Racehorse Creek Landslide Fossil Fields

Fantastic Fern!

A late summer trip to Mount Baker for a fossil hunt. There’s a recent landslide that’s accessible by trail where you can find 50-80 million year old “talking rocks”. Much of the Baker area holds a treasure trove of fossils, in road cuts and flooded down creek beds, these Chuchanut Formation stone strata are revealed most dramatically just above Racehorse Creek on the north side of the mountain. There are great online maps and directions here. The hike is up steep escarpments, so be mobile and dressed to slip and slide on craggy terrain. If you not up for a hike to the slide area, you can hang out along Racehorse Creek at the base of the mountains and look carefully in the creek for fossils- you’ll find them.

What you’ll see, with a good eye, ranged from full palm fronds unfurled several feet wide, leaves that might have just fallen from red alder trees of today, and bits of plant debris frozen in stone. No Medusa magic here, but millions of years compressed into petrified sand, mud, and fine silt. Geology is an active subject here in The Pacific Northwest. Out plate tectonics compel volcanoes and earthquakes on a grand scale. In the case of this landslide, we can visually begin to comprehend tectonic uplift from a distance, and count the layers of time all the way back to when this land was a beach, with tropical jungle located in present day Baja Mexico. That’s right folks, a lot of Western Washington has been moving up from Mexico for millions of years. That’s how tropical plants got this far north. The palms were not growing in The Pacific Northwest, millions of years ago the north west was under a mile of glacier ice. Below is a plate movement map, showing the northern push up from the south- the land from Baja continues a push north into British Colombia.

How it got here is exciting enough to understand- and the geological science is young, so stay tuned for more great evolution in the theory, for more on Washington State Geology and a lot of fun learning check out Nick Zentner of WSU. His Youtube channel is full of great lectures, in the field learning, and special guests sharing up to date theory. The Eocene fossils at Racehorse Creek help unravel the often confusing geology of our region. This area is known for being a hub of tectonic activity, and past slides of much greater magnitude have occurred in this area of Mount Baker before. Recent lidar mapping reveals an older, much greater landslide, and helps geologist forecast future instability in the landscape. It’s also opened up layers of strata to reveal eons of our past. That’s what drew me to this amazing place, and I hope some of you get a chance to head there for some awesome fossil hunting.

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