Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ginkgo Petrified Forest S.P. - Part II

Ice Age Floods ice-rafted erratic.
Ice-rafted erratic resting high above Columbia River at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park near Vantage, WA.

Erratic: "A rock fragment carried by floating ice or the icesheet itself, deposited at some distance from the outcrop from which it was derived and generally composed of a different type of rock than the local bedrock"

Most of eastern Washington has been covered by Columbia River Basalt Group lava flows. The floods of basaltic lava were followed by catastrophic outburst floods of water from Glacial Lake Missoula and other sources. One of the most interesting features left by these floods are out-of-place "erratic" boulders transported in icebergs from northeastern Washington, Idaho, Montana and even parts of Canada. Most of the erratic boulders contrast the black/brown basalt bedrock.

Part I of this post includes photos and information about Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park along with links to other related sites.

All but two photos in this post were taken during a hike on 6 December, 2008. The image of Ginkgo S.P. sign and shot of pillow basalt contributed by Nick Zentner were taken several years ago.

Washington State Parks interpretive panel.
One of six panels recently placed near the Ginkgo Petrified Forest interpretive center to help visitors understand the Ice Age Floods that swept over the Vantage area. The park certainly is an "Iceberg Graveyard".

Washington State Parks made a great move when they teamed with artist Stev Ominski to develop new Ice Age Floods interpretive panels for many of the parks. His illustrations of the Ice Age Floods do so much to tell the story of the floods and help all of us to "see the water".

Erratic boulder above Interstate 90 in eastern Kittitas County.
Westbound truck climbs Interstate 90 between Vantage and Ellensburg. Ice-rafted erratic in foreground.

Ice Age Floods depositional feature.
The lichen and moss patterns on some of the erratics are interesting. I'm not quite ready to start reading about those guys.

Iceberg Pass bergmound at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park.
Ice-rafted erratics and debris are scattered from one side of this image to the other. A large iceberg melted at this location.

Ice Age Floods errtaic cluster. Image shows smalls stones among the erratics.
The many smaller stones, gravel and sand that are found between erratics in clusters and bergmounds don't show up very well in most of my photos. Some of the material is very colorful and reminds me of river gravel I've admired in Idaho and Montana.

Ice Age Floods erratics at Iceberg Pass.
Erratics and iceberg debris between Ryegrass and Schnebly coulees at a location known as Iceberg Pass.

Schnebly Coulee Erratics. Large erratic near the top of this image is featured in the next shot.

Large Schnebly Coulee ice-rafted erratic.
Schnebly Coulee erratic.

Ice Age Floods erratic boulder and mule deer.
Arrow notes erratic boulder. Small group of mule deer is also shown.

Ice-rafted erratic and Interstate 90 bridge at Vantage, Washington.
Arrow points to Interstate 90 bridge at Vantage, Wa.

Nice table-top erratic above area known as Hell's Kitchen. View looking east over Columbia River channel.

Ice Age Floods Lake Missoula erratics.
Another shot showing smaller stones that accompanied larger erratics on their journey.

Looking north from ridge between Schnebly Coulee and Hell's Kitchen. The Cayuse Creek drainage (Last week's hike in Part I of this blog) is on the other side of high point in the distance.

Road to the original town of Vantage.

The town was moved to its present location during construction of Wanapum Dam in the early 60's. This photo shows part of the original highway that crossed river. Prior to dam construction, the bridge that currently spans the Snake River at Lyons Ferry was in place at this crossing. On the east side of the bridge the road followed the river's edge north to Frenchman Coulee. "Part I" of this post shows two images of the highway in Frenchman Coulee.

Ash layer from 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption along Old Vantage Highway.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park erratics.
So many ice-rafted rocks are laying around this park that some have been put to work. Arrow points to erratic being used to hold a sign post. Inset image shows erratic that's been tossed into rock crib anchoring section of park boundary fence.

Nice morning to visit the Clastic Dikes along Wanapum Lake..

I parked at sunrise in the Wanapum State Park swimming beach lot (no problem finding a space on December morning). A short walk down the trail shown in image leads to the Clastic Dikes found in a large deposit of plane-laminated sand. Note erratic in foreground and Sentinel Gap in the distance. Arrow marks one of the Clastic Dikes.

The Ice Age Floods Institute's Glossary of Technical Terms Related to the Ice Age Floods defines a Clastic Dike as:

"A feature that cuts across bedding structures and is composed of the sedimentary material it transects. Believed to be the result of fracturing and sediment movement due to earthquake shaking during or soon after cataclysmic flooding."

The face of this deposit seems fairly stable but please use caution if you visit.

Clastic Dike in Ice Age Floods Rhythmites.
Clastic Dike at left (Vertical light-colored band).

The unusual clastic dikes in central and southeastern Washington State appear in slackwater deposits left by the Ice Age Floods. Geologists believe these features are produced by seismic disturbance of saturated sediments.

"They probably formed as a result of ground shaking, which caused the wet sediments to flow down into or up along vertical earthquake-generated cracks in the flood deposits."


Clastic dikes found in the Mid-Columbia Basin reach to the top of flood deposits, leading geologists to believe that an earthquake occurred during or soon after the last Ice Age Flood event.

In his book "On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods" Bruce Bjornstad describes Clastic Dikes and gives driving directions to some amazing exposures in the Mid-Columbia Basin. Two locations Bruce describes that I especially enjoyed visiting are: The clastic dikes found in the Touchet Valley and those near Starbuck.

Maybe not the best example. This wild looking thing is probably the most unusual clastic dike I've photographed. A clastic dike just a few yards from this one is as straight as any vertical line I could draw.

Note from Tom: I wouldn't recommend a special trip to visit clastic dikes but they are an interesting feature to enjoy if you're in the Vantage, Touchet or Starbuck area.

The fissures are filled with sand, silt, clay, and coarser debris. Thin clay and silt linings separate the margins and internal layers. -Fecht

The lack of slackwater silt in the material adjacent to these Clastic Dikes tell geologists the water was moving too fast to allow the fines to settle out before all the water escaped.

Palagonite at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park.
Find this stuff and you've found an ancient lake or river location. Where lava flowed into water, pillow basalt and palagonite were created.

Pillow basalts near Vantage Washington. Photo by Nick Zentner.
Pillow basalt and palagonite in Schnebly Coulee.

Photo by Nick Zentner, President of the Ellensburg Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute. The cowboy hat is a nice touch Nick!

Ginkgo Petrified Forest Sate Park
I've tried not to post too many shots taken around the Interpretive Center. I hope you'll explore the exhibits in person. Large petrified logs surround the building and the petrified wood collection on display inside is amazing.

Be sure to inquire about Interpretive Center hours of operation before traveling to visit. I would like to mention that long hikes in the summer at this park are probably not a great idea. Spring and fall are the best times to hike in this part of the state. If you're not familiar with the area, please take time to visit with a Park Ranger prior to hiking in the park.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest log exposed by the Ice Age Floods.
Petrified knot on large log.

Iceberg rafted erratic boulder at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park.
One more Kittitas County erratic.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ginkgo Petrified Forest S.P. - Part I

Ice-rafted erratic boulder stranded above Columbia River

(Cayuse Creek drainage, eastern Kittitas County)

NEW VIDEO: Petrified Tree

Each time I visit Frenchman Coulee I find myself looking to the west side of the Columbia River. The Cayuse Creek and Whiskey Dick Creek areas appear to have been blasted by violent Ice Age Floodwaters that swept over the Columbia Basin near the end of the last Ice Age.

Last Sunday I decided to take a loop hike across Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park to Whiskey Dick Creek then west for several miles before walking back to my starting point. The wildlife, petrified wood and numerous Ice Age Flood features kept me entertained all day.

Most of the images will enlarge if you click them.

Frenchman Coulee Road.
Looking west from Frenchman Coulee

Frenchman Coulee Aerial View.
Note: Cayuse Creek on the other side of Columbia River. If you're familiar with "The Feathers" in Frenchman Coulee, the feature is identified in photo.

In his book "On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods", geologist Bruce Bjornstad points out:

Of special interest is a high, sculpted-out area in the steep wall of basalt visible on the opposite side of the Columbia River from Frenchman Coulee. Like a giant fire hose, a forceful jet of floodwater hit this rock wall head on after cascading through Frenchman Coulee.

Many pieces of petrified wood in the park are only partially exposed.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is an amazing place. Start with Columbia River Basalt Group lava flowing into the area from the southeast, building layer upon layer. About 15.5 million years ago some of the basalt in the Vantage area was covered by debris (ash, dirt, rocks, trees) carried by at least one lahar (volcanic mudflow) flowing from the west or northwest. The course of the Columbia River was obstructed and a large shallow lake formed in the Vantage area. The lake held a mixture of water logged trees, some from the Vantage area but many other species carried by the river and lahar(s).

When the basalt flows resumed, water and mud provided protection for some of the trees and prevented them from burning. The lake disappeared under the basalt and the logs were entombed. Water draining through the cooling basalt slowly petrified the logs.

"Ginkgo logs are so well preserved because they were rapidly buried and sealed off from exposure to air. If the logs had come to rest on the surface they would have rotted and decomposed to nothing. But being deeply buried there was no oxygen or animals/microbes for decomposition."
Bruce Bjornstad

So ... We started with basalt flows, then lahars, cover that mess with more basalt, let things cool off for a few million years ... Don't get too relaxed Vantage because here come the Ice Age Floods!

Karlson Ice Age Floods erratic -Ginkgo State Park
One of my first stops on the hike was a quick visit to the "Karlson Erratic". This is the largest ice-rafted erratic I know of in Kittitas County. It sits right where the iceberg left it at 1,105' in Rocky Coulee. Ryan Karlson measured it 10' x 8.5'.

There could be bigger ones out there. I just need to find the time to search Tarpiscan, Tekison, Brushy, Quilomene, Box, Skookumchuck and Jackknife canyons along with Dry Gulch and all their tributaries.

Petrified red gum log exposed by the Ice Age Floods.

Ice Age Floods Bergmound Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park.
I always enjoy walking up to lone erratics and small clusters of erratics in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington but it's really cool to walk up to these bergmounds where a large iceberg has grounded and melted out leaving a large pile of debris. I'll post other images of this bergmound in the future. The view looking south is scenic with Sentinel Gap in the distance. In this shot I'm looking NE.

Vantage Washington aerial.
Aerial view looking north over the Interstate 90 bridge at Vantage.

A. Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park
B. Cayuse Creek
C. Mouth of Frenchman Coulee
D. Babcock Bench

When crossing the bridge, try to imagine floodwaters 700 feet above the Columbia River surface (Wanapum Reservoir normal pool elevation 570 ft).

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park hillside.
Hiking SE out of the upper Cayuse Creek drainage.

In 1975 the Washington State Legislature adopted petrified wood as the official "state gem". The Wanapums and other Native Americans used pieces of the petrified wood for arrowheads.

The petrified growth rings are interesting.

Looking east towards the Columbia River. One of the highest Ice Age Flood markers I found.

Ginkgo State Park deer.
I felt like I was being watched all day.

Seems to be a healthy cactus population in both the Cayuse and Whiskey Dick Creek drainage. This area receives 8 inches of precipitation annually.

Visit the Mid-Columbia Basin in the spring and check out Hedgehog Cactus blooms.

Another shot from the spring. When visiting Ginkgo State Park in late November, it's hard to remember how beautiful the spring wildflowers are in Schnebly Coulee.

During warmer months I've seen a few of these guys around the park. They always seem to be working hard to get out of the way, but it's a good idea to try and watch where you step.

Warning posted by the State Parks Department:
Rattlesnakes are inhabitants of this area. Although largely active in the evening and cooler hours of the day, they can be found anytime from early Spring through late Autumn.
Rattlesnakes are important predators of birds, mice, rabbits and other rodents. Because the kill their prey by using a deadly venom they can be dangerous to man. Exercise caution in this area.

Ginkgo Vantage area petroglyphs on display at the Ginkgo Interpretive Center.

Humans have used the Vantage area for at least 6,600 years. This part of the Mid-Columbia was known to the Wanapum Indians as pank'รบ.

Ice Age Floods erratic boulder lichen covered
Lichen covered erratic

Erratics have been found at a distance of more than three miles from and nearly 700 feet above the Columbia River at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. Ryan Karlson (Washington State Parks), completed an incredibly thorough inventory of Ice Age Floods erosional and depositional features within the park. During this study he found the highest frequency of ice-rafted erratics above 1,100 feet. The highest erratic discovered in the study was sitting at 1,263 feet.

Ice Age Floods erratic stone.
Another traveler found in the upper Cayuse Creek drainage. Resting here 15,000 years and still thought of as an out-of-state visitor.

Ellensburg Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute field trip (Ginkgo view).
Here's a shot taken in the spring of 2006, during an Ellensburg Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute field trip. Chapter President Nick Zentner (tan vest - left) tells a story about the Trees of Stone. Note Cayuse Creek drainage identified in the distance.


In 1931, geologist George F. Beck of Central Washington College of Education in Ellensburg noticed highway construction workers removing petrified wood from a jobsite near Vantage. Beck and his students eventually identified dozens of species of trees at the site, including petrified ginkgo.

The State purchased 10 acres of the fossil bed and created the State Park in 1935. Today Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park personnel manage more than 7,000 acres.

Ginkgo State Park Sign.
It sure is depressing to think about the amount of petrified wood removed from this park over the years.

Three miles west of the Interpretive Center the State Park maintains a trail constructed by CCC workers that leads visitors to 22 pits containing various species of petrified wood. In their book "Fire, Faults, and Floods", Marge and Ted Mueller state:

"It's a sad commentary on the ethics of visitors that each display must be enshrouded in concrete walls secured with a locked steel rebar gate to prevent vandalism or theft. Even this doesn't prevent garbage from being tossed into the pits by thoughtless oafs!"

"THOUGHTLESS OAFS"? ... You're very kind Marge & Ted. I had two other words in mind.

On a positive note: The National Park Service identified Ginkgo as a place of "Interpretive value" in the "Ice Age Floods Study of Alternatives and Environmental Assessment" for Congress.

A study completed for the Washington State Parks Commission in 2006 found: Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park to be a "Primary Gateway" to the Ice Age Floods region and one of the six "Highest priority" locations in its system for Ice Age Floods interpretation.

Washington State Parks Master Plan for the Ice Age Floods
Highest priority parks:

Undated photograph showing a petrified log partially exposed by the Ice Age Floods. Note Echo Basin and Frenchman Coulee on opposite side of river.

The next time you travel between Vantage and Ellensburg: Monitor the elevation display on your GPS. When you reach 1,270 feet, notice how high above and how far away you are from the Columbia River. I hope the State will soon install signs that identify the point Interstate-90 bisects the Ice Age Floods high-water line. Thousands of vehicles cross this line each day with drivers unaware of the amazing story of the Ice Age Floods.

Click to view: Ginkgo Petrified Forest S.P. - Part II

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Spring Coulee (East Rim)

- Click any image to expand -

Looking northwest to Billy Clapp Lake from road.
Farming operation above trimline - top left.

No violations today ... I was unarmed and alone.

Last month I posted a few photos and text after a hike down the west side of Billy Clapp Lake.

See: Billy Clapp (West Side)

As I walked the west side in October, I was looking through binoculars at some of the flood features above the east shore and decided that I'd need to get a closer look. Saturday I noticed that Accuweather had a sunball symbol on Sunday ... So off I went (I wish I'd have looked at the numbers they had next to the sunball). When I started hiking it was 18 degrees ... Gloves and a warmer coat would have been nice.

The approach I took is described by State Fish & Wildlife as: "A primitive parking area on the east side of the Billy Clapp Reservoir that is about two miles from the west end of county Road 26 NE off of county Road Q NE."

No shortage of deer between Wilson Creek and Billy Clapp Lake.

I was surprised at the number of deer, ducks and geese I saw during my hike. The State doesn't seem to think much of the area as a refuge. Paragraph below from Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife site. The two-page ownership map it provides is pretty good. - See link below.

Billy Clapp area ownership map

Columbia Basin Wildlife Area

The Billy Clapp Lake unit is 4,000 acres along what was originally called Long Lake Reservoir but renamed in honor of one of the originators of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. The natural coulee was dammed on the lower south end (Pinto Dam) to create the reservoir. Water cascades into the upper end of the reservoir from the Main Canal creating Summer Falls. Basalt cliffs of varying heights encompass the reservoir. Most of the shoreline is too steep and rocky to support wetland or riparian vegetation, and the uplands are a mix of poor quality gravelly soils and basalt outcroppings. Vegetation varies from the fire-caused cheatgrass or bunchgrass communities to native woody shrubs on talus slopes. BOR maintains public parking, and boat launching is available on the north end of the lake. The Stratford Game Reserve encompasses nearly all the public land in this unit. Originally designated to provide a resting area for migrating waterfowl each fall, public use and changing migration patterns have made the Game Reserve less effective.

From the Grand Coulee


Not all of the Grand Coulee flow entered the Quincy Basin via Lower Grand Coulee. Water that escaped the Grand Coulee cut channels around High Hill and Pinto Ridge. These channels carried substantial flows and became known as Dry Coulee and Spring Coulee (The reservoir created in Spring Coulee is today named Billy Clapp Lake). Floodwaters flowing through Spring Coulee fed into the Crab Creek channel prior to entering the Quincy Basin.

As stated in the October post - J Harlen Bretz called Spring Coulee:

"A fine scabland canyon with castle-like buttes, lateral subsidiary canyons, and cataracts notching its walls"

Bureau of Reclamation Benchmark.

Between 1946 and 1948 the Bureau of Reclamation constructed Pinto Dam at the south end of Spring Coulee. The Coulee is one of many Ice Age Flood features used by the Bureau as part of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project.

Surveyed by the USBOR 10 years prior to Pinto Dam construction.

It was pretty cool to take a few minutes and think about the surveyors walking the Ice Age Floods region in the 1930s. In his book "Grand Coulee Harnessing a Dream"- Paul C. Pitzer describes the surveyors searching the channeled scablands of eastern Washington for potential storage reservoirs, dam sites and canal routes.

Benchmark - GPS

N 47°28.910'

W 119°14.530'

The features I was most interested in on this side of the coulee were several potholes and a group of "Drumheller" type channels just east of the potholes.

The potholes were formed during the Glacial Lake Missoula flood events that swept over eastern Washington as recently as 15,000 years ago. Powerful whirlpools (sometimes referred to as underwater tornados) known as kolks, scoured out these holes.

WIKIPEDIA DEFINES KOLK: (also known as colc) is an underwater vortex that is created when rapidly rushing water passes an underwater obstacle in boundary areas of high shear. High velocity gradients produce a violently rotating column of water, similar to a tornado. Kolks are capable of plucking multi-ton blocks of rock and transporting them in suspension for some thousands of meters.

In his book "On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods", Geologist Bruce Bjornstad explains the creation of Rock Basins and Potholes: "Fast-moving floodwaters passing through scabland channels further gouged into the basalt, scouring out rock basins and augering deep holes into basalt. Like a powerful vacuum cleaner, floodwaters actually sucked up all the loose material off the land surface, including huge columns of basalt, taking advantage of any weakness in the rock, such as fractures."

Google Earth image with pothole ID numbers I'll use below.

To view image of pothole #4, you'll need to open the October post and scroll down to the pothole image.

Remember ... You can click image to enlarge.

Pothole ID #1

The picture doesn't do this pothole justice. This is one fine pothole! I'll return in the spring and try to get a better shot as the scale just doesn't show here.

Pothole ID #2

Pothole ID #3

During our lunch stop on the October trip, we noticed a "hanging pothole" on the other side of the coulee. Erosion of the main channel has opened up one side of the pothole. Future megafloods will finish the job and remove all traces of this pothole before going after potholes #1 and #2.

Many shallow potholes are found in this area.

These smaller kolk carved basins seem popular with the local wildlife. Game trails lead to each of them.

I'll embed a Google Map at the bottom of this post. If you switch the map from Terrain (TER) to Satellite (SAT) and zoom in, you'll be able to search the area and find many more potholes on the bench east of Billy Clapp Lake.

Several nice mesas near the lake.

A smaller version of "Hat Rock".

Hard to hide with those pointy things sticking out of your head.

Google Earth image shows Giant Current Ripples above Billy Clapp Lake

For scale you can open the October post where I posted an image of Bruce Bjornstad standing on one of the ripples shown in this shot. The mix of farmland, ripples and a massive flood channel remind me of a similar spot closer to home ... see photos below.

Giant Current Ripples in Washtucna Coulee
Note farmer on tractor at top left.

Same shot but a little wider angle. Huge flood bar being removed at coulee floor. If you look to the right of the quarry there seems to be one ripple mark left.

Another set of Washtucna Coulee giant current ripples

Borrow pit in ripple-covered flood bar exposes layer of windblown loess deposited since the Ice Age Floods.

South of the coulee along Highway 28 a historical marker gives a brief history of the area:


Indians camped along Crab Creek in Stratford to gather roots and other food. The main Indian trail came past Stratford across the creek. The Indian trail branched here & one went past Pinto Dam. LT Symons came past here while laying out military wagon road from FT Walla Walla to Camp Chelan in 1879. Old wagon road from Waterville to Ritzville came past here in 1888. Railroad built in 1892. Early apple orchards were irrigated from Brook Lake in late 1890's. Pumphouse still standing. Stratford platted in 1903. Crab Lake drained by local pioneers in 1909 for farming purposes.
Grant County Historical Society