Washington state is usually known for its trees and rocky beaches, but my favorite parts are in the desert. Did you even know that Washington had a desert? Heck yes it does!
What’s even cooler is that before it was a desert, a huge glacier covered it. And one of the cool things about glaciers is the junk they leave behind. This weekend, we’re going to check out that junk (I hope – more on that later).
Our destination is the Waterville Plateau, part of the Columbia River Plateau. This place has history! From six to seventeen million years ago, this plateau was replete with volcanic activity. I know literally nothing about any of this! But from what I can gather, lava flowed all over.
Then, two million years ago, huge glaciers came in dragging the basalt (lava) with them. And after that, the Missoula Floods happened and carved out gigantic canyons. This is an amazing place!
One of the most fascinating things are the glacier erratics, which I talked a bit about here. While the floods carried many farther south than the glacier actually went, most are still right where the ice sheet left them.
The biggest conglomeration is at the terminal moraine, which is a fancy way of saying an “accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris.” This place is called the Withrow Moraine.
So what is Sims Corner Eskers and Kames? Well, Sims Corner is a crossroads. Near that crossroads is The Sims Corner Eskers and Kames National Natural Landmark, which contains things called eskers and other things called kames. From what I can gather (because I really really don’t know what I’m talking about here), eskers and moraines are kind of similar. While terminal moraines describe the junk left over at the end of a glacier, eskers are ridges left by the glacier. They look like raised railroad beds.
As for kames, a kame is an “irregularly shaped hill or mound composed of sand, gravel and till that accumulates in a depression on a retreating glacier, and is then deposited on the land surface with further melting of the glacier.”
Now, don’t you go getting kames confused with drumlins! Drumlins are glacially formed hills, but they don’t have rocks and stuff all over them… necessarily. It gets confusing. But what this all adds up to is some amazing scenery.
Oh, I mentioned above that I “hoped” to get to Sims Corner. The plan was to drive out Route 20, stop at the little cowboy town of Withrow and then head out to the Waterville Plateau. Withrow, however, is having their 49ers Days Celebration. Mostly that seems to consist of old timey miner reenactors, which interests me very little. But it also boasts a parade which itself boasts the largest parade of horses in Washington state.
Smartz loves horses and so we’ll be staying for that. Now, some people would be upset that we’re possibly tossing off seeing some of the most amazing and interesting geology on the continent to check out a bunch of horses. But I’m not.
We have very few rules when we travel, but one of them is that quirky town events trump everything. The rocks have been there for at least two million years. They’ll be there next month, too, I bet. The largest parade of horses (and of pack mule teams) only happens once a year – if that.
So maybe I won’t get to see Sims Corner Eskers and Kames (and Terminal Morains and Drumlins), but I’ll still have a great day. Huzzah to that!