Birth of an Urban Legend

The early 1970s in Grand Coulee was an interesting time, the 3rd powerhouse was being built and it attracted a lot of journalists to the region. One was Hu Blonk, who had been there in the 1930s, and after looking around started to pen nostalgia pieces for the Wenatchee World. The nostalgia articles became a hit and pretty soon there were other writers joining the trend, most notable being Virginia Beck and Ray Schrick.
Another noteworthy name is Esther Rice. She was a photographer from the same era that took numerous pictures of historic spots around the coulee, and when Steamboat Rock State Park expanded in the early 1970s seemed to cover every aspect of it. So here’s the story of Esther Rice and Steamboat Rock.
One brilliant summer day Esther and a group of people climbed to the top of Steamboat Rock. The wondered around the top, Esther taking pictures as they went. Eventually they made their way to the back and were looking out over Barker Canyon. About 600 feet below they could see people boating and fishing on the lake, enjoying the sunny day. Esther started taking pictures, angling around to get a better perspective… Suddenly, she tripped and started to tumble for the edge of the cliff. There was nothing anyone could do as they saw her stumble and suddenly drop over the cliff out of sight. According to the story she fell all the way down and somehow landed in the lake 600 – 800 feet below. When she crashed into Banks Lake she was more than a little shook-up, but able to tread water until a nearby boater rescued her and took her back to shore.
It’s a really good story, and for sure Esther has spent enough time working on and around Steamboat Rock that it would seem feasible, except after looking at the google maps satellite image, there is no spot you can fall or jump off the back of Steamboat Rock and land in the water, you would hit the talus slope first, making it a one way trip. …and a 600 foot fall into water is hard enough to survive. It is still a great urban legend that evokes the name of an awesome local photographer that should be remembered. Esther Rice.



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