By John Eliot Allen

The formation of the Grand Coulee remained a secret for a few years, until eventually J Harlen Bretz proved that the Columbia River basin was once the positioning of big floods 15,000 years in the past that created the panorama we see at the present time.

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Additional info for Cataclysms on the Columbia: a layman's guide to the features produced by the catastrophic Bretz floods in the Pacific Northwest

Sample text

A few years back pet rocks were in vogue: "easy on the furniture, non-shedding, guaranteed housebroken, may be fed on milk (it comes in quartz)" and so on. And this joking is understandable. Rocks as symbols of affection are amusing; and the prototype of the rock-lover, the rock hound, iswell, let's admit itfaintly comical. But perhaps we're being unfair. Rock hounds are only the hangers-on, the groupies to the profession. What about the trained geologist? What about the degreed and practiced geological specialist?

This in itself makes the Gorge a bit unusual, but it was not the existence of the Gorge that most caught Bretz's attention. S. Geological Survey map of Quincy Basin had mainly impressed him with the oddity of its dry falls; in the Columbia Gorge (which begins 120 miles southwest of the Potholes Cataract) what impressed and surprised Bretz were the number of misfit rocks. These misfits, called "erratics," are rocks located a considerable distance away from their area of origin. The Spokane Flood erraticsas they would come to be knownare by no means limited to the Columbia Gorge.

Now what did all this mean? Why, for example, should Bretz find the cataract so particularly surprising? First of all there was the matter of the falls being "dry," in itself puzzling, but the principal mystery lay in explaining the very existence of a waterfall in this unlikely spot. " They are temporary features on the earth, aberrations that normal geological processes will sooner or later eliminate. Back in the late eighteenth century, James Hutton (1795) introduced certain geological theories that were taken up and further developed by John Playfair in a work that appeared in 1802 and was entitled Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of Earth.

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