By Dave Tucker. December 12, 2009
These erratics are close enough to Bellingham that you can walk, ride a bike, or take the bus.
The Donovan Avenue erratic
The Arroyo Park erratic (scroll down)
THE DONOVAN AVENUE ERRATIC, BELLINGHAM
This conglomerate erratic is at the east end of Donovan Avenue in Bellingham. It is from the mid-Cretaceous Jackass Mountain Group, eroded by Cordilleran ice from the Cascade Range in southern BC. These rocks can be seen in the Fraser River canyon north of Hope, BC, and along the road opposite the lodge at Manning Provincial Park. The large rounded pebbles in the conglomerate are primarily volcanic and plutonic rocks eroded from the continent and deposited on a submarine fan close to the coast of North America. The accretion of younger terranes has moved the continental coast increasingly further west than the location when the sediments forming these rocks were deposited. The boulder was blasted apart in 1965 during construction of I-5. The Skagit River Journal historical website has this photo of the boulder prior to freeway construction. There are other erratics of the same rock in Bellingham. If you visited the rock in place, say at Manning Park, you’d find that the weathered rock can be broken with a hammer. George Mustoe provided a series of photos, Boulder blasting, 1965, of the Donovan erratic being dynamited. Sorry I missed it.
Some locals have long maintained that this rock is a meteorite. That would make it the ultimate erratic! Alas, not true.
Significance of this site: The presence of Jackass conglomerate here indicates that the last glaciation that reached this far south (or further, as we know it did) had an ice component that came out of the interior of BC via the Fraser River, rather than simply being overgrown alpine glaciers from the west flank of the BC Coast Mountains.
Getting there: From I-5, take the Fairhaven Parkway- Alaska Ferry- Chuckanut Drive exit [#250]and head west toward Fairhaven. Turn right at the light on 30th Street and head north three blocks to Donovan. Turn right. At the intersection with 32nd Street, find a place to park and walk 100 feet east to the obvious erratic at the end of the dead end. It is on the edge of a private yard, so act accordingly.
From the rest of the world [i.e., Bellingham], find Donovan Avenue in Fairhaven-Happy Valley neighborhoods and go to the extreme east end, across 32nd Street, where it dead ends at the freeway. WTA bus #105 stops at the corner of 32nd and Donovan.
The Donovan conglomerate erratic is hard and rounded, difficult to break with a hammer except on an edge left from blasting. Why might there be such a difference in apparent hardness? Probably, because abrasion during transport by the ice removed any relatively soft, weathered exterior rock, leaving the indurated, unfractured interior.
The wonderful ‘Levitating Sphere’ sculpture is made from the Donovan Erratic, and can be found in front of Kulshan Hall at Whatcom Community College. A perfect, polished 39-inch sphere of conglomerate weighing 3000 pounds is set into a water-filled semi-spherical cup- the base rock, also Jackass Conglomerate, weighs 7000 pounds. The bowl diameter is less than 1 millimeter larger than the sphere. The sphere “levitates” in the bowl, suspended in the thin film of water, and can rotate at the press of your finger. The sculpture was made in 2003 by “Seattle Solstice”. Go to their webpage, click ‘portfolio’ and then visit ‘works in progress’. The upper of the two images on the left shows the work in progress on the obviously out of date website.
Getting there : A short hike is required to get to this erratic. Arroyo Park is on the south edge of Bellingham, at the foot of the Chuckanut Mountains, along the Interurban Trail. Find your way to Chuckanut Drive (WA Highway 11) in Fairhaven at the south end of town, and head south. From the traffic light at the south end of the Padden Creek bridge, veer slightly left at the school; one mile from the light, turn left at the Y intersection with Old Samish Road. Park on the right after a hundred yards, and take the trail into the ravine of Chuckanut Creek. Follow the trail, staying left, and continue east another hundred yards to the footbridge over the creek. Cross and hike up the hill. Turn left at the first signed trail junction: “Lost Lake 4.1 miles”. This is the Hemlock Trail. Continue up hill on this trail- in less than 200 yards you’ll come onto a prominent bench, and you can’t miss the big old erratic off to your left- a trail goes to it. Please leave your hammer and spray paint at home!
You can also get there by hiking or riding 1 mile down the Interurban Trail from Fairhaven Parkway. The trailhead is halfway between I-5 exit 250 and the commercial center of Fairhaven.