Sunday, February 22, 2009

John Wayne Trail - Erratics and Bars

Though not one of my favorite hikes, there are several interesting Ice Age Flood features along the John Wayne Trail south of Vantage, WA.

The U.S. Army controls land on both sides of the trail and DOES NOT allow off trail use. Saturday's hike was 7.4 miles out with a return trip retracing the same stretch of railbed.

This section of trail did rate as a Seattle P.I. Hike of the week: John Wayne Trail

The trail description on the Wikipedia site includes mention of the Ice Age Floods:

"However the trail provides access to the unique geological erosion features of the Channeled Scablands regions of Washington state, and several stretches have been recognized as providing access to this area created by the cataclysmic Missoula Floods that swept periodically across eastern Washington and down the Columbia River Plateau during the Pleistocene epoch."

Open Wikipedia Trail Description page.

Just a short walk from the trailhead to one of the many erratic boulders found along the trail. These large pieces of granite were rafted into the area in icebergs during Ice Age Flood events. Visit nearby Ginkgo State Park to learn more about this area known to geologists as the "Iceberg Graveyard".

Where the Antelope May Soon Play

Here's a clip from a story about plans to relocate antelope to the area:

The most pronghorn-friendly area is from Vantage to the Army’s sprawling Yakima Training Center in part because of its shrub steppe vegetation, Martorello said.

“It’s the best contiguous piece of habitat, and with the rolling hills, it’s perfect for them,” he said.

Antelope Story

When traveling SR243, you may have noticed a large gravel bar a few hundred yards south of Wanapum Dam. This view shows bar from west end. Photo doesn't do it justice - Maybe clicking to enlarge image will help?

This big fella has been shoved around by the Army. The flood sculpted mesa in the distance is an interesting feature.

Flood tumbled rocks from distant places are scattered over the area.

Another gravel bar image that might be more impressive if you click to enlarge. A large portion of this one appears to have been removed during construction of the railroad.

This erratic was uncovered during the excavation of the bar shown above.

This erratic has slid downslope and ended up on the old railbed. The grade doesn't seem steep when walking but the 18 mile 2.2% grade was a tough pull for locomotives. The first link below opens a story about "Helper Engines" that were added to trains making the climb to the summit at Boylston. The second link opens a video that might be interesting to those familiar with the area. Some of the scenes are 1953 footage of this stretch of the Milwaukee Road.

Helper Engines

Railroad Video

An amazing Ice Age Floods feature along the trail is this erratic cluster at 1,248' elevation. Impressive to see these rocks stranded 700' above and several miles from the Columbia River.

I noticed this USGS benchmark on the other side of the trail when standing near the cluster pictured above. Arrow points to granite stone used to support post.

1,248' Benchmark appears on USGS map of the area.

Another shot of the 1,248' cluster.

Large erratic uncovered in railroad cut.

I stopped several times when small colorful rocks caught my eye.

Eagle Scout Neil Cantral organized the development and installation of several interpretive displays along the trail. The panel shown describes Native Americans that have used this stretch of the Columbia River for thousands of years. Other panels tell the story of early miners and pioneers. My personal favorite is one placed near the abandoned town of Doris titled "Basalt Flows and Catastrophic Floods".

After the John Wayne Trail hike, I had time for a couple more short trips in the Vantage area. Later in the day I ended up in Frenchman Coulee looking across the Columbia River wondering ... Just how big is that erratic over there? Maybe I'll find out next Saturday.

Erratic pictured sits in the Whiskey Dick unit of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area.

More information about the John Wayne Trail from the Washington State Park's page:

John Wayne Pioneer Trail

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail follows the former roadbed of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad two-thirds of the way across Washington, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the border with Idaho. The 100-mile portion from Cedar Falls (near North Bend) to the Columbia River near Vantage is managed as Iron Horse State Park. It is open to hikers, bikers, equestrians and horse-drawn wagons in summer, and to snowmobiles, dog sleds and cross-country skiers in winter.

Blue bubble marks trailhead. John Wayne Trail shown with RR track symbol (passes though the RR town of Doris that no longer exists).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rapids, Canyons and Bars

A mid-February trip into the the Cheney-Palouse scabland tract led me to three of Bruce Bjornstad's Ice Age Floods geocache sites.

Click links to open Bruce's geocache pages.

Click any image to enlarge.

Staircase Rapids are a series of basalt cataracts and ledges between Rattlesnake Flat and Washtucna Coulee. Several excellent examples of streamlined Palouse hills are nearby. Note the flood scarped loess hills in the distance.

The streamlined hills of loess are remnants of the loess blanket that covered the entire area prior to the Ice Age Floods.

Huge rock basin cut by floodwaters below the rapids.

In his book "On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods", geologist Bruce Bjornstad quotes J Harlen Bretz:

There is a great extinct rapids extending over three prominent basalt ledges. The water of this cascade (Staircase Rapids) fell 300 feet in three miles."

Bretz (1928)

Rattlesnake Flat is pretty much featurless. The interesting scabland formations are just a short walk south of the trailhead.

This scabland resident didn't make it through the winter.

Trailhead parking on Rattlesnake Flat.

The face of the Palouse hills at left were eroded by the floods. Note the streamlined palouse hill on the right.

The scabland tract is bordered on both sides by rolling hills of Palouse loess.

I was about ready to give up! My GPS told me I was in the right place but I saw no sign of a geocache container. I knew that a cache placed by Bruce would be decent size as he always fills them with interesting pictures and descriptions of Ice Age Floods features in the immediate area. Right after I snapped this photo I noticed a sliver of white plastic in the nearby talus.

I didn't leave it like this. I covered it up just like the last visitor ... I only left a small piece in view. Don't give up!

Photo by Bruce Bjornstad

After visiting Staircase Rapids, I drove south to Washtucna Coulee, then down the coulee to the town of Kahlotus. I wanted to visit Bruce's geocache in Devil's Canyon. This canyon was cut when floodwaters overtopped the south rim of Washtucna Coulee and flowed south to the Snake River. This is very similar to the Palouse River capture a few miles east.

Unfortunatly for the railroad builders, the Ice Age Floods failed to cut the south rim of Washtucna Coulee all the way to the coulee floor. They were forced to bore a 2,000'+ tunnel through the basalt to run trains between Washtucna Coulee and Devil's Canyon. This flood cut canyon is impressive! Five miles long and dropping 400 feet from Washtucna Coulee to the Snake River in a straight line.

It's a long haul to the light at the end of this abandoned railroad tunnel. Once through the tunnel it was just a short hike and scramble up a slope to the second Bjornstad geocache of the day.

Upper Devil's Canyon. (View from road)

Off to geocache #3 near the Lake Sacajawea Flood Bar

This aerial photo by Bruce Bjornstad shows one of largest depositional features left by the Ice Age Floods. The massive Lake Sacajawea Bar is divided into two parts, a pendant bar and an eddy bar. For those that appreciate huge gravel bars ... You've got to see it to believe it ... This thing is 400 feet tall.

Another image by Bruce Bjornstad of the Lake Sacajawea Bar.

The light-colored band shown in photo is exposed at several locations along the bar. This material would have settled out during slackwater conditions.

Image by Bjornstad. This photo and caption below are part of a document Bruce has posted on the Ice Age Floods Institute site: Lake Sacajawea Flood Bar

Near the top of the eddy bar is a sequence of slackwater flood rhythmites containing the Mount St. Helens “S”ash layer, dated at 15,000 calendar years B.P. Flow-direction indicators (arrow) again suggest these deposits were laid down as the last Ice-Age floods swirled around in a large eddy at this location.

Some of the material plastered into the flood bar is colorful.

The third and final geocache of the day is located just west of the huge bar along the Snake River.

Bruce is always good about keeping the containers stocked with Ice Age Floods Institute brochures.

Blue bubbles on map below mark geocache sites. Click bubbles for more info and images.

The map is active. Use controls to move around and zoom. The Streamlined Palouse Hills are interesting if you zoom in on the Staircase Rapids area in the terrain view.

Here's another shot at the same links I posted above. Click links to learn more about each of these Ice Age Floods features.

Click links to open Bruce's geocache pages.