Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bellingham's Caspian Tern Colony

John Stark a writer for the Bellingham Herald has written several stories on the Caspian tern colony on the now vacant former paper mill site on Bellingham's waterfront. I really enjoyed this line Mr. Stark wrote in his latest article: "While Dungeness Spit offered pristine sands, the deteriorating pavement of the old mill site may have been more attractive to the birds for one reason: it is a more exclusive gated community".
Upwardly mobile Caspian terns are apparently getting too good for the riff raff of other wildlife in Washington State. The land is now owned by the Port of Bellingham and has been vacant for several years. It is perfect tern habitat for nesting and the clever terns have figured it out and moved in. Apparently they like to establish large colonies and will congregate at one location for a number of years and then move if bothered too much by predators. Large colonies have been located at Dungeness Spit on the northeast portion of the Olympic Peninsula, near Everett and on the dredge spoils islands in the Columbia River estuary.
The Port of Bellingham plans to make the area less attractive for the terns due to environmental cleanup plans. Early redevelopment will crowd out the terns. It will be interesting to see where the next exclusive tern community will be built.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Twin Sisters Range and Dunite

Twin Sisters Range, Northwest Cascades, Whatcom County as viewed from Upper Samish River Valley
Summit of Mount Baker, not part of the Twin Sisters is on left.

The Twin Sisters are a spectacularly jagged set of peaks rising above the Northwest Cascades approximately eight miles southwest of Mount Baker. The highest peak of the Sisters is South Twin at 7,000 feet. There are several small glaciers on the peaks and they remain snow covered until very late in the summer. Their western position means they get lots of very heavy snowfalls. It should be noted that Mount Baker ski area located northeast of Mount Baker holds the world record one year snowfall record. I suspect that places on the Twin Sisters would beat that record if someone wanted to spend the winter making the official measurements required. 

I once did a presentation on local geology to a group of young girl scouts including my daughter. One of the lessons was "What are the Twin Sisters made of?" Answer "Dunite", "Where did the Dunite come from?" Answer "The mantle of the earth". The range is essentially a huge block of the earth's mantle somehow exhumed and thrust up into the Northwest Cascade Range. Not a common thing. My daughter recently drove a friend from out of state from Seattle to Bellingham and pointed out this tidbit of information when they saw the jagged twin Sisters above the Skagit Flats south of Mount Vernon. Good girl learned at least one thing from her geologist father.
The underlying dunite adds to the sense of height to the range. Note that trees do not extend very far up the lower slopes. Dunite poses two problems for plants, it has almost no phosphorus essential for plant life and a metals ratio that is toxic to most plants.

I took the above picture while heading towards a geology project site in the Samish River Valley. Before investigating the area in question I had a couple of theories regarding a certain land form I had seen in the topography of the area I was working. The presence of dunite boulders in that land form helped in interpreting how the land form came to be. My field work involved lots of steep slope traverses and ultimately a wade up a stream. It would have been a lot more pleasant in the summer.

Taking a break from wading by standing on a boulder of dunite

Typical orange dunite boulder
I broke this dunite cobble in half to reveal the green olivine and black chromite

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January Blooms

Daffodil and erratic

We have a very early daffodil in our yard. As long as it is above freezing this plant will begin to grow. Its been a very mild January with no hard freezing temperatures since early in the month. This particular daffodil can tolerate deep freezes even while blooming as pictured on a previous post HERE. This same daffodil bloomed in January last year as last January was the warmest in history.
I observed numerous January blooms this morning on my walk to work.

The above are not native plants, but the Oregon grape is almost blooming.

 The western Washington weather can be described as a very long drawn out fall and a very long drawn out spring. Its not like it has been pleasantly warm this past month - it has simply never been very cold. It is that way most of the winter cool damp weather with an occasional frigid blast out of the Fraser River Valley. So far this winter we had only one hard cold period in November with only mild freezes since. A little disappointing for snow lovers given this was a La Nina year. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Aerial Combat Over the Chuckanut Range

Four ravens and a young bald eagle

I had a rare sunny day near the south end of Cuckanut Drive in northern Skagit County in early January. This is the place where the Cascades meet the sea. Bald eagles as well as other birds and for that matter a few humans (parasailers and hang gliders) use this are to soar along the uplifting air as it rises up the south and west slopes of the Chuckanuts. Apparently all is not peaceful in the sky over the Chuckanuts. I watched a great aerial combat between groups of ravens and bald eagles. The ravens kept up their assault for a half hour until the eagles stopped soaring by. I leave the wildlife photography to those with better cameras. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Trees as Geology Tools

Last winter I paddled up the Copalis River on the western Washington Pacific Coast to visit what might be one of the most important stands of trees in Washington in terms of geology. I did a little write up of that trip (HERE). These trees have been dead for 311 years. They died when the flood plain they were growing on dropped several feet in elevation and became a salt water marsh. Brain Atawater found these trees and linked the trees to a mega earthquake on the Washington Coast. As a geologist it was fun to see the locations where blocks of wood were removed from these tree witnesses.

Dead Western Red Cedar with wood cut

Dead western red cedar in salt marsh

I have utilized trees to help me understand the landscape I am seeing. A few examples follow.

Western red cedar stump near the toe of a slope

This winter I inspected a steep slope above this tree. I was fairly sure the slope was stable based on test pits, slope angles and a variety of other observations. This tree let me know that at least for the past 200 years or so there had not been a large landslide from the slope above.

Boulder and Douglas fir

In this case I knew that I was on a landslide deposit. At the very least I knew that the slide predated the trees growing in this forest. I found very large cedar stumps in this forest as well indicating that the slide was at least 400 years old. A similar slide in the same area was dated by extracting buried wood underneath the landslide deposit.

A worn out Sam next to a old growth western red cedar on an alluvial fan

The huge cedar stump pictured above was growing on an alluvial fan. The presence of the tree without any apparent burial of its base by sediment provided me with some sense of the potential risk of large debris flows and that the rate of deposition and run out of debris flows on this fan.

This tree stump on an unstable slope was approximately 50 years old when cut down

I spotted this stump on a slope that I knew was likely to fail, but the stump gave me at least one means of estimating the frequency of failures on this slope. It was not a very big tree when it was cut down reflecting the harsh growing conditions on this slope. The tree had been cut 40 years ago. So at this one site I could say that the slope had been there for nearly 100 years.

Some caution should be applied particularly with regards to slope stability as past conditions on or below or above a slope may have changed significantly due to land use changes. Straight trees on a slope does not mean the slope is stable. It just means it has not moved for a while.

These trees were straight when I first visited this slope.
The whole slope started moving four months later.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rearranging Cars

In case your not a You Tube flood prowler. Second great cars versus floods video in less than a year.
For geologists there is some great imbrication views at the end.

USGS Threshold Warning for Landslides

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) developed a model for landslides and rainfall events for the Seattle area a few years ago linking rainfall thresholds with landslides. Most periods of landslides require multiple days of wet weather. It is rare that a single storm will trigger landslides, but a series of moderate storms will push the saturation level of soils to the point of failure. We have reached that threshold for the second time this winter due to a series of moderate storms.

It was certainly noticeable while walking to work. Overland flow was developing within my own neighborhood as the ability of soils to soak up anymore water has been exceeded. Since the development of this statistical model, it has proven to pretty accurate. It seems that every time a warning is issued the rail line south of Everett is blocked by slides coming off of the steep slopes above.  

The National Weather Service Seattle office includes the USGS warning in its special weather statements. For those living on hills with any history of shallow landslides or along small streams susceptible to slide induced debris flows or flooding, precaution appropriate for the risk should be taken.

447 AM PST FRI JAN 21 2011







Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Really Big Erratic White Rock in Jefferson County

A few weeks back David Tucker posted a query regarding big erratics located within the Puget Sound area. He has done some nice write ups on our local glacial erratics including ones I would recommend. So it took me a few days to think of some. Some of my favorites are resting on the mud flats of Drayton Harbor southwest of Blaine, but an impressively large erratic is located north of Hood Head on the west shore of the upper Hood Canal. It is so big and prominent, you don't have to take a field trip to see it. You can see it using Google Maps or Bing Maps.

White Rock. Compare to house and cars on lower left for sense of scale.

I have been near the rock but never during a low enough tide to know exactly what it is made of. The rock is off of Paradise Bay Road, the first right after crossing Hood Canal Bridge heading west. Washington State Parks owns a stretch of shoreline property to the south of White Rock including the estuary area between Hood Head Island and the mainland south of the spit in the middle image above. The park is undeveloped, but there is access. From there a walk along the shore will get you to White Rock. I have not tried this approach, but it is on my list. My previous route was via a landslide on the bluff that involved technical crawling through mud and thorny brush - not reccommended and it was across private land.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chehalis River, a Bit Different Than Other Western Washington Rivers

I have been following the water levels on various western Washington rivers during this string of warm rainy days. Lots of moderate flooding throughout western Washington rivers with the Snoqualmie/Snohomish system flooding the most. Yesterday it cooled down and thus the flooding was reduced as mountain rain changed over to snow. NOAA has a great site with forecast river levels for northwest rivers at

In checking the weather forecast I came across the following on the NOAA hydrology forecast discussion:

The Chehalis River, located in southwest Washington, really is very different compared to other western Washington rivers.

Washington Rivers, USGS

As the NOAA site points out the Chehalis is "uniquely long and slow moving". I'm not sure the length is particularly unique, but the Chehalis system certainly is unique relative to other rivers in western Washington of comparable size. So I came up with a set of unique features for the Chehalis relative to other western Washington rivers that likely impacts the flood hydrograph of the river:
1) The Chehalis drains the western eastern side of the Willapa Hills, the Black Hills, an area of low mountains on the west side of the Cascade Range, and the lower south slopes of the Olympic Range. Hence this river gathers water from four ranges. Other western Washington rivers are limited to one range only. I would note that even though the Willapa Hills and Black Hills are called hills that within the Willapa Hills and Black Hills there are several peaks that are called mountains.
2) Other western Washington rivers have headwater areas at much higher elevations. The headwaters of the Chehalis are much lower. All of the other rivers have headwaters that include glacial areas. Hence, most of the other western Washington rivers flooding subsides rapidly as storm systems cool and switch over to snow such as what happened yesterday. 
3) The Chehalis is also the only river that drains water directly from the Cascade Range to the ocean. The other Cascade drainages drain to Puget Sound or the Columbia River. 
4) Because the Chehalis starts at lower elevation and has to flow all the way to the Pacific, it has a much lower gradient than the other rivers. Hence, it takes longer for water to move through the system. It is as NOAA points out a slow moving river. Besides the elevation and length, there are a couple of other factors effecting the gradient. One is the lower Chehalis occupies a valley that it did not carve. The Chehalis follows the former valley of a much larger river. During the maximum ice extent during the last glacial period melt water from the Puget lobe ice sheet drained to the ocean via what is now the Chehalis River. The river that carved that valley was a much bigger river than the Chehalis. This glacial outwash river flowed into the ocean at a significantly lower elevation and significantly west of the present mouth of the Chehalis. During the ice age sea level was a lot lower. As sea levels rose after the last glacial period,  the lower end of the Chehalis River flowing down the old glacial river valley was flooded forming Grays Harbor and backed up by the rising sea  further slowing down the Chehalis.
5) A fifth factor that makes the Chehalis different is that it drains an area that was for the most part never glaciated. Soils in the Chehalis are deeper and respond somewhat differently to water inputs from big storms.

The Chehalis has a had a long history of flooding with a few floods the past couple years that has generated significant policy debate regarding land use zoning, flood control, forestry, transportation (Interstate-5 was closed), and global warming. I am sure the Chehalis will make Washington State news again, and part of its notoriety is that it really is different than other western Washington rivers. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Leachate, Iron Stains in the Ditch

Leachate and iron bacterial mat

Leachate is formed when groundwater passes through buried organic material. The organic material decays and oxygen is used up in the decay process. Groundwater passing through the rotting organic material becomes depleted in oxygen and as a result leaches iron, magnesium and other metals from the soil. When the groundwater encounters oxygen, the iron precipitates. There are a variety of bacteria that specialize in taking advantage of the energy available in the oxidizing iron reaction and some of these same bacteria will utilize sulfur as well. Hence, along ditches and springs where low oxygen water reaches the surface these iron fixing bacterial will thrive.

Iron precipitate. Note sheen on water where iron is precipitating on the water surface.

Landfills full of buried organic waste set up good conditions for generating leachate, but naturally buried organics can do the same. If you think about, it is a great way to visualize how many ore bodies form where a sharp change in groundwater chemistry or temperature takes place precipitation will occur. Leachate in drainage ditches and streams gives a glimpse of the process. If the process observed in the pictures last long enough, a small iron rich ore will be left behind. In this particular case the leachate is the result of an old landfill.

But thinking about these bacteria and observing them gives a glimpse at life that thrives in an environment that is very alien to us humans. Dana Hunter posted a jaw dropping picture of Blood Falls in Antarctica and a link to an article on the life forms within the falls by Mikuchi and Priscu (2007) entequilaesverdad.blogspot.   

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Balds - Praise for a Favorite Washington Landscape

Bedrock bald, rose and trees growing in the fractures.

Balds are a relatively rare landscape in western Washington. They also happen to be a very appealing landscape. Balds are areas of bedrock with very thin soil. The unique feature of balds is they are relatively gentle sloping and have bedrock at very shallow depth with typically only a few inches. This thin soil cover or in some cases mostly moss is an environment that can become very wet as water can not perculate into the ground, but can also becomes desiccated during periods of no rain.

Hammer and moss

Western Washington is dominated by forest, but balds provide relief from the thick forest blocking sun and also are locations with plant diversity much greater than the forest areas. I would expect that the chemistry of the underlying bedrock plays a significant role in the types of plants that are present in addition to rainfall amounts, sun exposure, wildlife and anthropological impacts.

Outside of the San Juan Islands balds are very rare in the western Washington lowlands. The prevalence of balds in the San Juans are the result of bedrock outcrops that are resistant to weathering, the somewhat drier climate, recent glaciation of the area that stripped off soil, and the island setting that has limited wind blown sediment or volcanic ash deposition that would add to soil formation. These combinations of conditions are rare outside of the San Juan Islands.

In parts of the San Juans man maintained prairie habitat blends with balds such that is some areas the two landscapes are difficult to distinguish. Setting fires for wildlife habitat management both for the creation of forage for deer and maintaining oak land and camas habitat as food sources was practiced for thousands of years in western Washington. The San Juans drier climate was conducive to fire setting as well as natural fires and the fact that balds become dried out likely led to the these areas being burned routinely.

Treeless balds and prairie on Orcas Island.

Deer likely play a role in maintaining the minimal growth of trees in bald and prairie areas in the San Juans. The deer are attracted to the grasses and herbaceous plants in the balds, but enjoy the taste of new tree buds keeping tree encroachment at least partly at bay.

Deer pruned Douglas fir

Bald on Orcas Island with mature Douglas firs established in rock joints.
This area is a mix of bald and prairie landscapes. 

Another factor in maintaining bald areas is salt spray from occasional large waves such that balds blend into shoreline bedrock outcrops. Occasional but rare very high waves may remove soil and the salt spry limits some plants.

Balds on San Juan Island grading into shoreline bedrock areas

Balds Counties in Washington State are required to protect what are called critical areas such as wetlands, but balds are not specifically named in critical areas ordinances. Some protection of these unique features may fall under wildlife habitat protection sections of local critical areas ordinances if a rare plant or animal is identified in association with a bald.

The openness and park like setting of balds makes them attractive areas for people. The bedrock slopes are typically stable and they are excellent sites in terms of stability in an earthquake. Hence, balds are attractive sites for development with park like landscaping.

Residences on bald areas on the west shore of San Juan Island
But balds have been gaining protection. Balds are recognized in taxation programs where property owners that protect balds from development may score higher points to get a larger tax break on their property taxes if they forgo development options. If after taking the tax break the owner changes their mind they will owe back taxes on the tax break. A number of organizations have recognized balds for protection and have prioritized purchasing land or conservation easements to protect these rare land forms and the plant communities associated with these feature. This approach provides a more permanent level of protection and has been pursued by the San Juan Land Trust as well as the Nature Conservancy.

The Department of Natural Resources which manages large tracts of land in Washington State for public benefit recognizes balds in its Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). Obviously these features do not have much high quality timber, but the DNR recognizes that crossing these areas with roads should be avoided. But a more important DNR program is to place these areas withing Natural Area Protection. In that regard the DNR has been studying balds and has been protecting some of the key habitat.

Balds are significant part of the San Juan Islands and it is a feature of the islands that sets them apart from much of the rest of western Washington. Beyond the scenery of the forest and water that the islands possess, the open areas provided by balds and prairies adds greatly to the appeal of the islands. It is a landscape that I greatly enjoy seeing and occasionally working on. Typically there are good rock outcrops to look at, little wrestling with thick vegetation and if its a warm day a great spot for a nap stretched out on the moss.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Cautionary Chapter in Washington State Public Power

Charles Goldmark, his wife Annie and two children were murdered in their home on Christmas Eve of 1984. The man that killed them did so because he believed that Goldmark was head of the regional communist party. He was found sane and convicted for first degree murder. The murder was the result of one man's efforts to bring reasonably priced electricity to rural areas in Washington State in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
John Goldmark, Charles' father was an Okanogan rancher elected to the state legislature in 1956. He was a champion for public power. With Grand Coulee Dam just south of the Okanogan as well as other large hydro projects built on our rivers, Goldmark was frustrated that the rural folks and farmers in his district as well as elsewhere in Washington State were unable to obtain affordable electricity. He worked towards expanding public power in Washington State so that farmers and other Washington citizens could have access to affordable electricity. Goldmark raised the ire of Washington Water Power Company, a private electrical utility started in Spokane. The power company heavily funded a campaign against Goldmark during his 1962 reelection campaign. The same company had strenuously opposed Grand Coulee Dam. This effort included essentially buying the local newspaper and accusing Goldmark of being a communist. Goldmark lost the election, but he also felt he had lost his reputation in the community due to the lies that had been planted by the newspaper. He sued the newspaper for libel and won a jury verdict.

The lies told about John Goldmark in that campaign combined with toxic rhetoric regarding issues in the 1980s and led to the murder of his son Charles, Charles' wife and children more than 20 years later. Neither John Goldmark or his son Charles had ever been communists, but the lies that had been spread in the Okanogan Valley funded by a corporation opposed to public power for monetary reasons had confused a member of an anticommunist group years after the fact to commit a senseless murder. The rabid rhetoric of that group further inflamed the killer.

Timothy Eagan in The Good Rain related how the killer's defense attorney attempted to portray the killer as mentally ill and easily influenced by talk that most people would consider irrational. "The extreme right wing did not cause his illness," said Savage. "But his illness provided fertile ground for their philosophy."

Twenty years later, Peter Goldmark, John's son and Charles' brother was elected as State Lands Commissioner. Besides managing large swaths of forest land, grazing lands and tide lands owned by the State of Washington, Peter Goldmark also heads the Department of Natural Resources and is charged with overseeing forest practices in Washington State. His election to this statewide office was at least in part driven by a series of extensive landslides that took place on timber lands in southwest Washington State. In an interesting twist, Peter Goldmark has opposed the crossing of State lands by a proposed power line in Okanogan County by a public power company.

The story of John Goldmark and the killing of his son provides a cautionary tale. One that it seems is hard not to repeat itself. The tone of political dialog combined with and insanity can be a dangerous mixture. Having known the Goldmark story, I know that I had concerns about the safety of people I love as our recent political rhetoric heated up the past couple of years. Those in politics know that the mentally ill are part of politics. The frequency that politicians encounter the mentally ill exceeds the rate of most professions, and it is not always in a controlled environment.
During my eight years of holding elected office I had my share of encounters with people that were struggling with mental illness. In most cases, I did not feel threatened. However, during a portion of this same period my company had an office located in the old federal building. At that site, I saw and met numerous mentally ill people that were a cause of concern. It did not help that our office was across the hall from the FBI office. But our office was also the former location of the office of our local U.S. Congress person. We would routinely have people walk in that were far from OK.

It is way too early to tell if there is any real link between the tone of the political rhetoric and the shooting of a congress woman and numerous other people in Arizona. It is too early to tell what role mental illness played in this particular shooting event. But those that have and still express concern about the words and posturing that has been showing up in our political discourse should not be dismissed. There is a history behind those concerns that ought not to be overlooked.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Steaming Mount Baker

Working from a remote computer the pics I posted yesterday did not take on the blog. The trend of the low pressure system passing north of Washington is holding so it looks like snow turning to rain late Tuesday into Wednesday.
As for steaming Washington Volcanoes, Dave Tucker will be presenting a talk on Mount Baker January 20, 12:30 at the Whatcom Museum, 121 Prospect Street, Bellingham, WA. You can see the steaming mountain and gets lots of information about Mount Baker HERE and several steaming mountain shots from Sunday You can also get Mount Baker T-shirts at the site. I am wearng one right now!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where Will This Week's Low Pressure Make Landfall?

Steam venting off of Mt. Baker, John Stark

Lovely day in Bellingham after those dark days in the field this week. Sun on fresh snow. The calm air allowed John Stark to catch steam venting from the Sherman Crater area on Mount Baker east of Bellingham. Reminding us that there is some heat down below and that the mountain is cooking itself into a mass of mush. 

The weather models have been teasing us about a possible very big snow mid week. Lots of cold air entering the area. But the models keep shifting the location of the track of the low pressure system that will bring the moisture. Different models had the low track route over a range of about 500 miles from landfall in Oregon to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, but the most recent runs have all the models routing the low to the north meaning snow early turning to rain. The model run below from the UW has the low right on the US-Canadian border. The Fraser valley outflow wind of cold might maintain enough cold air in the Bellingham area or a little to the north to keep it in the snow, but it is a close call and the models seem to be trending the low center more to the north. Cliff Mass did a nice write up on the model variables including bias of weather folks wanting a big snow event. I am in the big snow camp - but then I got my field jobs in last week and I walk to work.  I always wonder what the different model teams are thinking when the model solutions are so divergent. Do they cheer for their model like Seattle's 12th Man in the wildcard playoff game? 

  model run for late Tuesday January 11

I noted a bit better snow removal on sidewalks this morning relative to the snow we had in late November. Still a minority are clearing snow before it gets packed into hard ice, but maybe there is the beginning of an attitude shift in Bellingham.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Very Low UV Day

Padilla Bay with steam from one of the March Point refineries
 and east summit of Guemes Island on the right  

Field work today was like being in a black and white movie. Shades of gray of various intensity nearly everywhere. I suspect there was no vitamin D production in northwest Washington with multiple layers of cloud. I had pickled feet as well. I go back out tomorrow to look at an alluvial fan.

A small scale alluvial fan but the concept is the same.
Note lumpy debris lobes and steeper gradient on the upper fan, smoother debris flood lobes expanding the fan foot print across the gravel and multiple abandoned channels incised into fan surface.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

George Catlin and Our First Nations, Perspectives on Washington State

George Catlin, Hee-oh kste-kin, Nez Perce, 1832 and other First Nations Portraits
Smithsonian American Art Museum

While visiting that that far eastern Washington in December, we took advantage of the great art museums in our nation's capitol. Besides appreciating magnificent paintings, I always look for insights on Washington State. This portrait of a Nez Perce caught my attention at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. The Nez Perce Tribe lived in what is now southeast Washington, Idaho and northeast Oregon. They played a vital role in shaping the Washington State we know today from assisting Lewis and Clark to the epic trek and running battles led by Chief Joseph.

The portraits were done by George Catlin in the 1830s. Catlin became obsessed with documenting the First Nations peoples of the west and traveled extensively painting and documenting their way of life. He was well aware that the heritage they represented was disappearing rapidly and made that documentation his life's work. He made numerous trips west to build a large body of work that he intended to sell to the U.S. Government as a complete body of work. In that he failed and sold the portraits to Joesph Harrison who kept the collection mostly intact before the Smithsonian gained the collection.

Although I initially wrongly assigned a set of portraits at the White House to Catlin, I saw numerous paintings by Catlin while in Washington DC.

Charles Bird King First Nations Portraits
 White House

Unfortunately George Catlin never traveled as far as what is now Washington State. But, in addition to the portraits, Catlin attempted to capture First Nations customs, games, living and hunting and some of that information is applicable to understanding our own landscape. I found the buffalo hunting paintings of great interest. Buffalo lived in what is now Washington State up to approximately 1700 and documented buffalo hunt sites have been found in eastern Washington. Furthermore Washington First Nation people traveled over the Rocky Mountains to hunt buffalo well into the 1800s.  

The first painting shows a buffalo hunt using bow and arrows and spears. The painting also captures how the buffalo would attempt to protect their young. But even this painting shows a new technology that had not been available to First Nations peoples for all that long prior to Catlin's painting and that is the horse. The introduction of the horse likely radically changed the hunting dynamic and may have played a significant role in the demise of buffalo in Washington State.
George Catlin, Buffalo Hunt, 1861
National Gallery of Art

But even more interesting is Catlin understood and was able to portray how buffalo were hunted in the wide open plains without the horse. Utilizing deep snow, the buffalo would be herded into snow drifts giving the hunters a big advantage. A bad snowy winter in eastern Washington could thus be taken advantage of if buffalo could be directed into drifts on say the lee of a hillside in the Horse Heaven Hills or the Palouse.

George Catlin, Buffalo Lancing in Snow Drifts, Sioux, 1861
Smithsonian American Art Museum

George Catlin, Stalking Buffalo

A final note on George Catlin is on a more personal level. I saw this portrait in the Smithsonian American Art Museum with the caption "Ha-tchoo-tuc-knee, Snapping Turtle, a half-breed, 1834". Snapping Turtle was also known as Peter Perkins Pitchlynn. He was a great leader of the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi. The connection is a friend of mine that also now happens to live in DC is a descendant of Pitchlynn. He and I had many long distant running ventures in the Horse Heaven Hills including a winter run to the summit of Jump-Off-Joe and back from Kennewick and runs across frozen wheat fields with snow covering the furrows. We saw no buffalo on those runs, but we did sea packs of coyotes, deer and cattle. I had no idea I was running with royalty.

Ha-tchoo-tuc-knee, Snapping Turtle, a half-breed, 1834