Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wallula Gap Train and Boat Spotting

Wallula Gap is where the Columbia River cuts through the Horse Heaven Hills. It is a spectacular canyon cut through 1,000-foot high cliffs of Columbia River Basalt Group. The sharp cliffs are reflective of the relative recent erosion by surges of ice age floods that all had to pass through this narrow gap. Wallula Gap played a significant role in farm land in eastern Washington (wallula-gap-and-prime-farmland). An interesting note about the gap - the Columbia River did not carve the initial Wallula Gap (grand-canyon-and-wallula-gap-its-compliacted). 

Geology aside, the gap has been a transportation corridor long before Washington State existed and it remains so today. Train tracks funnel trains across eastern Washington toward the gap and down the Columbia River in order to by pass the steep grades in the Cascades. Heavy load trains that carry bulk goods all travel this route versus shorter but steeper routes over the mountains.
The train traffic viewed from above was part of the fun as I traversed the slopes above the river. The gap has multiple train tracks on both sides of the river and is a major transportation route for reaching ports to the west such as Portland, Kalama, Longview, Saint Helens, Tacoma, Seattle, and Vancouver as well as proposed crude oil terminals in Aberdeen/Hoquiam and a coal terminal at Cherry Point in northwest Washington.    

Container cars

This train was carrying rails for new tracks or track repair 

One of the infamous coal trains from the Powder River Basin heading to the coal terminal in Canada 

Grain cars

Rail ballast of crushed basalt stored near tracks from quarry on the slope above 

Fuel barge. Much of the fuel in eastern Washington arrives via barge


Geoffrey Middaugh said...

I've driven through the Gap many times while living in Walla Walla. What I found interesting (besides the geology and thinking about kayaking the Missoula floods) was the energy corridor duplicity. Railroads on both sides, subsidized barges, river run dams, duplicate power lines and recycled paper pulp trucks (usually going 35 miles an hour).

Gary said...

I grew up in the Gap, though I'm many miles and years away, it's still my favorite place on earth. thanks for the great pics and article. Would love to end my days in the Walla Walla area.