Seismic reflection data are often of poor quality when recorded in areas where volcanic rocks are present at or near the surface. In order to investigate this phenomenon, a vertical seismic profiling (VSP) experiment was conducted in the Columbia Plateau basalts so that the behavior of seismic energy in subsurface volcanic rocks could be observed directly, thus giving insight into data acquisition in volcanic terrains. The lithologic section at the VSP site consists of low-velocity (400 m/s to 900 m/s) alluvium in the uppermost 50 m, beneath which are layers of high-velocity (about 5800 m/s), high-density basalts interbedded with clay layers with much lower velocities (about 1700 m/s) and densities. These large velocity and density contrasts dramatically influence wave generation and propagation. In spite of the small source-borehole offset (61 m), large-amplitude S waves are generated by the downgoing P waves when they reach a shallow (250 m) clay-basalt boundary. These S waves, in turn, generate strong reflected P waves when they interact with another clay layer at 500 m. On the other hand, strong primary P-wave reflections are also present in the data but are affected by various interfering effects which reduce their amplitudes. The VSP data are also characterized by large-amplitude reverberations caused by seismic energy trapped in the upper 250 m of the lithologic section. Reverberations are also observed in surface data recorded near the VSP site. We conclude from our analysis that volcanic rocks, at least in the Columbia Plateau, do not exhibit unusual energy transmission characteristics and that the observations can be explained in terms of the large contrast in the elastic properties of interbedded clay and basalt.