Saturday, March 18, 2017

Non Washington: Cap Stones, Surface Exposure, and Petrified Wood

I try to keep the geologic formations straight when venturing on the Colorado Plateau, but the smaller stuff is just as fascinating. Geology nuances that were not as noticed as much as on previous visits. I would note that my non geologists travelling companions generally could care less about the names of formations, but often appreciate an explanation of why things look the way they do.  

One feature is the concept of a hard resistant rock formation forming steep spectacular cliffs with softer rock below protected by the cap rock. 

The cap rocks are the very upper part of the mesa which are underlain by Shinarump Conglomerate of the Chinle Formation. The huge red cliffs are the De Chelly Sandstone of the Cutler Group. Below the sandstone is the softer Organ Rock Shale also of the Cutler Group. 

The cap rock of Shinarump is not very thick at these mesas near Monument Valley, but is the critical protective layer. While the De Chelly Sandstone forms the scenic cliffs and is clearly capable of standing as steep vertical cliffs for very long periods, once the cliff face peals away and tumbles down the slope, the increased surface exposure makes quick work of the sandstone. Hence, there is very little talus apron of De Dhelly Sandstone at the base of these high cliffs.     

Note the lack of talus below the cliff wall where sandstone blocks had previously fallen out of the cliff face. More recent rock falls to the left and right  have not yet been turned into sand. 

If not for the ready breakdown of the De Chelly Sandstone blocks from angular boulders to sand, the monuments of Monument Valley would not exist but instead would be mounds of talus with a low cliff near the top at most. 

Note the near lack of talus blocks at the base of this monument.

The lack of talus also allows for ready viewing of the underlying Organ Rock Shale.

While the hard De Chelly Sandstone is readily turned to sand when surface area is increased post rock fall from the cliffs, some rock types are very resistant to erosion even with large surface exposure. The silica rich petrified forest logs in Petrified Forest National Park weather out of the soft mudstone of the Petrified Forest Member of the Chinle Formation, and in places form a resistant veneer of silica rich wood on the surface or as scattered logs laying on the ground surface after the surrounding mudstone as been completely eroded away.

Note log encased in mudstone on cliff face
Most of the red boulders below the cliffs are blocks and logs of petrified wood. 


Friday, March 17, 2017

Juniper Management in the Mountain Home Range, Utah

Some hard deadlines, too much field time, disconnected from the internet and a vacation has limited posting much on the Washington landscapes. Travel and work out of state though is an opportunity to gain new perspectives.

Earlier this winter I noted that junipers are not a common tree in Washington State (juniper-dunes-wilderness), but elsewhere in the western United States junipers are taking over large tracts of the land.

I noted an odd shape shaped forest feature while flying over the Mountain Home Range in Utah.

The view of this one square mile section is of Utah State owned land. Utah did some juniper clearing on the land to improve grazing but leaving some trees in a shape that stood out when viewed from above. The clearing was done about three years ago. The surrounding land is managed by the BLM with another Utah section just over the ridge. It appears that Utah is being a bit more aggressive on Juniper management, but some of the BLM land has also been treated.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Washington Landscape Paintings

Dusk at Padilla Bay, Lisa McShane - oil on canvas

A personal note. A year and a half  ago Lisa and I bought a property on Samish Island that had a shop building that was readily converted into an art studio. Lisa had out grown the tiny studio in the back of our home in Bellingham. She can now work on multiple large canvasses as well as smaller ones.

Some of her recent work is currently on display at Smith and Vallee Gallery in Edison, Washington. The paintings are of places in Washington State that we live near or frequent in our travels. A visit to Smith and Vallee will give you a good flavor of Washington landscape paintings.

Road to Jump of Joe

Chopaka and Palmer between lightning strikes

Cloud over Blue Mountains

Rain shadow Samish Island Road

Moon over Skagit

Guardian Trees

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Kahlotus in Winter

Kahlotus has never really been a thriving town, but then it has not drifted into ghost town status either. Due to good roads and better cars the commercial businesses that served the already sparse population have faded such that there is an appearance of decay with empty commercial buildings. 

The one market has been closed consistently for a long time. I was hoping it was open but was not optimistic during my recent pass through.

However, there is a café in town that is open at least for now.

Despite the commercial decline, the town population has remained relatively steady and the town does have a K-12 school as well as a swimming pool. 
While there is a wheat elevator, most of the local wheat heads by truck down Devils Canyon (devils-canyon-south-of-kahlotus) to Port of Kahlotus owned terminals on the Snake River. The geology in the canyon is spectacular, but the grade of the road is such that wheat truck drivers want to make sure brakes work well with a full load of wheat in tow.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Shallow Soil Slab Failure

I had the chance to revisit  a steep slope I had assessed about a decade ago. The slope is a former steep shoreline bluff underlain by silt/clay glacial drift with a few boulders embedded in the unit. I say former shoreline bluff because the base of the slope is fronted by what has been a very stable accretion shore with a beach that has built well out from the toe of the slope. The slope is 55 degrees, steep enough to be a challenge to walk on.

This fall and winter has been very wet so landslides are not unexpected. In my previous assessment of this slope I stated "The primary source of slope movement on the slope appears to be root throw from occasional toppling trees and raveling associated with deer and thaw freeze. However, the upper slope is steep enough that shallow landslides should be expected on a periodic basis. If slides do take place, I anticipate that they would involve only a few feet at most of the upper soil horizon".   

This fall/winter combination of wet and cold caused the top soil layer to release on the slope. There may have been some enhancement as trees had been cut and slash left on the slope. 

All and all a fairly straight forward site compared to a few other recent slope assessments. But it is a good lesson to visit failed slopes to observes recent slope failures.   

Silt/clay glacial drift with a few cobbles and boulders embedded in the unit.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Ralston is about 10 miles south of Ritzville. It happens to be along a route that I take on a perhaps yearly basis and am familiar with, but is a bit off the main highways. That said, if you find yourself traveling between Spokane and Tri-Cities, the route through Ralston avoids what I refer to as the Valley of Everlasting Boredom (Hatton Coulee) between Lind and Connell. And the route passes relatively close to Palouse Falls - a side trip that should be on everyone's list of must see places in Washington State. 

The first view of Ralston is its high rise grain elevator.  

The taller elevator is a remnant of the day when Ralston still had an active rail line. The newer elevator on the left is served by trucks as the rail has been abandoned since 1980. Ralston had the misfortune of being served by the wrong rail route - the Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension. Better train routes for serving grain shipments were located to the northwest and east.

With more prosperous Ritzville just 10 miles away Ralston slowly faded over time. The mechanization of farm equipment meant less people were needed to farm the dry land wheat. Paved roads and cars further undermined the small town. By 1980 the town was mostly a ghost town with a few residences left. My first visit to Ralston was on a hot summer day after Mount Saint Helens had blanketed this area with 4 to 6 inches of ash. The land was a moonscape of gray but with a blue sky. But even at that time the store above was closed up. 

There is however a local community pride that continues. The local grange hall appears to be maintained.

The road rises up on the south side of town and someone is keeping up the old hotel as a residence.

There is a maintained small park along the side of the road. The park is dedicated to the memory of a WWII boatswain, Reinhardt Keppler, killed in action in the Pacific. Fiver other locals, including two brothers, lost in the war are also honored. 

By WWII this area was already declining in population. I tried to image the young men leaving the wide open spaces and isolated farmsteads and heading out into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean to serve their country. I hope that they found some joy and adventure before they arrived at their fate. In small communities losses like this must have been particularly hard.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ritzville in Winter

Ritzville is a well preserved small city in eastern Washington. Much of the downtown area is within the National Register of Historic Places. The city is located where I-90 joins U.S. Highway 395, or if viewed in another way, where the two roads part. State Highway 261 also starts or ends at Ritzville.
Geologically the town is located at the upper end of Paha Coulee. This coulee was scoured a bit by ice age flood waters that branched off of the Cheney-Palouse flood path just to the east of Ritzville. The reliable History Link provides a good overview of the town and its history
The highways now skirts around the town just to the southeast, with a truck stop, several gas stations and motels, and quick eats at the service exit. It is a short drive into the town itself and there are a couple of older motels in the main town area. The population has declined some in the past few decades from a high of 2,173 in 1960 to 1,673 as of 2010. However, the town has some advantages have kept it reasonably intact relative to some of the other dry land communities in eastern Washington.  
The town has a movie theater that is still open and showing first run films
Note also there is bank on the ground floor next door 

The first pioneers in the area ran cattle on the open range, but they were soon replaced by dry land wheat framers. A substantial number of the wheat farmers were German immigrants that had previously been in Russia. Wheat is the big business of the area and Ritzville is a major shipper of wheat with a main rail line running through town. Note in the image above the crane as work was taking place at the elevators on this cold day.

The heart of downtown on a cold winter day
The cars show that people were at work
The downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places

There are recreational opportunities
Big Bend refers to the big bend in the somewhat distant Columbia River which flows to the west before turning south at the Big Bend
The wheat land to the north and west is locally called the Big Bend

A bit of wealth from Pittsburg came to Ritzville in 1907

One of many brick buildings in the historic district of downtown

Ritzville exists where it does due to the railroad that follows the even grade down Paha Coulee
The town has lots of train traffic passing through, but the rail is also a critical component fro shipping wheat from the region.

Ritzville is the County seat of the small population county

Wide double lane street heading up into a neighborhood

Downtown buildings with some fanciness

For its size and setting having a drugstore is a big deal

This establishment was closed and vacant
On this frigid day the name had some appeal

Reasonable expectations at the downtown grocery

I missed out on Pastime, but good to know there is a tavern and sports on TV

The old railroad station has been well preserved

Although it was cold I really enjoyed this farm implement display next to the railroad station

Each implement had a sign explaining what it was and its use.
Solved few mysteries for me

Across from the farm implements was a vacant building of bygone days.
Small car dealerships are a thing of the past

A measure of the town prosperity is that there are open banks serving the community

The bank building has been in use as a bank under various owners for over 100 years
Most of the downtown buildings had historical signage

A final note should be that Ritzville is typically note so snowy. This winter has been rather exceptional with lots of snow in the dry land areas of eastern Washington.

I have added a new label to the blog side bar: towns and cities. I have done short write ups with pictures of towns before or some aspect of a city but did not have a specific label.