Northern Tier 2010

July 16, 2010

I Am the Walrus, Koocanusa!

Filed under: Geology, Montana, Section 02 — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

Wind is key. My century yesterday felt much easier than today’s 73 (which, by the way, is exactly my average daily mileage since starting on the 8th). But, today was not only windier: the winds were shifty. I was surprised that such strong winds could completely change direction so quickly. It could have been worse, of course: I could have faced a constant head wind. It didn’t help either that I was slow to get on my way this morning and didn’t start biking until about 11:00. Accordingly, most of my riding was in the most intense sunlight of the day.

I spent the first part of today following the Kootenai River from Libby, until the Libby dam, at which point it is called Lake Koocanusa. The river is beautiful, and so is the lake… to a point. Perhaps I was just tired and grouchy, but after 30 miles along the same manmade lake I got tired of looking at it.

It was like staring at the same postcard for hours. Rivers are self-similar, but somehow I never get tired of them. The lake, however, had the exact same shoreline for its entire extent. I suppose this is because the level is fixed, whereas rivers and streams can meander and are, accordingly, more dynamic. It was also weird to read about the rich history of culture, trade and transportation along the Kootenai, only to have the story suddenly change to the wonderful environmental stewardship, hydroelectric power and recreational opportunities made possible by the Libby Dam on Koocanusa Lake. I felt particularly skeptical of the environmental stewardship, but maybe I’ve just read too much Edward Abbey.

In any event, I made my planned destination of Eureka and was thrilled to find that not only does the city allow camping right in the middle of its city park, but they provide a shower and only charge $5. Furthermore, the other three groups were friendly, and we all had a good time sharing stories. The park is right on the beautiful Tobacco River.

See below for today’s geological highlights.

Today was particularly interesting for geological sites. As I was struggling up the first climb of the day, I noticed some excellent paleo ripple marks in an outcrop. The two panels of the photo first show the entire outcrop and then a close up of the ripples. As I mentioned yesterday, this area is famous for its sedimentary rocks, many of which were deposited in shallow inland seas over a billion years.

This climb was associated with the sudden rise in water level due to the dam, where I learned about a spectacular case of mass wasting resulting from its construction: there are some steeply dipping strata that were undercut during the construction of the new roadway (since the traditional transportation routes were flooding as the lake formed). In 1971 a large amount of material slid down along the bedding planes and buried the road. Efforts to prevent future episodes, such as deeply secured anchors that were bored perpendicularly into the strata and subsequently capped with cement, are visible in the photo.

Finally, I also saw some terrific dendrites. These pseudo fossils look like ferns, but are actually crystals of iron / manganese-rich oxides.



  1. Excellent photos today as every day. Plus an interesting geology lesson to go along with the geography. I’m having fun mapping your way across the US with our atlas. Cheers!

    Comment by Bruce — July 17, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

  2. Henry, I am extremely impressed by all of this – the writing, photography, website organization, etc. You’re a monster! Hope we can talk some time soon. Land line is 502-290-8445. Love, Sam

    Comment by Sam — July 17, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

  3. I couldn’t resist sending this post to Dr. Larry Pettit (former IUP pres.–was he there when you were?) who
    returned to Montana, which I’m pretty sure is his native state. He said:

    “Henry’s blog is fascinating, and the photographs are
    stunning. Tell him to contact me if he gets near Helena. He will probably
    wish to cross the continental divide on Highway 12, and I live only about 14
    miles to the east of there on the western edge of Helena.”

    The book he wrote about his experiences in politics and academia is just out–very

    Comment by Celinda Scott — July 17, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

  4. Following your trip in our atlas–couldn’t help noticing Mount Henry to the northwest of Lake Koocanusa.

    Comment by Sally — July 18, 2010 @ 1:59 am

  5. Henry,

    Thank you for your interesting blog about your trip and those fascinating geology pictures. I have never seen a stromatolite “in the wild”, only in books so your shot of them was especially intriguing.

    Be careful and camp safely,

    Tom Anthony

    Comment by Tom Anthony — July 19, 2010 @ 7:40 pm

  6. Henry,
    You are a great guide, and I am really enjoying both your photos and your narrative. Can’t wait for the Glacier posts!

    Tour Update: Alberto Contador has overtaken Andy Schleck for the yellow jersey in a dramatic stage this weekend; there is an 8 second differential. When asked about getting the jersey back, Contador was quoted as saying, “I was inspired by Henry Scott’s blog.”

    Keep up the good work, Henry!

    The Oberunners are with you.


    Comment by Kevin — July 20, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  7. I commented before, but never saw that it was received. Quite an adventure of a lifetime! Please reply.

    Comment by Uncle Dick — July 20, 2010 @ 9:13 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: