Surviving Searing Heat In Frenchman Coulee

The rock formations in Frenchman Coulee are made up of a type of basalt known as columnar basalt.

Wanapum State Park

For this adventure, we decided to use Wanapum State Park as our base camp. Wanapum State Park is a beautiful park situated on the banks of the Columbia River and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The park is known for its unique geological features, including the towering basalt cliffs that rise up from the river. These cliffs were formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity and have been eroded over time by the river, creating a dramatic and beautiful landscape.

In addition to its geological features, Wanapum State Park also has a rich history. The park is named after the Wanapum people, who have lived in the area for thousands of years. The Wanapum were a fishing people, and the Columbia River was central to their way of life. Today, visitors to the park can learn about the Wanapum people and their culture at the park’s interpretive center. The park also has a number of historic sites, including the Wanapum Heritage Center, which houses artifacts and exhibits related to the Wanapum people and their history.

Frenchman Coulee
An elevated view of the waterfal which drops into Frenchman Coulee from the North side.

Geology of Frenchman Couleee

Frenchman Coulee is a popular destination located in the Columbia River Gorge in Washington State. The coulee is known for its unique geological features that have been formed over millions of years. The coulee was formed during the last ice age when water from melting glaciers created a massive flood that carved out the canyon. Over the years, erosion from wind and water has created the unique rock formations that visitors can see today.

The rock formations in Frenchman Coulee are made up of a type of basalt known as columnar basalt. This type of rock is formed when lava cools and contracts, causing it to crack and form hexagonal columns. The columns in Frenchman Coulee are particularly impressive, with some reaching up to 60 feet tall. The rock formations are also known for their unique shapes and textures, with some resembling faces, animals, and other objects.

Frenchman Coulee is not only a popular destination for hiking and rock climbing but also for geology enthusiasts who come to study the unique rock formations. The coulee is an excellent example of the geological processes that have shaped the landscape of the Columbia River Gorge, and visitors can learn about the area’s geological history at the nearby Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. For those interested in earth science, Frenchman Coulee is a fascinating destination that showcases the power of natural forces to shape the world around us.


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The rock formations in Frenchman Coulee are made up of a type of basalt known as columnar basalt.


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Our Visit to Frenchman Coulee

We decided to start early to explore Frenchman Coulee, hoping to avoid the heat. The day prior, we hiked along the Tieton River, with temperatures exceeding 100°F.

We originally went to the north rim, where I had seen a double track on the topo map that seemed to follow the rim. It gave us a good view of the waterfall from above, and I realized this would be a good opportunity to use the drone, not only for some photographs but for a bit of aerial scouting. Indeed, I quickly spotted a trail at the foot of the waterfall, and following it back, I could see that it led from an area of the southern rim. 

The hike to the waterfall’s base was not difficult, but as soon as the sun rose, the temperature also started to rise. Returning back became a bit of a challenge. Although it’s worth the effort, I would suggest avoiding the water. This area is heavily farmed, and pesticides can make their way into the runoff. It’s a classic case of “look but don’t touch”.

During our trip, we had to deal with some unexpected weather conditions. One afternoon, the winds started to blow so hard that we had to pack up our gear and wait inside the trailer until the windstorm passed. Once it was safe to go outside, I went out to set up our camp again. While retrieving our tables, I noticed a coiled Western Rattlesnake near the second table. Although it was a bit of a shock, I managed to stay calm, and the snake eventually left our camp. This experience reminded me of the importance of being vigilant and aware of the wildlife in the area.


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