Columbia Basin

This ecoregion is centered on eastern Washington and includes northern Oregon

Snake-Columbia Shrub-Steppe, Part IV, Columbia Basin

Floods of lava, floods of the Ice Age, and dry waterfalls

There are several distinct areas of this shrub-steppe ecoregion of the Columbia Plateau (NA 1309). For the purposes of this discussion, the ecoregion is subdivided into four sections, based on biological or geographic criteria.

The fourth area, the Columbia Basin, is the desert along the Columbia River in northern Oregon and central Washington.  It is underlain by volcanic Columbia River basalts, but the area is most notable for the Ice Age floods that ranged from one million years ago to 13,000 years ago. In the Rocky Mountains to the east, ice dams formed and failed many times, releasing walls of water that surged southwest and flooded the area several hundred feet deep. The rocky barren lands created by the scouring of the floodwaters are known today as scablands (Montgomery 2012). Today there are geologic features throughout the Columbia River portion of the Snake-Columbia shrub-steppe that provide evidence of these floods. The floods were apparently carrying icebergs, since glacial erratics are scattered around places where the water was temporarily constricted. Wallula Gap (1) National Natural Landmark (NNL) is a two-km-wide constriction in the Columbia River, behind which water backed up during the catastrophic Lake Missoula floods 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, creating temporary Lake Lewis until the water drained, probably a week or so. Twice as much water backed up behind Wallula Gap as could pass through.  Tributary rivers such as the Yakima and Walla Walla reversed flow as water surged up them. The Yakima River near Benton City has reverse flow badlands where there were extra scouring and potholes at a restriction to water heading the reverse direction. It is believed that Lake Missoula drained dozens of times, creating temporary floods and a temporary lake each  time.

The Columbia River basalts are a remnant of an earlier event, the eruption of basalts on the edge of the North American continent. Typically, basalts are formed in the oceans at the locations where plates are spreading apart. However, there are also eruptions in the continental crust in a few places, forming major continental basalt plateaus. The 200,000-square kilometer area of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho along the Columbia and Snake Rivers is one such area. The eruption of basalts formed the Columbia Plateau between 17 million and 6 million years ago. The source of the eruptions was the present-day junction of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, from which lava flowed and filled the area to the north and west, from Spokane to the Cascades and down the Columbia River to Portland. One flow, known as the Roza flow, moved 300 km in a matter of days from eastern Washington to the Dalles area. According to Hooper (1982), a lava front about 30 m high, over 100 km wide, and at a temperature of 1100˚C, advanced at a rate of five km per hour. One of the outcomes of catastrophic events like this was the preservation of sites like the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park (2), a NNL.

There is one National Historic Landmark in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe. The B Reactor (3), Department of Energy, Washington (N46˚38’ W119˚39’), was the first production-scale nuclear reactor, built in 1943 to 1944, provided plutonium for the Trinity Test in New Mexico, the first nuclear detonation, and the “Fat Man,” the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Following the demonstration of a chain reaction at the University of Chicago in 1942, the Manhattan Project began. A site at Hanford was chosen to construct a 250-MW reactor. The B Reactor is a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, National Civil Engineering Landmark, and Nuclear Historic Landmark.

The National Natural Landmarks of the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe tend to be related to the ice age floods; however, there is one commemorating a unique fossil deposit and another at a water gap of unusual relief.

Drumheller Channels (4), Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and Goose Lakes Unit of Columbia Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚59’ W119˚12’) is an erosional landscape characterized by hundreds of isolated, steep-sided hills surrounded by braided channels. Between 8,000and 12,000 years ago,  glacial Lake Missoula was periodically dammed by ice, then the ice dam broke dozens of times, creating massive floods that scoured the Columbia River drainage.

Grand Coulee (5), Washington is located between Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River and Soap Lake.  This 50-mile-long ice age flood channel was carved by the periodic floods originating from Lake Missoula. Perhaps a highlight of the steep-sided channel is the dramatic Dry Falls (N47˚36’ W119˚21’), a 400-foot dry waterfall is 3.5 miles wide, now in Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park. Also occupying Grand Coulee upstream of Dry Falls is Banks Lake/Dry Falls Dam, a Bureau of Reclamation irrigation storage facility within the Columbia Project. Lower Grand Coulee is included in the Sun Lakes Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area.

Moses Coulee Great Gravel Bar (6), Grant County Public Utility District, Washington (N47˚17’ W120˚5’) was created during the first of the Lake Missoula floods, when the Columbia River surged down Moses Coulee. Later an ice lobe blocked this channel, and all later floods used Grand Coulee. Floods traversing Moses Coulee deposited a massive mile-wide, 400-foot deep gravel bar where it confluenced with the Columbia River. The terminus of the coulee is on Route 28 between Rock Island and Quincy. The gravel bar deposit can be viewed from across the river from Yo-Yo Rock Boat Launch of the Grant County Public Utility District on Wanapum Lake. Public access to the shoreline is available at the Apricot Orchard shoreline access site on Wanapum Lake on Route 28. The entirety of Moses Coulee and the Waterville Plateau to the north is an Important Bird Area (IBA) for greater sage grouse, sage sparrow, and sage thrasher.

Wallula Gap (1), Lake Wallula/ McNary Lock and Dam, Washington (N46˚3’ W118˚56’) is also an ice age flood site. During the Lake Missoula floods, this area on the Columbia River just south of the confluence with the Walla Walla River served as a large-scale hydraulic constriction. Because all the water could not overtop the ridge here, water backed up until the area could drain.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park (2), Washington (N46˚57’ W120˚0’) is on I-90 at the Columbia River/Lake Wanapum crossing. This ancient fossil bed contains thousands of logs of Miocene age (15 million years ago) which were entombed in basalt lava flows. Ginkgo, redwood, Douglas-fir, and deciduous trees were growing in the forest. This is also an ice-age flood carved landscape; also present are occasional glacial erratics that rode on ice floes during the floods.

Umtanum Ridge Water Gap (7), Wenas Wildlife Area and BLM, Washington (N46˚48’ W120˚27’) is where the Yakima River goes through Umtanum Ridge. The Yakima River forms the eastern edge of the 105,000-acre Wenas Wildlife Area. Umtanum Ridge rises to 3,000 feet less than one mile from the Yakima River, where the elevation is 1,200 feet. On the north side of the ridge there are also cliffs along Untanum Creek, which has a hiking trail. This precipitous topography was formed as the Yakima River, which predated the ridge building, cut through the ridge as it was rising. To the north of Umtanum Ridge is Manastash Ridge, which has a similar water gap and topographic extremes. State Route 821 follows the river through Yakima River Canyon and the two water gaps between Ellensburg and Yakima. Between the two ridges is Umtanum Creek Valley, which is an IBA. The Roza Diversion Dam is located in the canyon at the water gap.

There is one National Environmental Research Park in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe, Hanford Environmental Research Park (3), Department of Energy (Department of Energy) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Washington (N46˚30’ W119˚30’). This 586-square-mile undisturbed shrub steppe includes the DOE lands of the Hanford Reservation, along with the adjoining Hanford Reach National Monument, Rattlesnake Hills area. Although the central Hanford area includes former nuclear production facilities, the area has been the site of 50 years of ecological, geological, hydrological, climate, soil, and contaminant transport research.

One unit of the National Forest System is in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (8), Oregon and Washington. The eastern end of this area around The Dalles extends into this ecoregion. The Columbia Hills area from the Klickitat National Recreational River upstream to Rock Creek (upstream of the John Day River confluence with the Columbia River) is an IBA for raptors.

The National Landscape Conservation System units in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe, Juniper Dunes Wilderness and Lower Deschutes, and Middle Crooked Wild and Scenic Rivers are described separately below under those categories.

There are a number of federally licensed or constructed reservoirs in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe.  On the Columbia River mainstem are seven reservoirs, described moving upstream. The lowermost reservoir in the map area is Lake Celilo (8), USACE, Oregon-Washington (N45˚39’ W121˚0’). This is a 24-mile-long reservoir on the Columbia River formed by The Dalles Lock and Dam. There is a visitor center and fish passage facility at the dam. The area west of the Maryhill/US Route 97 bridge is part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Upstream of Celilo is Lake Umatilla/John Dam Lock and Dam (9), USACE, Oregon-Washington (N45˚42’ W120˚44’ upstream to N45˚56’ W119˚18’). This reservoir extends from I-84, Exit 109, 76 miles upstream to Umatilla and includes the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge. The dam includes fish passage facilities.

Further upstream is Lake Wallula/McNary Lock and Dam (10), USACE, Oregon-Washington (N45˚56’ W119˚18’). Located one mile east of Umatilla on US Route 730, this reservoir includes 48 miles of the Columbia River upstream to Richland. McNary National Wildlife Refuge in Washington is 15,100 acres on US 12-395 southeast of Washington Route 124. Wallula Gap NNL is a two-km-wide constriction in the Columbia River, behind which water backed up during the catastrophic Lake Missoula floods 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, creating a temporary lake until the water drained. It is believed that Lake Missoula drained at least 89 times, creating temporary floods and a temporary lake each time. The McNary NWR is on reservoir lands where the Walla Walla and Snake Rivers confluence with the Columbia. The Walla Walla Delta and Yakima River Delta (I-82 in Richland) are IBAs for waterfowl and shorebirds.

Upstream of Hanford on the Columbia River are a series of  reservoirs. The lowermost is Priest Rapids Reservoir (11), Grant County Public Utility District, Washington (N46˚39’ W119˚55’). The reservoir contains the confluence of Crab Creek with the Columbia River and the Sentinel Gap hydraulic restriction of the ice age floods. Wanapum Lake, Grant County Public Utility District, Washington (N46˚53’ W119˚58’) is a Columbia River reservoir which adjoins Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park NNL, Frenchman Coulee at I-90 Exit 143, and the Great Gravel Bar at Moses Coulee NNL. Frenchman Coulee is an ice age flood site where waters drained from the Grand Coulee and Quincy area. The water dropped 500 feet in a series of huge waterfalls to the Columbia River. The area between Vantage (I-90) and Wanapum Dam  is an IBA for waterbirds and dabbling ducks.

Rock Island Dam (12), Chelan County Public Utility District, Washington (N47˚21’ W120˚6’) was constructed over a period of 50 years, as hydroelectric capacity gradually increased. The Apple Capital Loop Trail is a ten-mile paved walking trail on both sides of the Columbia River in Wenatchee. Lake Entiat, formed by Rocky Reach Dam, Chelan County Public Utility District, Washington (N47˚32’ W120˚18’), is located upstream from Wenatchee. A visitor center provides underwater views of a fish ladder.

The Umatilla River enters the Columbia River and Lake Umatilla from the south. There are four Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs. Three Mile Falls Diversion Dam (13), Bureau of Reclamation, Oregon (N45˚53’ W119˚19’) sends water from the Umatilla River, three miles south of the Columbia River, to the West Extension Main Canal, which extends west to Boardman. A low flow fish passage channel extends from Three Mile Falls downstream to the Columbia River. Maxwell Diversion Dam (13), Bureau of Reclamation, Oregon (N45˚48’ W119˚20’) is located on the Umatilla River on Route 207 between Hermiston and I-84.  This facility diverts water to the Maxwell Canal, which delivers water to Hermiston and areas to the east.  Feed Canal Diversion Dam (13), Bureau of Reclamation, Oregon (N45˚43’ W119˚11’), is on the Umatilla River south of Echo. Water is diverted into the Feed Canal which ends at Cold Springs Reservoir for storage. Cold Springs Reservoir (13), Bureau of Reclamation, Oregon (N45˚52’ W119˚10’) is an irrigation storage reservoir six miles east of Hermiston which receives water from the Feed Canal Diversion Dam on the Umatilla River at Echo. It is also part of the Umatilla Project, providing irrigation water for 17,000 acres in the Columbia River area. All reservoir lands are managed as Cold Springs National Wildlife Refuge, which provides migratory water fowl habitat and is an IBA for waterfowl and songbird migration.

The Snake River enters the Columbia River and Lake Wallula from the northeast. Just upstream is Lake Sacajawea/Ice Harbor Lock and Dam (14), USACE, Washington (N46˚15’ W118˚52’). This 32-mile-long reservoir provides navigation on the lower Snake River and is just upstream from the Columbia River confluence. The dam contains fish ladders.

The Yakima River enters the Columbia River at Richland from the right bank and supports three Bureau of Reclamation Reservoirs in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe. Prosser Diversion Dam (15), Bureau of Reclamation, Washington (N46˚13’ W119˚46’) is the most downstream of the Yakima River projects. It diverts irrigation water to the Chandler Canal, which delivers water to the vicinity of Kennewick. Upstream at Parker, Sunnyside Diversion Dam (16), Bureau of Reclamation, Washington (N46˚30’ W120˚27’), diverts water to the Sunnyside Canal and provides irrigation water in the valley downstream to Benton City. Roza Diversion Dam (7), Bureau of Reclamation, Washington (N46˚45’ W120˚28’) is located on the Yakima River at Umtanum Water Gap NNL, ten miles north of Yakima, and provides irrigation water to the Yakima Project via the Roza Canal.

The now dry Grand Coulee and associated drainages cross the center of the Columbia Basin and now host a variety of irrigation facilities. North of Richland, the Potholes Canal drainage enters the Columbia River on the left bank. Scooteney Reservoir (17), Bureau of Reclamation, Washington (N46˚41’ W119˚2’) is part of the Columbia Project and stores irrigation water for delivery via the Potholes Canal. The reservoir is on Route 17 south of Othello. Water  is delivered to the Potholes Canal from Potholes Reservoir/O’Sullivan Dam (18), Bureau of Reclamation, Washington (N47˚0’ W119˚20’). Part of the Columbia Project, this reservoir south of I-90 collects irrigation return flows for use further south. The Potholes Canal extends 62 miles south from O’Sullivan Dam, passing Othello and feeding Scooteney Reservoir before ending at the Columbia River north of Richland. Potholes Reservoir is an IBA, as is the North Potholes Preserve, which is an area of wetlands. North Potholes is an IBA for pelicans, cormorants, herons, and egrets.

Billy Clapp Lake/Pinto Dam (19), Bureau of Reclamation, Washington (N 47˚28’ W119˚15’) is upstream from Potholes Reservoir. Part of the Columbia Project, irrigation water is diverted from Banks Lake via the Main Canal and stored in this reservoir on State Route 28 east of Ephrata. Reservoir lands are managed as the Billy Clapp Unit of the Columbia Basin State Wildlife Area.

The National Trail System in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe is represented by a national geologic trail and two historic trails. Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, Idaho-Montana-Oregon-Washington commemorates the dramatic Columbia River floods. From 12,000 to 17,000 years ago, a series of cataclysmic floods occurred in the Columbia Basin, leaving a lasting and dramatic impact on the landscape of four states. When a lobe of an ice sheet blocked the Clarks Fork River at the Montana-Idaho line, a lake 200 miles long and 2,000 feet deep was created. This was Lake Missoula. Periodically, the ice dam broke, draining Lake Missoula in a matter of days. In the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe, these floods created the characteristic channeled scablands. The sparsely vegetated shrub-steppe of today makes these erosional features visible and contributes the dramatic feel, as the visitor imagines floodwaters in an area that is a desert today.

There are three sites on the Lewis and Clark NHT. Sacajawea State Park (20), Washington (N46˚12’ W119˚2’) is located at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers on Lake Wallula southeast of Pasco. This park contains the Sacajawea Interpretive Center. Hat Rock State Park (10), Oregon (N45˚55’ W119˚10’), is a distinctive 70-foot-high feature visible from the Columbia River noted by William Clark in his journal in 1805. The rock is a remnant of the catastrophic floods that scoured the Columbia Basin.  The park provides a reservoir recreation area on Wallula Lake on the Columbia River. Umatilla County’s ten-mile Lewis and Clark trail goes through the park and to the west along the reservoir.

Maryhill Museum of Art (8), Washington (N45˚41’ W120˚52’) is on State Route 14 west of U.S. Route 97 overlooking Lake Celilo in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The museum contains an exhibit that interprets the trip down the Columbia River.

Oregon National Historic Trail includes six sites in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe. Fort Henrietta Park (21), City of Echo, Oregon (N45˚44’ W119˚12’) was a river crossing for the Oregon Trail and later the site of a fort from 1855 to 1856. Today it is located where Main Street (State Route 320) crosses the Umatilla River. The park also has a covered wagon and fire equipment museum.

Echo Meadows (21), BLM, Oregon (N45˚44’ W119˚19’) protects about a mile of trail ruts. A walking trail is accessible from State Route 320 five miles west of Echo.

Well Spring and Pioneer Cemetery (22), Naval Weapons Training Facility Boardman, Oregon (N45˚38’ W119˚43’) includes a small spring that was a source of water in the desert.

Fourmile Canyon (23), BLM, Oregon (N45˚37’ W120˚2’) is an area where several sets of trail ruts and several branches of the trail can be seen climbing the hill.

Biggs (24), Oregon (N45˚40’ W120˚50’), is the site where the trail descended to the Columbia River; about one mile of ruts is visible here above US Route 30.

Deschutes River Crossing (8), Oregon (N45˚38’ W120˚55’), was a dangerous river crossing for early emigrants, later replaced by a toll bridge.

There are two National Wild and Scenic River System segments in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe.   South of the Columbia River, the Crooked River, Chimney Rock Segment (25), BLM Prineville District, Oregon (N44˚10’ W120˚50’), is downstream from Arthur R. Bowman Dam and Prineville Reservoir.  The river flows through a scenic vertical basalt canyon with 600-foot cliffs along State Route 27 for 18 miles. Included is a three-mile trail to Chimney Rock.

The Lower Deschutes River (26), Oregon, is a whitewater rafting and sport fishing river designated as a wild and scenic river from Pelton Dam near Madras to the Columbia River, a distance of 173 miles. The lower 38 miles of the river are in the map area, and are accessible via Deschutes River Rail-Trail from the state park at I-84. The Macks Canyon archaeological site is the location of a winter village occupied by Sahaptin-speaking peoples, and consists of shallow circular house depressions and shell deposits.

One National Wilderness Area has been designated in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe. Juniper Dunes (27), BLM, Washington (N46˚23’ W118˚51’) is a 6,900-acre area accessible from private roads north of Pasco, Washington, off the Pasco-Kahlotus Road. Old growth western juniper trees grow amid sand dunes which are 130 feet in height.

The National Wildlife Refuge System in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe includes waterfowl refuges and a national monument. Cold Springs NWR (13), Oregon, is previously described under Cold Springs Reservoir. Columbia NWR (18), Washington (N46˚56’ W119˚14’), is downstream of Potholes Reservoir on Crab Creek between the reservoir and the Columbia River. This refuge is made possible by seepage from the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project, which has created lakes, sloughs, wet meadows, and marshes for waterfowl habitat. The area is an IBA for sandhill crane, rock wren, and northern harrier. The refuge includes Drumheller Channels NNL and ends at the confluence of Crab Creek with the Columbia River/Priest Rapids Reservoir, just upstream from Sentinel Gap, an ice age flood hydraulic restriction. Drumheller Channels are a stop on the refuge auto tour and the subject of interpretive trails.

Hanford Reach National Monument (3), Washington, is a 196,000-acre desert landscape surrounding the last free-flowing section of the Columbia River in Washington. The river is a Chinook salmon spawning area and is an IBA for 56 miles through the monument for bald eagles and waterfowl. The monument incorporates and expands the former Saddle Mountain NWR by the addition of DOE lands. North and east of the Columbia River is the Wahuluke Unit and former Saddle Mountain NWR (N46˚41’ W119˚39’). Southwest of Routes 240 and 24 is the Rattlesnake Unit, also known as the Fitzner-Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology Reserve (N46˚27’ W119˚38’), which is used for research. The Rattlesnake Unit is an IBA for ferruginous hawk, long-billed curlew, and burrowing owl. The monument includes 21 islands in the Columbia River and is adjacent to the B-Reactor National Historic Landmark.

McNary NWR (20), Oregon-Washington, includes 15,000 acres on US 12-395 southeast of State Route 124. It was established as waterfowl habitat in mitigation for McNary Lock and Dam. The Two Rivers (N46˚8’ W118˚57’) and Peninsula (N46˚9’ W118˚58’) units are on US Route 12 south of Burbank. The Wallula unit (N46˚4’ W118˚54’) is at the junction of US Routes 730 and 12 and is part of the Walla Walla River Delta IBA. Burbank Slough (N46˚12’ W118˚57’) is south of the Snake River confluence.  The Juniper Canyon/Stateline Units are in Oregon (N45˚57’ W119˚1’). Up to half of the Pacific Flyway mallards use the refuge in winter, as do shorebirds and wading birds. The refuge also includes islands in the Columbia River used by nesting colonial waterbirds.

Toppenish NWR (28), Washington (N46˚19’ W120˚20’) is a migratory waterfowl refuge on US Route 97 south of Toppenish consisting of 12 parcels on Toppenish Creek, a tributary of the Yakima River. The refuge consists of wetlands, channels, and sloughs and is a waterfowl wintering area, along with breeding habitat for herons and. Toppenish Creek and the Yakima River oxbows area are an IBA.

Umatilla NWR (29), Oregon-Washington (N45˚54’ W119˚40’) is a 25,000-acre refuge established on Lake Umatilla as mitigation for construction of John Day Lock and Dam. It is located north of the junction of I-84 and US 730 and is known as a wintering area for Arctic-nesting geese. Other notable birds include long-billed curlew, burrowing owl, and gadwall. The area is an IBA for waterfowl and ducks. There are two Oregon units—McCormack and Boardman, and three Washington units—Patterson, Ridge, and Whitcomb. The McCormack unit has an auto tour route and trail. The refuge includes the shallow upper end of the reservoir and there are numerous small islands in the Columbia River.

Other federal sites in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe which are part of the conservation footprint are military facilities. Naval Weapons System Training Facility Boardman (22), Oregon (N45˚46’ W119˚41’) is a 47,000-acre area just south of the Columbia River. It an IBA for grasshopper sparrow, long-billed curlew, sage sparrow, ferruginous hawk, and burrowing owl. The native shrub-steppe habitat also supports a large group of Washington ground squirrel colonies and sagebrush lizard. The Nature Conservancy manages 5,000 acres under a cooperative management agreement and there are three designated research natural areas. The area also protects a ten-mile undisturbed portion of the original Oregon Trail. The Well Springs trail site is on the facility.

Yakima Training Center (30), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington (N46˚41’ W120˚28’) is one of the largest remaining intact shrub-steppe habitats. The site is crossed by the Iron Horse State Park rail trail, also known as the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, and is an IBA for greater sage grouse.

Clark Pond, Bureau of Reclamation, Washington (N46˚31’ W118˚4’) is southwest of Mesa and managed as part of the Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area by the state of Washington.

Douglas Creek, BLM, Washington (N47˚30’ W119˚56’) is a riparian area and bird watching area south of U.S. Route 2 on Road H.

Esquatzel Coulee, Bureau of Reclamation, Washington (N46˚36’ W118˚57’), on U.S. Route 395 north and west of Mesa, is managed as part of the Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area by the state of Washington.

State and local sites in the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe include rail-trails at the Deschutes River, Iron Horse, and Columbia Plateau Trail state parks. These and other sites are listed below:

Billy Clapp Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N47˚29’ W119˚15’), surrounds Billy Clapp Lake.

Byron Unit, Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚12’ W119˚54’) is a waterfowl and bird watching area four miles east of Mabton on Route 22.

Colockum Wildlife Area (31), Washington (N47˚8’ W120˚14’) is a 91,600-acre area is west of the Columbia River at Wanapum Lake and north of I-90 centered on Colockum Pass. It is an IBA for birds of prey, eagles, and songbirds.

Columbia Plateau Trail State Park, Washington is a developing rail-trail which will extend 130 miles from Pasco to Cheney. A future connection is proposed to Sacajawea State Park along the Snake River below Ice Harbor Dam. The south end begins at the Ice Harbor trailhead (N46˚17’ W118˚51’), then goes through Kahlotus (N46˚38’ W118˚33’), Washtucna (N46˚45’ W118˚19’), Benge (N46˚55’ W118˚6’), and Lamont (N47˚12’ W117˚55’) to Fish Lake trailhead (N47˚31’ W117˚31’) north of Cheney.

Cowiche Unit, Oak Creek Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚45’ W120˚47’) is a 7,000-acre area of mountainous shrub-steppe habitats along the South Fork Cowiche Creek and southward.  There are hiking trails including a portion of the William O. Douglas trail, and an elk feeding area for winter.

Deschutes River State Recreation Area (8), Oregon (N45˚38’ W120˚55’) is at the confluence of the Deschutes and Columbia Rivers. A 32-mile-long rail trail follows the Deschutes wild and scenic river.

Desert Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚59’ W119˚34’) is located west of Potholes Reservoir and collects irrigation water to create wetlands.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park (2), Washington (N46˚57’ W120˚0’), in addition to being a NNL, also contains reservoir recreation facilities on Lake Wanapum at the Columbia River bridge on I-90.

Gloyd Seeps Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N47˚17’ W119˚20’) are a collection of wetlands and seeps north of Moses Lake.

Goose Lakes Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚56’ W119˚17’) is two lakes formed by irrigation return seepage and is part of the Drumheller Channels NNL.

Hat Rock State Park (10), Oregon, is a site on the Lewis and Clark NHT (see).

Headquarters Unit, Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚15’ W120˚3’) is on the north side of the Yakima River south of Sunnyside and consists of old river oxbows and wetland habitat for waterfowl, along with riparian forests.

Iron Horse State Park, Washington, is a rail-trail also known as the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. It extends from Cedar Falls (south of North Bend near Seattle) to Beverly Junction (N46˚49’ W119˚57’) on the Columbia River, passing South Clay Elum (N47˚12’ W120˚56’), Thorp (N47˚3’ W120˚40’), Ellensburg (N47˚0’ W120˚33’), Kittitas (N46˚59’ W120˚25’), and Army West (N46˚57’ W120˚18’) trailheads. Future extensions will be to the Idaho border at Tekoa.

Lincoln Rock State Park, (32), Washington (N47˚33’ W120˚18’) is a basalt outcropping overlooking the Columbia River four miles north of Wenatchee on US 97 at Rocky Reach Dam/Lake Entiat.

Lower Crab Creek Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚50’ W119˚48’) is south of Route 26 and east of Wanapum Dam .  It provides habitat for sandhill crane and ferruginous hawk.  A native black greasewood and saltgrass community is a state natural area preserve.

Maryhill State Park (8), Washington (N45˚41’ W120˚50’) is a river recreation park on the Columbia River/Lake Celilo at the US 97 bridge. Near the park are a Stonehenge reconstruction and the Maryhill Museum of Art.

L.T. Murray Wildlife Area (33), Washington, is a 100,000-acre area in three sections. Two sections north of I-90 and west of the Columbia River, Quilomene and Whiskey Dick, provide shrub-steppe habitat. The Quilomene Unit (N47˚5’ W120˚10’) is an IBA for raptors.

Oak Creek Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚39’ W120˚47’), Oak Creek Unit, is a 46,000-acre area surrounding the intersection of U.S. Route 12 and State Route 410 northwest of Yakima.  Areas along the Naches and Tieton Rivers are rock climbing and wildlife watching areas.

Olmstead Place State Park (34), Washington (N46˚59’ W120˚28’) is in the Kittitas Valley four miles east of Ellensburg. This park is a working pioneer farm, one of the first homesteads in the valley.

Potholes State Park (18), Washington (N47˚0’ W119˚20’), is a reservoir recreation area on Potholes Reservoir. In the desert, there are freshwater marshes, sand dunes, and canyons.

Potholes Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N47˚3’ W119˚24’) overlays Bureau of Reclamation reservoir lands and consists of active sand dune and shrub-steppe habitat.  Notable wildlife is bald eagle, mule deer, and northern leopard frog.  Potholes Reservoir is an IBA, as is the North Potholes Preserve, which is an area of wetlands. North Potholes is an IBA for pelicans, cormorants, herons, and egrets.

Priest Rapids Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington.  This area consists of two units, one at a slough on the east side (left bank) of Priest Rapids Reservoir near Mattawa (N46˚45’ W119˚58’) and Goose Island (N46˚40’ W119˚55’), in the middle of the Columbia River upstream of the dam.

Quincy Lakes Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N47˚9’ W119˚58’) is on the left bank of the Columbia River at Wanapum Lake and includes Babcock Bench, Potholes Coulee, and Frenchman Coulee.  There are 800-foot cliffs, mesas, benches, box canyons, and potholes amid the sage shrub-steppe.

Rattlesnake Slope Unit, Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚22’ W119˚31’) is a grass-covered mountainside overlooking the Yakima River along State Route 225 north of Benton City and south of Hanford Reach National Monument.

Sacajawea State Park (20), Washington (N46˚12’ W119˚3’) is at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers on Lake Wallula southeast of Pasco. This park contains the Sacajawea Interpretive Center.

Seep Lakes Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N46˚56’ W119˚11’) is east of the Potholes Canal and Columbia NWR and consists of basalt cliffs, mesas, box canyons and potholes in a channeled scabland area.

Sprague Lake Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N47˚16’ W118˚4’) is between Exits 231 and 245 on I-90 and protects wetlands with birds of prey and songbirds.

Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park (5), Washington, (N47˚36’ W119˚22’) is one of the great geological wonders of North America. A 400-foot dry waterfall is 3.5 miles wide, plunging into a number of lakes. The falls were created during an ice age flood.  The park is part of the Grand Coulee NNL.

Sun Lakes Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington.  Lower Grand Coulee downstream from Dry Falls and north of Soap Lake is included in this state-managed area.  The area includes Lake Lenore Caves (N47˚30’ W119˚30’) on State Route 17, which are a series of seven caves formed when floods plucked basalt boulders out of the coulee wall.

Wanaket Wildlife Area (10), Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Oregon (N45˚55’ W119˚15’) is marsh habitat is located on both sides of US Route 730 two miles east of the intersection with US Route 395 near Umatilla. It was acquired by the Bonneville Power Administration as mitigation for McNary Dam.

Wenatchee Confluence State Park (35), Washington (N47˚27’ W120˚20’), is at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers, supporting wetlands and trails in the Horan Natural Area.

Winchester Reservoir Unit, Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Washington (N47˚8’ W119˚38’) is north of I-90 and reached by traveling west from Exit 164.  This shallow reservoir collects irrigation drainage and provides wetland habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds.

Yakima Sportsman State Park (36), Washington (N46˚35’ W120˚27’) is three miles south of Yakima and has wetlands in the floodplain of the river in an otherwise desert area.

Private sites of note in the Columbia Basin shrub steppe include three nature conservancy preserves.  Beezley Hills Preserve (37), the Nature Conservancy, Washington (N 47˚19’ W119˚48’) is north of Quincy in the Beezley Hills. There is shrub-steppe habitat and a trail to Monument Hill.

Boardman Conservation Area (22), The Nature Conservancy, Oregon, contains a 22,600-acre-portion of Threemile Canyon Farms  set aside under a Multi-Species Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (FWS) for protection of Washington ground squirrel, ferruginous hawk, loggerhead shrike, and sage grouse. There are seven globally rare grassland habitat types.

Moses Coulee Preserve, the Nature Conservancy, Washington (N47˚39’ W119˚40’) protects part of Moses Coulee NNL.


Hooper, Peter R. The Columbia River Basalts. Science 215:1463-1468.

Montgomery, David R. 2012. Biblical-Type Floods Are Real, and They’re Absolutely Enormous.  Discover, July-August. Accessed September 21, 2013 at