Thursday, April 22, 2021

Part 2 : Magicians of the Gods..A Wall of Green Water Destroying Everything in its Path..Journey Through the Scablands

 Magicians of the Gods

By Graham Hancock

Chapter 3

A Wall of Green Water Destroying  Everything in its Path

Could certain ancient myths and traditions, judged to be of no historic value by scholars, in fact encode accurate recollections of an epoch when humanity experienced a crisis so devastating, so cataclysmic and so dislocating that we lost our memory of our true past? Consider this account from the Ojibwa, a Native American people: 

The star with the long, wide tail is going to destroy the world some day when it comes low again. That’s the comet called Long-Tailed Heavenly Climbing Star. It came down here once, thousands of years ago. Just like the sun. It had radiation and burning heat in its tail. 

The comet burned everything to the ground. There wasn’t a thing left. Indian people were here before that happened, living on the earth. But things were wrong; a lot of people had abandoned the spiritual path. The holy spirit warned them a long time before the comet came. Medicine men told everyone to prepare. Things were wrong with nature on the earth … Then that comet went through here. It had a long, wide tail and it burned up everything. It flew so low the tail scorched the earth … The comet made a different world. After that survival was hard work. The weather was colder than before 1 

There are other interesting details in the various versions of this myth told among the Ojibwa and recorded by anthropologist Thor Conway. For example there is a reference to the comet killing off “giant animals … You can find their bones today in the earth. It is said that the comet came down and spread his tail for miles and miles.” 2 At the time of this event, usually referred to as “the first burning of the earth,” we’re told that the Ojibwa “lived near the edge of the Frozen Lands.” 3 It is also recorded that soon after the comet disaster “the first flooding of the earth” occurred.

Just as the Ojibwa tradition laments that “things were wrong … people had abandoned the spiritual path,” thus implicating human behavior in the disaster that followed so, too, the Brule, one of the tribes of the Lakota Nation, tell of a time “in the world before this one,” when “the People and animals turned to evil and forgot their connection to the Creator.” In response, the Creator resolved “to destroy the world and start over.” He first warned a few good people to flee to the highest mountaintops, then sent down “fierce Thunderbirds to wage a great battle against the other humans and the giant animals” (again, as in the Ojibwa myth, the Brule account speaks of animals of extraordinary size). 5 

Finally, at the height of the battle, the Thunderbirds suddenly threw down their most powerful thunderbolts all at once. The fiery blast shook the entire world. Toppling mountain ranges and setting forests and prairies ablaze. The flames leaped up to the sky in all directions, sparing only the few People on the highest peaks … Even the rocks glowed red hot, and the giant animals and evil people burned up where they stood. 

Now the Creator began to make the world anew: 

As the Creator chanted the song of creation it began to rain. The Creator sang louder and it rained harder until the rivers overflowed their banks and surged across the landscape. Finally the Creator stamped the Earth, and with a great quake the Earth split open, sending great torrents across the entire world until only a few mountain peaks stood above the flood, sheltering the few People who had survived … [After the flood subsided], as the People went out over the land they found the bleached bones of the giant animals buried in rock and mud … People still find them today in the Dakota Badlands. 6  43s

Of particular note, when we remember that a species of giant beaver became extinct in North America at the end of the Ice Age, 7 is a myth of the Passamaquoddy, Micmac and Malisee that speaks of a being called Glooscap, described as “a spirit, a medicine man and a sorcerer,” who created the first animals, among them the first beaver—a creature so large that when it built a dam it “flooded the country from horizon to horizon.” Glooscap tapped the beaver on its back and it shrank to its present size. 8 

The reference to a flood in this story is one among hundreds in the myths of the Native Americans. Many of them contain intriguing details of great relevance to new scientific information about events in North America at the end of the Ice Age that we will explore in the following pages. For example, the Cowichan of British Columbia recall a time in the remote past when their seers became greatly troubled on account of strange dreams which foretold destruction. One man said: “I have dreamed a strange thing. I dreamed that such rain fell that we were all drowned.” Another said, “I dreamed that the river rose and flooded the place, and we were all destroyed.” “So did I,” chimed another. “And I too.” 9 

The seers were disbelieved by their people but nonetheless resolved to build a huge raft of many canoes joined together. Not long after they were done the rain commenced. The drops were as large as hailstones and so heavy that they killed the little babies. The river rose and all the valleys were covered. The seers, and those few of their friends who had believed them: 

took their families and placed them on the raft and took food and waited. By and by the raft rose with the water … At length the rain stopped, and they felt the waters going down, and their raft rested on the top of Cowichan Mountain … Then they saw the land, but what desolation met their eyes! How their hearts were wrung with anguish. It was indescribable. 10 

Unusually large hailstones feature in a Quillayute cataclysm myth: 

For days and days great storms blew. Rain and hail and then sleet and snow came down upon the land. The hailstones were so large that many of the people were killed … [The survivors] grew thin and weak from hunger. The hailstones had beaten down the ferns and the camas and the berries. Ice locked the rivers so that the men could not fish. 11 

The Pima, or “River People,” presently live in Arizona whence they migrated in remote antiquity from much farther north. As is the case with the Cowichan, a seer features in their cataclysm traditions—in this case a seer who was warned by a great eagle that a flood was coming. The eagle visited the seer four times and each time he ignored its warnings. “You’d better believe what I’m telling you,” said the eagle. “The whole valley will be flooded. Everything will be destroyed.” “You’re a liar,” said the seer. “And you’re a seer who sees nothing,” said the eagle: 

The bird flew away, and hardly had he gone when a tremendous thunderclap was heard, the loudest there has ever been … The sun remained hidden behind dark clouds, and there was only twilight, gray and misty. Then the earth trembled, and there came a great roar of something immense moving. The people saw a sheer green wall advancing toward them, filling the valley from one side to the other. At first they did not know what it was, and then they realized that it was a wall of green water. Destroying everything in its path, it came like a huge beast, a green monster, rushing upon them, foaming, hissing, in a cloud of spray. It engulfed the seer’s house and carried it away with the seer, who was never seen again. Then the water fell upon the villages, sweeping away homes, people, fields and trees. The flood swept the valley clean as with a broom. Then it rushed on beyond the valley to wreak havoc elsewhere. 12 

The Inuit of Alaska preserve a tradition of an earthquake, accompanied by a terrible flood that swept so rapidly over the earth that only a few people managed to escape in their canoes, or take refuge on the tops of the highest mountains. 13 The Luiseno of California also remember a flood that covered the mountains and destroyed most of mankind. Only those few who fled to the highest peaks were spared when all the rest of the world was inundated. 14 Similar flood myths were recorded among the Hurons. 15 And the Montagnais, who belong to the Algonquin family, relate how the god Michabo reconstructed the world after a great flood: 

Michabo was hunting with his pack of trained wolves one day when he saw the strangest sight: the wolves entered a lake and disappeared. He followed them into the water to fetch them, and as he did so the entire world flooded. Michabo then sent forth a raven to find some soil with which to make a new earth, but the bird returned unsuccessful in its quest. Then Michabo sent an otter to do the same thing, but again to no avail. Finally he sent the muskrat and she brought him back enough earth to begin the reconstruction of the world. 16 

Lynd’s History of the Dakotas, written in the nineteenth century, preserves many indigenous traditions that would otherwise have been lost. These include an Iroquois myth that “the sea and the waters had at one time infringed upon the land so that all human life was destroyed.” The Chickasaws asserted that the world had been destroyed by water, “but that one family was saved and two animals of every kind.” The Lakota (Dakotas) also spoke of a time when there was no dry land and when all men disappeared from existence. 17 

Myths speaking to science 

For years an often acrimonious debate has been underway among scholars regarding the peopling of the Americas. Who are the Native Americans, exactly? When did they first arrive in the New World? And by what route? 

Whenever a resolution has begun to look possible, whenever some kind of consensus has been about to emerge, new information has been presented, by one side or the other, that calls for a rethink. What has never been in dispute, however, is that the ancestors of today’s Native Americans were already in North America 12,800 years ago, when the mysterious cold event that geologists call the Younger Dryas began, and that they witnessed and hunted the megafauna that flourished during the Ice Age including the gigantic Columbia Mammoth, the somewhat smaller Wooly Mammoth, the giant beaver, short-faced bears, giant sloths, two species of tapirs, several species of peccaries and the fearsome American lion. 

It’s thought likely, therefore, that the references to very large animals in the myths cited above are not mere fantasies but preserve eye-witness accounts of some of the many genera of mega-mammals that were present in North America before the Younger Dryas began, but had passed into extinction by the time it ended 1,200 years later. The same goes for the floods that the myths describe, 18 for geologists agree that North America was indeed subjected to episodes of cataclysmic flooding in the final millennia of the last Ice Age. What new research has called into question in the past decade, however, is whether the scale, extent and, most importantly, the causes of those floods have been properly understood. The mainstream view is copiously represented, and endlessly repeated in books and journals published since the 1960s, but in order to get to grips with a powerful alternative view that now poses a serious challenge to established theories, I made an extensive field trip across North America in September and October 2014 with catastrophist researcher Randall Carlson. 19 

Randall cannot be a reincarnation of J Harlen Bretz, because J Harlen Bretz (whose first name was J and who hated it when proofreaders tried to treat it like an initial) passed away on February 3, 1981, by which time Randall was already thirty years old. However in his passion for real fieldwork, for walking the walk rather than just reading the literature, and in his dogged advocacy of a radical geological hypothesis concerning the cataclysmic floods that tore North America apart at the end of the Ice Age, Randall is in every meaningful sense the new J Harlen Bretz. 

I will describe my travels with Randall, and the compelling evidence he presented me with, in the chapters that follow, but first, you may well be wondering, who was J Harlen Bretz? 

Meet J Harlen Bretz 

Here is Bretz, writing in 1928 after one of his field trips across Washington State in the Pacific Northwest of the US: 

No one with an eye for landforms can cross eastern Washington in daylight without encountering and being impressed by the “scabland.” Like great scars marring the otherwise fair face of the plateau are these elongated tracts of bare, or nearly bare, black rock carved into mazes of buttes and canyons. Everybody on the plateau knows scabland. It interrupts the wheat lands, parceling them out into hill tracts less than 40 acres to more than 40 square miles in extent. One can neither reach them nor depart from them without crossing some part of the ramifying scabland. Aside from affording a scanty pasturage, scabland is almost without value. The popular name is an expressive metaphor. The Scablands are wounds only partially healed —great wounds in the epidermis of soil with which Nature protects the underlying rock. 

With eyes only a few feet above the ground the observer today must travel back and forth repeatedly and must record his observations mentally, photographically, by sketch and by map before he can form anything approaching a complete picture. Yet long before the paper bearing these words has yellowed, the average observer, looking down from the air as he crosses the region, will see almost at a glance the picture here drawn by piecing together the ground-level observations of months of work. The region is unique: let the observer take the wings of the morning to the uttermost parts of the earth: he will nowhere find its likeness. 20 

By 1928 Bretz was an experienced and highly credentialed field geologist. Born in 1882, he’d started his career as a high school biology teacher in Seattle but spent most of his spare time exploring the geology of Puget Sound. Although he didn’t have a geology degree at the time, he succeeded in getting several articles on his findings published in scientific journals. 21 In 1911 he enrolled at the University of Chicago to pursue a doctorate in geology. He graduated summa cum laude in 1913 and immediately thereafter returned to Seattle where he accepted a position as assistant professor of geology at the University of Washington. 22 He had difficulties with the attitudes of other teaching staff there (he later described them as “stick-in-the-muds” 23 ) and by 1914 he was back at the University of Chicago, initially as an instructor but soon afterward as an assistant professor. 24 

The first field trip Bretz made to the Scablands of eastern Washington was in 1922. By this point, as a result of his earlier work, he was fully informed about the Ice Age in all its dimensions and more aware than most other geologists that immense ice sheets up to two miles deep had covered North America for the best part of 100,000 years until the ice melted dramatically somewhere between 15,000 and 11,000 years ago. Thus when he saw huge numbers of erratics—giant boulders that didn’t belong naturally in the area but had clearly been brought in from elsewhere—he was inclined to assume that they might have traveled here in icebergs carried on some great glacial flood. This impression was strengthened when he explored Grand Coulee and Moses Coulee—gigantic channels gouged deeply in the earth—and visited the Quincy Basin at the southern end of Grand Coulee where he found the whole 600-square-mile depression filled up to a depth of 400 feet with small particles of basalt debris. He couldn’t help but wonder, “where had all the debris come from, and when?” 25 Again the answer that presented itself to him was a flood. 

Bretz was back in the Scablands in 1923 for three months of exploration and it seems to have been during this field trip that his later views—namely that “some spectacular hydrological event … had begun in this region, then abruptly stopped,” really began to take shape. 26 

In the November–December 1923 issue of the Journal of Geology Bretz published a paper summarizing his findings. To understand the somewhat defensive tone of the paper it is important to keep in mind the prevailing geological doctrine of the time, the principle known as “uniformitarianism.” This is the assumption that existing processes, acting as at present, are sufficient to account for all geological changes. Integral to it is the parallel assumption of gradualism, namely that “the present is the key to the past” and that the rate of change observable today is an accurate guide to rates of change that prevailed in the past. 

Such ideas, which had acquired the status of an unchallengeable truth by Bretz’s day, had themselves arisen from the necessary—indeed essential—overthrow of the old religious belief in creationism and the notion that God whimsically intervened in the earth’s history by ordaining cataclysms such as the Biblical Flood. In righteous opposition to these thoughts of supernatural creation and destruction, uniformitarianism seemed a profoundly rational response that saw only the forces of nature at work upon the earth over periods of millions, or indeed billions of years. 

Mountains had not been built overnight, but had risen slowly, imperceptibly over time. Likewise had fantastic geological features such as the Grand Canyon been eroded by the flow of rivers over many millions of years. 27 

Bretz was an eminently rational man, and certainly no religious dogmatist, yet, as his biographer John Soennichsen notes, “while hiking through the hot, dry, ragged world of the Scablands, everything he had seen pointed not to a slow, uniform change over time but to a catastrophe, a sudden release of colossal quantities of water that had quickly washed away the loessial topsoil and then carved deeply into the basalt rock beneath.” 28 

The problem was—where had all this water come from? It was well understood that at the margin of the North American ice sheets there must have been some melting—as one indeed sees at the edges of all glaciers today. But such melting could hardly explain the magnitude of the erosive changes that were visible in the field. As Bretz noted in his 1923 paper: 

The writer confesses that during ten weeks of study of the region, each newly examined scabland tract reawakened a feeling of amazement that such huge streams could take origin from such small marginal tracts of an ice sheet, or that such an enormous amount of erosion, despite high gradients, could have resulted in the very brief times these streams existed. Not River Warren, nor the Chicago outlet, not the Mohawk channel, nor even Niagara Falls and Gorge itself approach the proportions of some of these scabland tracts and their canyons. From one of these canyons alone [Upper Grand Coulee] 10 cubic miles of basalt was eroded by its glacial stream. 29 

Concluding the paper, and moving toward the profoundly heretical and anti-uniformitarian idea that would soon get him into a great deal of trouble, namely that a single cataclysmic flood unleashed in a very short period had been responsible for all the devastation he had witnessed, Bretz wrote: 

Fully 3,000 square miles of the Columbia plateau were swept by the glacial flood, and the loess and silt cover removed. More than 2,000 square miles of this area were left as bare, eroded, rock-cut channel floors, now the Scablands, and nearly 1,000 square miles carry gravel deposits derived from the eroded basalt. It was a debacle which swept the Columbia Plateau. 30 

In other words, as Bretz’s biographer summarizes, the geologist now believed that the features he had documented “could only have been created by a flood of unimaginable proportions, possibly the largest flood in the history of the world.” 31 

The reaction of the geological establishment was one of stunned, embarrassed silence. To have strayed so far from the doctrine of uniformitarianism could only mean that Bretz must have gone mad. David Alt, Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of Montana, describes one of the lectures that Bretz gave in which he expounded on the ideas in his 1923 paper: 

The geologists … were aghast in the same way that a roomful of physicists would be upon hearing a colleague explain how he had made a perpetual motion machine out of old popsicle sticks. Physicists had all learned very early of the futility of perpetual motion machines, and no properly educated geologist was supposed to traffic in catastrophes of any sort. 32 

Alt describes an old professor of his own undergraduate days who had been a student sitting in the audience when Bretz read his 1923 paper. It seems the professor did a hilarious impersonation of Bretz “pounding on the podium with both fists and stomping on the floor as he used vivid language and gestures to convey his idea of a catastrophic flood to his horrified audience.” 33 

Quite apart from the theatricals, the geologists were shocked to hear Bretz invoke: 

a sudden catastrophe to explain the Scablands of eastern Washington. In their view this was a reversion to the unscientific thinking of some 125 years before. To this day, most geologists consider it nothing less than heresy to invoke a catastrophic explanation for a geologic event. So Bretz stepped off the edge of a very long limb when he suggested that a great flood had eroded the Scablands … [It made] him a pariah among geologists, an outcast from the politer precincts of society. 34 

The outcast did not give up, however. On the contrary, he doggedly continued with his research, bringing down ever more controversy on his head in the process but believing that facts, ultimately, would vindicate him. 

The crunch came on January 12, 1927 when Bretz was ambushed by a lynch mob of his colleagues at a lecture he’d been invited to give to the Geological Society of Washington in the Cosmos Club, Washington DC. Bretz was by now calling “his” flood the “Spokane Flood” (after the town of Spokane) and liked to refer to the ice sheet from which it had emerged as the “Spokane ice sheet” (neither term is used today but Bretz’s Spokane ice sheet was, effectively, the southern part of that great late Pleistocene ice sheet now known as the “Cordilleran”). He believed that large parts of it must have melted with extraordinary rapidity, because “the volume of water was very great, almost incredibly great … In spite of high gradients to draw it off, the pre-existing valleys first entered were inadequate to carry it all, and the flood spread widely in a complicated group of anastomosing routes.” 35 

W.C. Alden, then the Chief of Pleistocene Geology with the profoundly conservative US Geological Survey, objected to “the idea that all the channels must have been developed simultaneously in a very short time” and took great offense at “the tremendous amount of water” postulated by Bretz. 36 “It seems to me impossible,” Alden protested, “that such part of the great ice fields as would have drained across the Columbia Plateau could, under any conditions, have yielded so much water as is called for in so short a time.” 37 He admitted that he had never visited the Scablands himself but felt sure that a uniformitarian explanation was what was required: “The problem would be easier if longer time and repeated floods could be allotted to do the work.” 38 

James Gilluly, well known as an apostle of geologic gradualism, dismissed the notion of a single cataclysmic flood with words like “preposterous,” “incompetent,” and “wholly inadequate.” 39 He found nothing in Bretz’s evidence to exclude his own preferred solution, namely that multiple smaller floods had been involved and that these would have been “of the order of magnitude of the present Columbia’s, or at most a few times as large.” 40 

Likewise G.R. Mansfield doubted that “so much work could be done on basalt in so short a time … The Scablands seem to me better explained as the effects of persistent ponding and overflow of marginal glacial waters, which changed their position or their places of outlet from time to time through a somewhat protracted period.” 41 

O.E. Meinzer was obliged to confess that “the erosion features of the region are large and bizarre” but he, too, preferred a gradualist explanation: “Before a theory that requires a seemingly impossible quantity of water is fully accepted, every effort should be made to account for the existing features without employing so violent an assumption … I believe the existing features can be explained by assuming normal stream work of the ancient Columbia River…” 42 

In summary, not a single voice was raised in support of Bretz and there was much patronizing dismissal of his “outrageous hypothesis” of a single large flood. In particular, the massed geologists homed in on what they clearly believed was the fatal flaw in the case for a sudden and overwhelming cataclysm—namely that Bretz had failed to identify a convincing source for his floodwaters. 

Bretz replied that he saw no logic in this, since lack of a documented source for the flood did not prove that there had been no flood. “I believe that my interpretation of Channeled Scabland should stand or fail on the scabland phenomena themselves,” he argued. 43 He was, he said, as sensitive as anyone else to adverse criticism, and had “no desire to invite attention simply by advocating extremely novel views.” Moreover, he himself had repeatedly been driven to doubt “the verity of the Spokane Flood,” 44 only to be forced “by reconsideration of the field evidence, to use again the conception of enormous volume … These remarkable records of running water on the Columbia Plateau, and in the valleys of the Snake and Columbia Rivers, cannot be interpreted in terms of ordinary river action and ordinary valley development … Enormous volume, existing for a very short time, alone will account for their existence.” 45 

It was this accumulation of compelling field evidence that Bretz asked to be considered—not by emotion, not by intuition, not by reference to received wisdom, but only by “the established principles of the scientific method.” 46 “Ideas without precedent,” he was to write later: 

are generally looked on with disfavor and men are shocked if their conceptions of an orderly world are challenged. A hypothesis earnestly defended begets emotional reaction which may cloud the protagonist’s view, but if such hypotheses outrage prevailing modes of thought the view of antagonists may also become fogged. 

On the other hand, geology is plagued with extravagant ideas which spring from faulty observation and misinterpretation. They are worse than “outrageous hypotheses,” for they lead nowhere. The writer’s Spokane Flood hypothesis may belong to the latter class, but it cannot be placed there unless errors of observation and direct inference are demonstrated. 47 

And this was the problem with all the criticisms of Bretz both before and after the Washington meeting. The geological establishment did not like what he had to say, it flew in the face of their gradualist reference frame, and they regarded it as a “heresy that must be gently but firmly stamped out.” 48 In the final analysis, however, they could not disprove his science, only disapprove of it, which is a very different thing. 

The heart of the matter remained Bretz’s assertion that the ice cap had melted precipitously and his inability to propose a mechanism that could have brought about such melting. He himself, as noted, did not regard this as a significant stumbling block, but his critics did. Over the years, therefore, in attempts to appease them, he several times reluctantly proposed two possible solutions. These were some sort of radical, short-lived climate change on the one hand, or, on the other, an episode of volcanic activity beneath the ice cap. He admitted of the former, however, that “no such climatic change is recorded elsewhere, and the rapidity demanded seems impossible,” while of the latter, he observed that “nothing has been found in the literature to suggest Pleistocene volcanism in the area which was drained across the Columbia Plateau.” 49 

Interestingly, by the time Bretz faced his hostile peers in Washington he was already aware of— but had dismissed—the very explanation for cataclysmic flooding that would much later be taken up by the geological establishment and open the door to the universal acceptance of his evidence that prevails today. In his outline for his January 1927 presentation he wrote: “Both Mr. Alden and Mr. Pardee have suggested that I consider the sudden draining of a glacial lake to account for the flood … Mr. Pardee [in a 1925 letter to Bretz] specifies Lake Missoula, which is the only one of any magnitude known in the region that might have functioned.” 50 

Eventually, in the 1940s, Bretz would indeed embrace a sudden draining of Glacial Lake Missoula as the source for his flood but the reason why he did not do so in 1927 is important and, as we shall see, of the greatest relevance to the evolving debate about what exactly happened in North America at the end of the Ice Age. In brief Bretz’s view in 1927, as his biographer explains, was that the volume of Lake Missoula “might not have been adequate to form the Scablands. ‘would run the flood for only 2 weeks,’ reads a handwritten comment by Bretz in this section of his outline.” 51 

In March 1930, Bretz published a brief abstract in the Bulletin of the Geological Society of America. The abstract was titled “Lake Missoula and the Spokane Flood.” In it Bretz wrote that this lake had first been named and described by the geologist J.T. Pardee (whose letter on the subject he’d received in 1925), that it stood more than 4,000 feet above sea level and that it was at least 2,100 feet deep. Without going into any detail he noted that the lake had been held in place by an ice dam and that “seventy miles to the southwest, along the western arm of Purcell Trench and Spokane Valley, are the easternmost heads of the scabland channels. If a bursting of the dam occurred, water could escape only along this seventy-mile stretch.” 52 

By 1932 Bretz had warmed further to the idea that Lake Missoula could be the culprit behind his flood, although he felt that issues concerning the hypothetical ice dam and its proposed cataclysmic failure remained to be worked out. 53 At this point in his life, however, he seemed ready to move on and was to devote most of the next decade to other, completely different, geological puzzles. Then, in 1940, he was invited to speak on his Scablands theory at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science being held in Seattle. He declined the invitation, saying that his views and evidence were already in print, but the event turned out to be a seminal one. J.T. Pardee was there and presented a paper on his work on Glacial Lake Missoula, making public for the first time his long-held conclusion that there had been a failure of an ice dam and that “the entire lake had drained catastrophically and, most likely, quite dramatically.” 54

Curiously Pardee did not connect his Missoula findings to Bretz’s own long-standing and well known case about the creation of the Channeled Scablands by a catastrophic flood, but much later, Bretz would write: “He never said, at least in print, anything about the final deposition of this vigorous discharge. I do believe, however, that he was generously leaving that to me.” 55 

In the process of making the most of what had been left to him, Bretz abandoned his single cataclysmic flood model in favor of one more palatable to his opponents. “There were several floods,” he was eventually to write (in 1959). “The theory is elastic enough to take care of that.” 56 In the same year, Bretz was presented with the Neil Milner Award in honor of his exceptional contributions to Earth Sciences. 57 

A few years later, in 1965, Bretz’s transformation from pariah to poster boy seemed complete. The International Union for Quaternary Research organized a field trip to the Columbia Plateau for many former critics of the catastrophic flood theory. The group traversed the full length of Grand Coulee, part of the Quincy Basin, and much of the Palouse-Snake scabland divide. At the end of the trip the participants, humbled by what they had seen, and satisfied as to the source of the flood-damage in Glacial Lake Missoula, sent Bretz a telegram of greetings and salutations. The telegram closed with the words: “We are all now catastrophists.” 58 

“Be assured,” wrote Bretz, “that after 30 years, and 30 papers in self-defense, and more than 30 people who vigorously denied my theory, it did my heart good like medicine.” 59 

The final accolade came in 1979 when Bretz, by then aged 96, received the Penrose Medal, the Geological Society of America’s highest accolade. After this award, he told his son: “All my enemies are dead, so I have no one to gloat over.” 60 

Bretz went on to his next great adventure, aged 98 years, on February 3, 1981. 

Gradualism draws the teeth of Bretz’s cataclysm 

So … all seemed well. The evidence of a land scoured by cataclysmic deluge could not be denied. The timing had been set—perhaps not precisely, but at any rate somewhere in the last millennia of the Ice Age between 15,000 and 11,000 years ago. The source of the deluge had been tracked down to Glacial Lake Missoula. And the crunch-point of whether there had been just one gigantic flood— which Bretz’s honed instincts as a field geologist had originally suggested—or multiple floods, as his gradualist colleagues preferred, had been conceded with reference to the elasticity of his theory and an allowance of “several” floods. 

It becomes clear in later papers published by Bretz that he was willing to accept that up to eight floods had occurred. 61 This was, undoubtedly, a concession to gradualism—eight smaller floods politely spread out over a period of some thousands of years being more palatable to those of a uniformitarian persuasion (i.e. to most geologists, then and now) than a single humongous event of great violence that occurred suddenly, did massive damage, and was over and done with in about three months. Nonetheless Bretz remained a catastrophist at heart. Victor R. Baker of the Department of Hydrology and Water Resources at the University of Arizona notes in his study, The Spokane Flood Debates, that while Bretz did indeed extensively modify his original hypothesis, 

there was a lingering suspicion that one was dealing with an unusual exception to a general rule. Bretz himself had claimed: “The unique assemblage of forms … described … as the Channeled Scabland … records a unique episode in Pleistocene history … Special causes seem clearly indicated.” 62 

In other words, regardless of any concessions, what is referred to here are causes that were still unique and special enough to be described as catastrophic and that did not undermine the conclusion that “it was a debacle which swept the Columbia plateau.” 63 It is surely significant that in his last published work, a note he wrote to the Geological Society of America in 1979 accepting its highest accolade, the Penrose Medal, that Bretz took the opportunity to drive this point home. “Perhaps,” he wrote: 

I can be credited with reviving and demystifying legendary catastrophism and challenging a too rigorous uniformitarianism. 64 

What Bretz the catastrophist and challenger of uniformitarianism could not have known, however, was that once he had invited the vampire of gradualism through the door it would not be satisfied with the compromise that he had tried to strike, but would keep on remorselessly sucking the blood out of any notion that what had happened in the Channeled Scablands had been any sort of “debacle” at all. 

Thus, as the years have gone by and new generations of gradualist scholars have taken their places at universities around the world, the eight floods that were first allowed to modify Bretz’s single cataclysm have steadily increased in number—to a dozen, then to more than twenty, then to thirty-five, then to “about forty,” and finally, in recent papers, to as many as ninety or more! 65 “The most current opinion,” summarizes Vic Baker, “is that there were about eighty floods that all occurred within a period of 2,500 years [roughly between 15,000 years ago and 12,000 years ago], possibly at regular intervals.” 66 

Eighty floods in 2,500 years works out at one flood approximately every thirty-one years—thus doing away with any need for a single exceptional cataclysm and accounting for the horrendous mess of the Channeled Scablands by the accumulated effects of a rather regular, predictable, essentially gradualist series of events. Better still, from the uniformitarian point of view, outburst floods from ice-dammed glacial lakes still occur today. They happen regularly in Iceland, for example, where they are called jökulhlaups, the term that has been adopted for them worldwide, and that I will continue to use here. Other locations where they are common include the Himalayas, Antarctica, Northern Sweden, and North America. As Geology Professor David Alt points out, several glacially dammed lakes in Alaska and northern British Columbia are prone to episodes of very fast drainage. These events usually occur “in summer when a fast snowmelt rapidly raises the level of the lake. The ice dam that held Glacial Lake Missoula probably floated and broke during the summer for the same reason.” 67

In this way the uniformitarian doctrine that “the present is the key to the past,” and that the rate of change observable today is an accurate guide to rates of change that prevailed in the past, has quietly reasserted itself and Bretz’s disturbing flood evidence has been explained away as nothing very much to worry about after all. The scholars have also rather cleverly contrived to have their cake and eat it: on the one hand giving Bretz a medal and proclaiming that they are “all catastrophists now”; on the other quietly transmuting Bretz’s catastrophe into the sort of thing that one sees every summer in Alaska and British Columbia. 

This is all very reassuring, of course, but suppose that Bretz’s original insight was right and that what happened in North America at the end of the Ice Age really was a sudden, cataclysmic flood, something unprecedented and unmatched since? 

Suppose it really was a debacle? 

Back to Bretz 

Randall Carlson is quite certain that it was indeed a debacle—one that unfolded on an almost unbelievable scale—and has spent the last twenty years trekking back and forth across the Channeled Scablands asking local geologists difficult questions that no one else seems to have considered and building a formidable case. 

The sort of case, I suspect, that Bretz would be making if he were still with us and at the height of his powers. 

I first met Randall in 2006. The North American Ice Age floods were among the subjects we discussed and I was startled to discover that he didn’t accept the ice dam theory at all, and regarded Glacial Lake Missoula as a huge diversion—an easy solution that panders to uniformitarian prejudices and has led geologists away from the truth. In the years that followed we corresponded from time to time and occasionally bumped into each other at conferences where we were both speaking. I was enormously impressed by his depth of knowledge, by his field experience and by the intriguing new insights his research seemed to offer into the mysterious events that brought the Ice Age to an end. I found we shared a particular and growing interest in the Younger Dryas—that return to full glacial conditions that began suddenly 12,800 years ago, just when the world seemed to be warming up, and that ended equally suddenly 1,200 years later. 

During this peculiar episode certain Stone Age hunter-gatherer peoples such as the “Clovis” culture of North America vanished from the archaeological record and there were mass extinctions of animal species—so clearly something unusual was going on—yet no uniformitarian or gradualist explanations have ever been offered. Moreover, although I didn’t investigate it in my 1995 book Fingerprints of the Gods, I realized afterward that the span of the Younger Dryas, from 12,800 years ago to 11,600 years ago, coincided exactly with the “window” during which I had argued that an advanced civilization of prehistoric antiquity was obliterated from the face of the earth and lost from human memory. 

Accordingly in my book Underworld, published in 2002, I was more attentive to the Younger Dryas problem. “At around 13,000 years ago,” I noted: 

the long period of uninterrupted warming that the world had just passed through (and that had greatly intensified, according to some studies, between 15,000 years ago and 13,000 years ago 68 ) was instantly brought to a halt—all at once, everywhere—by a global cold event known to paleoclimatologist as the “Younger Dryas” …69 In many ways mysterious and unexplained, this was an almost unbelievably fast climatic reversion—from conditions that are calculated to have been warmer and wetter than today’s 13,000 years ago, 70 to conditions that were colder and drier than those at the last glacial maximum just a few hundred years later. 71 

From that moment, around 12,800 years ago, it was as though an enchantment of ice had gripped the earth. In many areas that had been approaching terminal meltdown full glacial conditions were restored with breathtaking rapidity and all the gains that had been made since the LGM [Last Glacial Maximum—around 21,000 years ago] were simply stripped away: “Temperatures … fell back on the order of 8–15 degrees centigrade … with half this brutal decline possibly occurring within decades. The Polar Front in the North Atlantic re-descended to the level of Cabo Finisterre in northwest Spain and glaciers readvanced in the high mountain chains. With respect to temperature the setback to full glacial conditions was nearly complete…” 72 

For human populations at the time, in many except the most accidentally favored parts of the world, the sudden and inexplicable plunge into severe cold and aridity must have been devastating. 73 

The sense of mystery—and mortal danger to mankind—that clung about the Younger Dryas continued to intrigue me, encouraging me to read up on it and try to understand it better. I recall a number of conversations and email exchanges with Randall after 2006 that focused on the subject and it became increasingly obvious to me that the Younger Dryas had been a global cataclysm in every meaningful sense of the term. It wasn’t until 2013, however, when Randall made the case to me that North America, and particularly the Channeled Scablands, had stood at the epicenter of that cataclysm, that I decided it was time to see the evidence on the ground. On impulse I invited him to join me on a field trip. It took more than a year to find a time that worked for both our schedules but finally, in September 2014 I met Randall in Portland, Oregon, and we took off east and north into neighboring Washington State to explore the Scablands in the big, red four-wheel drive we’d hired. 58s

Chapter 4 

Journey Through the Scablands

We’re on a 2,500 mile (4,000 kilometer) road trip from Portland, Oregon to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The journey would be shorter if we took the direct route. But we’re stopping and diverting into coulees and river valleys and around buttes and up the sides of mountains and across the Channeled Scablands immediately south of the vast Cordilleran and Laurentide ice caps that once covered much of North America. The objective is for me to get as full an understanding as possible of what happened here and by the fourth day, when we reach Dry Falls in the middle of the extraordinary scar on the landscape called Grand Coulee, the picture is beginning to become clear. 

The ground under our feet is ancient black basalt covered with a thin layer of topsoil. The basalt, extruded by volcanic eruptions between seventeen million and six million years ago, covers much of the Columbia Plateau and in some places is 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) thick. 1 

Not in Grand Coulee, though, because here it’s as if some capricious force, perhaps even the hand of God himself, has seized a giant chisel with a blade miles wide, plunged it violently into the earth and gouged out a sheer-sided gash hundreds of feet deep and almost 60 miles (96 kilometers) long. The “chisel,” however, was not made of steel but of immense quantities of rushing, turbulent, debris- laden water that flowed for a few weeks only—the water of Bretz’s flood. “Grand Coulee,” he wrote, affords: 

the greatest example of canyon-cutting by glacial streams not alone for the Columbia Plateau, but for the world … A glacial river three miles in minimum width spilled southward here over the divide and down a steep monoclinal slope … The stream descended nearly 1,000 feet on a grade of approximately 10 degrees … Such a situation is unparalleled, even in this region of huge, suddenly initiated, high-gradient rivers … At least 10 cubic miles of basalt were excavated and removed.

Bretz refers here only to the northern or Upper part of Grand Coulee. 3 But the same amount of basalt again was also excavated from Lower Grand Coulee as “the stream” rushed on. Making our way here today we paused in the Ephrata Erratics Fan, south of the southern end of Lower Grand Coulee, to see where all that basalt excavated by the waters was dumped. It was a chaotic, jumbled, disturbing sight —disturbing because as far as the eye could see in all directions across the prairie lay scattered countless thousands—more likely millions—of jagged, broken basalt boulders, some about the size of a family car, some smaller—down to the size of a football—and many larger. 

“Everything was reduced to rubble,” Randall Carlson explained to me, as we stood there in the midst of the Fan, “and that’s what you’re seeing. This rubble was part of the former world.” 

“The former world?” 

“Yes. The antediluvian world. And what’s lying here on the surface is just a fraction of what the flood flushed out of Grand Coulee. The rubble goes down deep. Hundreds of feet deep.” 

From the Ephrata Fan we drove north on Washington State Route 17 into Lower Grand Coulee, it’s sheer, forbidding basalt cliffs rearing up on either side of us, the gray rain clouds above reflected darkly in the chain of alkaline lakes—Soap Lake, Lenore Lake, Blue Lake and Park Lake—that lie ponded in its floor. Now we’ve reached Dry Falls at the head of Lower Grand Coulee and as we get out of the truck Randall reminds my wife Santha to bring her camera. “You’re going to see something cataclysmic here,” he announces with a mischievous grin. 

Meet Randall Carlson 

You may be too young to remember the 1977 TV series called The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, but you can always Google it if you weren’t here. 

The eponymous hero, a tough woodsman played by actor Dan Haggerty, was a big, bluff, bearded sort of fellow and Randall Carlson, by virtue of his enormous beard, his general appearance and his rough, gruff personal style, reminds me of him a lot. Randall lives in Atlanta, Georgia, now, but he spent most of his youth in rural Minnesota and his voice still carries the quirky undertones of Scandinavian and German that make the Minnesota accent so recognizable. 

He grew up on the shores of Schmidt Lake, one of tens of thousands of small meltwater lakes spread across Minnesota and Wisconsin, and he used to go fishing there as a boy, perched on a huge boulder that he afterward understood to be a glacial erratic—“a boulder quarried from bedrock and carried by an advancing glacier perhaps many hundreds of miles from its source to be deposited in a location far removed from its origin.” 4 

Today, half a century on from his boyhood, he says that the Midwestern landscapes of his youth have left an indelible imprint on his psyche: 

From these early experiences I entered into a sort of dialogue with the earth which continues unabated to this day. This dialogue has involved thousands of hours spent in the field, traversing and studying a wide variety of landscapes, along with thousands of hours in the study of various sciences related in one way or another to the goal of understanding this extraordinary planet upon which we are engaged in this ongoing human experience … It is a fearsomely dynamic planet, one that has undergone profound changes on a scale far exceeding anything within recent times. In fact I now realize that what we think of as history is merely the record of human events that have transpired since the last, great planetary catastrophe. I also understand that the imprint of these catastrophes is to be found all around us, in virtually every environment, and we are just beginning to be able to perceive and decipher the evidence. 5 [very heavy statement DC]

Randall makes his living as an architect and builder but his passion is geology. 

Catastrophist geology. 

And as those who have attended one of his lectures will attest, he knows more about it than pretty much anyone else you are ever likely to meet. He has gleaned his knowledge from a vast reading of the scientific literature and, as he says above, from thousands of hours of fieldwork. To me this sort of in-depth, on-the-ground learning, the miles walked through the wilderness, the years of dedicated library research, mean far more than any university degree. Randall is not a geologist and does not claim to be a geologist but his grasp of the subject is worth a dozen PhDs. [that is awesome, and really is one of society's big issues, that being putting too much weight into a piece of paper that is supposed to make someone an expert in a certain field, that is not how it works, inspiration lands where it lands, PhDs do not have a monopoly on insight DC]

And right now we’re standing on a sort of concrete pier with waist-high fencing, suspended out over the plunging horseshoe amphitheater of Dry Falls. There’s a chill wind blowing this late September day and Randall is about to give me a geology lesson … 

Dry Falls 

“Ever been to Niagara Falls?” Randall asks. 6 

I confess that I have not. 

“But you’ve seen photographs? You have a sense of the place?” 

“I suppose, so, yes…” 

“OK, so just a guess … Which is bigger?” He indicates the vista that confronts us. “Dry Falls? Or Niagara?”

I’m thinking it’s a trick question. Randall, being a Minnesotan, is of course compelled to ask trick questions. I look out at the natural amphitheater. It’s a long way down. And a long way across. A couple of circular lakes of pooled rainwater, overgrown with reeds, decorate the base of the towering horseshoe of sheer cliffs confronting me—over which, it is absolutely obvious, huge quantities of water must once have flowed. I haven’t been to the Niagara Falls, which are 51 meters high, but I did spend a day of amazement at Victoria Falls in southern Africa, and they’re 108 meters high. The classic horseshoe shape of Niagara that you see in all the pictures is repeated at Victoria Falls. And here’s the same horseshoe shape in Washington State in the US, preserved in the dry fossil of an ancient cataract. 

“Dry Falls is bigger than Niagara,” I say, sounding more confident than I feel. 

“Okay, good so far, but how much bigger?” 

“Twice as big,” I hazard a guess. 

“Not bad,” Randall says. “But actually Dry Falls is close to three times as high as Niagara and more than six times as wide.” He points. “See how the cliffs are scalloped there?” 

I do. The Dry Falls horseshoe is in fact two horseshoes side by side, one to the east, one to the west. 

“Well, Niagara would fit easily into just half of the eastern horseshoe and its rim would be almost two hundred and fifty feet beneath the rim of Dry Falls. Also—look there…” 

Randall draws my attention to the eastern side of the horseshoe where there’s a gap and then a high, narrow fin of cliffs running south. “That’s Umatilla Rock,” he says, indicating the fin. It would have been a kind of island at the peak of the flood. An underwater island.” 


“Yes. When the flood came through here, the water was more than five hundred feet deep. It would have overtopped Umatilla Rock, and the Falls themselves, and right here where we’re standing, by, oh, a hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty feet.” 

“So if I’d been able to stand here then…” 

“Which you wouldn’t have…” 

“I know. I’d have been swept away, but just for the sake of argument, if I had been able to stand here, I take it I wouldn’t have seen a sheer sheet of water bursting over the lip of the falls and crashing down hundreds of feet?” 

“No, because that was happening far beneath the surface. What you would have seen at this point would have looked more like a whirling, churning slope in the torrent with some kind of abrupt bump or gradient in it than an actual waterfall, but all the work that a waterfall does on rock was still going on, under the surface…” 

“What do you mean by work on the rock?” 

“The water is coming through here in enormous quantities and horribly fast, running at up to seventy miles an hour according to some estimates, and you’ve got to realize that it isn’t just water. It’s more like a slurry of thick mud, and there’s whole forests torn up by their roots that are roiling around in it, and fleets of icebergs jostling on the surface, and down at the bottom there’s a huge rumbling rubble of rocky debris, boulders like the ones we saw dumped all over the Ephrata Fan, and this whole mess is rushing and tumbling and plucking as it passes…” 


“Yes, that’s the best way to describe it. Like giant fingers plucking out blocks of the basalt bedrock, ripping them out, dragging them into the torrent and sweeping them downstream—that’s how the erosive work is done.” Randall gestures again at the scalloped, horseshoe cliffs. “But what we see from here is less than half the picture. If we were up in an airplane looking down we’d see another set of horseshoes even bigger than these ones off to the east, wrapping round beyond Umatilla Rock…” 

“So with all that taken into account, what’s the total extent of Dry Falls?” 

“About three and a half miles … That was where it had got to when the flood stopped. God only knows what it would have ended up looking like, or where it would have been today, if the flood had continued even for another couple of weeks…” 

“I don’t understand.” 

“The indications are that the flood only lasted a matter of weeks, and throughout that time the falls were constantly migrating northward…” 


“Yes, all falls migrate, at different rates depending on the amount and force of the water flowing over them. They pluck at the bedrock and constantly eat it away upstream. Take Niagara, for example. It’s retreated seven miles in the last twelve thousand years, 7 but that’s puny compared with what happened here, where the retreat was about thirty miles—the whole length of Lower Grand Coulee— in less than a month.” 

“So the rate of erosion was incredibly fast?” 

“Yes! Thousands of times faster than Niagara, because of the incredible amount and force of the water here. Dry Falls was the greatest waterfall that’s ever existed on planet earth.” 

“And all that water’s supposed to have come out of Glacial Lake Missoula?” 

“Well,” says Randall. His beard juts out stubbornly. “That’s the theory.” 

Erratic hunting 

Randall doesn’t buy the gradualist theory that multiple emptyings of Lake Missoula through multiple breakings and remakings and breaking again of its ice dam can account for the evidence on the ground. He doesn’t dispute that the glacial lake existed, or that there were outburst floods from it, but he’s convinced it was never anywhere near big enough to account for all the cataclysmic features of the Channeled Scablands. Like J Harlen Bretz in the 1920s, he believes that one sudden, short-lived, totally exceptional flood of truly immense proportions was the real culprit. 

On another day Randall takes me “erratic hunting” to explain why. We pull off Interstate 97 onto the Waterville Plateau and drive across rugged, rolling country where occasional green and yellow fields intermingle with wilder moorland too poor ever to be farmed. Pretty soon we start seeing huge clusters, flocks, packs, crowds of giant boulders all of ominous black basalt, all alien to this landscape and I know enough, now, to recognize them for what they are. As ice caps move and spread they snatch up, enchain and transport huge rocks that then remain locked within them until the ice melts and drops its load. What happened here—the place is actually called “Boulder Park” and is recognized as a National Natural Landmark—was a different aspect of the same process. “When the Ice Age flood came pouring down over the Waterville Plateau,” Randall explains: 

it was carrying thousands of icebergs with it—icebergs as big as oil-tankers with house-sized boulders frozen inside them. When they bumped up against hillsides [he points to a distant ridge with ranks of colossal boulders strewn across it] the icebergs grounded and stuck there. Eventually, after the flood had subsided, they melted out leaving the boulders where they sit to this day strewn all over the top of the plateau beyond the ridge and carpeting the hillside for twenty miles going north. 

“But that ridge must be what, eight hundred, maybe nine hundred feet above us,” I observe. 

“Exactly! Which tells us that the water was at least that deep here. Or rather, not simply water but a sludge slurry, and as the flood starts to subside the slurry just gets thicker and thicker with sediment until it finally leaves the whole valley floor covered in sediment hundreds of feet thick and filled with embedded boulders. I mean, again, we are looking at the ruins and wreckage of a former world.” 

We get back onto Interstate 97 heading south along the west bank of the majestic Columbia river and divert west on Alternate 97 toward Lake Chelan. Fifty miles long and never more than a mile and a half wide, lying in the bottom of a forested, steep-sided valley overshadowed by lofty mountains, Chelan has the look and feel of a grand Scottish loch. It is appropriate, therefore, that it also has traditions of a lake monster—a dragon, according to Native American legends—that ate up all the game, leaving the people starving. The Great Spirit was angered and decided to intervene. He descended from the sky: 

and struck the earth with his huge stone knife. All the world shook from his blow. A great cloud appeared over the plain. When the cloud went away, people saw that the land had changed. Huge mountain peaks rose on all sides of them. Among the mountains were canyons. Extending from the northwest to the southeast for a two days’ journey was a very deep canyon. The Great Spirit threw the monster’s body into this deep and long gorge. Then he poured much water into it and so formed the lake. Long afterward, Indians called it Chelan. 8

Chelan means “Deep Water” in the local Salish Indian language, and Lake Chelan is indeed 1,468 feet (453 meters) deep, making it the third deepest lake in the US and the twenty-sixth deepest in the world. 9 Some aspects of the myth, I note in passing, are evocative of earth changes at the end of the Ice Age. Mountains that had been hidden beneath the ice cap, and that therefore no one had seen before, did indeed appear when the ice melted. Canyons were indeed carved through the whole of the Columbia Plateau by the rushing waters of Bretz’s flood. And as we will see in the next chapter there may also be more than meets the eye to the huge stone knife from the sky striking the ground so hard that “the world shook,” and to that ominous cloud that appeared over the land. Likewise, the presence of an immense iceberg-rafted erratic above the town of Manson on Chelan’s north shore 10 suggests that the notion of “much water” being poured into the lake, in other words of a flood passing through here, may also be rooted in memories of real events. 

After passing more erratics scattered around the southern end of Lake Chelan, 11 we head back to Interstate 97, cross to the east bank of the Columbia River at Beebe Bridge, then go north to the mouth of McNeil Canyon where yet more boulder-strewn moorland awaits us. Numbering in their thousands, the erratics here are known locally as “haystack boulders” because of their distinctive appearance, but the rounded profile they show from a distance gives way, close up, to a mass of jagged and splintered black basalt. Many of them are thought to weigh more than 10,000 tons, and as Randall and I examine them, I’m daunted by their great height and mass, and amazed at the power and energy of the floodwaters that brought them here. 

We get back on Interstate 97 again and drive the forty miles south to the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers near the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Here Randall has a last giant erratic to show me, this one weighing, he estimates, 18,000 tons. It stands high up on the side of a long, wide valley, looming over a modern housing development, hundreds of feet above the confluence of the rivers and the town of Wenatchee. 

We scramble to the top of the erratic so we can look down on the rivers glistening far below. “Obviously,” Randall explains, “the flood waters must have filled the whole valley from bottom to top so when the iceberg floated in it stranded right here then melted away and left this sitting on the ridge.” 

“And the flood itself? Where did it go next?” 

“The water coming down through here met the water coming out of Grand Coulee and Moses Coulee and many other scabland channels, and then it all together flowed down to Pasco Basin and Wallula Gap…” 

Black rain 

The next day finds us on top of a high bluff overlooking Wallula Gap. “So the water here rose up to roughly 1,200 feet above sea level,” Randall says. 12 He consults his GPS, “and where we’re standing now is 1,150 feet above sea level, so the flood would have been fifty feet over our heads.” 

“And the water came from which direction?” 

Randall points north: “It came roaring out of the Channeled Scablands. A mass of different flows converged here, and then passed on through, down the Columbia. So this was the gathering of the waters. Here’s where all of these great flood streams came together.” 

I look out over the scene below, a drama of earth, and sky … and water. 

The sky is gray, thunderous and filled with rain as it has been throughout our trip. The earth element begins with a very thick, powdery layer of soft dun-colored dust called loess that lies everywhere under our feet on the top of the bluff. But then the bluff plunges away in a steep tumbling fall down to the Columbia—which forms the water element—below. Across the stream, more than a mile wide here, the terrain rises again toward the east, not so sheer as on the west side where we’re standing, still covered by that same thick layer of powdery loess and marked in addition by distinctive scabland topography, with cliffs plunging into valleys and a series of outcrops carved by the ancient floods—most prominently the two isolated basalt pillars known as the “Twin Sisters” that stand directly opposite us. 

“Those Twin Sisters,” Randall explains, “are a remnant … Look there, immediately to the left of the Sisters you can see a shelf. That would have all been continuous … I believe that was the pre-flood valley floor … When the flood hit, it ripped through here and lowered the valley floor by about two hundred feet, based on the present depth of the river and the height of the Twin Sisters. Had the flood continued for a week longer the Twins would have been washed away as well … They would have been about eight hundred feet underwater. And really, if you look across—there, way above the level of the Sisters—you’ll see that uppermost outcrop of basalt, roughly at our level. That would have been the high water mark and everything below that was underwater at the peak of the flood—so what you’re seeing over there in the scabland around the Sisters is that spectacular erosion of the basalt by the water, just ripping through here at sixty or seventy miles an hour because the back pressure would have been so great.” 

“Fearsome and ferocious flows,” I hazard. 

“Oh, my God, yes! Like an inland sea, except that it’s moving…” 

“And it’s turbulent and it’s angry…” 

“And the turbulence is increasing massively as it comes up to this constriction at Wallula Gap. But when you look at the capacity of this valley, it would have had to have been a hell of a lot of water pouring in from the north to backflood to the extent that it did. The valley out of Lake Missoula is no bigger than this one and it’s two hundred miles north of here. So how could that water have spilled out of Lake Missoula, traveled two hundred miles to here, and not have attenuated to the degree that it would just pass through without ponding above the gap? But it did pond, massively and deeply as we can tell from the high water mark. And that, to me, is just incontrovertible evidence that there was more water pouring into this than could ever have been pouring out of Lake Missoula.” 

“So,” I summarize, “we have water twelve hundred feet deep which flows through here turbulently…” 

“Very turbulently…” 

“And then how long does it stay that deep?” 

“The estimates are that it’s probably one to three weeks, and then it begins to ebb away. Because … they call this hydraulic ponding. This was effectively a hydraulic dam in the sense that the water itself, forced through a constriction like Wallula Gap, becomes a kind of dam—and especially so since the water here was filled with massive icebergs. All throughout the flood pathway are erratics that were carried by icebergs—all the way down into Eugene, Oregon … You gotta picture it. You’ve got a moving sea choked with thousands of icebergs…” 

I’m getting the picture all right. “Wild scene,” I say. 

“Wild scene,” Randall agrees. “All of these icebergs are jostling up against each other and getting jammed in the gap. And what that’s going to do is cause the water level to rise still further until the pressure increases enough to push the whole mass down through the gap—then the water level drops until the next jam occurs. So I think what we’re seeing is a pulsating hydrograph that every time it rises, it backfloods further up the valley, and then the water level drops and then it rises again.” 

The next point I put to Randall, closely connected to the vision of the flooded hellworld that he’s just conjured up, relates to the central enigma I wish to explore in the rest of this section, but which I have not yet placed before the reader. It concerns the growing body of evidence that 12,800 years ago a giant comet traveling on an orbit that took it through the inner solar system broke up into multiple fragments, and that many of these fragments, some more than a mile (2.4 kilometers) in diameter, hit the earth. It is believed that North America was the epicenter of the resulting cataclysm with several of the largest impacts on the North American ice cap causing floods and tidal waves and throwing a vast cloud of dust into the upper atmosphere that enshrouded the earth, preventing the sun’s rays from reaching the surface and thus initiating the sudden, mysterious global deep freeze that geologists call the Younger Dryas. We will go into the evidence for all this, and how it relates to “Bretz’s flood”— which might not, after all, have emerged from Lake Missoula—in the chapters that follow. But for now, please bear with me as I play out the rest of my conversation with Randall at Wallula Gap. 

“And there’s been a comet impact,” I say, “so we’re expecting that the sky is going to be bad too…” 

“Oh, it’s got to be…” 

“Dark…” I think about it, then add: “Lots of stuff wafted up there by the impact.” 

“Stuff!” Randall kicks a furrow in the soft dust with the toe of his hiking boot. “That’s what I think this six-foot layer of loess is. All over the flood areas you see this six, seven, eight-foot thick layer of loess—and clearly it rained down out of the atmosphere.” 

“Like the legends of Kon-Tiki Viracocha.” I name the South American civilizing hero, white skinned and bearded like Quetzalcoatl and the Apkallu sages described in Chapter One, who was said to have come to the Andes during a terrifying period, thousands of years in the past, “when the earth had been inundated by a great flood and plunged into darkness by the disappearance of the sun.” 13 (Exactly like Quetzalcoatl in Mexico, and the Apkallu sages in Mesopotamia, Viracocha’s civilizing mission in the Andes had been to bring laws and a moral code to the survivors of the disaster, and to teach them the skills of agriculture, architecture and engineering.) 

“Ah yes,” Randall muses. “The legends of Viracocha. Wasn’t there something there about a black rain?” 

“There was, absolutely. A thick, black rain. It’s pretty much universal to the flood myths I’ve studied…” 

Randall kicks the loess again. “This stuff is puzzling you know. It has a kind of vertical structure. Most theories suggest that it’s windborne, but the vertical structure is inconsistent with that. I’m developing an idea that it’s actually both water and windborne, because I think that the final rainout after the comet hit the ice cap was essentially a rainout of mud. There would have been a huge injection of superheated water into the stratosphere—filthy, particle-laden water—which would have then spread rather like the debris cloud of a nuclear explosion and the end result would undoubtedly have been a very intense, and prolonged rain out.” 

But did a comet hit the earth 12,800 years ago? As we’ll see in the next chapter, the evidence assembled by an international team of highly credentialed scientists is taking the comfortable world of gradualist, uniformitarian geology by storm.

next 68s


Chapter 3 

1. Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of the Center for Archaeoastronomy, Vol. VIII, Nos. 1–4, January–December 1985, p. 99. 

2. Thor Conway in Ray A. Williamson and Claire R. Farrer (Eds.) Earth and Sky: Visions of the Cosmos in Native American Folklore, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1992, pp. 243–4. 

3. Reported in W. Woelfi and W. Blatensperger, “Traditions connected with the Pole Shift Model of the Pleistocene,” in arXiv: 1009:578vl, 26 September 2010, p. 24. 

4. Thor Conway in Ray A. Williamson and Claire R. Farrer (Eds.) Earth and Sky, op. cit., p. 246. 

5. Cited in Richard Firestone, Allen West and Simon Warwick-Smith, The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes: Flood, Fire and Famine in the History of Civilization, Bear & Co., Rochester, Vermont, 2006, pp. 152–3. 

6. Ibid. 

7. Castoroides. Its average length was approximately 1.9 meters (six feet) and it could grow as large as 2.2 meters (seven feet). It was the largest known rodent in North America during the Pleistocene and the largest known beaver. 

8. Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, American Indian Myths and Legends, Pantheon Books, New York, 1984, p. 181. 

9. Martha Douglas Harris, History and Folklore of the Cowichan Indians, The Colonialist Printing and Publishing Company, Victoria, British Columbia, 1901, pp. 11–12. 

10. Ibid. 

11. Ella E. Clark, Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1953, pp. 161–2. 

12. Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, American Indian Myths and Legends, op. cit., p. 474. 

13. New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Paul Hamlyn, London, 1989, p. 426. 

14. Sir J.G. Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend and Law, Macmillan, London, 1923, pp. 111–12. 

15. New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, op. cit., p. 431. 


17. From Lynd’s History of the Dakotas, cited in Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, op. cit., p. 117. 

18. For further discussion see GailJ. Woodside, Comparing Native Oral History and Scientific Research to Produce Historical Evidence of Native Occupation During and After the Missoula Floods: A Project submitted to Oregon State University, University Honors College, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Honors Baccalaureate in Natural Resources, 28 May 2008. Woodside concludes that “oral histories shared by Native people located in the area of the flood regions, when compared with actual geologic information, give evidence of occupation and survivability of Native populations in flood regions.” 

19. Carlson’s website is www.sacred geometry 

20. J Harlen Bretz, The Channeled Scabland of Eastern Washington, Geographical Review, Vol. 18, No. 3, July 1928, p. 446. 

21. John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood: The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the World’s Greatest Flood, Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 2008, p. 17.

22. Ibid., p. 33. 

23. Ibid., p. 39. 

24. Ibid., p. 43. 

25. Ibid., p. 79–90. 

26. Ibid., p. 110. 

27. Ibid., p. 126. 

28. Ibid. 

29. J Harlen Bretz, “The Channeled Scablands of the Columbia Plateau,” The Journal of Geology, Vol. 31, No. 8, Nov-Dec 1923, p. 621–2. 

30. Ibid., p. 649. 

31. John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 131. 

32. David Alt, Glacial Lake Missoula and its Humongous Floods, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 2001, p. 17. 

33. Ibid., p. 17. 

34. Ibid. 

35. J Harlen Bretz, “The Spokane Flood beyond the Channeled Scablands,” The Journal of Geology, Vol. 33, No. 2, Feb–March 1925, p. 98. 

36. Cited in Stephen Jay Gould, “The Great Scablands Debate,” Natural History, August/September 1978, pp. 12–18. 

37. Cited in Victor R. Baker, “The Spokane Flood Controversy and the Martian Outflow Channels, Science, New Series, Vol. 202, No. 4734, 22 December 1978, p. 1252. 

38. Cited in Stephen Jay Gould, “The Great Scablands Debate,” op. cit. 

39. Cited in John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 192. 

40. Ibid. 

41. Ibid. 

42. Ibid. 

43. Ibid. 

44. Bretz, cited in Victor R. Baker, “The Spokane Flood Controversy,” op. cit, pp. 1252–3. 

45. Bretz, cited in ibid., pp. 1252–3. 

46. Victor R. Baker, ibid., p. 1253. 

47. Bretz, writing in the Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, No. 39, 1928, p. 643, cited in Victor R. Baker, “The Spokane Flood Debates: Historical Background and Philosophical Perspective,” Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2008, Vol. 301, p. 47. 

48. Bretz et al writing in the Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 67, 957, 1956, cited in Victor R. Baker, “The Spokane Flood Controversy,” op. cit., p. 1249. 

49. J Harlen Bretz, “The Spokane Flood beyond the Channeled Scablands, II,” The Journal of Geology, Vol. 33, No. 3, April–May, 1925, p. 259. 

50. Bretz, “Outline for a Presentation before the Geological Society of Washington,” January 1927, p. 5, cited in John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 185. 

51. John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 206. 

52. Lake Missoula and the Spokane flood [abstracts], Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 1 March 1930, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp. 92–3, cited in John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 185. 

53. The Grand Coulee, by J Harlen Bretz, New York, American Geographical Society, 1932, cited in John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 210. 

54. Cited in John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 222. 

55. Ibid., pp. 222–3. 

56. Bretz, “Washington’s Channeled Scabland,” p. 53, cited in John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 227. 

57. John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 229. 

58. Stephen Jay Gould, “The Great Scablands Debate,” op. cit. 

59. John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., p. 231. 


61. J Harlen Bretz, “The Lake Missoula Floods and the Channeled Scabland,” The Journal of Geology, Vol. 77, No. 5, September 1969, pp. 510–11. 

62. Victor R. Baker, “The Spokane Flood Debates,” op. cit., p. 46. 

63. J Harlen Bretz, “The Channeled Scablands of the Columbia Plateau,” op. cit., p. 649. 

64. J Harlen Bretz, Presentation of the Penrose Medal to J Harlen Bretz: Response, Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Part II, 91, 1095, cited in Victor R. Baker, “The Spokane Flood Debates,” op. cit., p. 48. 

65. See, for example, discussion in James E. O’Connor, David A. Johnson et al, “Beyond the Channeled Scabland,” Oregon Geology, Vol. 57, No. 3, May 1995, pp. 51–60. See also Gerardo Benito and James E. O’Connor, “Number and Size of Last-Glacial Missoula floods in the Columbia River Valley,” Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 115, 2003, pp. 624–38; Richard B. Waitt Jr., “About Forty Last-Glacial Lake Missoula Jökulhlaups through Southern Washington,” The Journal of Geology, Vol. 88, No. 6, November 1980, pp. 653–79; E.P. Kiver and D.F. Stradling, “Comments on Periodic Jökulhlaups from Pleistocene Lake Missoula,” Letter to the Editor, Quaternary Research 24, 1985, pp. 354–6; John J. Clague et al, “Palaeomagnetic and tephra evidence for tens of Missoula floods in Southern Washington,” Geology, 31, 2003, pp. 247–50; Richard B. Waitt Jr., “Case for periodic colossal jökulhlaups from Pleistocene Glacial Lake Missoula,” Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Vol. 96, October 1985, pp. 121–128; Keenan Lee, The Missoula Flood, Department of Geology and Geological Engineering School of Mines, Golden, Colorado, 2009. 

66. Vic Baker, in an interview with John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood, op. cit., pp. 251–2. 

67. David Alt, Glacial Lake Missoula and its Humongous Floods, op. cit., p. 25. 

68. Thomas J. Crowley and Gerald R. North, Palaeoclimatology, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 62. 

69. Lawrence Guy Strauss et al, Humans at the End of the Ice Age, Plenum Press, New York and London 1996, pp. 66 and 86. The Younger Dryas is explicitly a term for a European cold phase, although the phase itself was global. The same phase is thus sometimes referred to by different names in other places; but it is also a generic term and it is used as such here. 

70. Crowley and North, Paleoclimatology, op. cit., p. 63. 

71. Adams and Otte give date of start of Younger Dryas cold period as 12,800 and the end as 11,400 calendar years ago, Current Anthropology, 1999, vol. 40, pp. 73–7, see 73. 

72. Strauss et al, Humans at the End of the Ice Age, op. cit., p. 86. 

73. Graham Hancock, Underworld: Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age, Penguin, London, 2002, pp. 194–5. 

Chapter 4 

1. See, for example, US Geological Survey, “Columbia River Basalt Stratigraphy in the Pacific North West”: 

2. J Harlen Bretz, “The Channeled Scablands of the Columbia Plateau,” The Journal of Geology, Vol. 31 No. 8, op. cit., pp. 637–8. 

3. Ibid., p. 622. 

4. Randall Carlson: My Journey to Catastrophism, 

5. Ibid. 

6. All subsequent quotations from Randall Carlson in this chapter are from the interviews I conducted with him on our research trip in September–October 2014. 

7. These figures are confirmed by the New York State Geological Survey. See: 

8. Ella E. Clark, Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2003, p. 71. 


10. See Eric Cheney, Floods, Flows, Faults, Glaciers, Gold and Gneisses, From Quincy to Chelan to Wenatchee, Northwest Geological Society, Fieldtrip Guidebook No. 24, 13–14 June 2009, p. 18. (,_flows_faults.pdf). “Note the huge erratic of CRBG on the hillside above a house.” CRBG is an abbreviation for The Columbia River Basalt Group, a thick sequence of Miocene flood basalt that covered northern Oregon, eastern Washington, and western Idaho between 17 and 6 million years ago ( 


12. Randall’s figure of 1,200 feet is confirmed in David K. Norman and Jaretta M. Roloff, “A Self-Guided Tour of the Geology of the Columbia River Gorge,” Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources, Open File Report 2004–7, March 2004, p. 3: “The flood crest at Wallula Gap on the Columbia River at the Washington-Oregon border was about 1,200 ft (365 m) as evidenced by glacial erratics that were left stranded on the hillside. The water poured down the Columbia Gorge and widened the valley by cleaning off all the soil and talus up to 1,000 ft (300 m) elevation as far as The Dalles, Oregon. By the time it reached Crown Point, the surface of the last flood had dropped to about 600 ft (180 m) elevation.” 

13. See discussion in Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, op. cit., p. 46ff.


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. As a journalist, I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of artistic, cultural, historic, religious and political issues. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Copyrighted material can be removed on the request of the owner.

No comments:

Part 3 Fruit From a Poisonous Tree ... Collection Agency