Thursday, December 31, 2009

A mighty flood: ages ago, a cataclysmic flood scoured the Northwest.Soon a national trail will tell the story.(Trail Mix)(Ice Age FloodsTrail).

Holiday 2008

Cohoes Mastodon, originally uploaded by Eric Wood Photography.

Geology takes time. Mountain ranges rise millimeter by millimeter, tectonic plates shift imperceptibly, and rivers carve out canyons over centuries. But the chiseled features of the American Northwest don't always follow those rules. Geologists point to large boulders in the middle of farm pastures, mastodon fossils embedded in gravel, and dried river channels as evidence of cataclysmic floods that shaped the landscape of the American Northwest. More than 12,000 years ago, a glacial lake as big as Lake Erie and Lake Ontario occupied northwest Montana. As glaciers retreated, an ice dam melted, froze, and melted again and again over the course of hundreds of years, triggering a series of violent floods that would have impressed even Noah himself. When it was all over, a sprawling region covering modern-day Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington had been carved out like a totem pole. In March, the Ice Age Floods Trail was established to illustrate how it all happened.

Most National Park Service Trails reflect our cultural history: Think Lewis & Clark, Selma to Montgomery, or the Trail of Tears. Ice Age Floods is the first trail devoted to a geological process, a process whose impact is still being felt: "When the flood waters raced across portions of eastern Washington, they scraped a lot of the soil away down to the basalt rock--and those areas can't be farmed to this day," says Keith Dunbar, a Park Service planner who has been closely involved in the trail's development. "A lot of that sediment ended up in Willamette Valley and enriched the soil, which is dozens of feet thick and incredibly rich land for farming." It's no surprise that's precisely where Oregon's pioneers settled; the valley remains a vital part of the region's agricultural heritage today.

Because the trail covers so much territory, it's designed to be driven, not hiked. Loops and shorter segments will branch off from the main route. The Park Service hopes to increase signage, interpretation, and visitor services by coordinating with federal, tribal, state and local agencies, visitor centers, museums, and other partners to connect the dots both literally and figuratively. Planning will soon be under way, and Dunbar expects the trail to become a reality gradually, over the next three to four years. Given the size and scope of the trail, the Park Service is looking to incorporate new interpretive tools including DVDs, cell-phone narration, and GPS devices, all to bring the Ice Age into the 21st century.

Source Citation
Kirkwood, Scott. "A mighty flood: ages ago, a cataclysmic flood scoured the Northwest. Soon a national trail will tell the story." National Parks Summer 2009: 8. Academic OneFile. Web. 31 Dec. 2009. .

Gale Document Number:A203402963

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