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The Pleistocene Okanogan lobe of Cordilleran ice in north-central Washington State dammed Columbia River to pond glacial Lake Columbia and divert the river south across one or another low spot along a 230-km-long drainage divide. When enormous Missoula floods from the east briefly engulfed the lake, water poured across a few such divide saddles. The grandest such spillway into the Channeled Scabland became upper Grand Coulee.

By cutting headward to Columbia valley, upper Grand Coulee’s flood cataract opened a valve that then kept glacial Lake Columbia low and limited later floods into nearby Moses Coulee. Indeed few of the scores of last-glacial Missoula floods managed to reach it. Headward cutting of an inferred smaller cataract (Foster Coulee) had earlier lowered glacial Lake Columbia’s outlet. Such Scabland piracies explain a variety of field evidence assembled here: apparently successive outlets of glacial Lake Columbia, and certain megaflood features downcurrent to Wenatchee and Quincy basin.

Ice-rafted erratics and the Pangborn bar of foreset gravel near Wenatchee record late Wisconsin flood(s) down Columbia valley as deep as 320 m. Fancher bar, 45 m higher than Pangborn bar, also has tall foreset beds—but its gravel is partly rotted and capped by thick calcrete, thus pre-Wisconsin age, perhaps greatly so. In western Quincy basin foreset beds of basaltic gravel dip east from Columbia valley into the basin—gravel also partly rotted and capped by thick calcrete, also pre-Wisconsin. Yet evidence of late Wisconsin eastward flow to Quincy basin is sparse. This sequence suggests that upper Grand Coulee had largely opened before down-Columbia megaflood(s) early in late Wisconsin time.

A drift-obscured area of the Waterville Plateau near Badger Wells is the inconspicuous divide saddle between Columbia tributary Foster Creek drainage and Moses Coulee drainage. Before flood cataracts had opened upper Grand Coulee or Foster Coulee, and while Okanogan ice blocked the Columbia but not Foster Creek, glacial Lake Columbia (diverted Columbia River) drained over this saddle at about 654 m and down Moses Coulee. When glacial Lake Columbia stood at this high level so far west, Missoula floods swelling the lake could easily and deeply flood Moses Coulee.

Once eastern Foster Coulee cataract had been cut through, and especially once upper Grand Coulee’s great cataract receded to Columbia valley, glacial Lake Columbia stood lower, and Moses Coulee became harder to flood. During the late Wisconsin (marine isotope stage [MIS] 2), only when Okanogan-lobe ice blocked the Columbia near Brewster to form a high lake could Missoula floodwater from glacial Lake Missoula rise enough to overflow into Moses Coulee—and then only in a few very largest Missoula floods. Moses Coulee’s main excavation must lie with pre-Wisconsin outburst floods (MIS 6 or much earlier)—before upper Grand Coulee’s cataract had receded to Columbia valley.

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