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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dan McShane is an engineering geologist with Stratum Group, a geology and environmental consulting company based in Bellingham, Washington. Dan has been reading Washington State landscapes since driving across the Horse Heaven Hills with his father and brother in 1970. Dan's wife has started painting Washington landscapes. The intent of this blog is to help all Washington travelers better understand the landscapes we see and share field observations.