A Landing a Day

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The Bitterroot Mountains, Idaho

Posted by graywacke on February 2, 2017

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-four-or-five days blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2323; A Landing A Day blog post number 754.

boxDan:  Today’s lat/long (46o 59.713’N, 115o 5.323’W) puts me right on the ID/MT border, but evidently in ID based on the title of this post:


My local landing confirms my Idaho landing, and also validates the fact that no towns made it this post’s title:


See?  Huge (pronounced yuge) area – no towns! 

Here’s my local streams-only watershed map:


You can see that I landed in the watershed of Graves Creek, on to the North Fork of the Clearwater River (2nd hit).  Zooming quite a ways back:


The N Fk discharges (of course) to the plain ol’ Clearwater (7th hit), and on to the Snake (80th hit).  Not shown (but you can trust me on this), the Snake makes its way to the Columbia (166th hit).

It’s time to strap yourself in, and climb on board the Google Earth (GE) yellow push-pin spacecraft for a short (but scintillating) trip in to Idaho from the outer fringes of the atmosphere.  Click HERE to partake.

Here’s an oblique shot of my landing, looking up Graves Creek towards the summit of the Bitterroots:


Given the boonie-esque nature of this landing, you might expect that there’s no decent Street View coverage of my landing.  You’d be correct in that expectation.

You might also suspect that I have to go quite some distance to get a look at one of my watershed streams.  You’d be correct there, as well:


Although I have no bridge upon which to place the Orange Dude, he does get a good look at the North Fork of the Clearwater River from the adjacent roadway:


Since I landed in an area forsaken by civilization, I felt compelled to feature the landscape, not a town for this post (especially after looking at a number of small towns between 35 and 50 miles distant, all hookless).

So – I landed in the Bitterroot Mountains, generally defined as the range that marks the boundary between the Idaho Panhandle and Montana.  The ridge of the Bitterroots, while marking the state border, does not mark the Continental Divide; rather it’s the distinctly-less-glamourous watershed boundary between the Snake to the west and the Clark Fork to the east.  Both, by the way, end up in the Columbia.

While typing the word Bitterroot, I realized that if it weren’t for that pesky “e,” Bitterroot could join “bookkeeper” in that most unique of letter groupings – three double letters in a row in a single word.

Anyway, being a geologist, I thought I’d do a little Bitterroot geology.  I found a short and succinct geologic summary from Cliff’s blogspot blog, “Somewhere in the Middle of (Western) Montana.”  Here are some of his words (slightly edited by yours truly):

About 100 million years ago, the west coast of North America ran through western Idaho. The North American plate was moving west (as it still is today), colliding with the plate holding the floor of the Pacific Ocean (as it still is today).

This causes the heavier Pacific plate to sink under the North American plate, creating a subduction zone. The compression crinkled (not a geologic term) and thickened/elevated the western edge of the North American plate.  It also drove the oceanic plate down into the hot mantle, where the granite melted and created a large mass of magma.

The magma rose into the existing rock near the Earth’s surface and formed the Idaho batholith, a huge mass of granite that covers about 10,000 square miles in central Idaho and includes the southern half of the Bitterroot Mountains.

So here’s my take. The subduction going on off the west coast today creates hot magma that rises up, creating the volcanoes of the Sierra Nevada.  Back 100 million years ago, when the coast was about where western Idaho is today, the hot magma didn’t rise all the way to surface; instead, it created a huge subsurface magma pool that migrated upward, cooled very slowly and created the Idaho granite batholith. 

Here’s a cross section (from Idaho State University):


“Plutons” are simply huge blobs of magma (rather than a single mass).  The “Moho” is the Mohorovicic Discontinuity, otherwise known as the boundary between the solid crustal rocks and the more plastic rocks of the mantle.

And a more local cross section from Carnegie Melon University:


Back to Cliff:

With so many forces at work, the Earth’s surface is thought to have bulged and heaved, becoming higher in elevation (mountain building) but also unstable. In southwestern Montana, a large piece of the Idaho batholith broke off and moved east, forming the Sapphire Mountains. The gap created between the Idaho batholith (i.e., the Bitterroot Mountains) and the Sapphire Mountains is the Bitterroot Valley.

The Bitterroot River (3 hits!) flows northward in this valley and discharges to the Clark Fork.

And then, the most recent glacial epoch (which ended about 15,000 years ago), resulted in glacial sculpting of the landscape.  By perusing GE, I could see that the Bitterroots were obviously so sculpted (but then again, I am a geologist). 

Here’s what I would consider an obvious glacially-carved area (the Oregon Lakes, less than 4 miles to the northwest):


Here’s an academic figure (from slideshare.net), showing mountain glacial features.


I’ll return to the Oregon Lakes, with many of those same features labeled:


By the way:  “Pater noster lakes?”  Say what?  From Wiki:

A paternoster lake is one of a series of glacial lakes connected by a single stream. The name comes from the word Paternoster, another name for the Lord’s Prayer derived from the Latin words for the prayer’s opening words, “Our Father.”

Paternoster lakes are so called because of their resemblance to rosary beads, with prayer beads connected by a string or fine chain.

So the Bitterroots, eh?  From whence cometh the name?  From Wiki:

The Bitterroot Mountains are named after the bitterroot, a small white/pink flower that is the state flower of Montana.

Here are the white variety (from Wiki, by Walter Siegmund) and the pink variety (from AuntieDogmasGardenSpot):


Back to Wiki:

The bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) is a low-growing perennial plant with a fleshy taproot.  The flower stems are leafless, with a single flower on each stem.

French trappers knew the plant as racine amère (bitter root).  Native American names included spetlum or spetlem, meaning “bitter.”

The roots were consumed by tribes such as the Shoshone and the Flathead Indians as an infrequent delicacy. The Lemhi Shoshone believed the small red core found in the upper taproot had special powers, notably being able to stop a bear attack.

[I could see how it could happen that someone ate some bitterroot, and apparently miraculously was spared a bear attack.  But I have trouble imagining the special powers legend continuing any length of time.  But hey – what do I know?]

The bitterroot was selected as the Montana state flower on February 27, 1895.

Three major geographic features, the Bitterroot Mountains (running north-south and forming the divide between Idaho and Montana), the Bitterroot Valley, and the Bitterroot River (which flows south-north, terminating in the Clark Fork river in the city of Missoula), owe the origins of their names to this flower.

Here’s some more, from the St. Mary’s Mission & Museum:

Lewis and Clark are credited with the “discovery” of the bitterroot plant (Lewisia Rediviva) in the Montana valley which was eventually named after it. It was an important part of the Native American diet for unknown generations. Tribes’ spring migrations were timed to coincide with the blooming of the bitterroot flower and often scouts would be sent out to alert the tribe to the readiness of the plant for harvesting.

Indian women dug, cleaned and boiled the root of the plant and then mixed it with meat or berries. Hunting expeditions and war parties often carried patties made from a mixture of pulverized root, deer fat and moss. At trading centers a sackful of bitterroot commanded a high price and could often be traded for a horse.

The species name rediviva refers to the hardiness of the plant.  A bitterroot can live for over a year without water and is usually found growing in gravelly, dry soil.  It is low-growing perennial with a fleshy taproot and has a branched base. In May and June a single flower will appear on each stem ranging in color from white to a deep pink or rose.

I did a quick search to see if there are medicinal uses for bitterroot, and was not surprised to find the following (from NaturalMedicinalHerbs.net):

Medicinal use of Bitter-Root: The root is cardiac (promotes heart health) and galactogogue (promotes lactation). An infusion of the root has been used to increase the milk flow in nursing mothers, to relieve heart pain and the pain of pleurisy and also as a blood purifier. The root has been eaten raw to counteract the effects of poison ivy rash and as a treatment for diabetes. The pounded dry root has been chewed in the treatment of sore throats. A poultice of the raw roots has been applied to sores.

Likely, not all true; likely, not all false . . .

Time for some GE Pano shots, all within about 7 miles of my landing.  First this, of Upper Oregon Lake (a tarn), by Blackbear91:


And this, by DHOlano:


Also, by DHO:


A lovely meadow by Glacierman:


And mountain goats by Raymond Gardner:


And I’ll close with this award-winner, also by Mr. Gardner:


 That’ll do it . . .




© 2017 A Landing A Day




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