Climbing Shoofly Oolite

View Another Adventure
November 18, 2013

Jess and I with our two youngest travel to the southern edge of prehistoric Lake Idaho for a sunny walk around one of the world’s more unique environments.

En route

Camera Settings

En route
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021746796

Info

“I don’t want to hike!” Hunter complained, a response Jessica and I anticipated (“He’ll say he doesn’t want to go but then have a blast when we get there”).

To be honest, I was concerned about this one myself. I’d hiked a bit¹ around BLM’s interpretive site south of Grand View, Idaho, but wasn’t positive it would hold the kids’ interest long enough to justify the drive.

“Who can tell me what a fossil is,” I asked the back seat to help pass miles that seemed motionless.

Hunter loves to collect facts. He had the answer right away.

“We’re about to go by something that’s the largest in America,” I offered for the next challenge. “See if you can figure out what it is.”

“The river,” one guessed. The Snake was just coming into view.

“Nope.”

“Cow poop,” Hunter guessed.

“Close.”

In a moment we could see and smell the answer, Simplot’s Grand View cattle feedlot.²

  1. Trail Image, “Alone in the Owyhees”: trailimage.com/alone-in-the-owyhees; also Trail Image, “Zeno Falls on Ben”: trailimage.com/zeno-falls-on-ben
  2. Institute for Livestock and the Environment, “Simplot Feed Lot”: livestockandenvironment.org/livestockandenvironment
Turmes Cemetery

Camera Settings

map
Turmes Cemetery
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021660845

Info

After the typical, exponential progression of “are we there yet” inquiries along the largely linear route,¹ I was pleased to tell the kids we were stopping at a cemetery. The small wire fenced space, barely noticeable from the road, forty feet away, seemed half-empty compared to what I remembered. A local lady we encountered later explained headstones have been removed to be refurbished or refashioned. Only a few remained.

The crumbling stone house in view of the cemetery was a way station and stage stop, the Turmes Ranch, established about 1880. Most interred at the cemetery are Turmes.

  1. Google map: goo.gl/…/AcfEk
BLM panels

Camera Settings

map
BLM panels
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021819574

Info

Interpretive signs at the trailhead, just up the road from the cemetery at a squat sign declaring “Shoofly Oolite,” explain the significance of the colorless hill ahead.

Trail markers

Camera Settings

map
Trail markers
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021758256

Info

Lake Idaho*

Camera Settings

Lake Idaho*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021761176

Info

We advanced along the bottom of ancient Lake Idaho toward the hill, once a shoreline. What Pliocene creatures would glide overhead or ply the murky depths at our feet? Layer upon layer of sand, ash and silt, thousands of feet thick in places, are all that remain of a lake some two hundred miles long and thirty-five miles across that stood for countless millennia.¹

  1. Bureau of Land Management information panel, “The Big Picture”: blm.gov/…/ShooflyOolite_web
  2. Bureau of Land Management, “Lake Idaho”: blm.gov/…/lake_idaho
Bones

Camera Settings

map
Bones
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021674515

Info

“I found fossil bones!” Brenna exclaimed. There was no need to spoil her fun with the fact these were recent rodent bones.

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021888173

Info

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021773786

Info

Old water level*

Camera Settings

Old water level*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021844784

Info

“The Shoofly Oolite is one of the largest freshwater lake bed oolites known in the world.”¹ Hunter’s pessimism was allayed when he saw the ooids. “Mom, look at this!” he called.

I was struck the first time I saw it too. What looks like regular sand from a short distance is a billion BBs up close — perfect little spheres of calcium carbonate encrusted sand grains piled deep, spread everywhere and cemented into stone called “oolite.”

  1. Bureau of Land Management information panel, “Shoofly Oolite”: blm.gov/…/ShooflyOolite_web; also Wikipedia, “Oolite”: en.wikipedia.org/…/Oolite

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021781736

Info

I know it’s an okay hike when Jessica starts climbing the rocks.

Once a beach

Camera Settings

map
Once a beach
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021786526

Info

Eroding sandstone and oolite has created the whimsical mansions of upper class birds and rodents.

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021702255

Info

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021861514

Info

Droppings

Camera Settings

map
Droppings
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021921443

Info

Scattered, dark brown stones made me think of Boise’s foothills trails in the spring when everyone is out with their big dogs. Happily, these were just rocks. I thought they might be bits of volcanic splatter that hit the water every few thousand years, some of the evidence to “demonstrate the eruption of large volcanoes within standing water of the lake.”¹

A study of the stratigraphy at that location mentions another option, “iron oxide concretions”² in a layer between sand and oolite. I’m not sure what those look like. The paper doesn’t elaborate. I’ll say the brown rocks were heavy and solid like iron.

  1. Shervais, John W., Gaurav Shroff, et al., “Tectonic and Magmatic Evolution of the Snake River Plain Volcanic Province,” p. 354: idwr.idaho.gov/WaterInformation/Projects/eada/publication...
  2. Swirydczuk, Krystyna; Larson and Smith, “Volcanic Ash Stratigraphy of the Glenns Ferry and and Chalk Hills Formation,” p. 19, fig. 6: idahogeology.org/…/TR-81-1
Mystery tunnel

Camera Settings

map
Mystery tunnel
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021716245

Info

A foot-wide tunnel cut straight into the sandstone a dozen feet until it bent out of sight was a curiosity. I noticed it was roofed by a layer of the dense, dark stones. Some geology work? Natural? It didn’t seem right to send the kids in without a flashlight so we may never know.

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021875394

Info

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021935723

Info

Whoville

Camera Settings

map
Whoville
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021886314

Info

Above the oolite in the old lake shallows was a shelf of undulating rock we called Whoville. Like our first visit to Jordan Craters,¹ it was fun exploring the many fanciful nooks and crannies.

  1. Trail Image, “Snow on Coffee Lava”: trailimage.com/snow-on-coffee-lava
Something special

Camera Settings

map
Something special
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021945013

Info

“The physical and chemical properties of the Shoofly Oolite provide the foundation for the unique set of plants and fossils found here. Few other lands in Idaho support such a rich suite of rare species in such a small area.”¹

  1. Bureau of Land Management information panel, “Shoofly Oolite”: blm.gov/…/ShooflyOolite_web

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021948723

Info

Japanese rock garden

Camera Settings

map
Japanese rock garden
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021742985

Info

Two still in the nest

Camera Settings

map
Two still in the nest
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021957363

Info

November buds

Camera Settings

map
November buds
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021961883

Info

On the roof

Camera Settings

map
On the roof
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021844706

Info

Pop out

Camera Settings

map
Pop out
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021760785

Info

The kids called the eroded hollows “pop-outs” not for what they were, I was told, but for what you could do with them.

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021766525

Info

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021927114

Info

Over to the Owyhees

Camera Settings

map
Over to the Owyhees
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021776155

Info

Shoreline*

Camera Settings

map
Shoreline*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021937104

Info

  1. I digitally removed a mom and two colorfully clothed kids from the middle background
A home to call his own

Camera Settings

map
A home to call his own
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021942444

Info

Glenns Ferry Formation

Camera Settings

map
Glenns Ferry Formation
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11022002083

Info

Camera Settings

map http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11022008333

Info

That’s a wrap

Camera Settings

map
That’s a wrap
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/11021802565

Info

A sunny hike through the Pliocene is not a bad way to spend a mid-November day. From being upset he had to go, Hunter went to being upset we didn’t have time to play on every last outcrop. But we expected that. Nature draws us in, young and old, and we forget to fret.