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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rock and Road Trip , Part 1 - Friday

I few months ago a co-worker told me about Stonerose Interpretive Center in Republic. http://www.stonerosefossil.org/

This site is the remains of an Eocene (50 million years ago) lake bed. For a very small fee you can enter the site, dig and retain 3 fossil specimens. All you need is a light hammer and a chisel tool. The center rents tools and gives an introduction on how to look for items, including the all important cracking open the stone layers.

It had my interest immediately and became the goal of my journey.

My trip got off to a great start and a smile with this poster at the filling pumps. What is not to love. A trip to Eastern Washington is sure to present plenty of bugs for splay analysis

A majority of eastern Washington was shaped by the massive event known as the Bretz Floods. These floods , forty events it is believed, occurred over a 2500 year span at the end of the last ice age. A massive ice dam in northwest Montana gave way and released water from the ancient Lake Missoula. Lake is a misnomer as at the time it was more a glacial sea. The massive volumes of water scoured out much of the eastern half of the state and punched its way to what is now the greater Portland area. Massive boulders, known as erratics can be found in the Willamette Valley from as far away as the north half of Idaho. The concept of the floods, established by J Harlen Bretz in the 1920's. He did not have the advantage of airborne observation but was able to map and observe and establish his theory of the catastrophic floods and how they shaped the landscape. He worked his lifetime to establish the details of these events. Today, photos from space clearly show the effect of these floods.

The floods scoured out much of the basalt and washed soils away, leaving the Channeled Scablands. The flood also punched paths through hills and mountains. Today's course of the Columbia River was largely determined by how the different rock foundations resisted or relented against these floods. The book "Fire, Faults and Floods" by Marge and Ted Mueller is a wonderful lesson in this history and presents road trips to actually see the geology. There are also NOVA and NATURE programs that have been done on the subject. Having a basic understanding of the forces that shaped the area, such as pictured below, has made being here a great lesson in natures force.

My first stop is at Vantage, where I-90 crosses the Columbia River. There is a wonderful sculpture there called Grandfather Cuts Loose The Ponies. Set high on a bench, this work depicts the release of horses by the Creator as a gift to the Native People. I had not visited this site in sometime and I am saddened to say that it has fallen prey to those who cannot resist graffiti and littering. It is a shame that art telling the story of creation in such an ancient place has fallen to such disrespect. I would love to show you detailed pictures of the artists work but I do not wish to present the art with its sad additions.

I love the trip east through Grant County. They proudly tell you, with signs , all about their agriculture. "Highest potato producing county in the US!" (take that Idaho) Along the freeway fences there are signs that tell you what crop is growing... garden beans, sweet corn!!!!! , wheat alfalfa, alfalfa, alfalfa, Timothy hay, green manure (???!?) Now I always thought green manure was a by-product of some of the preceding crops. but it turns out it is a term for a crops like pea and clover used to nitrogen fix the soil and/or suppress weeds. It is plowed under to enrich and increase water retention.

Moses Lake and the Potholes are the north end of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Refuge. This complex is made up of many channeled scabland areas with a large number of lakes ponds and marshes. It is a year round bird refuge and a popular place for water recreation. You can meander the back roads finding pockets of life and surprises.

There are seeds everywhere. Grasses, shrubs and flowers. This beautiful Showy Milkweed caught my eye. Soft as can be, like goose down

Great Egret are currently the most noticeable bird. They should be on the move soon. Little pocket ponds are an oasis of green in this area

White Pelican also gather and make great use of the wet areas of eastern Washington.

South of Moses Lake , the Potholes are a maze of cut canyons with water pockets. They stretch south to Othello. Every Spring Othello has a Sandhill Crane Festival which celebrates these wonderful wetlands and the returning birds of Spring. To see a flock of thousands of Sandhills flying into a canyon is something to be seen and heard in person.

Continuing east the variety of crops give way to WHEAT. Rolling hills of wheat. I stayed in Ritzville, the county seat of Grant county. To be out in this area is to be solitary. The county population is ~17000. less than 10 people per square mile. Areas are large, distances pass quickly. It was full moon and even though clouds were rolling in, I jumped on a chance for a picture.

My camera does not do justice to the beauty but I hope it conveys the simple "loneness" of the area.


  1. You make me want to visit Washington State. Since I hate flying, that is not likely. So, I love seeing the state through your eyes. It's so different from our gentle area, yet, in many ways, just the same.


  2. Thanks Louise. I know some Fall I am going to be knocking on your door as I journey through the NE looking for all that Fall Color we don't have here.

    One word


    The Potholes is great kayaking ;-)

  3. I was driving home from Virginia a few days ago, with a friend. She's already retired, and I'm done with work at the end of the year. We were discussing all of the wonderful places that we have not seen in New York State, and talking of taking many day trips. So, maybe then, I'll create a blog of my own, to share the sights in what I have always considered a very beautiful state.