Posts Tagged ‘natural history’

If You Were a Superhero

January 18, 2010

If you were a superhero- what would your powers be ?  I have always been impressed by echinoderms as they harness the powers of water to leap over small boulders,  pry apart shells and stick to vertical or inverted surfaces.  Ok, maybe leap is not the right word- crawl.

Touch tank 3, Marine Exhibit, Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Ft. Worden State Park, Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

I am regular a volunteer for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.  I am on the “home crew”.  I do maintenance every Tuesday morning with a small crew of other volunteers.  We range in age from 20’s to 70’s.  That means I go in the morning and help keep the aquariums health and the critters taken care of.  That involves scrubbing, siphoning detritus and feeding the critters.  We usually do it to the sound of some soundtrack or discussion about current events.  The best part is watching nature unfold in front of us.  This includes births and deaths.  We watched an octopus lay 2000 eggs- Ruby the East Pacific Red octopus.  She died just last week- that is what they do naturally after laying eggs.   We have watched the Giant Pacific octopus come out of her brick-shelter and eat a Squat lobster with much enthusiasm.

Sometimes it is the little details that I find amazing.  Every marine creature has its own specialized adaptations that allow its species to compete and thrive in the marine environment- by the way, which makes up 99 percent of earth’s habit.  It such a foreign environment to most of us that is hard to understand our marine critters.  We also don’t spend much energy on learning about them.  The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cite that we only know about 275,000 marine species and that we have only explored 5% of our Earth’s oceans.  I find the adaptation of the taxonomic group (phylum) Echinodermata- absolutely fascinating.

What is the difference between adaptation and acclimation?  If it is hot during the summer where I live, my body will have to acclimate to the difference.  When I hike tall mountains in low oxygen, my body will have to acclimate and my blood will be thicker. All creatures have a range they can live in and the ability to acclimate a little depending on the species.  If Earth’s conditions changed dramatically, our species will likely adapt over time.  That will only happen if our species has the right stuff- combination of DNA and the resulting attributes that help people survive.  We could also get lucky and new DNA will arise as a result of random mutation.  They key is how quick your generations can turn over as to how quick those mutations show-up in large enough numbers to compete.  That’s right, smaller life forms have it easy- bacteria, fruit flies, etc.  Yep- that is right we are lucky to be here.

I chose to start my feeding rounds with the Red urchins last Tuesday.  Urchins can be found in the San Juan Islands- as well as other places.  They eat Bull kelp as well as other algae.  You can think of them as the undersea equivalent of a lumberjack in a kelp forest.  Their natural predators are Sea otters.  We feed them little squares of kelp as well.

I lower the kelp into the water and hold it next to the urchin.  Almost immediately I see little red tentacles waving in the water toward the kelp.  I put it closer and they have a hold of the kelp and begin pulling it tighter.  I do this for the other dozen or so urchins- greens too.  I look back to where I started and see the kelp has nearly disappeared underneath the urchin’s body.   They look slow but they are steady and certainly persistent!

Urchins are members of the phylum Echinodermata.  As an echinoderm they pull in water to fill a specialized system.  You can think of them as the caterpillar tractors with all their hydraulic hoses that move the bucket arms around.  The specialized system is series of tubes with pumps called the water vascular system.  These tentacles I am witnessing are actually tube-feet that extend out from within the skeleton and through the skin.  With more pressure they extend and retract.  There are still conventional muscles that do the pumping and guiding.  These tube feet are handy in keeping the place tidy as others try to make a home among the spines and also for feeding apparently.  Everything found is headed to the mouth- yum, yum.

I can’t help but wonder how the urchin is even aware the kelp is there.  If you know urchins it is likely they don’t know you because they have no eyes.  That must mean that they are chemically sensing the “taste” of the nearby algae.  Where are the receptors?  On their tube-feet?  In the main body?   I don’t recall them having a tongue.  How does the tiny molecular signature of the kelp can travel through the water and alert the urchin?  How close does it need to be for them to sense it?  Wow what a superpower!  I will to have answers those questions another day.

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Sedges Have Edges

December 8, 2009

What isn’t there to get excited about sedges?

Quimper Wildlife Corridor, trailhead off Cook Ave/Elmira St, west of Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, E. Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

On a recent walk with docents from the Jefferson Land Trust, I discovered some great wetlands of the North Quimper Peninsula within a 20 minute bike ride or easily accessed from the #14 Jefferson Transit bus.  I was among at least a dozen others that came to explore the “Interconnections of the Forest”.

The Quimper Wildlife Corridor is a stretch of mostly undeveloped land stretching all across the North Quimper Peninsula. The 3.5-miles of native vegetation include a series of wetlands that make up a natural drainage corridor leading to Chinese Gardens near Fort Worden State Park.

The Jefferson Land Trust views the Quimper Wildlife Corridor as a great community asset, one that permanently preserves places for humans and wildlife.  There is more information about the project at their website.

We walk into the forest and our guide points out that it is likely that natives of the area maintained open fields of grasses with burning.  We did find a rather large Douglas fir that has been aged to near 500 years (though its height would have one guess younger).  It is obvious by the diameter of the surrounding Doug firs that the rest of the forest is much younger.

Our first stop is a small pocket wetland.  It isn’t what you might think- open expanse of water surrounded by a variety of native plants.  This wetland doesn’t have water at the moment but likely has at other times of the year or in recent years.  Wetlands were once known by other names such as bogs, swamps, marshes, estuaries and other river or lake shorelines.

When you look at the different kinds of vegetation, this area is markedly different.  Our tall conifers that shade the forest in the winter have given way to primarily deciduous “leafy” trees including willows and alders.  The undergrowth that was just recently salal bushes have transitioned to grass-like plants.  The first that come to my hands have long blades and runs nearly to my mid-thigh (about 3 ft from the ground).  Ok, I know that not all plants with long green blades without obvious flowers are grasses.

I think back to what my botany and naturalist friends would say: “Sedges have edges/Rushes are round/Grasses have nodes from the top to the ground”.  What a neat naturalist trick.

I reach down and feel the blade- sure enough it has very sharp edges and the docent confirms that it is a sedge. What is really meant by edges is that the stem is triangular.  I look at the blade closer and notice the underside is also very rough and likely has a high proportion of glass-like particles within the cell walls.  Sedges have been traditionally used as weaving materials for mats and chair seats.  The pith from one species was actually used as paper; “paprus”.  There are over 100 types of sedge and I am not looking close enough within the constrains of the walk-and-talk offered by the docent to note significant characteristics of this one for proper ID.

We walk through the trails that will eventually connect to ones that are part of Cappy’s Trails woods.  We stop a couple more times to see a couple more wetlands including Winona wetland off Bell and Emerald Streets.

I scan the trees for raptors and look for other signs of wildlife.  I don’t immediately find anything from my quick survey.

What is exciting is there are so many different kinds of vegetation and habitats.  Where you have transitions from one habitat to another, you tend to have the highest concentration of biodiversity.  More different habitat types mean more potential for different types of plants and critters; different soil chemistry and water saturation. There are more places to take shelter, find your food and the type of space you prefer.  This sudden arrival of sedges and new types of tree promises to attract critters to what they need as well- water.  The fact that these wetlands are not to far from one another and the forest is not overly developed, yet provides for a nice pathway or corridor for wildlife to move from one place to another.

I am happy to have discovered this section of the peninsula.

My question that grabs me now is how often to do these wetlands see standing water?  When was the last time there was water?  If the climate continues to change, how will these wetlands change?  What effect would that have one the movement of wildlife through this area?  I am accumulating more questions than I have time to answer- yet again for another time (rainy day)…

Winged Migration- a Wonder of the World

November 30, 2009

Witnessing part of winged migration is always a highlight of my fall and winter visits to Roswell, New Mexico.

Unit 3, Middle Tract, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Bitter Lakes Road off US 285, Roswell, Chavez County, New Mexico, USA.   Nov 27, 6:45 am.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife refuge covers over 24 thousand acres on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and the southern plains of New Mexico.  It is also at the bottom of the “central flyway” for migratory birds.  It is the first major wetland the birds migrating from Northern Canada, Alaska, the Arctic and coastal Siberia encounter where the water remains open all winter.  Birds follow the central flyway along the Rocky Mountain range until they encounter warmer climes for the winter.

Straddling the Pecos River and positioned overtop the seeping Artesian water aquifer, there is water  habitat available for marsh birds, ducks, geese, gulls, terns, shorebirds as well as eagles, hawks and falcons.

The morning of November 27th promised to provide us with many great wildlife viewing opportunities.  Upon driving into the refuge it was hard to ignore the loud, rattling, “Kar-r-r-o-o-o!”.   The shallow lakes that dot the refuge are dotted by thousands of birds of all shapes and sizes including the Lesser Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis Canadensis. “Karooo” is occasionally punctuated by the sounds of hunters as the season for cranes, geese and ducks started the end of October.

Lesser Sandhill cranes are the smallest of the three subspecies at about 3-3 ½ feet tall with a wingspan of just over 5 ft.  They are known for their grey plumage and red foreheads.  It is thought that the Sandhill crane species has been around anywhere from 2.5- 10 million years.  That is over two times longer than next closest bird species.  They are expert soarers and hold their neck straight and legs back in flight.

We found a nice overlook and pulled out cameras and binoculars.  The assortment of water habitats are surrounded by the native grasslands, sand dunes, brushy bottomlands and small plateaus.  We hear a coyote barking in the distance and wait for the dusky-red sun to rise.  Soon it is obvious that the cranes are readying in the daily movement from the wetlands out to the surrounding fields to forage for grains and invertebrates.  Their great wing beats are like a dance as they stand in a foot or two of water.

Soon, many of the individual birds circling the ponds are forming into v-shaped flocks and are flying to the south along the river.  The flocks range in size from 8 to 45+.

These birds were once breeding, feeding and growing their chicks in the far north.   Some birds will remain here for the winter while others will disperse as far south as Northern Mexico.  Another refuge in Muleshoe, Texas boasts larger numbers.  A census count on Nov 19 counted 20,050 Lesser Sandhill cranes on the refuge and 765 off-refuge.  Sandhill cranes are the most abundant crane in North America.

It is a good hour after sunrise before any major activity of the thousands of birds in front of us.  Just as we are preparing to leave, a huge area of birds takes to the air.  It is hard to tell how the flocks are forming.  At a distance it seems more like a swarm or thin, dark cloud.  As they approach it seems like there have been several large flocks forming and some arms that stretch out to nearly 100 birds.  I managed to shoot a little video of this amazing fly over.


Lesser Sandhill Crane Flight

I would like to come back here and do some more focused observations.  It is hard not to get caught-up in the bigger picture event.  It is amazing to think that this movement of birds to the outlining fields happens every morning yet there are few people here to witness it, except hunters and an occasional birder or photographer and his dog.

I wonder what the cranes do in preparation for flying.  I noticed some wing-flapping and strutting among several birds.  Is this part of the routine or non-related?  Once aloft, what are the mechanics for flock formation?  What cues are they using?  I understand the cranes migrate in family groups.   Are these groups maintained in the winter?  I also understand that the birds trade the lead position as they draft off each other.  Is this spot available to every bird or just the experienced ones who know where they are going?

Research for another time…

The Forest’s Own Stimulus Package

November 21, 2009

Burnt shells of long-gone giants dot the forest.  Some trunks have blackened “fingers” that reach up from the ground toward the sky.  Forest fire, in Cappy’s Trails, must have changed this landscape at one point.

Trailhead off Holcombe and Hill Street, Cappy’s Trails, Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, E. Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

From where I live, nearly in the middle of the city, I am still constantly reminded that there are still some semi-wild places in the backyard.  At night I can hear the coyotes yipping from within the acreages of undeveloped woods known as Cappy’s Trails.  These woods are bisected with numerous unmarked trails.  To the newcomer, they might seem daunting.  I usually carry a compass just in case.  There are several places to find maps of the place if you just search the internet.  I prefer to just walk and trust that Port Townsend isn’t so big that I won’t be able to find my way back home from where ever I pop out.

Today takes me hiking into the forest, walking in the tradition of the “naturalist approach”.  I haven’t been walking long when I start to recognize a pattern of burned trees among the dominant Douglas fir, Western Red cedar, Grand fir and Red Alder.  Some of the burned trees appear to have been cut prior to burning, while others were clearly still standing when the burned.  One still reaches to the sky.  The rest of the tree has been changed into the carbons and other elements that once made up the tree.  This fire must have been quite a while back for the moss covering the ground in thick blankets among the Salal and Oregon grape bushes hides any remaining evidence.

More and more, as I hike, I encounter groves of Red alder.  I have been told that Red alder are one of the first trees to come back after a disturbance.  The trees stand up to 110’ or 25 meters.  There light grey, smooth bark is encrusted with patches of whitish lichens.  The leaves that are still on the tree, have turned a pale yellow.  Most have fallen.  They are broadly elliptical with wavy “toothed” margins.  Here and there on the forest floor or on ferns fronds are the clusters of cones that make up the male parts.  Each is about 2 cm long.  Alus rubra (Red alder) have been known to have bacterial associates among their roots.  The bacteria, along with the tree, make small nodules for the bacteria to live in and then begin capturing nitrogen from the air (nitrogen fixation) and fixing it into organic compounds.  In these forests nitrogen is rare and will limit the growth of a forest- especially one that has been disturbed by fires, logging, floods, development, etc.  That would make the alder much like the Red Cross volunteers of the forest.  That was how I always remembered this interesting fact.

This forest has likely been cleared before as much of the peninsula has and might face the same fate in the future.  The land is platted for development and daily the sounds of construction encroach at the margins.  Yet, there are still some folks out there such as the Jefferson Land Trust that hope to purchase and protect parts of those woods.

I am still curious about this strange living situation that the Actinomycete bacteria have with the alder.  How does the bacteria know that it has encountered an alder and how does it stimulate the tree to grow?  Does it have to be just an alder or can it be done with other trees?  Do the alders have this associate when they are seedlings or is it later?  What process allows these bacteria to fix nitrogen, if this is such a rare process?  The small but important mysteries have captured me for the moment…

Winter Birds in Winter Gales

November 16, 2009

The chimes ring, the house shakes, the aspen branches scrape the skylights.

Off San Juan Ave, Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, E. Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

Last night gave residents of Port Townsend gusts of 47 mph (maybe even higher).   It is a reminder that we live on a peninsula and that the weather (and winds) have some to time to build before hitting us.  I recall winters of 2007 and 2008 being similarly windy (though wind is certainly not limited to the winter).  Tonight’s forecast is for winds up to 50 mph.

This morning, the wind began to let up and I was lured into the thought that I would go on a bike ride (there is nothing more I hate than riding my bike in the wind).  I stood at the front door gazing through the windows and debating this idea when it struck me- there were countless birds flying about from branch to branch.  The flocked was mixed with nuthatches and other species whose names I couldn’t remember.  Their activity seemed quite more active than I have recently seem.  In fact, it struck me that this was the most small bird activity I have seen in a while.

I instantly interpreted that the birds have been roosting in safe spots for long enough to really work up an appetite.  It has been a couple of days since we have really had fairly calm weather.  Birds have amazing feather diversity to insulate themselves from wind and water (assuming the feathers are clean and oiled).  Some birds can even slow down their metabolism and enter a period of near-hibernation (torpor) for short periods of time.

What is the threshold for birds to wait for better flying conditions?  Is there a ratio of bird weight to wind speed?  How long can a bird survive without eating- relying on its reserves?

I did go on that ride in the lull of wind (though that was the cue for the rain to take over).  I was especially thankful today to the goose that provided the down for my vest.  Maybe torpor would have been a better strategy for me than riding my bike in the pouring rain.

Sands of Change at Ft. Worden State Park

November 13, 2009

When you come from a place like Southeastern New Mexico, where the ground gently rolls for hundreds of miles, covered by clumps of grasses and cacti, one can’t help but obsess over the grandeur of the landscape in WA.  Just when you think you have it all figured out, you come across something new.

NE corner of bluff off of campgrounds, Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend, Quimper Peninsula, E. Jefferson County, Washington State, USA.

I was walking along the shore, taking in the early winter waves as they crashed on the beach, when the bluff caught my eye.  It seemed so naked compared with the rest of the area (covered in vegetation).  I couldn’t help myself- I had to see what stories were being told.

DSC02574I could see many different layers in the near-vertical wall including colors from shades of gray to black to reddish.  Some of the layers seemed to be quite mixed in size and shape of stones.  One layer looked like it was mostly clay (apparently a popular place to sign-in by some- “I was here!”).  The one layer that really caught my eye seemed to be lots of layers that were compressed together.  The layers were really dark and crumbled easily.  It seemed like organic remains from plants.  Could this be the “peat” that the PTMSC Natural History Exhibit was describing?  Apparently, much of WA was quite a tropical place (hard to imagine on a blustery mid-40’s day).  The early Tertiary period was a time of humid swamps lining the early Puget Sound (in that time it was higher and covered much of the basin including Seattle).  These swamps were later covered by the sediments from erosion of the newly formed North Cascades and later the Olympics.  Again the forces of landscape carving would bring more sediment in front of a ¾ mile thick bulldozer and compactor.  The swamps beds were compressed and layered underneath loads of sediment and glacial ice. 

The “Ice Age” or Pleistocene began roughly 2.2 million years ago and as late as 1.6 million years ago began pushing ice into our backyards.  This inching advancement and retreat lasted till about 12,000 years ago.  During this period, lobes are arms of glacier advanced and retreated as many as four times, leaving us with freshly-carved Salish Sea and tons of sediment and boulders from foreign lands (mostly Canada).  I think it is fun to try to imagine both humid swamps and ice sheets in about 50 feet of bluff soil.

DSC02560As I stand at the base of the bluff I am reminded that this soil is still moving (the waves are now lapping at my feet).  Much of this bluff is constantly eroding from wave action.  Right now the waves are coming from the west with the wind off the ocean.  That means that any soil coming down will be swept along the beach and down around Point Wilson, where the light house stands.  I know that the wind doesn’t always come from that direction.  Sometimes it comes from the SE.  If I were to follow a grain of sand, how far would I travel this winter?  What would be my average direction?  What about other seasons.  How long would it take to be swept out to sea and onto the continental shelf?  Adventures for another age…

Winter Birds at Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park

November 11, 2009

DSC02537Kah Tail Lagoon Nature Park, off Sims Way and Jefferson Transit Park and Ride, Port Townsend, E. Jefferson County, Washington state

Sunny days are hard to come by in the winter and so when the opportunity presents itself, I must oblige and get out!  Where can I go fast and explore as a naturalist: Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park of course.

I pack up my naturalist’s journal, camera and binocs and walk the trail from the parking lot of the Food Co-op and walk along the water.  Immediately I begin spotting birds out on the lake.  Most are out in the middle of the lake.  I can see some of them diving.  There is an occasional flock or two along the shore, though most don’t seem interested in me.  I am not carrying anything that looks like food.

Peering out over the water, I notice that the majority of the ducks are Mallards and Ruddy Ducks.  The Ruddy Ducks are in their winter plumage.  The males are easy to spot with their conspicuous white cheeks and their long tail, held up like a ski jump.

The male Mallards always strike me with their metallic green head and neck in contrast to the yellow bill.  They sure are “screaming” for the most particular female. 

Also found were an occasional Buffelhead.  They are actively foraging for food- diving and resurfacing within the minute in a new location. I think back to a recent beach hike, when nearly all I saw were Bufflehead.  They are in their winter range now.

I walk over to the smaller pond that feeds the main lagoon with salt water from a buried pipe.  Apparently this is where it is at.  Not sure what it is but I hope to find out.  The pond is pretty busy with Mallards and American Wigeons.  The wigeons are new to me so I can post-field ID them with my sketches I made in my journal.  The short bluish-white bill with a dark underside and tip are a ringer.  The individuals with the dark, iridescent green eye-patch are apparently breeding males.  According to my field guide books, they are in their winter range.  That is great news, so I hope to see them on my next walk through Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park!

After learning a little more about my neighbors in the lagoon, I can’t help but wonder when they started showing up in our area if they spend their time in other places.  Where are they when they are breeding?  How long does it take to fly here?  How often do the birds take breaks?  Do they eat along the way?  Questions for another time…

Change at Anderson Lake

November 9, 2009

North end of Anderson Lake, Junction of Anderson trail and Lakeside trail, Anderson Lake State Park, west of Chimacum on Anderson Lake Rd., east Jefferson County, Washington.

As part of the last field trip for the October “People, Nature and Place” workshop, I assigned all the participants to conduct a longitudinal nature study.  We walked to the northern end of the lake where we could access a variety of zones by trail, starting at the shore and going back into the woods.  The LNS is a study that will take place over the next 12 months and will be an intensive observation of a one-acre area or “nature spot” near the home or in an accessible place.  Each visit will include recording base-line information and then answering specific questions for each month.

The nature study we started today (Sunday) was a practice run.  The additional question for this round was: observe and record signs of change.

In my 25 minutes I walked from the shore and then back into the woods.  The trees were predominately Red cedar.  Some of my basic observations were; 1) the trail is covered by numerous Big leaf maple leaves (oranges, yellows and reds) as the season changes, 2) some of the leaves are covered with black-speckled spots as they decompose, 3) the trail is really sodden with moisture as we change into winter climate (I pick-up some sandy, loamy soil and squeeze it with my finger tips), 4) a downed Red alder will contribute its minerals and nutrients as it changes form and enriches the soil, 5) lichens covering the alder will help decompose the tree, 6) mushrooms growing out of the leaf litter (Big leaf maple and cedar needles) are aiding decomposition (I do a quick sketch of the overall shape and how the gills attach to the stem of the mushroom), 7) a “nurse-log” in slowing being decomposed into the forest soil (it already has a full blanket of moss over it), 8) a Douglas fir stump shows evidence that this forest has been logged and was changed, 9) Salal bush leaves have been munched-on by insects (large oval and semi-circular chunks out of the margin and centers of the leaves) which fuels the insects’ growth and maturation.

A question that I can answer right now is the nature of these black speckles I notice on the leaves.  Are they fungal in nature?  Could they be something else like viruses?  I think back to botany days and remember terms like rusts and smuts.  I need to look that one up.  How long will it take these organisms to decompose a leaf of the size of Big leaf maple?  Answers for another day.

Olympic Range uplift

October 18, 2009

DSC02360Hurricane Hill trail, Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Clallam County, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

Yesterday was a great day to explore the geography of the high county and how climate affects sub-alpine plants.  The NW winter climate (hard rain) was giving us its best.  As part of the first “People, Nature, and Place” course I sponsored, a small group of us packed into vehicles and headed up to Hurricane Hill on the Hurricane Ridge south of Port Angeles, WA.

Our first stop was the lookout short of the first tunnel on the road up to the ridge.  From here we found great exposed geology (mostly underneath some patches of mosses and lichens) in the slope.  The rock was bulbous and uniformly black.  I recognize it as basalt, an igneous (born of fire) rock.  This is consistent with what I have been taught and studied- part of what folks call the Crescent Arch.  These “pillows” of rock were never given the chance to cool and form crystals or much geometric shape as they were underwater when they formed and met cold salt water immediately after formation.  Fascinating the think that they were once under a deep ocean!

As we drive up and gain elevation (to 5,240 ft), we also spot some columnar basalt (cooled in arm-size columns with multiple faces). The columns aren’t necessary standing upright- many tilting in interesting directions.

We pass a “river” of deep chocolate-red water.  It is obvious that the powers of erosion in this heavy rain were bringing some of that soil back to the place of origin and completing the cycle.  The sedimentary rocks that are part of this ridge are rich in oxides, hence the color.  I can only imagine how many fossilized marine creatures are being carried back to sea.

Geologists understand that the whole of the Olympic Peninsula was uplifted from the bottom of the sea and forced up on top of the continental plate (kind of like a the peanut butter on a graham cracker scraped another similar graham cracker).

The flowing stream of mud and water remind me that we are lucky to be hear long enough to witness this moment in geological time for a mountain range that is often called “ephemeral” or short-lived (it isn’t nearly as hard as other ranges such as the N. Cascades and will quickly wash away).

After lunch we hit the trail and soon find twisted and folded layers of sedimentary rock (formed by millions of years of accumulated sea creatures and sediments) that once pressed and compacted in the ocean were scraped up on land by eons of subduction (one plate diving under another).  We look closely at this great example of slate and notice the obvious difference in the color and thickness.  The layers that we found have been tilted to vertical stripes and sometimes folded back to make U’s and W’s.  Wow- what power (and slow too)!!

What causes the differences in color?  Does it have do with organic content (the critters at time in history), mineral content, climate effects, and volcanic events??  What was the rate of accumulation that allows for this rock to bend and fold and not fracture?

On the way home we are fascinated by more forces of nature that affect the tree growth- forming “krumholtzt”, “elfin-trees”, and “flag” trees.  Google that…

Tamanowas/Chimacum Rock

October 16, 2009

E. Jefferson County, Olympic Peninsula, WA 

Chimacum Rock (or Big Rock) is accessed off Anderson Lake road and currently sits on private property.  It is popularly known by rock climbers for its recreation opportunities.  The Jamestown S’Klallum tribe knows it for other reasons and considers it a culturally significant site.  It is known as Tamanowas Rock by them.

Upon approach, it juts into the sky like a cone-shaped beacon with a few trees growing on its top like a burst of hair.  Standing at the base and getting a better look, it is obvious that this rock has peculiar origin.  The color is dark-grey to black and speckled with pores and small black crystals.  These cues tell me that is likely to have had a birth in fire- an igneous rock.  There are large hollows (aka huecos) all along its face; likely left from gas bubbles eons ago.  The rock lies just off a large concave cliff face that constitutes a ridge on the eastern edge of Anderson Lake State park.

I would interpret that this rock, hundreds of feet tall was once part of this wall.  It has been a very long time since it separated, came tumbling down and to a rest.  The face of the wall has a 4-5 ft trench.  Likely, soil has accumulated from the top over many hundreds or thousands of years, but as the lip is overhanging,  never reached the foot of the cliff.

What is the complete story for the origin of this unique rock and ridge?  Does it have to do with geologic faults that run through the Chimacum valley?  What about its pre-European cultural history.  What place does it serve in cultural traditions for the Jamestown S’Klallam?