Tag Archives: Fossils

Fu-Go, or How Geologists Fought off the Japanese Attack on North America, although the Threat Remains

The tail of an unexploded Japanese balloon bomb protrudes above the mossy forest floor near Lumy, British Columbia.

The tail of an unexploded Japanese balloon bomb protrudes above the mossy forest floor near Lumby, British Columbia. This photograph is courtesy of Infonews.ca, which published a story about the bomb on October 10, 2014.

On November 3, 1944, the Imperial Japanese Army attacked North America, and they did it from three Honshu beachheads. It was on that date that the first of some 9,000 balloons, fitted with incendiary and high explosive bombs on a three-day timer, were lofted into the recently-discovered jet stream. The innovative form of aggression spread dangerous explosives across a huge swath of North American territory, from Alaska to Mexico, from the Pacific Coast to Detroit, Michigan. Fewer than 250 of these balloons have been accounted for, although an estimated 1,ooo balloons may have made it across the Pacific. While most of the 9,000 probably failed to reach American shores, those that made the crossing and went undiscovered might still pose risks to the unsuspecting.

Foresters working near Lumby, British Columbia, made the most recent discovery of unexploded Japanese bombs in October of last year. Hikers and people who work in wild places should be wary of undiscovered explosives from these balloons.

When Japanese balloon bombs, known as Fu-Go to their makers, first began to arrive in America, authorities mistakenly thought that the devices were being launched from submarines surfacing near our coasts or that they had been built in Prisoner-of-War camps along the coast. Continue reading

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Then & Now

I published this photograph of the Lower Crab Creek Valley as viewed from the Taunton townsite in “Another Flood.” On a recent visit to the same spot I took the following photograph.

This summer I took a hurried trip through Eastern Washington, photographing sites I have written about. In this article I try to post old photographs alongside more recent ones. In some cases I have also provided views of places previously mentioned in my posts, although no older photographs are available to compare them to.

A view of the Lower Crab Creek Valley in 2012, more than fifty years after the previous photograph was taken, reveals the changing ecology of the formerly arid landscape. Irrigation and invasive species have radically altered the local habitat.

There is definitely an article to be written concerning the environmental changes that have taken place in the Lower Crab Creek Valley over Continue reading

The Parting of the Waters

The shattered remains of a bison leg bone, found in a bulldozer tailing near the Milwaukee tracks at Taunton. Fossil animal remains from this area are typically severely broken and disjointed.

Recently I acquired Bruce Bjornstad’s guidebook to the Ice Age Floods of Eastern Washington, On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods (Keokee Books, 2006). In fact I’ve been carrying it around in my briefcase and using it to fill in odd moments when I’m waiting for my son to finish his Jazz Band practice or to get out of school. It’s about time an interpretive tour guide like this was published! Because of the immensity of the subject, this book is a field guide only to a truncated rectangle of curious flood features in the Mid-Columbia Basin. But it is rich in detail and information. This year, Bjornstad published a second volume focusing on the northern landscapes where the flood began through the Mid-Columbia. He presumably plans to follow the water through to its eventual mixing with the sea.

An amateur only (have I ever made that completely clear?), I was excited to see that scientists had actually taken time to study the area I’ve been writing about. That gigantic landslide I mentioned in my post The Five Mile Slide actually has a name, quite logically the Corfu Slide…although it stretches from Taunton on the east to Corfu on the west. Bjornstad’s book spends a couple of chapters explaining the mechanisms that allowed the flood to create such a variety of unusual landscapes. The hummocky surface of this landslide had always seemed mysterious to me, but his book details precisely how the original topography slumped away in successive wedges. The feature I refer to as Column Crevice in my post To the Cliffs and Beyond appears to be one of the cracks in the earth where a landslide was developing, left exposed at the end of the flood, a landslide frozen in time. In fact a hike across this landscape would reveal successive events in the process of the collapse of the northern slope of Saddle Mountain.

And I was touched to see that Bjornstad refers to what locals around Othello refer to as The Bench has been named Parting of the Waters. Continue reading

To The Cliffs and Beyond

My grandfather first climbed to the cliffs on Saddle Mountain in the 1920s. He was not the first visitor to a high ledge where soft sandstone is sandwiched between layers of black basalt. Names were carved into the soft rock, dated, gouged deeper on subsequent visits. My father, whose first visit to the cliffs must have been when he was a youngster in the 1920s, introduced the site to his children. Our first visits were made by motor vehicles. Rough trails still exist that can be followed by a truck with high suspension…not that I recommend the method of access. You miss so much when you’re trapped in metal.

My favorite route to the cliffs followed the Milwaukee Road tracks for a mile or so, then veered up the fenceline separating private cultivated land from the BLM sections. After you leave the railroad tracks you start a relentless climb, like going on foot up a mile-long stairway. First you traverse massive slopes of yellow clay, silt that precipitated out of the flood when the waters struck the mountain, slowed and diverted to the east and the west. These banks are composed of countless thin layers. In some places you can find petrified bones, usually blackened vertebrae of fish or small animals. We also found turtle shells and I keep a broken bison bone in my classroom, orange and yellow and imperfectly petrified. Continue reading

Adaptation and Disorientation

My wife bought the land we live on in the 1970s, while she was still in college. The land lies on an eastward slope in the heavily forested hills near Bellingham, Washington. They were logging here in the early part of the 1900s, some of those operations Darius Kinsey loved to photograph.I know they used horses, steam donkeys, trains and trucks to remove the ancient cedars. On our property you can find old stumps with springboard slots hacked into them. The loggers placed springboards several feet up on the trees to avoid heavy sap that would clog up the blades of their two-man crosscut saws.  With ten acres of land, we have a natural preserve that keeps its history wrapped in forest duff.

Not too long after we got married, I began an intense project of trail development. My wife had never really used the land we lived on, but as I crashed through the brush I found enchanting natural attractions. I found those springboard stumps, carpets of wild ginger, fields of ferns, tented clubhouses at the bases of mature fir trees. Even the fallen timber offered enchantment: shelf fungus, tiny mushrooms, cubic rot, lightning strike evidence.

I grew up in the desert of Eastern Washington. Lots of people don’t even realize that such a thing exists in the Evergreen State, but my childhood, cursed with dust, inexorable heat, and merciless sunshine sometimes tortured me. As I labored on my father’s farm, cleaning silt out of the bottom of irrigation ditches, picking up alfalfa bales and stacking them for storage or on trucks, I knew the distant peaks of the Cascades offered somewhere cool, comfortable, unreachable. Continue reading

The Camel

When I was a kid, the arrival of our cousins was a festive occasion. We lived eight miles out of town, and we tended to spend our time focussed close to our own farm. But when cousins came, anything was possible. We might go hunting, climb a mountain, visit the creek bottom, or shoot off illegal fireworks. If the uncle who was a Seattle detective was visiting, we might get to shoot his handguns into the clay banks at the top of our road.

There was one time when some cousins arrived that we decided to take a hike, to visit the coulees at the top of the hill where water (a magical thing in the desert) poured forth to form a stream that wound through the eastern end of our farm. These coulees were Mystery; they were Natural Wonder. Here you could sit and count layer after layer of clay deposited in some ancient lake or flood. There was even a layer of cobbles a few feet down from the top: remnants of an Ice Age flood that scoured Eastern Washington clean of prehistoric fossils.

On the hike we took that afternoon, we found a curious round stone protruding from the soil. Cousins crowded in on the discovery, and we began the excavation with something less than scientific precision. Soon it was clear that there was a skull emerging from the soil. Continue reading