Grand Coulee Dam
The centerpiece of the massive project of dams and canals that have “reclaimed” the Columbia Basin, the Grand Coulee Dam is one of the civil engineering wonders of the world. Built from 1933 to 1942 under the auspices of FDR’s New Deal, at a cost of many millions of dollars and 77 lives, the dam is one of the largest concrete structures in the world: 550 feet high, 500 feet thick at its base, and nearly a mile across. The combined generating capacity is more than 6,450 megawatts—half of which comes from the Third Powerplant, added in 1975. Exhibits on the construction and impact of the dam fill the large, modern Visitor Arrival Center (509/633-9265, daily, free) just downstream. On summer evenings a free, half-hour laser light show is projected onto the spillway of the dam.
There are three small towns—Coulee Dam, Grand Coulee, and Electric City, respectively, east to west from the dam—all of which service the needs of boaters, anglers, and other visitors. The best place to see the Grand Coulee Dam light show is the very pleasant Columbia River Inn (509/633-2100, $110 and up), across from the visitors center.