A few weeks ago I walked along the edge of a windy ridge that marks the northwestern limit of the larger Missoula Flood events. The elevation stands at 2310 feet, just over a thousand feet above the string of lakes below. 15-13,000 years ago the floods plowed into these headlands and created the narrow valley below. Each of the flood events thundered in from both the north and the east, arriving in such volume and with such force the surge topped this ridge and literally ripped off the leading edge. The main body of the flood itself rose to within a couple hundred feet of this particular overlook; all that could be seen from here at the time, clear out to the most distant horizon, was a raging slurry mostly comprised of muddy water, broken ice, and every size and kind of rocky material imaginable. Vast whirlpools, spawned by the cataract at Dry Falls to the north would have occasionally drifted by. A scene straight out of Hell.
I visited this ridge a couple times on that trip, each time hoping to get a better sense for the scope and size of these ancient Ice Age monsters. I have a fertile imagination, and have a fair grasp of the abstract scale of the events. I can imagine the action, which is a step in the right direction; but what I am really looking for is that electric-like feeling that comes from connecting to something like this at a truly existential level.
I also hoped to get a better sense for how J Harlen Bretz was able to recognize, almost from the outset of his studies of the area, that the predominant geological thinking of his day could not fully account for the landscape itself. I made a little progress on that front, and quite by accident. I was photographing a freshly plowed field, as well as a nearby abandoned school house:
As I was getting back into the truck I noticed the drainage ditch along side the road. There was my ridge and the rest of the coulee, in miniature:
Coulee formation in miniature, complete with graded gravels, sand bars, and drumlins.
When I finally stopped laughing, I took off my hat, stared up into the beautiful blue sky, and exclaimed, "Thank you, J!"