Rocks to Burn: Coal Creek Trail

I’m a coal miner’s daughter, which goes a long way toward explaining why Monday’s mini-adventure delighted me so. All right, so he never did any actual mining – he’s an engineer. And he’s a concrete rather than coal man these days. And I’ve become a green energy advocate. But none of that changes the fact I’m a coal miner’s daughter, and coal is part of my personal history.

I get even more excited by coal now that I know what it is and what it tells us about ancient environments. Take Seattle. You don’t think of Seattle as coal country, not with all those thick glacial deposits draped over everything and all the drama from the subduction zone dominating the scenery, but there’s this place called Coal Creek, and it’s not a misnomer. Back in the Eocene, Seattle and its environs were a maclargehuge floodplain, filled with sediments and swamps. All the ingredients necessary for cooking up some coal existed right here. Those dramatic mountains and glacial landforms are johnny-come-latelies.

And I’m shamed to admit that it’s the mountains that drew us. We wanted a simple little hike with a view, and considering you can drive right to the top of Cougar Mountain rather than having to climb it, we figured that was just the ticket. The sun hadn’t come out yet, but the weather forecast said we’d get some nice bright sunshine in the afternoon.

The weather man, he lied.

The cloud cover stayed stubbornly thick, and turned the Million Dollar View into something worth maybe $250,000 at best.

Million Dollar Viewpoint. Well, you can sorta make out million-dollar homes…

That, by the way, is about the only spot where there is a view – most of it’s blocked by trees. Lots and lots of trees. So even when there’s no clouds, there’s trees. Stupid trees everywhere. All right, so they fix carbon dioxide and give us lovely oxygen. Okay. But they still block the bits of the view the clouds haven’t blocked.

But what the hell, we were up there anyway. Cougar Mountain was an anti-aircraft installation back in the day. Why not take the Anti-Aircraft Ridge trail and see where those had been?

Trees. Bushes. Concrete slabs. Oh, and a cell tower. Woot.

By this time, depression was beginning to set in. However, I’d read about a trail that went down along Coal Creek and supposedly showed some old mining stuff. We’d been after views, but maybe old mining stuff would do. And hey, bonus waterfall.

So we get down to the bottom of the mountain, and take this little trail to Ford Slope, and we cross a bridge over Coal Creek, and I see some rocks in it.

Coal Creek Rockage

“Hey,” I says, “that looks kinda like coal.” So I scrambled down for a look, and screamed for joy, because I’d just found my first-ever coal in the wild.

This, perhaps, should not be as exciting as it is to me, but again: coal miner’s daughter. And rock fiend. Combine the two into one small body, and you get someone who’s inordinately excited by little black rocks that burn.

A bit up the trail, you come to Ford Slope, where they did the mining. There’s a neat little display and the old mineshaft.

Moi with Mine

It’s filled in for safety, but yeah, that’s where they dug out the coal. Too freaking awesome. And if you continue up the trail, you’ll see the concrete foundation for a steam hoist, and a dam for the millpond, and probably lots of other cool stuff, but we turned back after the steam hoist because we wanted to take the actual Coal Creek trail.

That one takes you right alongside an even more shafty mineshaft.

Moi with Mine II

It’s filled with dirt, now, but it looks like you could dig out and continue operations. Just too wonderful. And freaky – the upper bits are nothing more than a hole carved through glacial deposits: clay, sand, and pebbles. Yeow. You can get a better look with this picture:

Moi with Mine III


Now, it’s been a wet year, and we haven’t quite had a summer, but the creeks in the lowlands aren’t having any of that. They’re not exactly swelled. One branch of the creek bed was, by Seattle standards, dry as a bone. Being who I am, I started walking along it because it was filled with interesting rocks. There was this one enormous chunk of coal upon which someone had smashed a hunk of sandstone. And I played about with it. Fresh faces and all that. Besides, the Puget Group sometimes has fossils in it. I didn’t find anything 100% fossilriffic in the sandstone, but whilst playing around with it, I started to notice oddities about the big chunk of coal. So I went in for a closer look, walked round it, bent down to put my nose upon it, and let out a shriek. I’ve never before in my entire life found an enormous, undoubted, certified near-log of petrified wood, but my darlings, there is a first time for everything.

Moi with Petrified Log

There she is. Isn’t she a beaut? I’ve got macros I’ll be showing you when I do a proper write-up of the Puget Group. That creek bed was filled with petrified wood, with some very interesting details, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was a total kid at Christmas. I haven’t been so happy in ages. No chunks small enough to haul home, alas, but at least I got to see these, and they are wonderful.

And then, just a ways down the creek bed, you start to hear falling water, and you come across this incredible sight:

Moi with North Fork Falls

Can you believe some Philistines say this isn’t an amazing waterfall? So what if it’s not the tallest or loudest or whatever – it’s bright orange. Just look at the iron oxide! You don’t see that in every Pacific Northwest waterfall (and a good thing, too). I could’ve sat there all day. And look at those lovely exposures of Puget Group sandstone!

We could’ve continued on to the locomotive turntable site and the cinder mine, but we hadn’t expected to hike quite so much and my intrepid companion was dying of thirst. Dunno why he didn’t want to drink orange water, other than the fact it’s probably filled with poisonous crap. I think the creek here drains some old mine tailings. So we headed back home.

And yes, I did set a little piece of my coal on fire when we got back. Can you blame me?

Rocks to Burn: Coal Creek Trail

2 thoughts on “Rocks to Burn: Coal Creek Trail

  1. 1

    The orange might be acid mine drainage. One of my treasures is a 65 million year old cattail fossil from the Cannon Mine in Wenatchee. Barring down (knocking loose rock from the ceiling so it falls beside you not on you – essential daily chore) a large slab fell in front of me and there was no doubt I was looking at a cattail head. Lots of fossiliferous shale in that gold mine. whoda thunkit.

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