After spending the night at the Gorge Amphitheater (my first time there; fantastic venue!) watching Steve Winwood and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, my mom, Deborah, and I woke up early to head up north to the Grand Coulee Dam. The road to the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States wove through beautiful columnar, basaltic rocks, lakes, and meadows full of wildflowers making the drive much more enjoyable than expected. After passing Steamboat Rock State Park, a rock island in Banks Lake, my mom and I added a detour to our return trip to our agenda.
Following signs to the tour of the Grand Coulee Dam, we passed by the town of Grand Coulee which is located above the dam and the town of Coulee Dam which is situated below the dam. Later on during the tour, we learned that these two towns have been here since the construction of the dam, which began in 1933 and ended in 1942. The houses were created for the sole purpose of providing housing for workers. Both towns appear to be blossoming; green lawns and trees line the streets and the high school in Coulee Dam is looking very spiffy after a recent remodel.
Arriving at the tour meeting spot at 12:40 PM, my mom and I took a quick lunch break before the FREE fifty-minute tour started at 1 PM. The lovely tour guide helped us load onto a bus that would take us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the John W. Keys III Pump-Generating Plant. Inside the plant we learned that what appeared to be gigantic green tubs were pumps that forced water uphill 280 feet from Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (the lake above the dam) to Banks Lake. This water supplies irrigation for approximately 670,000 acres of farmland in the Columbia Basin Project! What I found especially intriguing was the fact that the dam was originally intended for irrigation, not power. However, the irrigation process was postponed as the wartime need for electricity increased. The dam’s powerhouse began in 1941, right around the time World War II began, and its electricity was crucial to the war effort.
Our tour guide kept us entertained by telling us stories about the lives of the Grand Coulee Dam workers. Apparently an underground tunnel was built connecting the male and female dormitories! Unfortunately 80 men died during the construction of the dam but despite common myth, our tour guide confirmed that in fact no people are buried in the dam (meaning it’s not haunted, yay!).
After touring the Pump-Generating plant and re-boarding the bus we were dropped off at a viewpoint at the top of the dam, giving all the visitors time to take photos and peer hundreds of feet down to the bottom of the dam. One man faced his fear of heights and carefully stuck his head off the side of the railing to get a really good look. After the very interesting, educational tour was over, my mom and I eagerly headed to Steamboat Rock to soak up some sun.
Unfortunately this location is not really accessible by bus so I would recommend getting together a group a friends to carpool there.