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Telling the Teanaway’s Geologic Story

Posted by Loren Drummond at Mar 30, 2016 02:15 PM |
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If the hills of the Teanaway could talk they would tell tales of bubbling lava, earth ripped asunder and a shoreline triggered by great blocks of melting glacial ice.

The 50,272-acre Teanaway Community Forest is a the state’s first community forest. The area is managed collaboratively by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) with significant public input from a community-based advisory committee. The geologic staff at DNR explore the unique geology of this special area.

Exclamation Point Rock then and now
Exclamation Point Rock (also known as Balanced Rock). Historic photo by Ellensburg Public Library. Modern photo by The Wilderness Society.

by Department of Natural Resources

If the hills of the Teanaway could talk they would tell tales of bubbling lava, earth ripped asunder and a shoreline triggered by great blocks of melting glacial ice.

While all is quiet in the Teanaway now, the beauty that we enjoy today was formed by massive events that gave rise to one-of-a-kind geologic features that have been fascinating European settlers and others for more than a century. The impressive landscape lies just a few miles east of Cle Elum, a popular recreation destination.

When you visit the landscape, you’ll witness the impressive power of erosion. Its work has exposed impressive formations of resistant Roslyn Formation sandstone, remnants of 40 million year-old swamps and rivers that also left behind a coal field mined for more than 80 years.

Mammoth and Cheese Rocks
Mammoth Rock (left) and Cheese Rock (right) in the Teanaway Community Forest. Photo by Washington Department of Natural Resources

Even older, a dark, blocky rock unique to this area and accordingly named Teanaway Basalt, holds up the high ridges north and west of the forest. It was formed as continental plates moved and stretched creating crack and fissures that basalt lava filled up from below. This process also formed small cavities in the basalt that later filled with silica-rich fluid. This fluid eventually crystalized and become the rare Ellensburg Blue agate. It’s the only place in the world where the Ellensburg Blue agate exists.

So, we see that these hills, or at least their rocks, do talk. The Division of Geology and Earth Resources, a part of Washington State’s Department of Natural Resources, is helping people to interpret what these rocks say.

DNR Geologic Map Teanaway
Click to download the PDF of the Teanaway Geologic Map. Credit Washington Department of Natural Resources

A new one-page geologic map [PDF] and summary centers in on the agency’s new Teanaway Community Forest and surrounding area. Print it (along with the recreation map) and take it with you as you camp, hike or bike.

Your choice of three different trails begins just beyond Indian Camp, where 11 DNR-managed campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Yellow Hill, Middle Fork Teanaway River and West Fork Teanaway River trails each begin amid lower Roslyn Formation sandstone, but hikers soon find themselves amid the chunky Teanaway Basalt that form the area’s high summits and ridgelines.

The same is true for Teanaway Butte Road (like several closed roads in the area Teanaway Butte Road isn’t maintained or signed as a trail, but is open to non-motorized travel) where you eventually summit at a former fire lookout site with views of Mount Stewart.

Use your map and summary to spot signs of the area’s geology or explore nearby points of interest. You’ll leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for how the surrounding mountains and valleys were formed.

Tips for if you go:

Keep in mind that conditions can be rough. Until recently, the Teanaway was privately owned. It was purchased in 2013 as the state’s first community forest and is now co-managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife. A management plan, based on broad stakeholder and with Washington Trails Association participation, was adopted last year outlining how the more than 50,000 acres should be cared for in the future.

In the meantime, the Division of Geology and Earth Resources intends to produce more one-page geologic summaries for other landscape destinations in the future.

Expect snow. This time of year the geology, trails, and roads are covered by a blanket of snow. The 29 Pines Campground (with good proximity to back- and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling) remains open, though it’s not plowed so access by vehicle can’t be guaranteed.

Bring your Discover Pass. When you visit, remember to bring your Discover Pass—its display on vehicles is now required at trailheads and in campgrounds.

Leave No Trace. These geologic features have stood the test of time. But only through the care and stewardship of the community will they endure into the future. Please don't write on or carve into the rocks.

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