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MailTribune.com
  • Water, warmth and wonders

    Washington State's Sun Lakes-Dry Falls Park offers a host of rare experiences
  • SUN LAKES-DRY FALLS STATE PARK, Wash. — Where else in the state of Washington can you go for a seven-minute hike and witness the results of an underwater tornado?
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  • SUN LAKES-DRY FALLS STATE PARK, Wash. — Where else in the state of Washington can you go for a seven-minute hike and witness the results of an underwater tornado?
    I was walking in the park's 4,027-acre sagebrush landscape along a 19th-century trail used to take cattle from Oregon to the Cariboo Mine in British Columbia. But suddenly I was immersed in a history much older, as I stood before a rocky pothole big enough to swallow a suburban house.
    This was an artifact of the ice-age floods of some 15,000 years ago, when mammoth ice dams in Montana broke and the waters of a giant lake — with 500 cubic miles of water — swept across Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington and scoured out the dramatic coulees we see today. The raging floodwaters were hundreds of feet deep.
    "The potholes were created when the floodwaters created a vortex, or underwater tornado, that would burrow out these holes in basalt rock," said Chris McCart, an interpretive specialist at the nearby Dry Falls Visitor Center. "They're 50 feet deep or more and look like someone cut them out with a cookie cutter."
    Just "upstream" from where I stood, Dry Falls itself was once the site of, well, a sight to behold. Here, during those floods, raging waters dropped more than 400 feet over cliffs 3.5 miles wide — more than twice as high and three times as wide as Niagara Falls.
    Sun Lakes, a series of lakes in the coulee bottom below Dry Falls, has been a vacation playground for decades, drawing Puget Sounders hungry for desert heat. And while some visitors may be just as happy swimming, paddling and water skiing in perfect ignorance of this place's natural history, combine the educational opportunities with fun in the sun and you get a state park well worth a visit.
    What makes it a gem
    All of the above. And there's so much to do:
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