I was missing a photo for my book, Geology Underfoot in Western Washington. Deadline for the final revision was in two days. In one vignette (that is Mountain Press Publishing-ese for ‘chapter’) I describe the Osceola Mudflow, the huge Mount Rainier lahar that swept into the Puget Lowland 5700 years ago. I needed a photo to illustrate the Osceola exposure at the last field stop in the White River valley on the east side of Mount Rainier. I couldn’t use just any old lahar photo, though. It had to be on location, a place I knew about from Pat Pringle, author of Roadside Geology of Mount Rainier National Park and Vicinity. (Which you all own, right? Right?)
When I left Bellingham last Sunday, December 7, I knew the White River Road was closed for the winter. My friend Scott Linneman and I loaded mountain bikes on my car Dusty’s rack and headed south at 6 AM. One hundred and eighty miles farther, we reached the gate across Washington 410 at the turn off to Crystal Mountain Ski Area. This was a bit further away from the Sunrise Road junction than I had anticipated, So we rode up hill on the absolutely deserted state highway for 4.3 miles to the turnoff. It was just above freezing but sunny- not that we saw much of the sun through the trees. After grunting up the road, we rode up the paved Sunrise Road, following the White River toward Mount Rainier. Well before we got to the destination at the bridge over Fryingpan Creek, the road became covered with ice, first black ice from snow melt, then with centimeter-thick crust of snow on ice. Made for some, er, interesting riding. At one point, I literally slid sideways on a nearly imperceptibly banked section. But we made it, a total of 8.5 miles on the bikes from the car. By then there was snow covering all the north-facing road cuts, and much of the south-facing ones. I knew the exposure in the road cut I wanted to photograph faced south, so I didn’t panic (too much) as the snow became more continuous.
Scott Linneman is awestruck at this jaw-dropping exposure of the Osceola Mudflow; this will be a field stop in geology Underfoot in Western Washington.
But- where is it? That can’t be it. Can it? That partially snow-covered nondescript dirt bank with some trees growing out of it? Comparing the place with the one in Pat’s book, we reluctantly agreed that it was. Same boulders. His photo shows a pinkish matrix of clay and sand with some boulders. And a young woman for scale. We saw no young woman. We saw no pink, just dark brown frozen clay with a carpet of hemlock needles. “Well, that’s just no good!” I groused. We walked across the Fryingpan Creek bridge and found some other exposures of the Osceola, but even less appealing. We walked 1/10 mile out the Wonderland Trail thinking maybe something out there. Nope, just snow trees. I mean, what do you really expect in the woods at 3800′ in December? So, back to the original exposure. Brush off some needles. Look more closely. Maybe the flash will help the photo. Then, I waxed philosophical. Lahar deposits are poorly suited for good geologic exposures. They are easily eroded, and are good substrate for trees and bushes. The only ones I know of are in stream cutbanks and road cuts, relatively freshly exposed. So of course I can’t really expect a stunning photo of such a deposit. And lahar deposits by their very nature are unprepossessing just mud, sand and rocks. I could include the unimpressive lahar photo after all and explain why they are so hard to find. So, took a number of photos, and headed back. Another 8.5 miles to the car. But the final part of that was a fast down Washington 410 for over 4 miles on very smooth pavement. Made it all worthwhile. And the sun was shining. And only 180 miles to go to get back home.
Lahar deposit detail at Stop 3 in Vignette 9 of Geology Underfoot in Western Washington.
10 hours, 360 miles driving, 17 miles on bikes. One photo for the book. Special thanks to Professor Scott Linneman for his patience, enthusiasm and great company.
Filed under: Geology field trips, Geology guide books, Geology Underfoot in Western Washington, lahars and debris flows, Mount Rainier National Park geology | Tagged: geology fieldtrips, geology in Washington, geology photography, Geology Underfoot, Geology Underfoot in Western Washington, lahar deposit, Osceola lahar, Osceola mudflow, Pat Pringle, Roadside Geology of Mount Rainier National Park and Vicinity, Scott Linneman, southwest Washington geology | 7 Comments »