Skip to comments.Experts Seek Trail to Mark Ice Age Floods (National Park Service Study)
Posted on 11/10/2003 7:55:28 PM PST by NormsRevenge
THE DALLES, Ore. - The National Park Service has proposed a marked trail to commemorate Ice Age floods through four Western states that left canyons, valleys, lakes and ridges that still dominate the terrain today some so dramatic they can be seen from outer space.
Picture an ice dam 30 miles wide, forming a lake 2,000 feet deep and 200 miles long, stretching from the Idaho panhandle into western Montana, containing more water than Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined.
Now picture that dam giving way, the water thundering out in 48 hours, through four states, across Washington and into the Pacific.
These cataclysmic events, called the Missoula Floods, took place at the end of the last Ice Age, 14,000 years ago the biggest scientifically documented floods ever.
Yet no marked trail commemorates the floods' path or explains their significance to the public. A growing number of amateur and professional geologists fascinated by the floods think that's a shame, and a Park Service study has proposed a remedy.
The study, issued in 2001, suggests an Ice Age Floods National Geographic (news - web sites) Trail that would follow the 600-mile path of the flood, mostly along existing highways, with signs highlighting important features.
The interpretive flood pathway would cross four states as part of the national park system, recognizing the floods and the 16,000 square miles they covered as a nationally significant resource.
Some markers already exist along the floods' trail, but they were placed by a variety of organizations and are hit and miss, according to Jim O'Connor, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (news - web sites).
The Park Service study envisions a comprehensive route, with towns near key flood features as "gateway communities." Hiking and horse trails, canoeing and kayaking routes would help visitors realize the scope of what happened. The study also recommends that no private land be taken for the project.
The Ice Age Flood Institute, a private nonprofit group that educates the public about the floods, would also like to see visitors' centers on the trail.
But while funding for the Park Service study came from Congress, Congress has not followed up.
"No bill has been introduced yet," said Dale Middleton of Seattle, president of the flood institute, which met Oct. 11 to discuss the project. "We are trying to get someone in the Northwest congressional delegation to do so."
Evidence of the floods are everywhere. They hit the Columbia River near present-day Wenatchee, Wash., probably swelling the river to 4,000 times its present-day flow and spilling over the Columbia River Gorge.
The gorge, 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep, couldn't contain the water, which scoured the rock walls clean and spilled over, probably widening the gorge.
Geologists compare the gorge to a nozzle that sent the floods pouring out in a wall of water perhaps 500 feet high at 80 mph, putting Oregon's Willamette Valley under 400 feet of water as far south as the Eugene area and present-day Portland.
"Most of Portland is a big sand and debris bar deposited where the flood slowed down as it spread out over the Portland Basin," said O'Connor, who is with the USGS (news - web sites) Portland office and has researched the floods extensively.
Willamette Valley's fertile soil which attracted settlers from the Oregon Trail comes from deposits of flood silt that reach 100 feet deep in places.
"The Oregon Trail might have gone somewhere else if the floods hadn't filled the valley full of sand and silt," he said.
Residents of Portland's comfortable Alameda Ridge and posh Lake Oswego still curse as they tussle with boulders on their property, unaware that they may have ridden the floods for 500 miles encased in icebergs.
The Willamette Meteorite, at nearly 16 tons the largest ever found in the United States and the sixth-largest in the world, apparently also rode the flow. It was identified near West Linn south of Portland in 1902 and is on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Flood deposits 50 feet thick in the Beaverton area west of Portland are considered a factor in the area's vulnerability to earthquakes (news - web sites).
In what is now eastern Washington, water flooded today's Spokane Valley to a depth of about 500 feet. The floods ripped away bedrock and formed deep canyons, or "coulees," which remain. Erosion and washed-out channels are visible from space. Some scientists say they curiously resemble those on Mars.
O'Connor said it is not clear whether the floods hit inhabited regions.
Scientists also believe that the Missoula Floods occurred repeatedly over the course of about 2,500 years, as new glacial ice dams plugged the river outlet, Glacial Lake Missoula refilled with water, and the dam then ruptured once again.
University of Montana geology professor David Alt, author of "Glacial Lake Missoula and its Humongous Floods," says the lake broke through ice dams and refilled at least 36 times, probably averaging once every 50 years.
U.S. Geological Survey experts have estimated the flow near the dam breach at 10 times more than the combined flow of all the rivers in the world.
But scientists have often disagreed over the floods' size, scope and frequency. Some have been pilloried for what they thought, none more than J Harlen Bretz, a geologist who worked at the University of Chicago and did extensive field work on the floods.
In 1923 he came up with the theory of a catastrophic flood that deluged the landscape over a matter of days. According to Alt, Bretz's theory contradicted prevailing scientific thinking that geologic events took place gradually, not all at once.
Bretz's colleagues denounced him, but eventually they realized that his research was right. By the time Bretz died in 1981, well into his 90s, he'd been vindicated.
Geologists say that the Twin Sisters basalt rock formation and popular rock climbing spot near Wallula, Wash., seen June 3, 2000, are a result of erosion from a great flood near the end of the last Ice Age, 12,000-15,000 years ago. The National Park Service is proposing to set up interpretive sites in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, which would include significant features, including the Twin Sisters, along the flood's path to help explain the story of the Ice Age floods and their impact on today's landscape. (AP Photo/Jackie Johnston)
The nearly vertical monolith known as Devils Tower rises 1,267 feet above the meandering Belle Fourche River. Once hidden below the earth's surface, erosion has stripped away the softer rock layers revealing Devils Tower.
Known by several northern plains tribes as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site of worship for many American Indians. The rolling hills of this 1,347 acre park are covered with pine forests, deciduous woodlands, and prairie grasslands. Deer, prairie dogs, and other wildlife are abundant.
Proclaimed September 24, 1906 as the nation's first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Absolutely fascinating book on the subject with lots of information about J. Harlen Bretz and his battle to have his theory recognized.
Accumulation of large basaltic boulders downstream of plunge pools at Dry Falls State Park. Dry Falls is a great cataract 3.3 miles wide and 396 feet high that formed during the cataclysmic late Pleistocene floods emanating from glacial Lake Missoula in Montana. The origin of the Channeled Scablands was the subject of one of the most famous controversies in the history of geology. When J. Harlen Bretz formulated the cataclysmic flood hypothesis in 1923, his ideas were rejected. Nearly 50 years passed before his ideas became a standard of geologic thinking. In 1979 and at nearly 90 years of age he was awarded the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America, the nation's highest geological award.
I would think that Wyoming might be included as well, as the grand Tetons cross state lines and I would think such a catacylsmic event(s) would have sloshed well over into Wyoming territory.
Maybe it's a partisan thing. Dick Cheney is from Wyoming. Ya think? ;-)
I love the Grand Tetons, by the way. Breathtaking.
Oh please. Creation "science" has as much credibility as "Planet X"
Looks to be a good website for information on all 4 states in the NPS spomdored study.
Describe for me what you think that I believe then.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
The GGG Digest -- Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
Some more bio
J Harlen Bretz (they neither put a period after his first initial nor explain why it isn't there) was a superb field geologist, one determined to see what was there rather than what theory predicted should be there---a rare and valuable talent in any scientist.
Thanks for the ping.
I've criss-crossed that affected area just about every way imaginable, from the southern route, OR-140 Medford-Winnemucca-Wyoming; to the northern Portland-Columbia Gorge-Boise-Great Falls-Jackson run.
My favorite, being that the trips are Medford, OR to the SD Black Hills, is Medford-Klamath Falls via 140, then 97 north & cut across the Klamath Marsh to Silver Lake & Christmas Valley, and over to Burns. From there, south to Jordan Valley & into Idaho, use the west/south side highway to the Bruneau Dunes area before picking up I-84 east of Mountain Home over to Ogden, then up Ogden Canyon into Wyoming, then across on state roads.
Advice: Take along copies of Roadside Geology for each of the states, and make a vacation of the trip itself. Maybe a good guide book to the Oregon Trail, too.
There are some places that are marked concerning the floods from Lake Bonnieville, but I don't remember seeing any for the Lake Missoula Floods.
There is a GOOD interpretive site at the rest stop (first one south of the Idaho/Utah border--not the one at the border!) on I-84 between Snowville and Tremonton, UT concerning Lake Bonnieville & it's floods. Many of the old shoreline shelves, at least four as the lake levels changed, are easily visible all along the surrounding hills in the entire basin.
Thanks, I'll heed your advice if ever I travel there. :')
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