First Peoples

Sacred Waters, Part Two

Many photographs  in this series have documented how water flows through dry landscapes, especially as it flows through plants instead of through the soil. There are other times, when it flows through mineral layers. Some of these flows stop at sacred lakes such as Ktlil’x. Some begin flowing again through social landscapes. This pattern is clear in Smokiam, Washington. Like Ktlil’x, it has been sacred, medicinal water for thousands of years.


North End. Great view of the RV Park at the mouth of the Sun Valley. When a canal was cut to bring water into the lake as part of the Columbia Basin Project, the soapy foam that used to rim the lake and which brought it the name of Soap Lake declined. It still piles up along the shore when the wind blows. Fortunately, it does that a lot.

The waters of Smokiam have the most diverse mineral content of any lake on Earth. It shows along the shore.

Smokiam Shoreline

Because the waters of Smokiam rise and fall only slightly with the seasons, they don’t show the great solar tides of Ktlil’x. In their place, they display points where life and mineral crystals meet.

That’s the north end of the lake. Down south, in the town of Soap Lake, things look a bit different.

Greek Archway

With shrubberies and concrete bricks.

Verrrrry nice. If you stay at the RV Park next door (Yes, one at each end of the lake!), you can get married here, and, what’s more, once you’re done with that, you and your guests can pose at the sun dial. Sun dial? Why, indeed, it gets to be 115 in the shade in Soap Lake. You might as well celebrate it.

The World’s Only “Human Figure Sun Dial”…

…and circular wedding guest seating. Your guests get to be the hours on the clock. Excellent touch.

And what is he pointing towards with his magnificent wing? Aha!

The City of Soap Lake Water Tower!

Well, that’s on first glance, but just below that, there’s this more sobering look at history and desire:

A Sign from a Better Day

The cool thing about this welcome sign, is that it’s on the outskirts of town, not before you cruise into town but just before you leave to wind north along the lake to…

The Sun Basin

Mid-Basin View to the Southwest

Now, to my way of thinking, ‘fun’ is a curious word to apply to a shrub steppe with some alkaline lakes, some ancient humanly-inhabited caves, rhinoceros fossils, and one of the most sacred travel routes between the Cascades and the Rockies. Fun, it seems, is a relic from the 1960s, when the Hanford reactors just a little to the south and west were chugging out the plutonium for the U.S. Cold War nuclear arsenal, and the area’s nuclear workers were pretty chipper about this area, east of the rain forests, being the New Wild West, the one that would take the spirit of the Oregon Trail into the Space Age. That’s what counted for fun in those days, plus the local (Tri-Cities, Washington) invention of the Personal Water Craft. Here’s what came of all of that understanding that history was a mighty fun thing …

Soap Lake Fun Park

Drive In, Bandstand, Motel, Restaurant, and Skate Board Park Complex in One

Ghosts of America past, or what. This is one face Smokiam and 10,000 years of healing history in waters so mineral rich that you can’t sink in them, but float, like a cloud. May 12, 2012 is the day on which the fate of the lake will be decided: to keep it as Soap Lake, or to return it to its original name, Smokiam. Tempers are hot. It seems the imagination that can see both Native Americans and settlers sharing the same land is still not universally shared. I think it’s about time, an opinion I share with a universally admired local leader…

Kamiakin  Source

Way back in 1855, before the Yakima War, Kamiakin, the great chief of the Yakima, made the remark that his people had been happy to share the land with the newcomers but were saddened to the point of bitterness by the unwillingness of the newcomers to actually share.

It seems like we’re getting there, but slowwwwwly. Oh, and the reactors at Hanford are shut down now, too. The engineers got a 10 billion dollar contract to clean up the mess and, um, as this hearing heard, have built a machine that doesn’t really work. They should go and soak their feet in Smokiam and commune with Kamiakin. We’re getting more to talk about together all the time.

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