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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

North from Metaline

Notes on a Recent Kayak Adventure


By Mary Cates

Editors Note: David Thompson came to our county looking for a water route to the Columbia. In September of 1809, he thought he might have found it. Kalispel Indians at Lake Pend Oreille assured him that their river did indeed flow north to join larger river, and he made a quick trip to within eight miles of Box Canyon. However, a longer trip downriver next spring ruled out this route. This time Thompson made it to within three miles of Metaline Falls. His Kalispel guides finally convinced him that no boat could make it through the canyons and cataracts that lay beyond. Today, the backed-up waters of dams now cover Box Canyon, Metaline Falls, and Zee Canyon, making these stretches much milder and more inviting to paddlers.

It is a beautiful, clear day, about 8 am, 77 degrees and expected to reach the low 90's. First, breakfast and kayak instruction at Metaline Park, then down to the beach. In no time we are paddling easily over the water. We head north on the Pend Oreille River under the bridge of Highway 31 and past Metaline Falls. “What falls?” one of the paddlers asks. Our guide explains that right now the historic falls are only a ripple of water. But water level and velocity on this part of the Boundary Reservoir vary tremendously depending on hydropower use—this can be one of the dangerous spots. If there had been any white water, we would have pulled our kayaks to shore and hauled them around on the portage at Sullivan Creek.

We pass the old powerhouse and pick up speed as the river gets narrower. The cliffs rise higher on each side, white, gray and silver, with glittery flecks of pink and rose. The caves we are seeing are old mine tunnels—underwater now since Boundary Dam was built. We come to one at water level and wonder about paddling into it, but are told that a family of beaver lives there. We gather and listen at the entrance, and sure enough, one pops up in our midst, then dives and heads for the mineshaft.

While in the canyon we see many different species of birds including various waterfowl, bald eagles, osprey, and turkey vultures. Butterflies are abundant and hummingbirds are everywhere there are wild flowers growing. Mammals spotted on this trip include deer, elk, moose, and a fat marmot. I took pictures of a tree growing upside down out of a cliff face and used up two rolls of film on the trip. (I wish I had brought more.) In one area of the canyon there is a small grotto in the wall where the rock has fallen away leaving a roof of plant roots and water dripping all around enclosing the spot. The fish were rolling on the surface in some sort of frenzy—intriguing to watch.

A little further on, we notice a rope bridge carrying water line. It turns out to be on mine property, prompting stories about the mining history of this area. Once we are past this narrow reach where cliff walls on both sides squeeze the river, it widens enough to pull out for a lunch break. Back on the water, we continue to see many interesting geological formations. We paddle through a rock arch (our guide explains he is still trying to sort out the facts from three different stories he’s heard about blasting it into existence). Then past Flume Creek, Beaver Creek Falls, Three Mile Creek Falls and Peewee Falls, plus numerous small falls that probably have no names. Finally we approach Boundary Dam and pull onto the sandy beach to stretch and load the kayaks on the trailer. For this magical day on the water, nature has been the focus. As we head back to Metaline Park, tired and happy, we agree that nature provides the best show of all.

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