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The Grand Coulee Dam Tour, Grand Coulee Washington

Grand Coulee Dam Tour
Grand Coulee Dam, Washington

While preparing for my trip to Washington State I purposely plotted my route home to pass by the Grand Coulee Dam with hopes of taking a tour. I love taking dam tours for some reason.  Perhaps it is because I am impressed by something that can hold back so much water. Or the massive amounts of concrete it takes to make a dam.  I am not sure what it is but I always feel compelled to stop!

I left Omak Washington, where we had stayed for the night, not on time.  It was not surprising as I rarely leave for anything on time. I had to arrive at the dam by 10 am for their tour. If I missed the 10 am tour it would be another two hour wait for the next tour. I arrived at the visitor center with about 12 minutes to spare and I was pleased that I had made it in time… or so I thought.

I walked up to the visitor center information desk and requested to be added to the 10 am tour. The woman informed me I was at the visitor center and not the tour location. Say what ?!? She also informed me that although the tour location was only about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) away she did not think I would make it in time for the 10 am tour. Clearly she hasn’t seen me drive.

I let her convince me that I would not make it to the tour in time and I asked if there was anything to do for two hours. Apparently I offended her of the thought that I could not fill my time at the visitor center.  I am never one to spend much time in visitor centers but I had two hours to burn so I began to familiarize myself with the Grand Coulee Dam.

I found an awkward joystick interactive game located in the visitor center, which held my attention for awhile. The joystick controlled a man with a jet-pack on his back – very Rocketeer style. I move him along the exterior of a computer generated version of the dam where I took in the pixelated scenery. The game was odd but I found humor in it after I figured out I could submerge the guy into the water. Unfortunately I could not send him through the turbines which diminished most of my fun. I am sure the attendant at the counter did not find humor in me trying to mutilate the Rocketeer guy but I am sure I was not the first person to try this.

After I had gotten my fill of tormenting the Rocketeer guy I wondered aimlessly around the the visitor center.  I found a wall of jars interesting, not only because they looked like beer growlers, but also because each state was represented. I learned that each bottle had dumped water over the spillway during the completion of the dam celebration. I checked, Idaho, my home state was there.  I know that I have mentioned this before, but I always check for Idaho. Maybe it is because some people, even people who live in the United States, do not know that Idaho exists. They confuse it with Ohio, Iowa… it’s somewhere in the middle right? Ugh.

Grand Coulee Dam Tour
Hey there Idaho I found you!

After I read all the signs within the building I had learned that only 77 people had died during the construction of the dam, far less than the average.  For perspective, Hoover dam had 96 fatalities.   What was also interesting, and I felt skirted over by the tour guides later on the tour, was the relocation of highways, railways and even an Indian reservation so the dam could be placed where it is. The dam placement also negatively impacted the Native’s fishing. While on the tour it was asked why there was no fish ladder and the guide stated fish did not come this far up the river. I found this confusing as in the visitor center there was a running video talking about the dam’s impact on the Naive’s fishing. I guess maybe the tour guide had not spent as much time in the visitor center as I had.

It was about 11:30 am and I wanted to make sure I made the 12:00 pm tour so I headed over to the tour building with time to spare. I will mention if you are going on the tour note that you will be driving through a fenced in area with a guard station and several guards in vehicles. I was confused by this as I thought I was going into a restricted area and probably looked like a moron once I figured out I was suppose to drive past the guards. Lets just say there was a lot of driving around in circles before I figured out I was going in the right direction. This dam is heavily guarded compared to any other dam I have been to, which included Hoover Dam on the boarder of Nevada and Arizona.

I aced my metal detector test, this was of course after I ran back out to my truck twice to drop off more of my belongings that were not allowed on the tour. It was explained that you would not be able to bring bags, phones, camera bags or basically anything that would not fit in your pocket. I had a key to my truck, an extra battery for my camera and my camera.

Two vans pulled up to take us on the dam tour. After the guards searched the vans we loaded in and were taken back past the visitor center to the top of the dam. Once there we were escorted inside to the generator room.

Grand Coulee Dam Tour
Generator Room inside Grand Coulee Dam

After getting a brief view of the room we loaded back up into the vans and were taken to the middle of the almost mile wide dam (1.6 km). We unloaded again and took photos over the spillway, down the river and of Lake Roosevelt. This was the extent of the tour and I was a little miffed that I had waited 2 hours for such a short tour.

Grand Coulee Dam Tour
Looking down the spillway at Grand Coulee Dam

The guide had told us that due to 9/11 most of the interior tour had been cut. Someone should probably tell Hoover Dam about 9/11 as we walked all over the inside of it. This tour was free and Hoover’s was not, so maybe that had something to do with it? Regardless it was short and to the point.

Lake Roosevelt, Washington
Lake Roosevelt, Washington

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2 replies on “The Grand Coulee Dam Tour, Grand Coulee Washington”

I, too, love to take dam tours. Perhaps it’s the majesty or just the fun of swearing about dam this or dam that.

I just returned from the Grand Coulee Dam where I saw the laser light show–a new production for the first time in years–and took the tour. Unfortunately I was disappointed in both. The light show–the premier night–was 35 minutes late and rather than being an entertaining event was actually a documentary on the dam and its impact on the surrounding region and cultures. When it was over I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be guilty for the dam’s presence or proud of its contributions.

The tour was even shorter than yours. After the security screening and tour of the pump room (you stated this was a generator room but really it was the pump room that pumped water to Banks lake), our tour was over. Due to maintenance we were not allowed to drive on top of the dam.

I have toured Glen Canyon Dam, Hoover Dam, Albeni Dam, Shasta Dam and several others I don’t remember. My favorite was Shasta because back in the day they hired actors to play little creatures that hid in the dark recesses of the dam.

Things changed with 9/11 and it’s too bad that this generation will never experience the joy and freedom we once had on these tours.

yes it is a shame how things have had to change for security purposes. I’m sorry the light show and tour were a disappointment – it is always a bummer when you are excited about a visit and it turns out bad. I’ll have to check out Shasta Dam – hopefully they still have the actors about – sounds like fun!

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