Short Answer: 6 sides.  All snow flakes have different shapes, but each one has six sides.  Bees form honeycombs that are six-sided, as it is the most efficient and economical shape to save work and space.  So too, when lava flows it cools in columnar basalt forms that have six sides. We see these often along the Salmon River in Idaho, and the Grande Ronde River in Oregon.  Lava columns make great jumping platforms to jump off of into the river.

Both rivers share a geologic region that was partially  shaped by the Colombia River Basalt flows during the Miocene Age, over the last 30 million years. Cracks opened up in the earth’s surface and spewed out huge lava flows that oozed over the landscape.  Nearby rivers were temporarily dammed, until an outlet formed to drain the water, thereby forming canyons below these natural reservoirs.  Sedimentary materials were laid down on the lake bottoms, then when another lava flow erupted, the process repeated itself.

Consequently, a layer cake effect resulted that can be seen as anywhere from 70 -80 different lava flows can be seen in the canyon lands, separated by alternate sedimentary layers.  Of course, all the various layers of lava and sediments have different thicknesses. due to time between flows and how extensive each one was.

Some places in each canyon of the Salmon River and Grande Ronde River, the river cuts directly through a lava layer, and thus the six sides of columnar basalt can be seen as we float along. Rice Creek, where Chinese Miners historically camped  and worked for gold has such a place on the Salmon River.  On the Grande Ronde River, a place called “The Narrows,” where Chief Joseph had his winter camp, is also where basalt columns line both sides of the river.

A side view does not allow a full view of all six sides. Only when an end view is located, where lava flows have been bent or broken, can all six sides be seen. Often these ends form what geologists call pillow basalt, which we often see at river’s edge where they poke barely above the water level.

Nature talks in terms of math and allows humans to see uniformity in laws of the universe.  Great beauty is a result. Though math may seem a challenge in school and a nebulous thing, in nature it is given amazing form.  It makes room for  curious contemplation along the river’s edge.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
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