By John Eliot Allen
The formation of the Grand Coulee remained a secret for a few years, till J Harlen Bretz proved that the Columbia River basin used to be the positioning of massive floods 15,000 years in the past that created the panorama we see at the present time.
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Additional resources for Cataclysms on the Columbia: a layman's guide to the features produced by the catastrophic Bretz floods in the Pacific Northwest
But perhaps we're being unfair. Rock hounds are only the hangers-on, the groupies to the profession. What about the trained geologist? What about the degreed and practiced geological specialist? Surely some greater aura surrounds the professional, not perhaps an aura of romance and awe-inspiring wisdom, but some quality of expertise, something that commands our respect if not our emulation. And, yes, there is a special quality to the geologist. There's a lean, sun-parched leatheriness to most that sets Page 10 them apart from other professionals.
The intriguing and markedly unusual features of the Quincy Basin topographic map were what first drew Bretz to focus on the geology of eastern Washington. The second geological oddity that would later prove to be connected with the Spokane Flood presented itself to Bretz the year after he finished graduate school. He accepted a position as an assistant professor of geology at the University of Washington, an attractive option since a return to the Seattle area meant an opportunity to continue his study and exploration of the geological region he knew best, the region that had convinced him to become a geologist.
Such an arrangement, however, was clearly less than ideal. Bretz needed advanced training in geology if he were to continue in the discipline. He therefore enrolled in the Department of Geology at the University of Chicago. His entrance into graduate school was partly supported by a fellowship, an indication of the outstanding professional reputation that Bretz had already earned. , summa cum laude, with a doctoral thesis based again on his Puget Sound field notes. As an added triumph, this well-recognized piece of research was already in press even while Bretz was submitting it, in thesis form, to his supervising professors, a highly unusual accomplishment for a man just in the process of joining the profession!