Jaw dropping

Views of Palouse Falls are awesome after high volumns of water cause a spectacle.

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As March slipped into April, an unusually high volume of water plummeted 185 feet at Palouse Falls.

Its roar and clouds of mist caught my fancy.

So much so that after Nora the Schnauzer and I saw it on a Wednesday, we inveigled Darlene into going with us on Sunday with my promise to buy lunch on the way.

She may have expected a prank of some sort since Sunday fell on April 1st, but I played it straight.

Mostly.

Before I forget, however, let me explain "unusually high volume."

According to a Googled site called Climate for the Inland Northwest US: "Most locations in extreme eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle took home the trophy for wettest March on record. ... Streams and rivers in Idaho reached historically high levels for early spring. The Palouse River in Potlach, ID and Palouse, WA (reached) its highest level (7350 cfs, 17.74?) since Jan. 1997."

And on Sunday, a man who parked beside us at the falls said he heard 10,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) of muddy water poured over the cliff there that morning.

I had been greatly impressed with the falls on Wednesday, but on Sunday my jaw dropped.

So did Darlene's.

"Can you believe that?" she said as she gripped the railing overlooking the scene.

Despite its remote location, the roaring falls drew a surprising number of curious visitors. Apparently some had seen photos "online" or on TV.

When Nora and I walked along the cliffs above the falls on Wednesday, for example, I met a woman who had seen photos on TV in Spokane. She left at 4:30 a.m. that morning to see for herself and to test a new camera.

She apparently thought I resembled a pro with my two-camera rig, so she asked me to suggest settings for her camera.

My pro demeanor lasted about two seconds.

When I turned a camera into my shadow, so I could read the settings in the control panel, a spare wide-angle lens fell from my jacket pocket.

It plopped onto the damp path at my feet. Nora jerked after it down the path, pulling the leash taught and nearly flattening me face down.

Cameras swayed from each shoulder as I struggled for balance and staggered after the lens.

I caught it, blew some of the dirt from the hood and looked up to answer the woman's question. She smiled.

"You have a lot to keep track of," she said. "Is the lens OK?"

It was, and she moved on without my advice .

That was OK. I couldn't read the settings, anyway.

Nora and I walked along the cliffs above the falls, and I let her off the leash near the railroad tracks.

Seconds later, she flushed a jackrabbit and chased it briefly before losing it among the sage bushes.

On Wednesday, I drove a loop to Waitsburg and Starbuck to Lyons Ferry and Palouse Falls State Park. I stopped once near Starbuck to photograph a redtail hawk in a nest. On the way home, on Smith Springs Road, I stopped to photograph two nesting great horned owls.

On Sunday we had sunshine with a strong, cold wind. I drove the Middle Waitsburg Road and Smith Springs Road to Lyons Ferry. We saw the same owls but didn't stop.

The fall's fame had grown by Sunday. More people lined the overlook, and I took the last spot in the lower parking area.

After taking in the falls, Darlene read in the truck while Nora and I wandered around to take more photos and watch marmots. Nora, on her leash, intently watched the marmots along the cliff's edge. They returned the attention, often with loud chirps.

We made the same tour above the falls as on Wednesday. We saw more visitors, including young children, above the falls.

On the way home, I took the route through Starbuck and Waitsburg. Darlene spotted an owl in a nest on Mead Road. I turned around, and the owl scowled at me through the long lens.

Alas, I didn't even think about my promise to buy lunch until after we arrived home. It completely skipped my mind.

Honest.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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