Monday, October 24, 2022

Mary McCaslin - Prairie In The Sky

Mary McCaslin died earlier this month (nytimes./music/mary-mccaslin). Mary McCaslin wrote and sang a number of songs that always stuck with me - enough so that I could sing them through myself years after. Prairie in the Sky still resonates. I believe Mary and I shared a similar romantic view of the West. In elementary school I would always pick 'Home on the Range' whenever it was my turn to pick a song. Prairie in the Sky better captures that childhood longing to be out on the open range and essentially replaced that older song in my music list.    

Friday, October 21, 2022

Former Placer Mining on the Columbia River

A gold rush in the Cariboo District of British Columbia resulted in an influx of miners passing through Washington Territory in the late 1850s and 1860s. Some of the miners traveling along the Columbia and Okanogan River took to placer mining at the gravel bars along the rivers. Splawn (1917) described 50 miners working the gravel bar at the south side of the Columbia River at the confluence with the Okanogan River in the early 1860s. Much of the placer mining working river bars on the Columbia River was undertaken by Chinese miners.  

Much of those placer mine workings have been submerged as the result of dams on the Columbia River. During a recent project I came across some old trenches on a terrace above the Columbia River well upstream of the Okanogan-Columbia confluence. The 1860s and 1870s placer mines were not documented operations and the archeological record is a bit thin.

I took a look at lidar bare earth imagery and found two obvious placer mine sites -- both partially submerged on gravel bars along the river between Grande Coulee Dan and Chief Joseph Dam.    

The Chinese operated placer miners primarily operated in the 1860s through the 1870s (Evenson, 2016). There are references to troubles with First Nations with one description of a massacre of the miners south of Chelan. Some of the placer sites were further worked in the early 1900s and I suspect that was the case at the two sites shown above. 


Evenson, Lindsey M., "Pre-1900s Chinese placer mining in northeastern Washington State: an archaeological investigation" (2016). EWU Masters Thesis Collection. 358.   

Splawn, A.J., "Ka-Mi-Akin, the Last Hero of the Yakimas", (1917)

Friday, September 30, 2022

My First Pronghorn Spotting in Washington State

Antilocapra americana (pronghorn antelope) have been reintroduced to Washington State first by the Yakama Nation in south central Washington and a few years ago by the Colville Confederated Tribes in north central Washington. I finally saw my first Washington State pronghorn last week.   

These two are from the Colville introduction. I had been told that that some of the pronghorns from Colville had crossed the Columbia River and these two were south of the river in northern Douglas County. This area of Douglas has a fair bit of scrub steppe land. The area was glaciated and has large areas of very thin soils over bedrock or thin glacial soils. As such cultivation has been very limited with grazing operations being the main historic land use and very few humans. All and all good wildlife habitat with pronghorns being new entrant after a period of absence.

The Yakama pronghorns have expanded their range as well and the herd numbers have held up post reintroduction (  

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Shuksan Greenschist

I had a work venture up the Skagit Valley near Marblemount. A major tectonic structure is located near Marblemout, the Straight Creek-Fraser River Fault. The fault is a strike slip fault with the west side having moved about 60 miles to the north. Movement took place about during the Eocene. The fault divides the Northwest Cascades to the west from the Cascade Crystalline Core to the east. Near Marblemount the rocks on the west side of the fault consist of the Shuksan Greenschist.

Shuksan Greenschist near Marblmount, Washington

The Shuksan Greenschist is named for the famous mountain, Mount Shuksan. 

Mount Shuksan

There is a good chance that you have seen pictures of Mount Shuksan as viewed from Picture Lake. Ned Brown noted in his book Mountain Building Geology in the Pacific Northwest that he saw a mural of Mount Shuksan in a coffee house in Japan. The back of my 4th grade class located nearly 1,000 miles from Shuksan had a mural of Mount Shuksan and Picture Lake and I saw the same mural image in a taverna in Greece.
The Shuksan Greenschist is metamorphosed ocean floor basalt and is part of the Easton Metamorphic Suite, one of the many accreted terranes in Washington State. The Easton Terrane is an ocean floor terrane that includes thick ocean floor basalt and gabbro and deep ocean floor sediments. The age of the original terrane is between 170 and 130 million years old. The basalts and gabbro have undergone multiple metamorphic events. The initial metamorphism of some of the areas of the Shuksan ocean floor was from hot fluids post eruption of the basalts and crystallization of the gabbros (Haugerud, 1980). The primary metamorphic event was during accretion to the margin of North America when the basalt and gabbro were metamorphosed into greenschist and in some areas blueschist from high pressures during deep burial in the accretion zone along the edge of North America. Further low grade metamorphism took place during post accretion emplacement tectonic events. 

Shuksan Greenschist has a high density and in places where the joint sets in the rock are widely spaced, the rock breaks into large heavy blocks that make for good ocean jetty rocks, in particular at the mouth of the Columbia River (skagit-county-greenschist). This possible use has generated some interest in mining into a mountain side a bit west of Marblemount. My venture took me past the potential mine site. 

Cliffs of Shuksan Greenschist west of Marblemount
Site of on again off again proposed rock quarry

Last winter I visited the south jetty at the Columbia River. 

Jetty at the Mouth of the Columbia River

Blocks of greenschist at jetty construction site

Saturday, March 26, 2022

False Bay, San Juan Island

False Bay, San Juan Island, looking towards the head of the bay

False Bay viewed from the head of the bay looking towards the bay entrance
 from the Strait of Juan de Fuca

False Bay is an oval shaped bay on the south shore of San Juan Island. The bay is very shallow and much of it nearly empties during low tides; hence the name. The bay faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The day of my last visit was high overcast so the jagged skyline of the Olympic Mountains could be seen across the Strait rising above a band of low stratus. 

Portions of the bay are bedrock shorelines, but most of the bay shore is lined silt/clay bluffs of glacial drift. The drift consists both of glacial till and glacial marine drift. The till was deposited directly by glacial ice when a few thousand feet of ice covered the area approximately 18,000 to 14,000 years ago. When the ice thinned the area was inundated by sea water with ice floating on the surface. The mass of thick ice had pushed the land surface downward hundreds of feet. The melting glacial ice floating on the sea dropped sediment onto the sea floor. After the land rebounded from the ice load, the former muddy sea floor emerged and is now exposed along the low bluffs along much of the shore of False Bay. 

Glacial drift on bluff slope
The glacial till is on the lower part of the picture
Glacial marine drift with desiccation fractures in the marine drift   

Subtle contact between the glacial till and glacial marine drift

The glacial marine drift is susceptible to large landslides due to the weakness in the unit from the desiccation fractures. 

The glacial drift in this area is mostly clay and silt, but there are some cobbles and boulders embedded in the silt/clay. This silt/clay sediment source has created extensive mud flats with scattered boulders throughout much of the bay with a few areas where bedrock rises as islands or tidal submerged outcrops. Shifting tidal currents and waves have winnowed the gravel and sand from the mud forming sandbars and gravel bars that are exposed on the tide flats when the tide recedes.

Muddy tidelands with bedrock outcrops 

The bedrock is mapped as Orcas Chert along the south portion of the bay and Constitution on the north (Schasse, 2003). It is not a good bay for ships to venture into seeking safe harbor. While not so good for ships, the mix of muddy tidal flats with sand and gravel tidal areas, boulders, bedrock outcrops and freshwater streams flowing into the bay makes for a very complex estuary with a range of habitats. The bay tidal land is owned by the University of Washington and is managed as a biological preserve. The wide variety of tidal habitats is a great study area.

Oyster catchers eat what they study


Sunday, January 30, 2022

Rose of Lima in Keller

 Near my stop at the Sanpoil River cut bank exposing Glacial Lake Columbia sediments (rhythmites-and-varves-at-lower-sanpoil) is a small Catholic Church. 

Church and turkeys

Saint Rose de Lima suggests a Spanish origin. Wikipedia provides a bit on who Rose_of_Lima was. She was the first Catholic in the Americas to be declared a saint, and  hence, is a the patroness of indigenous American Catholics. The church is located on the Colville Reservation, but there are at least two other Rose de Lima parishes in Washington State.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Pickleball on Both Sides of the Cascades

A bill introduced this Washington Sate Legislative session would make Pickleball the State Sport:  Pickleball was invented on Bainbridge Island ( Driving through Omak it seems clear that the sport has crossed the Cascade Divide.