Thursday, August 30, 2012

In the Trench

Geologist getting up close with Earth

I was investigating a drainage issue I had visited before. The site was a location where water had been rerouted. I had seen this site shortly after the water began flowing across it 5 years ago. The vertical down cut is approaching 15 feet in places. Soils consist of glacial drift.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cape Sante: Glacial Striations, Lummi Formation and Boat Watching

I had a project in Anacortes yesterday and took a side trip to Cape Sante. Cape Sante is a rocky upland northeast of downtown with a small park at its summit. At the parking lot one is greeted with a great example of glacial striations.
Glacial striated outcrop atop Cape Sante
The bedrock has a dark weather rind, but a few broken outcrops with fresh exposures are located down the slope to the south. (I didn't do it!) 

The bedrock is Lummi Formation. In this case a sand stone unit with a wide range of minerals suggesting it was deposited somewhat near its source material. Early workers suggested that the Lummi Formations was deposited on the Fidalgo Ophiolite (a slab of oceanic crust). However, the metamorphic minerals in the Lummi Formation suggest a different degree of metamorphism and the Lummi Formation is thought to be a different terrain than the Filddago with the terrains faulted into close proximity.
If you don't want to clutter your head with debates about various San Juan geologic terrains, Cape Sante is a great place for boat watching. Anacortes is a big boating center with very active marinas, boat works and fishing. And there are big boats as well as across the bay is the March Point and the oil refineries.
Pleasure boat, fishing boat and tankers. Hat Island is located in the distance

One of the Anacortes marinas as viewed from Cape Sante

Recent waterfront redevelopment at the former paper mill site
Additional new boat yards and old boat yards and marinas are located to the south and west

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Haystack, North Cascades

I was taking a look at some of the North Cascade glaciers including a couple in my graduate field area - the McAllister Glacier and the Borealis Glacier. My field work in graduate school did not include glaciers other than I spent a fair bit of time walking on them as a means to get to rocks as my field area contained a large concentration of glaciers. While looking at the glaciers on Google Earth and the USGS programs, I thought to mark up some highlights of my graduate field work area including geology as well as other non geologic observations. A bit of memory land perhaps. More on the glaciers on a future post. For this post Site #1: The Haystack.
My graduate field area in the North Cascades - The Haystack indicated by #1
View of the Haystack somewhat obscured by Will
The Haystack has a haystack profile. The Haystack consists of a single pluton of diorite. This pluton was a significant part of my thesis effort. Th Haystack Pluton solidified at great depth and was surrounded by high pressure metamorphic rocks. Just to the east is another pluton - the Eldorado Pluton that had been dated at 90 million yeras old but had solidified at a much shallower level in the crust. The rocks around the Eldorado all contain high pressure metamorphic minerals. This feature had been previously recognized and the pressure disparity between the Eldorado and the high pressure surrounding rocks as well a lots of sheared rocks near the Eldorado Pluton margin suggested a fault line. That fault line ended up on most maps of the North Cascades and was large enough that it was shown even on the State geology map. My initial thesis goal was to figure out that fault. When did it move? What was its geometry? How much offset?
At the time the age of the Haystack Pluton was not yet known. Getting its age required collecting about 60 pounds of it and hauling it out of the mountains. The 60 pounds of rock were then run through a rock crusher and ground down to a fine sand. The sand was then run through a shaker table with water much like panning for gold to separate out zircons, a mineral rich in uranium and lead. The zircons were then sent to Nicholas Walker at the University of Texas who figured out the lead and uranium isotope mix and the age of the pluton.
The age determination for the Haystack Pluton was 75 million years. Hence, this rock hauling excersize allowed for placing an age constraint on the when the rocks between the the Eldorado Pluton and Haystack Pluton were deeply buried.
Topographic map of the Haystack area (USGS)
Aireal view of above topo map (USGS)
But there were some other non geologic highlights at this site. First and foremost was it was a very tough hike to reach the camp site on the west side of the above map. It required about a 5,000 elevation gain on the trail up to a ridge above Monogram Lake then a drop down to the lake and then another 1,000 feet cross country without a trail to the camp location.
Hauling gear and 60 pounds of rock for dating down hill was not a very pleasant task as it beat the heck out of my knees. I had originally requested a permit to fly my camp in via helicopter, but with the proximity of Monogram Lake as a destination with a trail, the National Park turned me down. On my second trip into the area after hauling the dating sample out, a helicopter flew directly over us. Curses were shouted! 
Because we had to leave camp all day long to work, I was very concerned about bears. A previous researcher in the area had his camp destroyed by bears while out mapping during the day. Hence, I set camp right next to the glacier in an area surrounded by about a square mile of bare rock. The air flowing off the glacier made for chilly evenings, but camp was left in tact. And we did see plenty of bears. We joined them is eating pounds of blueberries. One bear led to a long debate between Steve and I as to whether or not the bear was a grizzly bear or black bear. I have since come around to Steve's view that it was a grizzly bear based on its shape.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Benge, Washington

Benge is not much more than a collection of a few homes, a vacant grocery, and vacant gas station. The grain elevators at the rail line are still operational. The town is located in one of the overflow routes of the Missoula Ice-Age Floods, hence the rail line taking advantage of the grade. Benge is far enough from the Snake River that rail shipment trumps trucking the grain to the big terminals along the river.
The post office/store appeared to be in good condition with good paint and metal roof; however, it was closed when I rolled into town and I had to stick with my own supplies. I was actually surprised Benge was more than just a name on the map.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Marie Dorion Homage

One of my favorite early Washington persons is Marie Dorion. I did a previous couple posts on Marie
marie-dorion-one-very-tough-woman follow-up-note-on-marie-dorion a while back. On a recent trip I stopped at the park named in her honor at the mouth of the Walla Walla River.

I also came across a reference that indicated Marie Dorion visited Narcissa Whitman at the Whitman Mission in 1838. At that time Fort Walla Walla was near the mouth of the Walla Walla River and that was where Marie lived at that time.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mastadon Tusk

I am generally lousy at spotting fossils. Probably saw this mastodon tusk without really seeing it on previous visits to this shoreline bluff. I only saw it on a trip a while back because I was looking for something else at the exact same spot which allowed enough time for the presence of the tusk to sink in to my fossil blind brain.  

Technically it is not a fossil, but a much decayed remnant of a part of the animal that in this case perished approximately 19,000 years ago according to my interpretation of the deposit the tusk was located in. Probably best to leave the specific location out.   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Update on San Juan Islands NCA or Will it be a National Monumant?

I have been following the effort of designating Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in the San Juan Islands designated a National Conservation Area (NCA):
National Conservation Area and San Juan Islands
Sam Crawford Proposes Supporting National Conservation Area Designation for BLM Lands in Whatcom County
Whatcom County Council Supports San Juan Island National Conservation Area 

The proposal has gained strong backing from both Washington U.S. Senators Murray and Cantwell, U.S. Congressman Larson (San Juans are in his district) as well as Washington State Governor Gregoire and U.S. Congressman Rheichard (R) from Bellevue. Interior Secretary Salazar is enthusiastic as well.

Congressman Larson has sponsored a House Bill and Cantwell has sponsored a Senate Bill. The Senate Bill had a hearing in March 2012, but as of yet there have been no hearings by the House Natural Resources Committee or its Subcommittee on National Parks Forest Land and Public Land in the year that has passed since Larson introduced his House Bill.

The Subcommittee web page states. "Last year, an internal document from the Department of Interior (DOI) revealed the Obama Administration’s plans to potentially designate new national monuments under the Antiquities Act. The proposed designations would lock-up millions of acres of public lands in the West, without Congressional approval or public input, and restrict access for energy production, recreation, and other job-creating economic activities."

Given this tone it should be no surprise that the San Juan NCA has not been given even a hearing. In the case of the San Juans, the committee could have public input and hold a hearing, but it appears that a broader political issue is at work and the efforts towards having Congress designate a San Juan NCA has stalled.

Due the apparent lack of U.S. House of Representatives support, proponents of the NCA are now looking at taking the Presidential path and having the lands designated a National Monument

Doc Hastings (R) is the US Congressman from southeastern Washington and the Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee won't support his own State's fellow congressman or Senators. He has been down this path before. The last time a National Monument was designated in Washington State was within his own district when Bill Clinton designated Hanford Reach a National Monument despite the objections of Doc Hastings. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Deserving a Second Look

Five Acre Geographic is a relatively new blog on butterflies and moths with a Washington State bent. The title of this post is from the title of a post on a moth that unless someone in the know told me it was a moth I would have never known . As of yet just a few posts, but I didn't know Woolybear caterpillars self medicate.

I will add that I recently worked on a project that had a butterfly component. I was charged with doing some work on one of my favorite landscapes - a bald. This particular bald provided habitat for a rare butterfly.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mullan Road - an Ancient Path Across the Palouse and Scablands

I wasn't looking for Mullan Road but happened upon it while taking in the change from the Palouse River valley to Washtucna Coulee. Mullan Road in Adams County just happens to be located at the location where the Palouse River Valley turns into Washtucna Coulee.  

Mullan Road heading north from State Highway 26.

Mullan Road is named for John Mullan, the army officer that surveyed it and oversaw its construction. The road was surveyed and built between 1855 and 1862 and was constructed as an army road from Fort Benton in present day Montana to Fort Walla Walla. John Mullan managed to pull of some of this work during the Yakima Indian War. In fact he had begun surveys prior to the fighting, but his work was put on hold until after the gruesome battles at Spokane Plains and Four Lakes. Mullan maintained very good relations with the tribes and utilized their knowledge for routing the road.

The road followed very ancient trails with deviations for meeting grade requirements for wagon travel. Interstate 90 follows the Mullan's route through the mountains of northern Idaho across Mullan Pass. For the dry lands of eastern Washington, Mullan also needed to consider water sources to water stock and horses and locations where feed could be obtained for the animals.

Mullan Road south of Highway 26 has been long out of use but was used recently enough that its trace can still be seen heading across the upper most reach of Washtucna Coulee.

Trace of Mullan Road south of Highway 26
The notch in the valley wall is where the Palouse River turns south

It is too bad that the US Government surplussed the Mullan Road long ago. Its trace leads to the spot where the Palouse River exits its old valley and enters a narrow canyon at Upper Palouse Falls. No access without permission across private land.

I didn't take Mullan Road north as my purposes required me to head north a bit more to the east, but I came across this faded commemorative sign along Cow Creek not far from Benge where the old Mullan Road entered the coulee occupied by Cow Creek. I realized that my travels on State and County roads from Walla Walla to Benge had been more or less been following Mullan's route through this landscape. A route that had long before been used by local people that have occupied this land for over 10,000 years. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Washtucna: Not Dead Yet and The Columbia Plateau Trail

Washtucna has never been a big town. Its peak population was 339 in 1920 and at the last census count in 2010 it was at 208. Farm mechanization, cars and smooth paved highways, change in distribution, cheap gas, and an overall downward population trend has been tough on small rural towns across America. Commercial enterprises have not done well in Washtucna. Agriculture around the area is mostly dry land winter wheat and cattle grazing within the scab land areas swept of soil from the Missolula Floods. There is a small amount of irrigation mostly used to support cattle with feed. 

Lumber yard

Former auto dealer

Vacant store front

Vacant grocery

This grocery appears to have tried to make a more recent go of it. When I rode my bike through here in the early 1980s I was sorely disappointed that the store was not open as I was bit hungry and very hot and the next town is a ways away mount-st-helens-eruption-and-cold-beer.

More vacant store fronts

Post office boxes at an old gas station

The old bank

Washtucna did have a bank in recent years. Whitman Bank served the community and area up to 2011. Whitman Bank was closed down in 2011 by the FDIC and this branch will not be reopened by the new owners.  

Interior of bank

Though Washtucna no longer serves as a shopping destination it still is the community center for a large area. Its 26 miles to Ritzville and 32 to Connell with all other towns marked on the map within that radius being even smaller. There is a gas station at the north end of town next to Highway 26, a primary east-west route if one is heading to or from Pullman and WSU. And there is one tavern hanging on with a new name since my last visit.

There is one business hanging on

There is a new venture in town: The Columbia Plateau Trail State Park has a facility in town.

State Park office and shop

The State Park is a 130 mile long trail that runs from Cheney to Pasco and follows the former Spokane Portland and Seattle Railway. This old rail route right-of-way was acquired by the Sate Parks in 1991 and is being managed as a trail. The trail is still a bit rough, but it provides access through otherwise inaccessible areas and being a railroad grade avoids some steep hills via trestle and tunnel. Over time as improvements are made it will be a very tempting bike ride and Washtucna will be a nice stop on a hot day.

Section of Columbia Plateau Trail

Basset Park

Washtucna Pool

Friday, August 17, 2012

Notes on My Latest Eastern Washington Venture

I just returned from work ventures to eastern Washington. Good dose of the wide open spaces, agricultural activities, and Missoula Floods and as well as work stuff.

First my haul of goodies:

Walla Walla onions from my stop in Walla Walla

Peaches from the Yakima Valley - very messy eating while driving

Water melon and cantaloupe from near Royal City

I also got a good look at the Taylor Bridge Fire that has been in the national news. Conditions had improved for controlling the fire as previous high winds had died down, but the fire was firmly established in stands of ponderosa and Douglas fir, and I suspect the winds will pick up again over the weekend as the weather switches back to a more westerly flow. The fire did interfere with my work schemes as Highway 97 between Cle Elum and Wenatchee was closed.

Views of Taylor Bridge Fire from I-90

Wheat harvest is in full swing. Should be a good year again this year for dry land wheat farmers in eastern Washington. Second year in a row.

Stacks of grain near the mouth of the Snake River.

Typical dry land wheat scene in Adams County.
This year's harvested field on the the right next year's field on the left.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Spiden Island and the Rain Shadow

I got a good look at Spiden Island in the northern part of the San Juan Islands. It has a decidedly non evergreen state look about it.

Spiden Island from the southwest

The island has such a dry look about because it is in fact dry. Spiden is located within the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains.
View from the same location looking southwest to the Olympic Range

Spiden Island (USGS)

Solar aspect makes a difference as well. The southwest slopes of the island are mostly grass and the steep northeast shading portion of the island is tree covered. For a time an owner of the island had zebras on the island as well as some other exotic animals. The linear slash into the trees on the northwest end of the island is a grass covered landing strip. I have been to Spiden twice for work and it is a dry place. One visit coincided with a small forest fire caused by lightning hitting a tall Douglas fir along the summit ridge. Spiden Island is underlain by the Nanimo Formation - more on that on some future post.
Location of Spiden (USGS)
Spiden's dryness as well as other areas in the San Juans is primarily caused by the Olympics which create a rain shadow from storms approaching from the southwest. The mountains on Vancouver Island create some rain shadow effects as well with the east coast of Vancouver Island where the vast majority of islanders live referred to as the Sunshine Coast. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Few More Notes Lake Whatcom Reconveyance

Some of the folks opposed to the Lake Whatcom reconveyance have been raising the issue of loss of commercial forest land. They touch on a number of other factors as well including revenue loss from the loss of timber harvest. I did a previous post on this issue lake-whatcom-forest-reserve-park-.on-base referencing a Department of Natural Resource generated map of hazardous slopes and required stream buffers as well as access limitations. The short answer of this exercise is that though the park proposal is approximately 8,900 acres, nowhere near that amount of land is available for timber harvest under State law.

Besides the DNR map, LiDAR imagery of portions of the proposed park show the problems of timber harvests in parts of the proposed Lake Whatcom Forest Reserve Park. 

LiDAR image of Smith Creek

The Smith Creek makes up nearly half of the proposed park on the east side of the lake. The drainage is predominated by deeply incised streams with very steep slopes most of which are susceptible to debris flows if disturbed. And even the stable drainages are still required to be buffered from harvest under the State Law that set up the forest plan for the Lake Whatcom watershed. Hence, very little timber harvest can take place within this stream watershed.

Another smaller drainage further south in the above image presents much the same problem. There is a slope area between Smith Creek and the south drainage that could be harvested under the Landscape Plan and in fact two harvests took place on the that slope in past 5 years. There was a small landslide that took place just below one of the harvests afterwards during a low elevation rain on snow event.  

So yes, some forest land will be taken out of standard forest practice production, but that number is far less than 8,900 acres (I have estimated 2,200 acres). Likewise revenue generation should be based, not on every acre being harvested, but on the smaller number. Furthermore, in order to access all of the timber within the proposed reconveyance area will require approximately 22 miles of new roads in the watershed in order to access the trees.

This last bit on roads should cause some pause. It is the equivalent of approximately 35 acres of impervious surface added to the watershed. This is the equivalent of the impervious surface created from 350 acres of rural development if each home used the maximum allowable impervious surface area. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Yakima Wild Horses

The horse played a profound role in shaping the Washington State landscape. Horses arrived in the Pacific Northwest well ahead of the arrival of Americans and Europeans. By the time Lewis and Clark arrived in 1805, horses were already an integral part of the landscape, society and economy. What Lewis and Clark observed was much different than what an expedition would have seen if one had ventured west in say 1600. The horse had altered how people in the Pacific Northwest lived and how they traded. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the Lewis and Clark succeeding if the various tribes of the inland Pacific Northwest had not had horses.

The steel beast that many of us ride today arrived in the early 1900s also altered the landscape. In the Pacific Northwest as well as other places the steel beast brought an end to the periodic round ups of horses off of the open range lands wild-horses-and-prairie-in-sky.

On the Yakima Indian Reservation a small wild horse population has grown too much and the range cannot sustain the population. This challenge is one shared by land managers throughout the west scrub steppe land.  

This particular band of horses were not cooperative:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Notes on Wheat and the 2012 Drought

A couple of years ago eastern Washington dry land wheat farmers had one of those rare years: a very good crop and high prices. World wheat prices had risen sharply and this rise had caused some folks on the plains to contemplate planting wheat. I did a comparison of precipitation between Lamar, Colorado and Connell eastern-washington-wheat-crop.

Comparison of rainfall by month between Lamar, CO and Connell, WA. Note that the difference on the precipitation scales.

What is noteworthy is that Lamar depends on summer rain for dry land wheat and the Connell area, and significant areas of winter wheat in eastern Washington, depends on winter precipitation. Although Connell gets less rain, the fact that it falls in the winter allows for soil moisture to accumulate more easily with the water coming when the evaporation rates are low. I will add that over a fairly large area of the eastern Washington dry land wheat area farmers plant every other year in order to build up soil moisture.

The other factor in comparing precipitation data was that southeast Colorado had much greater variability in precipitation. Another point was that it had been a long time since Lamar had a real low rain fall year. The last time Lamar had less than 10 inches of rain for the year was 1981.

So how does it look this year in Lamar.

                        Avg           2012 
January       0.38           0.00
February    0.44            0.19
March          0.82            0.59
April             1.41            2.02
May              2.27            0.22
June              2.24           1.19
July               2.39           0.29

A bad year to have planted wheat dependent on rain fall. Did not look bad at all in April, May and June were definitely not good, but the July. The last July rain was July 9. That was followed with no rain for the rest of the month and 17 days of over 100 F.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When Bellingham Had Coal Piles

I was doing some historic research for a project for work and came across this 1950 aerial.

1950 (City of Bellingham)

The aerial was taken a few years before the Bellingham Coal Mine closed. Piles of coal can be seen along the rail spur looping by the mine. The shaft house is in the approximate middle of the picture. The mine was all underground and followed a seam that dipped downward to the southwest over a distance of more than a mile.
Walsh and Logan (1989) showing two of the mines underlying
Bellingham and the extent of the workings 

The residential area to the southeast still exists and has not changed much since the mine was operating. The Bellingham Golf and Country Club is still located to the north. The coal pile areas and mine entrance area are now a shopping center and apartment buildings.

2008 view of same area (Google Earth)