Columbia Plateau, physiographic region of North America, c.100,000 sq mi (259,000 sq km), NW United States, between the Rocky Mts. and the Cascade Range in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Most of the plateau is underlaid by deposits, more than 10,000 ft (3,048 m) thick in places, of lava (mainly basalt) interbedded with sedimentary rock; older rocks outcrop in the Blue and Wallowa mts. Young lavas, scattered cinder cones, volcanic ash, and barren landscapes (including Craters of the Moon National Monument) are features of the Snake River plain in the south. Older, decayed lavas, much modified by accumulations of loess, occur in the north in the Columbia basin section; coulees (dry river canyons) and scablands (extensively eroded basalt surfaces), both carved by glacial meltwaters, are features of the region. The Columbia Plateau is an important agricultural and grazing area and is a major source of hydroelectric power.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.