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Washington's official state waterfall is a breathtaking site off the beaten path - Destination: Remote

Palouse Falls plunges nearly 200 feet, and thousands of years back in time.

LACROSSE, Wash. — From a hillside carved in the shape of massive ripples from an ancient flood, to the ghostly tracks of pioneer wagon wheels still visible through the prairie grass, the scablands of Eastern Washington have stories to tell. 

And Lloyd Stoess is listening.

"Here on the side you can see the different layers of basalt," Stoess said, pointing out the bold horizontal patterns streaked across a canyon wall.

"When the water came through here," Stoess said. "They estimate the water was traveling around 70 miles an hour."

As the local chapter president of the Ice Age Floods Institute, Stoess looks across this landscape and sees a long-ago battle between earth and water.

"As deep as it is and as fast as it's moving, it cleans everything out," Stoess said.

15,000 years ago, a massive dam of ice gave way north of here, and a torrent of water equal to 35,000 Niagara Falls flooded much of what is now Washington state in mere hours. The etched earthscape that remains is one of a kind, at least on this planet.

"If you want to find a similar landscape to this you can go to the planet Mars," Stoess said.

One of the most stunning remnants of that Ice Age resculpting is the 186-foot-high Palouse Falls.

"Sometimes the Palouse Canyon is called the Grand Canyon of Washington state," Stoess said.

It's grand, alright. The river above is largely hidden from most viewpoints, so the falls seem to erupt from the cliffside.  

"The superlative that I always hear is 'wow,'" Stoess said.

One palatial basalt formation overlooking the canyon looks like something designed by Disney imagineers, adding a touch of fairytale magic.

"Call that the Castle," Stoess said.

The waterfall is a favorite for photographers eager to capture its every mood.

"I like to come down in the winter after two weeks of below-freezing weather," Stoess said. "It's all turned into an ice castle from all the spray."

Sadly, this natural beauty has also held a fatal attraction for some visitors.

"There's been accidents down here where people got too close to the edge and fallen off," Stoess said.

An extreme kayaker made the plummet - on purpose - in 2009.

"That is the official highest transverse of a waterfall in a kayak," Stoess said. "He survived, said he'd never do it again." 

Good choice.

The breathtaking landscape of Washington state offers thousands of sites bearing silent witness to the Ice Age. And one that tells its story with a roar.

"It's almost a spiritual thing," Stoess said.

RELATED: Take a waterfall tour of Washington state

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