J Harlen Bretz was a geologist that spent his life being curious about the world around him. He turned this curiosity into a theory about how the landscape of the Northwest was changed due to massive flooding over 14,000 years ago. A theory that he had to fight hard to get others to believe. “Bretz had built a modest reputation as an expert on stream and glacial erosion by the time he turned his attention to the scablands. He quickly became convinced that neither kind of erosion could account for what he saw there: huge, dry channels; great chunks of prairie stripped down to bare basalt; massive boulders of granite scattered in places far from any natural source of granite; circular divots in the earth that were so big, cattle could be hidden in them; cataracts — one five times as wide as Niagara — that had once clearly been waterfalls, in an area that gets less rainfall in a year than Seattle does in a month. The depth of the channels, the fact that the channel bottoms were filled with coarse gravel carried in from outside the area, the scouring of the basalt bedrock: to Bretz, all this suggested a sudden, violent flood.” (Historylink.org, essay 8382)
Tuesday, May 13 through Thursday, May 15, Corbett Grade School Intermediate students will travel to Central Washington to view the evidence of these massive floods. They will see the giant potholes, view glacial erratics, visit a plunge pool, and meet a geologist from Central Washington University that continues to study of the massive floods. Our students will hike Frenchman Coulee to view how the landscape was changed by the massive flow of water so long ago. Our travels will take us to Grand Coulee Dam to see how the floods changed the course of the river and how the dam now provides electricity and irrigation for people.
Why travel so far? Simple. Our school believes in place-based education. We are fortunate that the place we live in is the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge. Our focus this school year has been about learning the geologic history of the Gorge. The history of how the water rushed down the mighty Columbia and left deposits of rich lake loess in the areas of Hood River helps us understand that those deposits have helped to make it the fertile valley it is today. As the glacial lake scoured the landscape, it also carried huge boulders and dropped them along the way. The origins of these erratics were in Canada and Montana and now can be found in the Willamette Valley. Knowing how the force of the flood water carved out and left monoliths like Beacon Rock and Rooster Rock, helps explain that one day those large monoliths will eventually to erode over time to a much smaller version. Some of our amazing waterfalls found along the sides are also a result of the massive floods. Knowing how and why something has happened often leads to more questions and more investigating. It leads to curiosity.
Helping our students to fully understand how the world has changed over time is essential to seeing their part in how it continues to change. People that have an understanding of the place they live tend to want to preserve that place. They feel apart of it and understand the importance of protecting it for future generations. Our hope is that when children have an understanding of where they live, they too will have a curiosity that leads them to go out into the world and discover all of its wonders.