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East Lostine River, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon, August 2010


present in rocky pockets or along shorelines, there are lush meadows. Whitebark pine and subalpine fir grow sparingly on the rocky mountainsides of tan colored granite, giving the area a simple beauty. Because of its popularity, the Lakes Basin and the trails that access the area including the East Lostine, Hurricane and West Wallowa trails can seem a bit crowded. As beautiful as the Lakes Basin area is,


there are plenty of other opportunities to seek solitude, adventure and beauty in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. With over 530 miles of trail in the wilderness, one can easily spend weeks hiking the Eagle Cap and see new country every day. With the connections provided by the trail network, many loop trips are possible for hikers and horsemen. Visitors to the Eagle Cap Wilderness should note that a Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at any of the trailheads that access the wilderness. The Wallowas provide us a window into


the geologic past of northeastern Oregon, a story that is generally hidden by the extensive cover of Columbia River basalts in the region. The oldest rocks found in the Wallowas are volcanic and sedimentary rocks, part of an oceanic volcanic island chain that collided with the North American continent. Geologists call such an assemblage of rocks an “exotic terrane” because they came from other places. The collision of the exotic terrane with the North American continent took place over millions of years. As the volcanic island chain was slowly smashed against what was essentially the west coast during the time of the dinosaurs, it was amalgamated with and became part of the North American continent. The rocks of the exotic terrane at this active continental margin were deformed and intruded by large bodies of granitic magma. The molten magma bodies were likely the deep portions of the plumbing of volcanoes. As the deformation associated with the collision continued, the area was uplifted, allowing erosion to expose the deeply buried granitic bodies which had cooled and solidified by about 140 million years ago.


Beginning about 17 million years ago, the


area (whose topographic relief and surface elevation had been greatly reduced by erosion) was covered by numerous sheet-like lava flows of Columbia River basalt. In many locations in the Wallowas, dark colored dikes that were feeders for some of the basalt flows can today be observed where they clearly exhibit a cross- cutting relationship with the light colored granitic rock! Uplift and erosion continued, culminating in the intense glaciations during the Ice Age. Erosion has removed the basalt cover from almost a third of the Wallowas. In parts of the Wallowas, remnants of the basalts are found capping some of the high peaks and ridges at nearly 9,000 feet in elevation (a relative uplift of considerably more than 5,000 feet when compared with the Wallowa Valley)! The Wallowas were heavily glaciated during


the Ice Age and their present day topography clearly reflects the erosive force of the icecap and glaciers that existed in the range. This is evidenced by the multitude of cirque basins, glacial


lakes (more than 50 of which are


named) and horn shaped peaks. River valleys have U-shaped cross-sections in their upper reaches, carved out by the glaciers that flowed down them. Glacial moraines are common in the mountains and near the northern range front. The Wallowa River flows into beautiful Wallowa Lake, a world-renowned example of a glacial lake dammed by a terminal moraine. When one walks through the landscape of the


Wallowas there is time to reflect on the human and geologic history of the area. And though many enjoy backpacking or horseback riding in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, there are many other opportunities for visitors to experience for themselves the land of the winding waters.


John Latta photographs and writes about the beautiful outdoors in each issue of Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living. To see more of John’s photography or purchase a print of a photo in this article, visit his website www.lattaphoto.com.


www.spokanecda.com 59


Whitebark pine, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon, August 2010


Summer Sky, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon, August 2010


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