Sunday, November 15, 2009

Victoria Rock, Tarpiscan Bergmound and Cape Horn Traverse to West Bar Ripples

Last week I visited Tarpiscan Canyon for the first time in years. The canyon is on the west side of the Columbia River above West Bar. A few significant Ice Age Flood features in the area are Moses Coulee, Moses Coulee Bar, Crater Coulee, Babcock Bench, Potholes Coulee and the West Bar Giant Current Ripples.

I didn't see everything I wanted to on this hike. The short November day flew by.

Victoria Rock

Victoria Rock - An interesting basalt tower standing in the Columbia River channel that's withstood plenty of abuse by floods over the years.

Victoria Rock (Symon's-Downing Image)

I mentioned Lieutenant Symon's "Report of an Examination of the Upper Columbia River: And the Territory in Its Vicinity in September and October, 1881" in a recent post of Sentinel Gap area photos. In his report, Symon's describes Victoria Rock:

A few miles further down there stands in the Columbia River a rock which is one of the most perfect profile rocks in existence. Approaching it from the north, it presents a striking likeness to the profile of Queen Victoria, from which circumstance it was given the name of "Victoria Rock."

Coming nearer to it and passing it on the west, the profile changes and merges into a more Grecian and Sphinx-like face, whose placid immobility takes one's mind involuntarily to far off Egypt. It rises from the surface of the water about one hundred feet, and a pair of eagles have selected it as their home, and upon its extreme top have built a nest, giving, as it were, a crown to this goddess of the Columbia.

The rock is of columnar black basalt. The portion of the river in which this rock is situated is very grand and beautiful.

Lieutenant Thomas William Symons (1881)

There it is ... Victoria Rock. Right where the Lieutenant said it would be.

Construction of Wanapum Dam south of Vantage, was completed in 1963. Only the uppermost portion of Victoria Rock stands above today's reservoir level.

It took an early start from Pasco to begin hiking before sunrise. I had to drive all the way to Wenatchee, cross the river and then drive south to reach the Tarpiscan Creek WDFW parking area. A Vehicle Use Permit is required in this area.

Lieutenant Symon's Map - 1881

Click map to enlarge and you should be able to see Victoria Rock below "Cabinet Rapids". Other notations on map from top are Bishop Rock, Sunken Rock, Rock Island Rapids, Bar of Rocks, Bad Ripple, Little Creek and two small bars just above "Flat" at West Bar.

Looks like notation on top of rim west of Victoria Rock reads "Magnificent Columnar Basaltic Bluffs". The area marked "Flat" at lower right is the NW corner of West Bar.

View northeast over Columbia River to mouth of Moses Coulee. Victoria Rock visible in river at lower right. The huge flood bar on far side of river is the Moses Coulee Bar. Much of the bar is out of frame to right.

I'll try to post Moses Coulee images one of these days. In his book "The Geological History of the Wenatchee Valley and Adjacent Vicinity" Charles Mason states:
"It is the author's opinion that Moses Coulee, above all else, has an atmosphere and character unmatched in our area. One would be hard pressed to find a more inspiring sight than a drive on an early sunny morning through the miles of majestic palisades of the lower coulee".
Moses Coulee

Tarpiscan Creek Bergmound

Tarpiscan Bergmound - Thousands of years ago, a huge iceberg floated into the Tarpiscan Creek drainage and grounded during one of the Ice Age Flood events. After the floodwaters receded and the ice melted, a large pile the glacial debris carried by the iceberg was left stranded in the canyon.

Mouth of Tarpiscan Canyon - Google Earth View

- Red circle marks bergmound -

I hiked up the canyon for several miles enjoying bright fall colors and the interesting basalt cliffs along the north rim. Way too much time was spent taking pictures of frosty leaves and pine cones (above maximum flood level).

I'd had my eye on the big bar that sits between Tarpiscan Creek and the South Fork of Tarpiscan Creek. Once over the top of the bar I spotted a huge bergmound (marked in image above).

- Large erratics on top of the bergmound -

Erratic I'm leaning on (#1 in photo below) measured over 12ft. end to end.

Another view of erratics shown above. Note smaller erratics in foreground.

So how did the rocks end up in ice?

Hope you don't mind if we take a quick trip to the lower slopes of Mt. Rainier.

Sometimes it's Hard to tell where the glacier ends and the mountain begins.

Glaciers are often referred to as "Nature's conveyor belts". Rocks from adjacent slopes often fall on top the glacier while ice in contact with the earth below the glacier is picking up rocks and other debris. Material carried on the surface of the glacier is known as "supraglacial debris" while the lower part of the glacier carries "basal debis".

The huge glacial ice dams that failed and released Ice Age Floodwaters were loaded with debris. Large sections of the dams were swept away with the flow and carried over eastern Washington. Some of these icebergs would have ridden the floodwaters all the way to the Pacific Ocean but many ran aground in Washington and Oregon. Rocks and boulders transported by the ice are known as "erratics".


1. deviating from the usual or proper course in conduct or opinion; eccentric: erratic behavior.
2. having no certain or definite course; wandering; not fixed: erratic winds.
3. Geology. noting or pertaining to a boulder or the like carried by glacial ice and deposited some distance from its place of origin.
4. (of a lichen) having no attachment to the surface on which it grows.


Large Boulders on Nisqually Glacier

OK ... We're back to Tarpiscan Canyon

- Nice collection of large erratics -

(White erratic on skyline is Erratic #2)

Ivar Husa of the Ice Age Floods Institute's Lake Lewis Chapter answers the question "How Large Must an Iceberg be to Carry an Erratic" on Page 4 of the December 2005 Pleistocene Post.

As the iceberg melted, several large boulders rolled down slope. The rocks, gravel, sand and silt aboard the iceberg remained in a huge mound.

Click image above to play what appears to be the first "Bergmound" video posted on Youtube. Video shows relationship of bergmound site to Columbia River.

Not as many smaller scattered erratics in the Tarpiscan area as there are in other Kittitas County drainages to the south. I did see a few similar to this one as I hiked south out of the canyon.

West Bar Giant Current Ripples

West Bar Giant Current Ripples - Huge current ripples created when fast moving floodwaters swept over the West Bar area. Geologists believe that the West Bar Ripples were formed during one of the last Ice Age Floods - Possibly the final draining of Glacial Lake Columbia.

I started to draw the route I used to get to West Bar on this image but, decided I'd better not do anything that would promote this as West Bar access. I know this basalt face as "Cape Horn".
TIP #1:The animal path I used is above terrace with the big pine.
TIP #2: Don't slip!

West Bar (right). Moses Coulee Bar dipping into Columbia river at left. Thin horizontal line on distant basalt cliff is Babcock Bench.

The Ice Age Floods created many large gravel bars. Moses Coulee Bar is one of them ... Train for scale.

1. Tarpiscan Bergmound
2. West Bar Giant Current Ripples
3. Moses Coulee
4. Crater Coulee - Also known as Crater Draw (No public access).
5. Quincy, WA - City of Quincy's "Local Geology" page.

Ripples from ripple level.

Summertime sunset view of West Bar ripples.
- Boat for scale -

Click below to view Giant Current Ripples from Bruce Bjornstad's geocache at the West Bar Overlook.


A couple images here of other ripples you might come across as you explore the Ice Age Floods region.

I noticed these frosty ripples in the sand yesterday while hiking along the White Bluffs (SE of Mattawa, WA). These small ripples were creeated by the wind blowing over the dune.

Belt rock with ripple pattern - Western Montana.

Arrow points to hiker standing on one of the tallest West Bar ripples.

Geologists estimate the West Bar ripples were formed between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. The ripples average 24 feet in height and are spaced about 360 feet apart. It's been estimated that the fast moving water that formed these ripples was about 650 feet deep (Not one of the largest floods).

The day this photo was taken, Orin and I arrived at West Bar in his boat ... which is the easiest way to get there. Certain times of the year you can drive to West Bar ... but ... It's a bumpy trip.

WDFW's description of Colockum area roads:
"Extremely primitive. High-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Carry water, supplies and a spare tire."
WDFW Colockum Wildlife Area - Ownership & Resource Map

I noticed several several erratics as I walked up and over ripple after ripple.

Large rocks dropped on the crests of giant ripples seem popular with local birds.

Small elk herd on West Bar (Between the arrows). View is south over western edge of ripples.
Colockum Elk Herd

View Larger Map

Use your mouse to navigate Google Map. Click "Ter" for Terrain View.

Additional Comments from the Symon's Report

Grand Coulee Illustration - Symon's Report

A few text clips from the Symon's Report related to the Ice Age Floods -

The Grand Coulee:
"The coulee here is partially filled up by the broken-down hills. The cause of this break seems to have been a flood of water or ice coming in from the northeast and flowing off down through the coulee chasm. Many rounded bowlders are here found in the soil, and great rocks of large size, which could only have been transported by the agency of ice."

Victoria Rock area:
... "Thousand feet above the river, there lies in an inclined position a stick of timber, barkless and white with age. It never grew there. It is a thousand feet from the top of the vertical bluffs, and could not have been put there from above. The only way in which it could have reached its present position was by being caught there when the river was a thousand feet higher than it is now, drifting in and lodging, and being left there by the receding river.

My pilot. "Old Pierre," an Indian pilot and voyageur of the old Hndson Bay Company, said that this log was a landmark in the days when this company transported their furs and merchandise up and down the river in bateaux. He says that the Indians always considered that the log was left there when the river was up at that height. This is one link in the chain of evidence that proves that at no distant date the Columbia was a stream of such magnificent proportions that the present river is a tiny rivulet compared with it. If this be the true explanation of the location of this log, it is a remarkable example of the preservation of wood for a long period of time. It may be that the log is petrified, but I had no means of getting at it to determine."

- Petrified Log above Columbia River -

The banks are nearly precipitous bluffs, from 2,000 to 3,000 feet high, composed of columnar black basalt, which takes many wonderful shapes and produces many pleasing effects, rivaling the famous Giant's Causeway of Ireland in weird beauty. The columns are in every conceivable position, sometimes piled up like cordwood, in some places erect, and in others inclined; some great masses are twisted and bent, forming niches, arches, grottos, crowns, &c.

A View of Giant's Causeway: East Prospect. Engraving. Susanna Drury -1768

ABC News clip featuring Giant's Causeway

Below Sentinel Gap Symon's describes:
I have endeavored to outline this ancient lake as far as practicable, and propose for it the name of Lake Lewis, after Capt. Merriweather Lewis, the leader of the exploring party which first saw any of the headwaters of the Columbia.

I'd like to encourage anyone that hasn't looked through William D. Layman's book Native River to pick up a copy and thumb through it. The pre-dam Columbia River photos from Priest Rapids to the Canadian border are great!

Some of my favorite images in the book show: Sentinel Gap, Picture Rocks Bay, Vantage Bluffs, Rock Island Rapids, Victoria Rock and Whitestone Rock (I like the skunk story).

When I read Symon's comments about Columbia River basalt exposures rivaling those at Giant's Causeway (never been there but viewed plenty of photos) ... I was thinking he might be a little off but ... Look at the photos in Layman's book of Picture Rocks Bay (now underwater) ... Between amazing columns and the incredible pictographs and petroglyphs ... I can see why he would compare it to one of the most incredible locations on earth.

Link to photo sets from Tarpiscan Canyon hikers at

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sentinel Gap and Mattawa Bar

I wasn't able to attend a recent field trip to the Sentinel Gap area that Nick Zentner organized and led. It sounds like everyone had a great time and the 57 Ice Age Floods fans attending enjoyed a sunny afternoon.
I've posted a couple photos below from Nick's trip along with photos taken two weeks ago when I spent a morning hiking around Sentinel Gap and the Mattawa boulder bar (field) on my way north to hike near Frenchman Coulee.

The area I know as "Mattawa Bar" is part of a much larger bar known by two names - Wahluke Bar or Priest Rapids Bar.

With Sentinel Gap in the distance, Ellensburg IAFI Chapter President Nick Zentner describes how Ice Age Floodwaters moved through the Othello Basin. Photo by William Meyer-Ellensburg.

Westbound traffic on I-90 gets a good look at Sentinel Gap while descending to Vantage Bridge.

Ice-Rafted Erratic and Sentinel Gap

Below Sentinel Gap is a huge boulder field that I enjoy visiting every couple of years. A few ice-rafted erratic boulders sit among thousands of basalt boulders. As the floodwaters flowed through Sentinel Gap into the Pasco basin (Lake Lewis), the velocity decreased and the largest bedload material settled out.

Not sure what the story is with the big erratic ... maybe rafted to a point in or near the main Columbia channel above the gap and then tumbled through the gap during one of the later floods or rafted to this exact spot?

Google Earth view showing Sentinel Gap and the huge boulder field. The big erratic I'm standing by in previous image stands out in this shot ... light colored boulder (bottom-center).

Mattawa Erratic

The boulder field west of Mattawa is pretty cool and I feel worth inspection by those interested in Glacial Lake Missoula and the Ice Age Floods but ... the Ephrata Fan below Soap Lake is even more impressive!

Yellow star marks Sentinel Gap
-Google Maps Image-

Floodwaters moving through the western channels of the Ice Age Floods region were forced to flow around the Saddle Mountains. Water moving down or over Lower Crab Creek Coulee would have been forced to flow in an easterly direction when Sentinel Gap began to restrict the flow.

"Sentinel Gap represents a water gap where erosion by the Columbia River was able to keep pace with folding, faulting and uplifting across the Saddle Mountain anticline. During Ice Age floods this opening was repeatedly reamed out, which probably widened and steepened the walls of the gap. ... If and when floodwater flow ever exceeded the capacity of Sentinel Gap, the floodwaters would automatically self-adjust, sending more water east to Othello Channels to establish equilibrium."


-Saddle Mountains Recreation-

The sand found on lower slopes of the east bluff makes a great playground for ORV riders. If you want to make the short hike to the top of the east bluff, try for an early start. It gets a little noisy around here later in the day.

One of the things I enjoy about hiking around Vantage is the variety of user groups drawn to the area. You don't run into many people, but all seem to appreciate the unique landscape. In addition to the ORV riders you might get the opportunity to visit with hunters, fishermen, boaters, bird watchers, horse riders, rock climbers (that take great care of the Frenchman Coulee area ... THANKS!!!), para gliders and others.

I hiked up the sandy draw on the left, then descended through basalt chute at right. Small pieces of petrified wood and nice views. Talus below chute no fun, best bet up and down sandy draw or perhaps the road on south side.

View north from rim

Links to trip reports for area hikes.
1. John Wayne Trail
2. Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park Part I
Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park Part II
3. Lower Crab Creek Coulee

Crab Creek is known for its meandering course through the Columbia Basin. The creek makes one more big "S" (cutting through the Beverly Bar) before joining the Columbia River north of Sentinel Gap. Wildlife that enjoys the streamside habitat in lower Crab Creek Coulee can thank the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project for the year-round flow.

In 1881 (October), Lieutenant Thomas W. Symons noted:
"Crab Creek discharges no water into the Columbia-at this time of the year, at any rate."

Link to Symon's 1881: Report of an Examination of the Upper Columbia River

Symons marked Sentinel Gap as "Sentinel Bluffs" on his map. The first mention Sentinel Bluffs I'm aware of was by Alexander Ross in 1811.

"On the 20th we left the Priest Rapids, and proceeded against a strong ripply current and some small rapids, for ten miles, when we reached two lofty and conspicuous bluffs [Sentinel Bluffs], situate[d] directly opposite to each other, like the piers of a gigantic gate, between which the river flowed smoothly.

Here we staid for the night, on some rocks infested with innumerable rattlesnakes, which caused us not a little uneasiness during the night..."

Alexander Ross [1811]

Several early explorers of the Mid-Columbia region mentioned the healthy rattlesnake population found between Priest Rapids and Sentinel Gap. I didn't cross paths with any snakes as I hiked on this cool October morning, but did meet up with one later the same day while hiking the south rim of Frenchman Coulee.

I'll borrow a photo from that hike and plug him in here along with a short video (below) of the same snake as he tried to let me know that I should just move along.

Click to view short video of Frenchman Coulee rattlesnake.

-Priest Rapids Snake Report-

"...Rattlesnakes are very numerous. At times they may be heard hissing all around, so that we had to keep a sharp look-out to avoid treading on them; but the natives appeared to have no dread of them. As soon as one appears, the Indians fix its head to the ground with a small forked stick round the neck, then extracting the fang or poisonous part, they take the reptile into their hands, put it to their bosoms, play with it , and let it go again."

Alexander Ross [1811]

Washington State Department of Transportation engineers aren't the first to have issues moving traffic between the Columbia River and the steep basalt cliffs at Sentinel Gap.

Joel Palmer's Wagon Road 1858-60
Palmer found Sentinel Gap to be an obstacle when attempting to establish a Wagon Road between Priest Rapids and Canadian mines. He was forced to unload the wagons and use two canoes side by side to ferry each wagon around the steep rocky bank to Crab Creek. Boards were laid down in the canoes to support wagon wheels. Oxen were driven along a narrow Indian trail through the rocks.

Sentinel Gap Diatomite Exposure

Faint strandlines are visible on both sides of the river at Sentinel Gap.

While hiking down from the east rim, I watched load after load of apples move through the gap. The Mattawa area is known for quality vegetable and fruit production.

Mattawa area pea harvest (June).

Huge boulders have been pushed to the edge of vineyard along SR 243. Sentinel Gap in the distance.

The The Wahluke Slope became Washington's eighth appellation in 2006. Clifton Hill Vineyard has a nice group of boulders displayed along the highway.

I hope the guy living here is excited about the Ice Age Floods. Those are some nice flood-tossed boulders in the front yard and the backyard should be in a geology text book.

Good luck digging a post hole out here. I guess just putting the post in a drum and filling it with basalt will work.

October Wildflowers

Tales of early steamboats on the Columbia are pretty wild. For many years Priest Rapids created enough of an impediment to prevent the boats from reaching Sentinel Gap and beyond.

W.R. Todd operating near White Bluffs

Image from Hanford Site Historical Photo Gallery

To support passage of early steamboats on the Snake and Columbia rivers, anchors were often fixed to allow crews to line their vessels through difficult sections. As far as I know, any anchors used for this purpose in the Priest Rapids area are now underwater behind the dam. Photo above was taken on a Snake River boat trip in Hells Canyon where several of the anchors remain.

Randall V. Mill's book "Stern-Wheelers Up Columbia" describes the first successful steamboat navigation of Priest Rapids in the 1880's:
... a new boat, named appropriately the City of Ellensburgh, slid into the river at Pasco, and as soon as the trial runs showed that everything was all right with her, Captain Gray loaded her with cordwood and headed upstream. Priest Rapids broke the river badly, but Gray got out a line, rigged tackle, and by using the capstan, hauled the boat over the rapids to where her wheel could get a grip on Quiet water.

Columbia River Steamer John Gates 1884. Photographer unknown

-Priest Rapids Bar-

If you travel between the Vernita Bridge and Sentinel Gap, make sure to check out the 430 foot high Priest Rapids Bar to the east. Photo taken from SR 243 shows Road L-SW climbing to top of the massive flood bar.

Historic Beverly Railroad Bridge north of Sentinel Gap.

Click to view short video clips from top of east bluff and Mattawa boulder bar. I need to find better free music files ... sorry about that.

View Larger Map

Google Maps view of boulder field. Large erratic shown earlier in post is visible at bottom center (just above "2009" in credit) of aerial image. Use your mouse to control map navigation tools at top left.

The Heritage Center at Wanapum Dam provides an excellent introduction to the people who have called this area home for many years.

Great shot from Nick Zentner, showing Ellensburg IAFI field trip members spreading out to explore huge boulder field near Mattawa. Ellensburg IAFI chapter meetings and field trips are free and open to all. Visit chapter page at Ellensburg Ice Age Floods Institute.

The boulder field shown in image is part of the WDFW Columbia Basin Wildlife Area's Priest Rapids Unit.

Link to WDFW area Ownership Map

A WDFW Vehicle Use Permit is required to visit the big erratic.

Sentinel Gap and Surrounding Points of Interest

1. John Wayne Trail
2. Ginkgo State Park
3. West Bar
4. Frenchman Coulee
5. Potholes Coulee
6. Priest Rapids Dam
7. Frenchman Hills
8. Lower Crab Creek Coulee
9. Dry Falls
10. Ephrata Fan
11. Potholes Reservoir
12. Drumheller Channels
13. White Bluffs
14. Hanford Site

Sentinel Gap from Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies sculpture.