New tours offered at Grand Coulee Dam

A stop on the top of the dam is a good photo op for visitors.

The new tours of Grand Coulee Dam take about an hour and afford visitors the opportunity to go into the Third Powerhouse and ride across the dam with a stop to look over the spillway.
Visitors this week will likely get an extra thrill when they stop for a spillway look because Bureau officials say that the facility will start spilling water sometime this week.
Visitor tours start with a briefing by tour guides who provide information about the dam, often with a humorous touch. Then its into a 20-passenger bus or a van for the driving part of the tour.
Visitors get to go through security control gates and ride to the lower portion of the Third Powerhouse, where they get out and walk into prescribed areas of the building housing six huge generators. Security is tight, but done in such a way that it isn’t intrusive.
Visitors tour the massive Third Powerhouse

All along the way, tour guides provide pertinent information and answer scores of questions. They either have the answers at hand or are quick to admit that they don’t know.
Tours begin at 10 a.m. seven days a week and go on the hour all day long.
Tour officials said people going on the tours should arrive 15 minutes early due to security reasons.
But we’ll tell you that if it looks like a real busy season, show up an hour early.
Here’s another tip you may only get at this blog: If you have a choice between the small bus and van, take the van. Those are driven by USBR tour guides who will tell you interesting facts as they drive you around the site. The buses are staffed by bus drivers. They drive.
The tours begin at the building at the east end of the dam almost directly across from the Visitor Center. No bags or purses are allowed on the tour because of security concerns; accordingly, visitors are encouraged to lock them in their cars. That includes camera bags (although cameras are OK) and even diaper bags.
Either before or after the tour, see the interactive exhibits at the Visitor Center, and catch a short movie or two about the history of the dam.

Hot off the press — almost

It’s not even on the streets yet, but here you get to see our latest print edition of the Grand Coulee Dam Area Visitors’ Guide, 2011-2012 issue.

Flip through it and tell us what you think in the comments!

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Ready for the torrent

Water spills from an outlet tube at Grand Coulee Dam about 10 stories high above the water below.

Today, Banks Lake is in great shape for fishing, but Lake Roosevelt is not accessible by boat, unless you are into portaging your canoe down over a big beach.

The big lake’s levels was at about 1219 as I post this, on the way up from record low levels of under 1218 feet above sea level, or, put another way, 72 feet below the Lake Roosevelt’s fullest possible level.

Even though the water is a long way from the top of the dam, The Bureau of Reclamation has still been “spilling” 12,000 to 7,000 cubic feet per second through outlet tubes in the dam as the total water volume running down the river hits about 180,000 cubic feet per second.
Check out the lake level on our page devoted to that purpose, complete with boat launch levels here.

The spill comes as the snows in the mountains from Grand Coulee upstream, including in Canada, begin the long anticipated melt after a long, cool spring.
Basically, Lake Roosevelt is the only big storage space on the river. Other reservoirs don’t have much to work with, so in springs like this, Grand Coulee Dam’s capabilities can be the only thing stopping Portland from flooding.

What a beautiful place

View from the air, looking south
When seen from the air, the relationship of Grand Coulee Dam to Steamboat Rock (far right middle) becomes apparent. It's the rock the Ice Age Floods failed to wash away from what is now the Grand Coulee.

I love the spring. As the local vegetation starts to green up, little tufts of green grass start to grow among the sagebrush. Soon dozens of varieties of wildflowers will spring up.

Our lakes are an obvious asset, but to those unfamiliar with our semi-arid desert, a less obvious thing of beauty (perhaps especially if you’re here from a more tree friendly section of the state) is our landscape full of hiking areas.

One of the most popular in the late spring is Steamboat Rock, the namesake landmark of Steamboat Rock State Park. It’s a great hike to the top, at one point very steep, but the vista is a reward you won’t forget. You can see the big rock that stands in the middle of the Grand Coulee back in the distance in the photo.

If you want to take the hike, let a park ranger know you’re heading up to the top, just so they’re aware someone is up there and to let them give you any tips you might need to know.

If you go, tell us what what you think in the comments!

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