Wandering Through Ancient Lakes

Ancient Lakes is a cluster of three small lakes nestled at the head of Potholes Coulee; a flat bottomed, cliff ringed valley.

Ancient Lakes

Recently I was watching a gear review video on YouTube. I don’t remember what they were reviewing but I remember where they were doing their review; Ancient Lakes. I had never seen or even heard about this area of Washington, and did some quick calling to my buddies. They weren’t familiar with the area either. That’s all it took for me to pull maps and start making plans to visit the area.

Ancient Lakes
Having hiked up to the saddle between coulees we were able to look down at Dusty Lakes.

Ancient Lakes is a cluster of three small lakes nestled at the head of a flat bottomed, cliff ringed valley called a coulee in these parts of Washington. The Ancient Lakes coulee is carved into the orchard-covered Quincy plateau and faces west, toward the Columbia River. This area is a great example of a recessional-cataract canyon. Potholes Coulee caught the attention of J Harlen Bretz in the early 20th century, which led to his “outrageous hypothesis” of Ice Age flooding; a very controversial theory during his time, but one that proved to be correct!

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Ancient Lakes is a cluster of three small lakes nestled at the head of Potholes Coulee; a flat bottomed, cliff ringed valley.

Steve Weileman
Ancient Lakes

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Potholes State Park

This year it’s hard to get short notice camping reservations as I’m sure everyone has noticed, but we did luck out and found a spot over at Potholes State Park which is only about a 45-minute drive from Ancient Lakes. We camped here once before when the temperatures had been a blistering 105 in the shade. Can’t say we enjoyed it much that time, but this time of year we had cold nights, and pleasant day temps this go-around and did enjoy the campsite.

We left early in the morning for Ancient Lakes and as we pulled in the parking lot it looked like we were going to have the place much to ourselves. However, before we could even gear up the parking lot started filling up with arrivals. There are so many trails that spider web off the parking area that we rarely saw but a handful of fellow hikers once on the trail.

The only exception to this was the waterfall at the head of Ancient Lakes. This seemed to be the main attraction and it looked like a tour bus had ejected its payload at its base. As such we contented ourselves with the view from across the lake.

The real treat and view were when we decided to hike up to the south rim of the coulee. The topo map should have a saddle that would give us a view of the neighboring Dusty Lake. Not only did that prove to be the case but the views from the rim top back over Ancient Lake were spectacular.

We did get lucky with our timing. The desert flowers were in bloom, and there was an incredible number of birds in the area. And I’m happy to say that the one animal that I kept seeing a warning about — rattlesnakes, didn’t make an appearance at all. We’re already making plans for a return visit in the fall.

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