Washington has its state amphibian, the Pacific Chorus Frog; its state bird, the Willow goldfinch; and its state endemic animal, the Olympic Marmot.

It has a state flower, the Coast Rhododendron, and a state insect, the Green Darner Dragonfly. 

It also has a state marine mammal, the Orca Whale.

A few state things are even east-side-centric: for example, the state grass, Bunchgrass Wheatgrass, the state fruit, apple, and the state vegetable, Walla Walla Sweet Onion.

Considering the competition — Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park, Comet Falls in Mount Rainier National Park and Snoqualmie Falls in King County — it’s amazing the state waterfall is the cleverly hidden, far from busy highways, Palouse Falls. 

But visit in the spring and you’ll see why the Palouse Falls, a 54-mile drive from Walla Walla, is magic. 

The falls is a fine place to visit in any season. 

But the spring is my favorite, with its increased runoff and added drama.

My wife, Wonder, and I reach the 94-acre state park, Discover Pass in hand, on a brilliant spring day where hundreds of our closest personal friends have had the same idea. 

No worries. There’s room to spread out here and enjoy the main attraction. 

We find a rare parking space, climb down the steps from the main day-use area and eagerly check out the 200-foot drop through rainbows to the churning bowl below. 

The Palouse River collects itself in the circular pool, then races full throttle with spring runoff through a winding gorge of columnar basalt to a meeting with the mighty Snake River. 

The falls thunders into the abyss, nearly drowning out conversation of the spectators lined up behind the fence at cliff’s edge.

People are not the only ones enjoying the view. Beyond the fence several yellow-bellied marmots check us out in return. Also known as the rock chuck, these cute burrowing rodents’ home perches on the edge of towering cliffs. 

A hawk sits on a nearby rock and swoops over the canyon, surveying its domain. How nice to be free from the laws of gravity.

After taking a few pictures — who can resist? — we hike at a more leisurely pace on a trail to the Fryxell Overlook. There, we are rewarded with a panoramic view of the falls and the gorge, cliffs of columnar basalt. 

Many other shutterbugs are out and about. People swarm over the rocks to glimpse the cataract, and perhaps take a memorable selfie, some coming perilously close to cliff’s edge. 

Many signs scattered throughout the state park warn travel beyond designated trails is risky. 

According to the Tri-City Herald, four people have died at the park since 2016. 

Users assume all risk and pay rescue costs. 

Having taken the vows of journalistic poverty, and hearing Wonder’s frequent warnings about not venturing too close to the edge, I take the cautious approach. 

Wonder, who grew up in nearby Dayton, has a vivid interest in the Ice Age floods, which formed this dramatic landscape, and here she is in her habitat. 

Interpretive panels explain the creation of the canyon — and the scablands of Eastern Washington — through repeated glacial floods about 13,000 years ago. 

Palouse Falls, shaped by the Glacial Lake Missoula floods, is the only major waterfall left in the Ice Age floods path and was named Washington’s state waterfall in 2014. The bill was written by local Washtucna School students smitten with the falls and who advocated for its high honors with the Legislature.

You can see why such a dramatic landscape was shaped when you consider when Glacial Lake Missoula suddenly and repeatedly drained, it unleashed a volume of water said to be 10 times all that in the rivers of the world today. 

We hike up river. It’s a fine place to check out the water as it innocently proceeds toward its big moment in the spotlight. 

Then we return to the day-use area. Picnic tables are first come, first served, and we are lucky to find a place to enjoy lunch. 

Our enjoyment is amplified by a bird serenade from nearby trees.

Soon it is time to leave Palouse Falls and head home. 

As we get set to leave, the yellow-bellied marmots come out of hiding and put on their cliffside show. 

The heavyset, short-legged, small round-eared critters grin at us while keeping one eye on the circling hawk.

 They seem to be campaigning to be named state rodent. 

 

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