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Grand Coulee

The road begins the steep, winding descent into Grand Coulee. Somewhat comparable to Grand Canyon, with the purple and rust of its towering walls, the Columbia canyon is here made especially awesome by grotesque lava formations and rounded pinnacles in the rock strata cut through by the river centuries ago.

Grand Coulee Hill Road forms a junction with SR 174 at the entrance to Grand Coulee.

This little city clings to the rocky slopes above the Columbia River, a hot, dusty, and often windswept “boom” metropolis that combined three former towns are merged: Coulee Heights, Coulee Center, and Grand Coulee.

The short, steep business blocks are faced with stores, cafes, hotels, beer taverns, and motion picture theaters. One of the latter offers occasional stage shows. The News and the Times, established as weeklies in November 1933, were combined as the News-Times in 1937.

Since 1933, many sensational stories have been told of Grand Coulee’s frontier abandon and rough pleasures, but little of these are apparent to the visitor. When the laboring hordes first poured in, life in the burgeoning town was undoubtedly vigorous and untrammeled. However, leading citizens denied that wide-open gambling existed or that alcohol was sold outside the state liquor store. It was recalled that Grand Coulee had no major robberies and but one killing in a five-year period. Grand Coulee in 1941 offered three hotels, two trailer camps, and some cabin camp accommodations.

This coulee begins at Grand Coulee Dam in northeast Grant County and extends over 50 miles southwest to Ephrata, between Grant and Douglas counties. It was the bed of the Columbia River when diverted in the glacial period. In 1853, the first recorded use of the present name was by Lieut. Richard Arnold in the Pacific Railroad Reports. In 1841, Cmdr. Charles Wilkes recorded it as Grand Coulee; in 1825, John Work of Hudson’s Bay Company called it Grand Coolley.


1939 Dorothea Lange photo of Coulee City, showing the labor temple on the hill.

Source: Library of Congress

1945 “Grand Coulee” pears fruit label.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

1970 view of St. Mary’s Mission near Omak.

Photo by Werner Lenggenhager. Source: Washington State Digital Archives

Ca. 1925 view of Steamboat Rock.

Source: Conservation Department, Planning and Development Division, Lantern Slide Shows, 1908-1939, Washington State Archives

Historic view of Banks Lake with Steamboat Rock at right.

Source: Washington State Archives