Palouse Waves # 7746
Known for its sensual rolling hills, the Palouse Prairie was formed primarily during the ice ages, but its beginnings lay in the layers and layers of molten lava from the Columbia River Basalt eruptions. Glacial advances and retreats, massive floods from collapsing ancient ice dams and wind, all worked to sculpt this landscape. Wind in particular played a major role in depositing the rich soil of the Palouse, known as loess. Soil depths range from a few inches to as much as 5 feet in some areas. Prior to the first stab of a plow blade into the fertile mantle of this area in the late 1880's, it was home to an amazingly diverse prairie of perennial grasses such as Bluebunch wheatgrass and Idaho fescue. Today nearly all of the Palouse Prairie is planted in agricultural crops. The native prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States, with little more than one percent of the original prairie still in existence.
This composition was shot from atop Steptoe Butte, another fascinating feature of this landscape. Steptoe Butte is a quartzite island jutting out of the silty deposits of Palouse loess. The rock formation is around 400 million years old, considerably older than the relatively "youthful" deposits of the Columbia River Basalt eruptions, of 7-15 million years ago.