A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘Missoula Montana’

Missoula, Montana

Posted by graywacke on March 11, 2013

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-time-I-get-around-to-it blog), I have my computer select 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 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 and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

 Dan –  After three USers in a row; of course, I follow up with three OSers in a row, thanks to this landing in the granddady of OSers . . . MT; 117/96; 4/10; 1; 155.3.   Here’s my regional landing map, showing that I didn’t land far from that long-time USer Idaho:

 miss - landing1

My closer-in landing map shows that I landed within easy commuting distance of Missoula:

 miss - landing2

You can see that I landed along a road that runs east-west in what looks like the boonies.  
Here’s an even-closer-in landing map, which shows that I landed right along O’Brien Creek and O’Brien Creek Road:

miss - landing3

O’Brien Creek flows east towards the tangle of rivers that you can see in the greater Missoula area.  Specifically, the creek flows into the river that comes up from the south – and curls around Route 12 – the Bitterroot R (3rd hit).  The Bitterroot flows just a little over a mile after accepting the waters of the O’Brien when it flows into Clark Fork (17th hit, the river that flows right through Missoula); on to the Pend Oreille (19th hit); to the grand ol’ Columbia (139th hit).

 Here’s my Google Earth (GE) shot that shows what the O’Brien Creek valley looks like:

 miss - GE1

I decided to zoom in at a low elevation (using GE, of course), looking west up the valley past my landing:

 miss - GE2

Stepping back some (er, I should say flying back some), here’s a GE view over the Missoula Valley (with a little of the city in the foreground), still looking west past my landing:

 miss - GE3

I was surprised and happy to see that GE StreetView coverage extends up O’Brien Creek road.  It doesn’t make it all the up to my landing, but it comes close.  Here’s a shot looking up the valley.  My landing is about 1.5 miles ahead.

 miss - GE4 obrien creek road .5 mi from landing

Here’s a Panoramio shot by J. Belote, taken from the top of the mountain about 1.5 miles due south of where I landed, looking east towards Missoula:

 miss pano towards missoula from 1.5 mi s of landing by j. belote

Checking into the history of Missoula, I found out that the area was originally known as Hell Gate.  Catchy name, eh?  From Wiki:

Hell Gate (sometimes known as Hell’s Gate or Hellgate) is a ghost town at the western end of the Missoula Valley.  The town was located on the banks of the Clark Fork River roughly five miles downstream from present-day Missoula near what is today Frenchtown.

Members of the Bitterroot Salish (or Flathead) Native American tribe often traveled through the Missoula Valley on their way east to bison hunting grounds.  As the Salish passed through the valley’s narrow eastern and western mouths, members of the Blackfeet tribe would often attack and kill them.  The Salish called the valley lm-i-sul-étiku, which means “by the cold, chilling waters” but which the Salish used metaphorically to mean “the place chilled with fear.”  The entire valley was heavily wooded, and ideal for ambush.

French trappers passing through the valley in the 1820s were horrified to see so many remains of Salish in the deep canyons which formed the valley’s entrances, and called the valley “Porte de l’Enfer,” or the “Hell Gate.”

Hell Gate collapsed as a settlement in 1865. The settlement had reached a grand total of 20 residents.  But a sawmill, flour mill, and new store were built at the site of present-day Missoula, and all the residents of Hell Gate moved to the new town practically overnight.

Rather than take the town name with them, they adopted as the new name of their town the (garbled) Indian word for the valley, “Missoula.” The county seat was moved from Hell Gate to Missoula in 1866.  By 1913, little was left of the town (which was now part of a privately owned ranch) except for a few buildings.

Hell Gate has lent its name to several natural and man-made features in the area, including the valley itself, which became known in the 1800s as the Hell Gate Valley.   Hell Gate was also the original name of the Clark Fork River.

Although the river and valley would be renamed, the steep gorge cut by the Clark Fork to the east of the Missoula Valley is still known as Hellgate Canyon.  The U.S. Postal Service maintains a Hell Gate Station in downtown Missoula, and the Missoula County Public School System operates Hellgate High School, one of the oldest and largest high schools in the state of Montana.

There you have it.  By the way, Hellgate is such a cool name for a high school.  Let me guess, they are either the “Red Devils” or the “Blue Devils.”  I’ll go check in with Google . . .

Doh!  This is one of those rare occasions that my hunch was wrong.  They are the Hellgate Knights:


FYI, I went to Zanesville High School in Ohio.  We are the Blue Devils, and this is our logo (although this wasn’t our logo the many eons ago that I went there):

 miss - ZHS logo

By the way, ZHS  went 19-5 in boy’s basketball this year, suffering a tough loss in the second round of the state tournament.  Not a bad season when the two tallest kids on the team are both only 6′ 3″ . . .

Ahem.  Sorry about the diversion.  Moving right along – Missoula is the home of the University of Montana.  Perusing GE, I could easily find the big “M” on the mountainside that overlooks the campus:

miss - M over Univ of mt

As a geologist, I’ve been itching to get on to the next topic:  References to the Missoula Valley are replete with discussions of  “Glacial Lake Missoula.”  I know, I know, it wasn’t so long ago that I gave a robust geological treatment to Glacial Lake Wisconsin (my Mauston WI post).  But I couldn’t look myself in the eye (in the mirror) if I didn’t include some discussion about Glacial Lake Missoula, because it’s so cool.  I can hardly think of a geological story more compelling . . .

Here’s the nuts & bolts (from ForMontana.net, starting with this picture of relic shorelines):

miss don hyndman, u of mt

One of the most fascinating events of the last ice age was a series of cataclysmic floods associated with Glacial Lake Missoula. The shorelines of the ancient lake can be seen along mountainsides around Missoula. In the photo shown above, the light snow on Mt. Jumbo makes it easier to see these ancient shorelines.  At times the lake was 950 feet deep where Missoula sits today.

Here’s what happened . . .
As the glacial ice moved south and reached its maximum about 18,000 years ago, it extended into western Montana and Idaho and it blocked the flow of the Clark Fork River.  The water began to build up behind (south of) the ice dam. This formed a huge lake that geologists have named “Glacial Lake Missoula.”

When the Lake Missoula was at its highest, the water was about 2,000 feet deep and contained about as much water as Lake Erie.  Once the water filled in the area behind the ice dam, the lake didn’t last for long.  Since ice floats, it doesn’t make for a very durable dam. Consequently,  it was only a matter of time before the lake dislodged its ice dam. With the dam displaced, the 480 cubic miles of water impounded behind it would have been unleashed in a cataclysmic flash flood of incredible proportions.  The water would have thundered through present-day Spokane and continued across eastern Washington to the Columbia River, scouring the land as it swept through.

Geologists think that this happened many times. Once the front of the glacier was swept away by the water it had impounded, the lobe of ice grew back into the area and re-dammed the river. Geologists believe that at Lake Missoula formed and flooded at least 41 times between 15,500 and 13,200 years ago.

Below: On this map of Montana, Glacial Lake Missoula is the lake in the far west.  It wasn’t the only glacial lake – several others existed along the southern edge of the ice.


As one might expect, these cataclysmic floods left their mark.  But it took quite a bit of sleuthing and piecing together many clues to put the whole story together.  A geologist named Harlen Bretz was the first to have a clue.  This, from Wiki:

J Harlen Bretz (1882 – 1981) was an American geologist, best known for his research that led to the acceptance of the Missoula Floods.

In the summer of 1922, and for the next seven years, Bretz conducted field research of the Columbia River Plateau.  He was interested in unusual erosion features, where massive erosion had cut through basalt deposits (the Channeled Scablands).  The area was a desert, but Bretz’s theories required cataclysmic water flows to form the landscape.

Bretz published a paper in 1923, arguing that the erosion features were caused by massive flooding (that he termed the Spokane Floods) in the distant past.

Bretz encountered resistance to his theories from the geology establishment of the day.  The geology establishment was resistant to such a sweeping theory for the origin of a broad landscape for a variety of reasons, including the lack of status and reputation of Bretz in the eyes of the largely Ivy League-based geology elites.

Bretz defended his theories (along with another geologist, J.T. Pardee, who focused on evidence for Glacial Lake Missoula), kicking off an acrimonious 40 year debate over the origin of the Channeled Scablands. As he wrote in 1928, “Ideas without precedent are generally looked upon with disfavour and men are shocked if their conceptions of an orderly world are challenged.”

Pardee’s and Bretz’s theories were accepted only after decades of painstaking work and fierce scientific debate.   In 1979 Bretz received the highest medal of the Geological Society of America, the Penrose Medal, to recognize that he had developed one of the great ideas in the earth sciences.

I found a great website that is all about the huge floods.  It is called (appropriately enough) HugeFloods.com.  Click HERE to go to it.  I strongly recommend that you do.  When you’re at the site, click on the following tabs, and peruse:

The Mystery

Lake Missoula

The Scablands (includes a cool BBC video)

Lake Lewis –  Wait until you read about Lake Lewis!

If you think that this whole colossal flood thing is worth learning more about, may I recommend this book:

miss book

My friend Cheryl showed me the book.  She has a new-found passion for geology, in spite of an artsy life that included designing and producing her own line of clothing.  She spent some time out west checking out the evidence for the big flood and knows way more about this than I do . . .  

Phew.  Heading’ on back to Missoula . . . you may have noticed that the picture of the relic shorelines is on “Mount Jumbo.”  Of course, I was curious as to how it go its name.  Well, this from Wiki:

Mount Jumbo (Salish: ‘Sin Min Koos,’ which translates into ‘obstacle’ or ‘thing in the way’)  is an iconic mountain that overlooks the city of Missoula, Montana.  Early settlers thought Mount Jumbo looked like a sleeping elephant and the round grassy mountain became known as Elephant Hill.

Coincidently, miners christened a nearby copper mine ‘Jumbo Lode’ in honor of Jumbo the elephant, famously with the Barnum and Bailey circus.  Eventually, “Elephant Hill” became “Mount Jumbo.”

Here’s a lovely shot of Mount Jumbo at sunset (from Wiki):

miss mt jumbo  wiki

I thought I’d do a little research on Jumbo himself (the elephant).  From Wiki:

Jumbo was born in 1861 in the French Sudan, whence he was imported to France and kept in the old zoo Jardin des Plantes in Paris. In 1865 he was transferred to the London Zoo, where he became famous for giving rides to visitors, especially children. The London zookeeper association leader Anoshan Anathajeyasri gave Jumbo his name; it is likely a variation of one of two Swahili words: jambo, which means “hello” or jumbe, which means “chief”.

Jumbo was sold in 1881 to P. T. Barnum, owner of the Barnum & Bailey Circus,for 10,000 dollars ($241 thousand today).  In New York, Barnum exhibited the elephant at Madison Square Garden, earning enough from the enormous crowds to recoup the money he spent to buy the animal.  Jumbo became a major attraction in the traveling “Greatest Show on Earth.”

Jumbo died in 1885 at a railway yard in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, where he was hit and fatally wounded by a locomotive. Barnum afterwards told the story that Jumbo died saving a young circus elephant, Tom Thumb, from being hit by the locomotive, but other witnesses did not support this.

Here’s a picture, from Wiki, of the sad occurrence:

miss jumbo death wiki

Jumbo’s hide was stuffed, and I’ll borrow from the Tufts University webpage for the following information:

Tufts’ official mascot, Jumbo the elephant, has been ranked among the most singular in college athletics by The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated and is the only college mascot found in Webster’s Dictionary.

The elephant’s tale dates back to 1885, when P.T. Barnum, the circus showman who was an early trustee and benefactor of Tufts, donated the stuffed hide of Jumbo to the university after he was killed by a train in Ontario, Canada. The pachyderm was eventually put on display in the Barnum Museum of Natural History (now Barnum Hall) at Tufts. He was a big hit with the college’s athletes, who adopted him as their mascot, while their coaches invoked his strength and bravery in pre-game pep talks.

For 86 years, Jumbo was a veritable mecca for students, their parents and other campus visitors. Students would pop pennies in his trunk or give a tug on his tail to bring luck for an upcoming exam or athletics competition. But Jumbo mania came to a fiery end on April 14, 1975, when Barnum Hall, and the beloved elephant, were consumed in a blaze caused by faulty wiring in a refrigeration unit. All that remained were a piece of his tail (now neatly wrapped and stored in the university archives) and some ashes. Phyllis Byrne, the administrative assistant in the athletics department, dispatched a colleague to the ruins to collect some of Jumbo’s ashes in an empty peanut butter jar.

Jumbo’s spirit lives on in his hybrid container (a Peter Pan Crunchy lid on a Skippy jar), and since 1975, university athletes have rubbed the jar for good luck. And when a new athletics director is named, there is a ceremonial “passing of the ashes” to the successor.

If you started to skim, make sure that you read the last paragraph.  Anyway, back to Wiki: 

In time the elephant’s name came to be a household word, with “jumbo” meaning “very large”.

[How about that!  The word “jumbo” came from the elephant’s name!]

A life-size statue of the elephant was erected in 1985 in St. Thomas to commemorate the centennial of the elephant’s death:

miss jumbo statue

Railway City Brewing Company in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada brews “Dead Elephant Ale,” an IPA, in recognition of Jumbo’s connection to St. Thomas’s railway history.

I’ll close with a couple of great Panaoramio shots, taken along the Bitterroot River just east of my landing.  First, this one by John Krempel:

 miss mt sentinel john krempel pano landing to left

And this, by J. Edmonds:

miss pano j edmonds bitterroot just upstream

Phew.  Long post, eh?  This may well be my longest-ever . . .

That’ll do it.




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