Racehorse Landslide Fossil Beds- big rockfall; trail is brushed out

George Mustoe (WWU Geology Department) visited the famous Chuckanut fossils in the Racehorse Fossil Beds a few days ago. He sends a report  on trail access. (If you aren’t familiar with this place up the Nooksack east of Bellingham, this is the site of the 2009 landslide that exposed the 11-inch-wide foot prints of the 300 pound, 7-foot-tall flightless bird Diatryma, and a host of other animal tracks and plant fossils from the 55-million-year-old Chuckanut Formation. Directions follow George’s trail report. There are many reports on this website about the fossils and the landslide. Go to the older posts and pages.

George’s report:

The largest of the blocks in the 2013 rockfall.

The largest of the blocks in the 2013 rockfall. Click to enlarge any image.

A few days ago I went to Racehorse slide with Gary Coye. We took some gardening tools, and trimmed branches that had grown up along the way trail. There’s presently a clear trail route all they way up from the parking area to the ridge crest, at least until the branches grow back. As for driving, the gravel road is the best I’ve ever seen it in terms of being smooth. This is the first time I’ve been to the slide this year, and I was surprised to see the big rockfall on the scarp face that  must have happened this past winter. I’m attaching some photos, Some of the biggest rocks came from the top edge of the cliff, and carried down intact vegetation. You can see Gary standing on one of the largest blocks, and the scar on the face where the rockfall originated.

The 2013 rock fall came from the upper end of the vertical landslide scarp.

The 2013 rock fall came from the upper end of the vertical landslide scarp.

How to get there:

Google Earth scren capture, looking south

Google Earth scren capture, looking south

These directions are current as of June 23, 2013. Drive the Mount Baker Highway east from I-5 in Bellingham 17 miles to the junction with Mosquito Lake Road. Turn south (right). Cross the North Fork Nooksack, and turn left on the North Fork Road. Set your odometer to 0.0 here. This paved road eventually becomes gravel. You will notice some big blocks and hummocky terrain along the road at about 2.2 miles, the hallmarks of landslides. These are the deposit of a large prehistoric landslide that reached the Nooksack, dwarfing the 2009 slide. The hillsides above  have slid multiple times since the end of the last glacial period, and the mountain itself is called ‘Slide Mountain’. Follow the mainline to a major junction immediately before the bridge across Racehorse Creek, 4.1 miles. Turn right on this gravel logging road, and begin climbing. In about 0.2 mile, you may note a trailhead on the left, with parking on the right. This goes through the woods a couple of hundred yards to the rubble-choked course of Racehorse Creek. A quick trip out this trail reaches the stream. You can walk up-stream a few hundred yards to the lovely multi-tiered water fall.

Continue up the road beyond the trailhead. You will pass  a few side roads, but stay on the main line. Turn sharp left  5.1 miles from Mosquito Lake Road. This left turn is just after a white ’1′ painted on a tall tree on the right, in a clump of woods. The road switchbacks up; pass a couple of minor semi-overgrown spurs to the left.  and is blocked at a fork 5.7 miles from Mosquito Lake Road. 48° 52.295’N, 122° 7.455’W. Walk up the left fork, blocked by deep ditches and mounds of gravel; a trail passes around the right side of these obstacles. Walk up the road 100 yards to the next switchback swinging to the right, next to a high pile of logs. Here is where you take a path into the clearcut, just as the road swings right. The elevation is approximately 1450′, and there is a nice view out to Kendall and the North Fork from here. The entire field trip is on Washington State Department of Natural Resources timber lands. Total driving time from Bellingham is less than an hour. Please consider taking some pruners with you to help keep the trail open, especially where it leaves the road.

The trail reaches the now overgrown landslide debris field in a hundred yards. Here is where to start looking for plant fossils in the broken shards of rock. This is a small ‘overspill’ of the January 2009 landslide. The slide scarp is up the slope and out of site beyond the skyline ridge crest. Pick your way up the ;landslide slope around fallen trees, rock blocks and brush to the skyline, about 200 feet higher. Now you can see the rock face of the scarp to the right, and the upper part of the deposit in the basin below you. The main body of the slide went to the left (east) and down into Racehorse Creek.

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One Response

  1. Hello! I was just referred to your website and I’m already loving it! I’ve been tasked with teaching a high school geology class next semester (starts in one week!) and I have no materials, textbook, curriculum, activities, or labs. I’m freaking out! If anyone has materials to share and/or helpful suggestions I sure would appreciate it! 🙂

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