PATTIE DISCOVERS THE PNW: Winter Update on Palouse Falls

Article and photos by Patricia Elwing

Hello Neighbors,

My first trip to Palouse Falls State Park was back on November 14, 2021, and was so inspirational that I decided it would be interesting to see the Falls in every season. Wondering how the ice accumulation appeared at the Falls, my husband Matt and I took a second trip on a sunny but cold day in late February. Here’s the update:

ICE FORMATIONS ~ We caught our view of this year’s ice formations at the later end of the season, but as you all will recall, we had some crazy chilling days in February 2022. (Shown in picture: Ice Formations at Palouse Falls February 2022.)

The sunlight that day created prisms for us and we had the luck of a rainbow showing up during our visit. We found that as we walked in different directions it would disappear. Nature is amazing!

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

“Standing at the overlook of Palouse Falls, visitors can see that the basaltic rocks that make up the canyon have some sort of story to tell. These black rocks are part of the continental flood basalt province known as the Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG), which covers an area of 234,000 square kilometers (Reidel et al., 2013; Vye-Brown et al., 2013).” (234,000 kilometers is equal to approximately 90,000 square feet.)

“Fissure eruptions are long cracks that allow magma to ooze out over large areas, which is currently more common in Hawaii than in the Inland Northwest.” Notice the long cracks seen in the canyon pictures in this article. “Geologists estimate that the CRBG is the result of more than 350 continental flood basalt flows.” ~ Excerpts from Ice Age Flood Explorer, “The Black Basaltic Rock at Palouse Falls,” written by M. Christopher Jenkins

WILDLIFE ~ There are over 147 species of birds that have been sighted in the area, but on this particular day we didn’t catch any birds at play. This time it was the rock chucks that grabbed our attention. I wasn’t sure exactly what these little creatures were, as they appeared as the biggest groundhog-like animal I had ever seen. Matt shared with me that he called them “rock chucks!” I later found out that Washingtonian’s have fondly nicknamed the yellow-bellied marmot, “rock chucks.” They are a stout-bodied ground squirrel in the marmot genus, and the cousin to the groundhog, who are also known as wood chucks. Rock chucks are distinguishable from groundhogs by their yellow underbellies and gray fur. (Shown in picture: The Rock Chuck and his Shadow.)

It was fun to see all the furry little rock chucks scurrying around the rocks and boulders of the overlook area to the Palouse Falls. As I positioned myself to take pictures of them, I found their markings help camouflage them into their surroundings. They can blend right in. Occasionally, one would whistle a warning to his fellow chucks, announcing that my dog (a 19 lb. Jack Russell) was in the area, and they would dive into their burrow. Sadly, I was not camera ready when one stood up in front of me casting his full body shadow on the ground next to him. This did bring to mind the Groundhog Day Tradition that claims that if the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2nd of each year, it will be frightened by it and will then return to its burrow, indicating that there will be 6 more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, then spring is on the way.

rock chuck
rock chuck

The State of Pennsylvania hosts one of the most well-known Groundhog Day celebrations. This year their own Punxsutawney Phil (their own ground hog) predicted six additional weeks of winter. I wondered if in Eastern Washington we could assume the same from its cousin the rock chuck. If so, I’m here to report that, these cousins were still seeing their shadows and running back into their burrows on February 25th. Do they continue their hibernation? Well, I believe it was the sun that brought them out on this day. I know you will recall the LOW TEMPS and chill factor, snow and rain of late February this year. However, by the printing of this article, you will know if the promise of Spring has sprung. March 16, 2022, marks the end of the predicted 6 more weeks.

We are looking forward to taking a safe hike around the back side in the summer. I’ll be taking up close pictures of the castle-like rock formations at the top of the falls. On this visit we met a young mother and her daughter on the trail along the overlook. So sweet! I am grateful to have a partner in life adventures to share these experiences with and I encourage you to grab a friend or loved one and get out in nature! See the sites near and far. Breathe it in…life is grand and nature wants to reveal that too us if we only choose to see it.


See our previous article for more Palouse Falls information @:

Patricia “Pattie” Elwing, moved to Washington State in August 2020. A West Coast woman, her love for travel and discovering new places leads her around the world and now, around the PNW and neighboring states. Watch for “Pattie Discovers the PNW” articles in the Huckleberry Press where she will offer fresh reviews and information about places she visits. If she sparked a bit of the travel bug in you, or inspires you on your own travel, entertainment or dining adventure, leave her a comment below!