Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Chuckanut Range and Silver Creek Falls after Cole after Hannock

We live in a landscape where waterfalls are very common. They are truly works of art and are worth taking a hike to see. David Tucker’s Northwest Field Trips http://nwgeology.wordpress.com/the-fieldtrips/the-chuckanut-formation/silver-creek-stratigraphy-and-flood-erosion-in-the-chuckanuts/  suugests a great hike to a waterfall a short distance south of Bellingham. This is an outstanding winter hike that I have done twice this winter. David is putting together an excellent series of trips with many in my local landscape and is working on others throughout the state.

Silver Creek is located within what locals call the Chuckanut Range. This is a range of mountains uplifted in a series of folds between Bellingham on the north and the Skagit Valley to the south. Interstate 5 weaves through the range in the only stretch of mountains along the I-5 corridor in the state. The folded Chuckanut Formation creates a landscape somewhat similar to some of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the eastern United States with ridges of resistant sandstone and valleys underlain by weak shale and mudstone. The Chuckanut Range is not a high range by Washington standards, but it is rugged and is unique in that the ranges rises directly up out of the sea along the coast line south of Bellingham. This feature is often emphasized as the only place where the Cascade Range reaches the sea.

Google Earth view of Chuckanut Range between Lake Whatcom and Samish Bay south of Bellingham. Folded bedrock along anticlines and synclines is readily visible.

This rugged corridor between the Salish Sea on the west and the Cascades on the east has been identified by Whatcom County as a habitat corridor and there are a number of ongoing efforts to ensure this area stays undeveloped and utilized as forestry and park land. Those efforts include Blanchard Mountain on the south which will soon have a portion designated as a natural area with the commercial timber lands around the perimeter expanded to remove development risk. Washington State Parks protects significant tracts in the northwest portion of the range. Whatcom County has expanded its holdings within the range with several parks such as Pine and Cedar Lake and Squires Lake and is working with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources towards the creation of an 8,000 acre wilderness park within the Lake Whatcom watershed.

View of Chuckanut Mountain looking west from the slope of Lookout Mountain. Interstate-5 can be seen curving through the valley on the upper right.

Resistant sandstone and conglomerate ridges within the Chuckanut Range.

As for the hike up Silver Creek it ends at a great waterfall. The water flows over an outcrop of conglomerate which breaks the flow up into a very nice visual effect. Additional falls are located above the main falls for those that like to crawl up steep slopes and through thick jungle.
The main falls on Silver Creek

The next cascade above the main falls with Sam a dog with remarkable climbing talent. 

 A lovey cascade or a barrier to be climbed
Cascade over Chuckanut sandstone

These falls reminded me of some of my favorite landscape painters and their rendering of Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Kaaterskill Falls is New York State’s highest with a combined height of 260 feet. I estimate the falls at Silver Creek to be about 90 feet so it is within the same magnitude and there are additional falls upstream of the main falls. Kaater means male wildcat and kill means stream. Cougars definitely live in this area so in that regard there is a link to Kaaterskill Falls as well.

Thomas Cole in particular moved landscape painting to a level that consistently captured the geology of a site and he is one of my favorite landscape painters.

Thomas Cole - The Falls of the Cauterskill, 1826

Stephen Hannock also did a great job of rendering the geology in his painting of Kaaterskill Falls. His paintings have fascinating inscriptions and stories etched into the painting. Looking at his paintings can be like fossil hunting within the layers of bedrock or identifying the source of clasts in the conglomerate at the Silver Creek falls.

Stephen Hannock - Kaaterskill Falls, 2005, New York Metropolitan Museum 

Detail with a reference to Cole’s work and others etched into the geologic strata.

While working on this post I found that my wife Lisa was rendering a view of the Chuckanut Range as most of us usually see it - from the Interstate.

Lisa McShane, 2010, Winter Highway Chuckanuts

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