Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hanford Reach

Where was this picture taken? The Sahara? The Gobi Desert? Well no. It's in the Hanford Reach National Monument about an hour's drive from where I grew up in the Tri-Cities.
Nothing to see here
Twenty-six of us boarded a chartered bus in Issaquah early on Saturday morning. The crowd demographic skewed white and retired and all seemed ready for a  weekend of desert hiking, geology talks, and eating. The outing was a field trip organized by the Puget Sound chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute and was led by a retired geologist, Dale, who also happens to be the president of the Puget Sound chapter of IAFI.

Warning: Nerdy Geologic Info Ahead!

As we left Issaquah heading east on I90, Dale got on the PA system to tell us about the geology of the terrain we were passing through. The interstate gains elevation east of Issaquah and descends into a valley as it approaches North Bend. Dale told us that we were driving over the meltwater channel where glacial Lake Snoqualmie (which covered the current site of North Bend) drained into glacial Lake Sammamish. He also handed out geologic maps of Washington and pointed out the Olympic-Wallowa Lineament which is clearly visible on the map and is not well understood. It is obvious to the eye but no one is sure about its significance, if any.

As we passed by Lake Easton State Park, just east of Snoqualmie Pass, we learned that we were at the southern end of a north/south strike-slip fault (similar to the San Andreas fault in California) which has slipped over 90 miles over the eons, i.e. the rocks on the west side match those on the east side 90 miles to the north. After a stop at the Indian John Hill rest area, we descended into the Kittitas Valley, described by Dale as a giant saucer filled with sediment from the surrounding mountains and hills. Hence the valley's fertile farmland.

Our first bathroom break at the Indian John Hill rest area. The Stuart Range was looking beautiful.

East of Ellensburg we crossed Ryegrass Summit at an elevation of 2535 feet, less than 500 feet lower than Snoqualmie Pass but with completely different terrain: sage brush and grass vs conifers and snow. Around this time we started to see outcrops of Columbia River basalt, formed about 17 million years ago from a series of massive lava flows. This rock underlies the southeastern portion of Washington, about a third of the state's total area.

We crossed the Columbia River at Vantage and turned south towards Sentinel Gap where the Columbia cuts through the Saddle Mountains.  Dale told us that the east-west ridges in Eastern Washington (Saddle Mountains, Umtanum Ridge, Manastash Ridge, etc) were formed by California and Nevada pushing north against the apparently immovable rock of British Columbia. The resulting wrinkles are these ridges. The pressure is continuous and the ridges are still rising at the rate of 4-5 millimeters per year. So, during my lifetime Umtanum Ridge, for example, has risen nearly a foot! In fact it has grown a centimeter or so since I last hiked to the top of it.

We stopped at the Vernita Bridge Rest Area for an early (10:30am) box lunch. There was a bitterly cold wind blowing and most of us huddled in the lee of the restroom building where the sun reflecting off the building kept us warm. Then it was back on the bus for a 45 minute ride to the riverside trail head at Hanford Reach.

Vernita Bridge spanning the Columbia River
The trailhead featured locust trees, one port-a-potty, and an old log building which is apparently one of the buildings of the abandoned town of White Bluffs. We prowled around for a while and then assembled for a brief lecture by our hike leader, Bruce Bjornstad, a local geologist and an expert on the ice age floods. Then we finally hit the trail in now warm, sunny weather.
Locust trees at the trailhead
One of the oldest buildings in Franklin County has seen better days

Description of the old building above
Setting out on the hike. We walked about 6 miles in total with about 300 feet of elevation gain.
The view to the north from the top of the bluffs
Ever so often, Bruce, our hike leader, would stop and tell us something interesting. He picked up the rock shown below and asked us if we knew where it came from. Most of us knew it wasn't local because it is clearly not basalt. Bruce said it was an erratic (a rock that is not local) piece of granite that likely arrived from a few hundred miles north on an iceberg which ended up melting here. He picked up another rock, also an erratic, and told us that, knowing the processes that formed it, it is about 1.25 billion years old!

An erratic piece of granite from the Spokane area

Miscellaneous erratic rocks carried probably carried on a single iceberg. They have been lying here for over 10,000 years!
Mothballed World War II era reactors across the river on the Hanford Reservation. They are shut down and roofed for weather protection.
Miscellaneous photos follow:

Dunes at Hanford Reach. Saddle Mountains are in the distance.

The island in the river is Locke Island, a nature preserve and sacred to the local Native Americans.

More dunes in the distance with Saddle Mountains as a backdrop

The layers you can see here are deposits from multiple ice age floods called rythmites. There are at least 15 separate floods recorded here. Beneath these layers are sediments from the ancestral Columbia River, i.e. deposits from before the floods.

Ice age flood deposits on top with ancestral Columbia layers below.

Nice colors in the late afternoon light
 We arrived back at the bus in the late afternoon. After an extended period of 26 people using a single port-a-potty, we reboarded the bus and drove to Kennewick for dinner and our hotel. We stopped at Columbia Center for a classy meal at the food court and then boarded the bus yet again to blunder around in the dark through parts of Kennewick that didn't exist when I lived there. We made it to the motel and, after a long wait in line for checkin (again 26 people), I collapsed into bed.

The next morning, after a decent breakfast at the motel, we bussed a few miles south into the hills to the Coyote Canyon Mammoth Site. The story goes that the man who originally owned the land ran a junkyard (it's still there) and, while making room for more junk, a backhoe operator found some large bones. The junk man didn't much care and he gave a leg bone to a friend who moved to Seattle and, apparently still has the bone in his basement and refuses to give it back. Eventually some locals who are interested in paleontology heard about the find and convinced a local rancher to buy the land and give them a free hand to research the site.

We listened to a short lecture on mammoths in general and the local species, the Columbian Mammoth, in particular.  Most salient point: huge long tusks.

The mammoth they are excavating has been carbon dated to about 17,000 years ago. It is probably male but they haven't found the pelvis yet which will tell them for sure. The theory is that the beast was drowned in the flood and the carcass was deposited here on the shore of Lake Lewis, the temporary 700 foot deep lake that lasted a week or so as the flood waters pooled upstream of Wallula Gap.

The dig

Apparently that is a mammoth vertebrae and to the left is a rib bone

This lady sifts through all the dirt that is excavated looking for small bones and whatever else she can find. She is also a character.
Afterwards, we went to Benton City for a delicious Mexican lunch at Hacienda Del Sol and returned to Issaquah via the Yakima River Canyon. It was a fun trip.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hiking in 2017

It's a little late for this but...

Here are pictures from some of my favorite hikes from last year.

Umtanum Creek Canyon

With a couple of friends I drove across the mountains for a May hike in a branch of the Yakima River Canyon. I have rarely seen the hills of Eastern Washington so green!

Looking north toward Manashtash Ridge

Umtanum Creek
Balsomroot was blooming

Basalt Cliffs in Umtanum Creek Canyon
Apple blossoms in an abandoned orchard

An oasis in the dry hills

Wallace Falls

Towards end of May, daughter Anna and I went to Wallace Falls State Park and hiked up to the lake and then to the falls.

Wallace Lake

Wallace Falls
Lake Annette

In early June, Jim W. and I hiked to Annette Lake near Snoqualmie Pass. It was still winter up there!

The lake was still partly frozen

Spring was coming though

A stream along the trail
Teanaway Ridge

A week or so later, son-in-law Pierce and I went to one of my favorite destinations, the Teanaway Country, and hiked the Teanaway Ridge trail.

As we gained elevation, Rainier made an appearance

A view of the Stuart Range from the high point

Tolmie Peak

Our friend, Julie, was visiting from Sweden and I hiked with her and her two sons to the Tolmie Peak Lookout, one of my favorite places in Mount Rainier National Park. Perfect weather and good company!

Beautiful Eunice Lake

The Swedish crew

This is why I love Tolmie Peak

Mount St Helens in the distance
Second Burroughs

Another classic Mount Rainier hike is Second Burroughs. Another friend, Ingrid, visited from Sweden in mid-August and we had a group outing on a rainy day that cleared magically when we got to the trailhead at Sunrise.

In the parking lot at Sunrise

Somebody is looking confident. A recent PhD from CalTech can do that!

Nearing First Burroughs. You can see the trail to Second.

At Second Burroughs
Some of our group at the summit

An alpine meadow on the way back to Sunrise.

A meadow brook

Ebey's Landing

Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island is one of my favorite places. We decided to show it to Ingrid and Daniel.

On the bluffs trail

Looking down at one of the lagoons

Blue Heron!

Walking back on the beach

Heather-Maple Pass Loop

My last hike of the season was with Jim W. in the North Cascades in late September. The trail head is at Rainy Pass. As you can see, the scenery is spectacular. I need more North Cascades hikes!

The larches were just starting to turn color

I am so looking forward to getting back on the trail this spring!