The Palouse is a peculiar little river. Its headwaters seep out of a few damp, wooded mountains in northern Idaho. It rambles unassumingly through a maze of bucolic hills and wheatfields. It picks up a little speed once it enters the broad basalt canyons of the Channeled Scablands. But just a few miles above its mouth, its character changes dramatically.
The lower Palouse has one of the most remarkable geologic histories of any river in the West. Its lower canyon formed in a geologic instant as the giant floods of the Ice Age blasted a hole in its valley wall and sent it tumbling rapidly downhill to meet the Snake via a new route. (Its old course is now a dry dusty valley in the sage desert.) On the way it drops over one of Washington’s most famous waterfalls, but its canyon up- and downstream of the falls is also full of beautiful whitewater and cascades.
Palouse Falls State Park is a popular place, and my friend Aaron Cowan and I had lots of company while I shot these images on an early spring afternoon. This place is not deep wilderness. But however much the Palouse has been tamed, cultivated, polluted and photographed, the river still cuts a window into the landscape’s wild geologic core.