The Adventure: Earth Science Week

Earth Science Week
October 13, 2015

Can you see the “forces” for the trees? You can at your Washington State Parks!

October 11 through 17 2015 is Earth Science Week. Now in its 17th year, this national and international event is sponsored by the American Geosciences Institute. This year’s theme is “Visualizing Earth Systems,” exploring what it means to see our planet through eyes informed by the geosciences.

Our state is a true geological treasure trove! From the rain forests to shrub-steppe buttes, Washington has an amazing diversity of landscapes and geological wonders to explore.

Why not get out to see a few this week? Here’s just a start to all the intriguing geological gems at your state parks…

The ice-age flood plain — Sun Lakes/Dry Falls

Can you imagine these cliffs with millions of gallons pouring over them? They are dry now, but once
Dry Falls is a bona fied geological wonder! Carved by Ice Age floods 15,000 years ago, the former waterfall is now a stark cliff, 400 feet high and 3.5 miles wide. In its heyday, the waterfall was four times the size of Niagara Falls.

Today, it overlooks a desert oasis filled with lakes and abundant wildlife. A boating, fishing, golfing and camping hotspot, the park also is a great place to get up close and personal with millenia of geological history.

At the Dry Falls Visitor Center (open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during October) you can learn about the channeled scablands and even more about this intriguing landscape!

The Volcanic Plug — Beacon Rock State Park

Beacon Rock State Park

Think of it as seeing a volcano from the inside out. A volcanic plug (or neck) like Beacon Rock is only what is left when a volcano (typically a cinder cone) erodes away from its once molten core. But it is a unique glimpse into what goes on inside a volcano. Witness the regular basalt rock columns formed when magma cools.

Beacon rock is a popular technical climb, but you also may hike the one-mile, zig-zagging staircase for a bird’s-eye view of the Columbia River Valley.

Notes for climbers:
  • Beacon Rock open for technical rock climbing, but experiences periodic closures during Peregrine falcon nesting season.
  • The south, southwest and southeast faces are available for technical rock climbing.
  • The northwest corner is open for climbing year round.
  • The east face is permanently closed for the protection of cultural and historical rare species.
  • The hiking trail to the top of Beacon Rock is open year round.

The Volcano — Mount St. Helen’s Visitor’s Center

Where were you when the mountain blew? Once devoid of life, Mount St. Helens is now the poster child
The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 is arguably one of the most significant geological events in modern history. It bore devastating disaster but also gave rise to the rebirth of an amazing land. What better way to reflect on that day of destruction and the regeneration this mountain has made in the past 35 years.

A short hike brings you to a wide-open viewing area where you can take in sweeping views of the mountain and surrounding country. What was once a devastated landscape is now a verdant and thriving forest.

Head into the visitor’s center and get behind the scenes with an in-depth, hands-on and kid-friendly look into the events that preceded the eruption and what has happened since. Ponder some startling souvenirs from the blast zone and get the full scoop from a documentary (with a cool surprise ending!) in the center’s theater. This is a full day of geological discovery at it’s finest!

The Wetland — Yakima Sportsman State Park

Water you know! A wetland like Yakima Sportsman State Park is a great place to explore  earth scienc

Wetlands such as those found at Yakima Sportsman State Park play a significant role in a broad range of sciences. Hydrology, biology, climatology, geography, and geology are all shaped and informed by our planet’s most precious resource.
Bring your boat or canoe and get out for a paddle on the Yakima River. Or simply wander through the multitude of ponds and reflect on the water and all that it supports. This is a wonderful spot for bird watching, so bring your binoculars.

While you are at it, check out the lay of the land and see what you notice. Being located in a rain shadow makes these wetlands all the more important. The park is technically a floodplain and supports a variety of migratory birds and other wildlife in a region that is otherwise a desert.

The Island Anomaly — Sucia Island Marine State Park

What geological forces do you see at work? Sucia Island has a colorful history to explore!

Did you know that islands can roam? It’s true! Sucia Island, at the northern end of the San Juan archipelago is the perfect example.

Eighty million years ago the rocks forming this island were located further south. Just how much further is a subject of scientific debate, but it is thought that earthquakes and other geological forces brought them from as far away as Baja and as close as San Francisco.

It’s because of this migration that Washington’s first dinosaur fossil was recently found on the island!

True…you can only visit Sucia Island if you have a seaworthy boat … and it’s well worth the trip! But anyone can see the “Suciasaurus rex” femur bone piece on display now at the Burke Museum!