Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ellensburg Formation - Side Trip off of I-90

I previously posted on the landscape seen driving along Interstate 82 in the Yakima Valley few-notes-on-interstate-82-landscape. As noted in that posts we often view landscapes at 70 mph as we drive along the interstate.

But every now and then it is worth taking a few extra minutes to get off the interstate for a short side trip. Interstate 90 is the main east-west route across the state. One short side trip along this route that won't delay the east-west traverse very much is to take State Highway 10 between Ellensburg and Cle Ellum. It won't add any miles to the trip but has some spectacular outcrop exposures of the Ellensburg Formation. There are two broad pullouts and the road is wide enough that it is a great spot to take a break and contemplate the violence of the Cascade volcanics during Miocene.

Locations of Ellensburg Formation exposures along Highway 10 between Cle Ellum and Ellensburg (Google Maps)
 Volcanic ash, lahar and volcanic sediment

Graded lahar and ash

Ash and lava fragments 

The three pictures above are from the western stop. There are multiple deposits and interesting cross-cutting features. 

Lahars and volcanic sediment

Pink conglomerate boulder of older lahar embedded within the lahar

Cobble within graded lahar deposit

Conglomerate at base of lahar deposit 

The Ellensburg Formation is the name given to units of alluvial and volcanic material between basalt flows of the Columbia River Basalts. The basalts primarily originated as massive huge flows from eruptive centers near the Oregon, Washington and Idaho border area. Some of these flows extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The Cascade Range was lower at the time, but there were explosive volcanoes in the south part of the range. The bulk of material from the Ellensburg Formation was derived from those ancient eruptive centers that are long gone and now replaced by the current crop of Cascade volcanoes. The Ellensburg Formation can be thought of as the inter fingering of volcanics and alluvial material from the west with basalts from the east with the basalt being the predominant formation.

The second stop has nice views of the adjoining Yakima River that carved down through the Ellensburg Formation providing the views of the unit. An old timber and metal irrigation aqueduct that is no longer functional traverses the slope both below and above the road at the outcrop location.

1 comment:

Kat said...

I've been told by a reputable source, but haven't been able to verify it, that the Kittitas Valley (wherein these cliffs found) was named by the Yakama using their word(s?) for white cliffs, referring to this formation.
When you think about how gorgeous and extensive the entire valley is, it's interesting to think about why this geologic feature was chosen to represent the entire area.
Or maybe that's just me.