Grand Coulee Dam

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Grand Coulee Dam at night

I have wanted to see Grand Coulee Dam for 15 years but we’ve never made it so we planned a stop at the Spring Canyon campground knowing it wasn’t a great campground but it was close to the dam. This was important because the laser light show doesn’t start until 10pm and we didn’t want to drive far after dark. There are a lot of deer in the area. I seem to see them every time we drive somewhere, even during the middle of the day. In fact one walked in front of our shuttle bus on the tour. The campground turned out just like the reviews we read—noisy and little privacy. We did manage to find a spot to wedge our trailer in and even had a bit of a river view, but mostly we saw and heard our neighbors. There were many large groups camping here probably because of the nice day use area with a big swimming beach and boat launch. But the reason we were here was for proximity to the dam.

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Looks can be deceiving!
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Viewpoint above the dam

We started our visit with a stop at the viewpoint above the dam and then continued to the visitor’s center. It’s smaller than I imagined, but had a few cool things. I especially liked the pictures of the “princesses” from all 52 Washington counties pouring jugs of water from every state over the dam at it’s opening and the jugs on display. Chuck found a jackhammer that actually vibrated to give you a feel for how tough the work was for those building the dam.

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It’s hard work!

We drove to the opposite side of the dam to take the free tour. It turned out to be 15 minutes of security checks and then loading, riding and unloading a shuttle bus (3 times) to spend 5 minutes looking at the generating pumps and another 5 minutes in middle of the dam looking over the edge. Our tour guide said before 9/11 visitors could tour the dam on their own and that there are loads of displays inside, which we never got to see. Still she tried to keep us entertained with her “dam” humor.

Returning to our trailer I found a movie about the making of the dam on their website (http://www.usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee/history/construction/index.html) which was interesting and informative. My advice, skip the tour and watch the movie. I find the history surrounding the dam fascinating. It is called one of the manmade wonders of the world and whole towns were relocated to make way for the lake formed behind the dam.

We returned to the dam that night for the laser light show and we were glad we did. As the start of the show nears they turn off some of the lights on the dam. A few minutes later they start opening each section of the spillway one by one until a giant white curtain of rushing water covers the dam. We could feel the temperature dropping as each section started to flow. Onto this “screen” they project the laser light show. Titled “Many Voices, One River” it talks about the building of the dam and its benefits as well as its impact on the local tribes who lost their salmon fishing grounds. This was definitely our favorite part of visiting the dam and I’d recommend it if you ever make it this way.

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