The Missoula Floods and The Gorge Amphitheater

The most mesmerizing, intriguing, and naturally occurring event in the history of the eastern Washington area is that of the Missoula Floods. Of course the story of the Missoula Floods would have never been uncovered if it wasn’t for the creative thinking of J Harlen Bretz. Bretz, despite the scrutiny of his colleagues, pioneered the idea of massive flood(s) carving out many features in eastern Washington. The floods transformed the Columbia Gorge, aiding in the creation of one of the most popular outdoor music venues. The Gorge Amphitheatre in not just important geologically, but socially as well, people come from all across the nation to be entertained and witness the beautiful views it has to offer.

Located in George, Washington above the Columbia River Gorge, sitting high on the basalt pillars is the Gorge Amphitheatre (The Gorge Amphitheatre, 2010). Seating 25,000 and attracting people from all over the nation, the Gorge plays a huge role in music, culture, and society. Artists such as Pearl Jam, Coldplay, Aerosmith, Shania Twain, John Meyer, Dave Matthews Band, and Jack Johnson have all performed to sold out crowds (The Gorge Amphitheatre, 2010). The Gorge is home to huge festivals such as Sasquatch, Watershed, and Paradiso (The Gorge Amphitheatre, 2010). Brooks and Dunn’s music video “Only in America” was filmed live at the Gorge (The Gorge Amphitheatre, 2010). Dave Matthews Band also released a live recorded album from the Gorge, entitled The Gorge (The Gorge Amphitheatre, 2010). Kevin Corr, a regular Gorge attendee, stated “the landscaping is what makes the venue so popular and unique. It’s a breathtaking view, especially when the sunset hits the top of the mountains. It’s a place that I will continue to visit.” The Gorge has become apart of many people’s lives, leaving them with memories that last a lifetime.

Before there was the Gorge Amphitheatre there was massive amounts of basaltic rock covering eastern Washington, known as the Columbia River Basalt Group. The basalt was created by 300 or more highly effusive lava eruptions from linear fissures (Allen et al., 2009). Due to the multiple flood basalt eruptions the Columbia River Basalt Group covers eastern Oregon and Washington, western Idaho, and northern Nevada (Allen et al., 2009). The Columbia Basin was created by the weight of 90 thousand cubic miles of basalt that caused the Earth’s crust to sink (Allen et al., 2009). While the Missoula Floods did not create the Columbia Gorge, the event was instrumental in the development of the Gorge as a coulee. As waves of water reaching heights of 500 feet carrying ice, rock, and mud rushed through The Columbia River Gorge carving out chunks of basaltic rock (Allen et al., 2009). The force of water and material flowing over the hanging valleys removed the basalt rock, developing a plunge pool (Bretz, 1956). The rush of water over the hanging valley formed a waterfall. Over the course of several floods this act of erosion forced the waterfall to regress, forming a coulee (Bretz, 1956). This process created the steep walls of the Gorge Amphitheatre.
The Gorge Amphitheatre not only offers great entertainment and tourism activities, but incredible scenic views. These views would cease to exist had it not been for the geologic processes initiated by the Missoula Floods. Through the development of a receding cataract, or coulee the Gorge was born. With its high, steep walls and columnar basalts The Gorge is an extremely important location not only geologically, but socially. The Amphitheatre and surrounding area has become a tourist attraction that caters to all.