on scientific research about natural climate change over the course of Earth’s geologic history, then discount equally rigorous scientific studies and virtual worldwide consensus of the experts involved when it comes to current climate change caused by humans.

2. The scientific consensus around human-caused climate change has reached the same degree of certainty as the scientific consensus that smoking causes cancer.

3. The conservative response should be to reduce the risk of human-caused climate change, as denying the risk is reckless, not conservative. The evidence points to a minimum of 95% certainty that more greenhouse gases released into our atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and other human industry increases climate chaos. Normally, people respond to small risks by doing such things as purchasing insurance, wearing seatbelts, acquiring guns, or keeping their children inside. It is irrational to then avoid responding to a ruinous global risk that is nearly certain.

Elk. Many animals will need protection to survive climate change.

Elk roaming free in front of the school in the town of Packwood, along Highway 12. The survival of many species of wild animals depends on the choices we make about climate change.

4. The stakes couldn’t be higher: more intense storms including hurricanes and tornadoes, increased flooding, submerged coastlines and islands, more droughts and water shortages, more forest fires, adverse soil impacts, and the loss of many species of animals and plants. As a result of most of these factors, famines are expected to increase in number and severity, and populations are likely to move from regions where conditions become too harsh, leading to increased tensions between nations.

Windmills for an alternative energy source to combat climate change

The Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility east of Ellensburg in central Washington is part of the solution.

Resevoir, one response to climate change

Rimrock Lake, Tieton Reservoir in central Washington. State policy makers have recommended increasing reservoir capacity to deal with water shortages expected from climate change.

We know what we need to do to solve this human-made climate crisis: more than anything else, we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Our environment needs all fossil fuels to stay in the ground. Our individual choices matter, but our collective choices, channeled through our government, matter much more: whether tax breaks go to oil companies, or to develop green energy industries; whether public funds are used to build more roads, or public transit and bicycle paths; whether we base our economy on the need to constantly expand, or we develop new economic models that are more sustainable.

Sun setting over rock at Dry Falls. Time is running out to protect the planet from climate change.

Time is running out.

Let’s keep our rivers flowing, and our waterfalls cascading.

Clear Creek Falls, waterfalls, Washington State

Clear Creek Falls near White Pass along Highway 12.


(All photos from our family album, taken October 26 and 27, 2013 in central and eastern Washington State.)


About Maureen Kay

Maureen Kay has just finished writing a novel called Fracture. She blogs about her personal experiences, bigger issues, other authors, and her writing journey.


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8 thoughts on “Dry Falls—Earth’s Largest Waterfall—and Climate Change

  • Maureen Kay.

    Thanks for the comments.

    I want to encourage people to look at this blog post: http://iceagefloods.blogspot.com/2009/05/umatilla-rock-dry-falls.html — these photos of Dry Falls are the best I found online. The rock wall segment we “hiked” (more like scrambling on all fours for me part of the time) must be this Umatilla Rock he features as it all fits, though I didn’t know the name. The spire (his 12th photo) looks like the same spire at the top of the trail we took.

  • Rachel

    I hate to be pessimistic, but I’ve lost hope that the human race, as a whole, will do anything about global warming. I truly believe that this phenomenon, like so many of the earth’s woes, stems from human over population, and if we don’t address that problem, at some point, mother nature will do it for us.

  • Naomi Baltuck

    Hi Maureen,
    Looks like a great trip. We were there a couple years ago when a storytelling tour took us right past there. It really is stunning–like our own little grand canyon.
    It is discouraging that people are so easily bought and managed by corporations. Most of the legislators who deny the reality of climate change caused by humans are dining, golfing, and traveling out of the pockets of lobbyists for the fossil fuel companies.
    But it is important to keep speaking out, and doing what we can. We drive a Prius hybrid and are about to replace our van with another more fuel efficient car.

  • Carlo D'Anna

    Thanks Maureen. Your article depicts drastic geological events that have occurred in the vast and timeless periods of our earth’s existence, and how these events are a lesson to us that climate does change on the whims of circumstance. The latest event seemingly is the huge impact our species has wrought to the current life-cycles. Many believe in our times that currently there is a major multi-species die off caused by our inexplicable wasteful habits of literally burning our houses to ourselves warm. These die-offs do occur from time to time, and eventually life on the earth is newly concocted by the aftermath. I just finished a science fiction trilogy by Margaret Atwood starting with the book Oryx and Crake about the results of human scientific and genetic malfeasance. These are a must read as cautionary tales.

  • Allyssa Axell

    Thank you for your excellent post Maureen. You translate, with such ease, appreciation of our planet’s exquisite beauty into needed environmental exhortations.

    Just watched Bill Maher on HBO. He was decrying the lack of media attention on the extreme effects of 4 years of severe drought in California – the state that grows 25% of our nation’s food crops.

    Hey, I’m picturing a thoughtful thinker and writer – you – rallying the troops in California to wake up; to begin taking mitigating action now. It’s not just Californians who eat the fruits (the vegetables, nuts, grains, herbs, seeds) nourished by Earth’s precious and dwindling water supply.

    Vital water that’s being “carbon compounded” and fracked away into evaporating contaminated smithereens.

    Sometimes you shine the light of your writing craft into areas represented by the best of society’s muckrakers.

    But you never forget to mention the beauty. Your gratitude is at the core of your powerful writing.