Tri-Cities Washington’s epic geologic past

No matter where we live on this planet there is bound to be an amazing geological story behind it. You can live somewhere your entire life and not know the amazing geological past that took place beneath your feet. There is no rock, or hill that doesn’t have a geological story.

Truth is that most likely the very land you are standing on faced some sort of violent cataclysm in the past. The very spot where you stand could have been molten lava, or the scene of an epic flood. It is easy to find out just do a quick search on the net, most likely you will find a fascinating story of the place you live.

I was born and raised in a place that seemed so ordinary. When I was little I always admired other places that had a more beautiful or exciting landscape. But then later in life in my early 20’s I found out that the place I was born and raised was not ordinary at all. It was the scene of violent cataclysms and the story of how the area was formed was fascinating beyond words.

I am from the Tri-cities, what I found is that the city I always called home is built on top of old basalt lava flows that were up to three miles deep. These formed when fissures opened up in the ground, and Lava came up through them. The area is called the Columbia Basin, that never meant much to me it was just a name. Then I realized the earth was depressed from the extreme weight of the lava. To put this in perspective the clouds in the sky can be anywhere from 15 to 30 thousand feet above the ground, but the lava below my feet were 16 thousand feet deep. You can catch glimpses of the evidence when you see places like these.

You can hike the hills and ridges that surround the area, and look out at this basin. Here is a picture of me hiking on one of these ridges.

In the pic you can see I am at the top of a ridge. The lava flows are not the only cataclysmic story here either, Millions of years ago the land you see below has been a massive lake many times in the past. During the ice age we had the Missoula floods, and that filled the basin with water once again. In person when you drive towards the hills there are several steppes where the roads go up and down. This is because as the lake receded new shores were formed, or as new floods came in new shores and lake levels were formed. Here is a picture that somewhat shows these lake levels.

I find it so interesting to know these things about our planet. I mean most people just live out their lives involved in every day dramas, not even knowing that they are living on top of such an amazing geological story. We all know about the famous places. But what about the places that we live? Our own geologies are just as amazing. This earth that we live on is not what we have made it. When you know the truth of geological time, you realize we don’t own anything.

The picture at the top of this article which I will repeat here, is a panoramic just so you can get a broad idea of the scope of the size of the basin. I know it does not look like much now, but at one time it would have been dynamic. There would have been times where it had Hawaii like basalt flows, times of floods, and epic catastrophes.

If you are interested in Geology like I am here is a link to Nick Zentner He teaches geology at Central Washington University and no one can get you as excited about geology as this man. His lectures and short videos are amazing. There are a wealth of his teaching available on YouTube as well. I must say I have watched them all.

Happy exploring everyone, our planet is fascinating beyond words.


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