Interpreting the Geology of the South
Fork of the Walla Walla River in the Harris Park Area
Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council
Sponsor: Bob Chicken
The objective of this internship was to aid the STELLAR portion of the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council (WWBWC) with their environmental education campaign. I helped in this endeavor by creating learning aids and opportunities that were focused on geologic features and processes specific to the South Fork Trail in the Harris Park area. The primary goal at the beginning of this project was to create a brochure specific to the geology along the South Fork Trail at Harris Park. I was also assigned the task of compiling and interpreting geologic pictures of the trail. The brochure, as well as the annotated photographs, will be available on the SELLAR website which is run by Bob Chicken. In addition to the tangible products of my internship (the brochure and website materials), I was given the opportunity to help lead an educational hike for the public, where I was able to point out interesting geologic features and answer questions that arose on the site.
My work with the WWBWC was designed specifically to help middle school teachers with their earth-science curriculum. Interested individuals with a minimal background in geology but an interest in the natural world will also benefit from the brochure and information that is available on the website. This collaborative project with the WWBWC was very rewarding in the sense that I was able to gain an understanding of how nonprofit organizations can impact local communities. I also enjoyed the opportunity to share my passion for geology with an interested group of people. It is my hope that teachers and individuals who access the materials that I have compiled will gain a better understanding and appreciation of the natural world, and pass this information along to students and friends.
Specific Tasks and Results
The initial purpose of this internship was to create a brochure that helps people with a minimal understanding of geologic processes appreciate and interpret their surroundings along the South Fork Trail at Harris Park. The subject of regional geology in Southeastern Washington and Northwestern Oregon is very broad, beyond the scope of a single brochure with any educational merit. This presented a serious challenge, because there are a multitude of geologic processes and features that are worthy of mention for anyone who is interested in the environment, and is specifically interested in a dynamic geologic landscape. At one point, the list of topics I wished to cover included (but was not limited to) the following:
flood basalts, lava morphology, basalt plateaus, flow events, geologic time context, lava cooling, columnar jointing, talus and talus slopes, erosion and weathering, vesiculation, flow-margin breccias, colonnade, entablature, lithologic age compared to landform age, bedrock influencing channel habit, watersheds, drainage types, stream dynamics, point bars, cut banks, pools, riffles, capacity, discharge
The necessity of narrowing the focus of the brochure was a difficult
task, because I truly feel that each item on this list is worthwhile. It was
only when I realized that each topic was both interesting and important enough
to warrant its own interpretive brochure that I was able to establish my final
course of action. Ultimately, I decided to focus the brochure entirely on basalt.
Bob Chicken asked specifically that I address the origination of the basalt
in terms of process and timing. Also, each time I visited the South Fork Trail
site people would ask about the “holes” (vesicles) in the rock,
why some rocks were unvesiculated, how and why columns formed, where the talus
came from, and how the hillside became striped with basalt. All of these topics
centered upon one central concept: one type of rock can take on many different
appearances. This is a difficult aspect of geology for some people to grasp,
and one that I felt was important to clarify in the brochure. I felt as if the
decision to focus the brochure upon basalt was the most logical because a great
deal of information could be relayed to the public with a relative amount of
Though I limited myself to geologic facts directly related to basalt in the brochure, I have granted myself a relative amount of freedom with the material that I am compiling for the STELLAR website. Essentially, I have selected my favorite (and highest-quality) pictures from my three excursions to the trail. Each photo has been turned into a PowerPoint slide, with a small caption in the bottom corner explaining the geologic features captured in the image. I have ordered the images in such a way that they are logically grouped (river properties, landforms, basalt features, etc). However, I decided against creating a structured slide ordering. This will allow for flexibility in the future, as Bob Chicken or other WWBWC members will be able to make any additions or omissions that they see fitting.
The information on the website is intended to be a resource primarily for middle school teachers that are involved with the requisite Oregon earth-sciences curriculum (though any other interested person will of course have access to the information as well). Teachers will be able to access my images and descriptions on the STELLAR website for their own personal education, which will be beneficial for use in the classroom or at the trail with students. Additionally, they will have the option of sharing the slides with their students in class. Any groups that visit the trail will have the option of taking their own pictures and sending them to Bob Chicken to upload to the STELLAR site. I think that these public photos will be a positive addition to the website because people will be given extra incentive to visit the WWBWC site (seeing their own pictures online), and will hopefully peruse the rest of the informative site in the process. Also, public submissions will add to the collection of pictures that show people actively learning about nature along the trail (Bob Chicken is especially fond these action shots). I envision this website being a collaborative work in progress for any amount of time that the WWBWC wishes to pursue their environmental education outreach program at the South Fork Trail.
The final component of my involvement with the WWBWC was the public hike that I helped to lead in November. Unfortunately, Bob Chicken and a woman named Anitra who is actively involved in a native plant species organization were the only two people to attend the hike. Despite the small turnout, I feel as if this public hike was the most beneficial part of my internship. Personally, I was challenged to present information in a clear and engaging manner and I was placed in a situation where I had to think quickly give accurate answers to any questions that arose on site. This experience truly showed me how much I have learned in my three years at Whitman, and also reminded me that I still have so much to learn. Bob Chicken and Anitra also benefited from this excursion. They both asked a number of questions that were related to other natural processes which they were familiar with (the interplay between geology and vegetation, and the geologic processes involved with mass wasting and erosion). In this way, I was able to learn about their areas of interest, and I was able to help them expand upon their own broad base of knowledge. Bob Chicken took notes during the hike, and is planning to incorporate more geologic information in future trips to Harris Park with students.
This collaborative effort with the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council was intended to educate people about local geology. The target audience for this outreach program was middle school teachers who are involved in an earth science curriculum. The information will also be available to individuals who are interested in their geologic surroundings in the Harris Park area. The task of creating educational tools and opportunities was approached in three distinct ways: remotely with the brochure, electronically on the STELLAR website, and interactively during the public hike. The public hike was particularly valuable on a personal level because I was able see the immediate response of people engaging with the environment and becoming interested in the geology around them. I am confident that the brochure, website, and the continued efforts of Bob Chicken will truly be of service to the community through the outreach work of the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council. I also feel as if the formatting of the website leaves this project open for future additions by council members, other interns, or students visiting the trail.
This internship has been a powerful learning experience on a number of levels. The opportunity to take information learned in the classroom and apply it to the field is always an educational exercise. The fact that I was able to then turn around and share my knowledge was rewarding, because I was able to extend my education to people who are interested in the geology of Harris Park and the surrounding region. I am glad that I was invited to help lead a public hike at the trail, where I was able to answer questions and excite people about geologic features and processes. Also, I’m glad that I was assigned to work with somebody as driven and involved as Bob Chicken. I had a very positive experience interacting with the WWBWC, and I hope to continue my involvement with them in the future. It was very interesting to see the sorts of activities that take place at the WWBWC in terms of both internal logistics as well as their strategies for outreach and community involvement. This real-life involvement in the community is essential to understanding the way the world works beyond the confines of a Whitman College classroom, and this type of learning is invaluable.
Advice to Future Interns
• Visit the trail with Bob Chicken if he is your sponsor (and even if he isn’t). He claims that the South Fork Trail is one of his favorite sites on earth, and he will be able to tell you all about the vegetation, wildlife, and history of the area. Also, he may be the only person who can help you find the trail head. If you can’t go to the trail with Bob, have him draw you a very detailed map, don’t let him vaguely tell you where to look for it. I’ve included my directions below.
• Add 10 miles onto your expected travel time if you’re looking at Map Quest directions. The road that leads from Milton Freewater to Harris Park is 15 miles long, not 5. As soon as you see the first entry sign to Harris Park, stop your car and get out. Don’t cross the bridge, don’t drive past the campgrounds, don’t go to the parking lot. As soon as you get out of your car at that first sign, look to your left. The trail is marked discreetly by a boulder. It is a primitive trail, and may be quite difficult to spot if somebody hasn’t been there in awhile. Look carefully, and go for it. Bear in mind that this trail does not go down by the river; it goes up the hill and under a basalt cliff. The trail terminates in the BLM trailhead parking lot, near the horse loading area.
• Try to visit the trail on a sunny day, but don’t let a little inclement weather deter you. This is a beautiful location, and not even the pouring rain can dampen the experience.
• If you’re trying to contact Bob Chicken with a question, recognize that he is a very busy man with a life of his own outside of mentoring you. Expect to wait a day or two (or even a week or two) for a response if you send him an email. Don’t worry, though. He wants to hear from you and is always very informative when he does respond. Ask him about his busy life if you ever get the opportunity. He’s a cool guy who does cool things. You can learn a lot from him, so take advantage of the opportunity.