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digit

Tammy and I left South Florida yesterday and arrived in Spokane, WA after a short stopover in Las Vegas. Didn't win any money in any of the hundreds of slot machines in the Las Vegas airport but then it is significantly more difficult to win when you don't sit down and pour your hard earned money into the gaping maws of these one armed bandits.

 

We drove from Spokane up to an area in the northern panhandle of Idaho near Lake Pend Oreille to a small town (population 530) called Clark Fork. We settled into the Clark Fork Lodge and had a surprisingly fancy meal at a quirky little place called the Squeeze Inn. I had not suspected I could get a really tasty IPA and a dish of gnocci gorgonzola in such a small rural setting but it was a truly welcome surprise after a long day of traveling.

 

This morning we headed a few minutes out of town to a locality I found in my Rockhounding Idaho book. Someone took the time to transcribe all of the 99 sites listed there and make a Google Maps map out of it which can be found here:

 

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1yS2FsEzCIFPU2_G1Pr5SH3oN9DY&ll=45.56234707000023%2C-114.16501500000004&z=6

 

We were at site 8A (48.15076, -116.15902) in this book which listed fossil stromatolites in a roadcut just out of town. With the help of Tammy's iPad we easily navigated to this site and spotted the roadcut and got out to have a look. There was lots of rusty brownish rocks on the talus slope of this cut as described in the book's description of the site. We could easily see the outcrop at the top of the hill from which these broken chunks of rock were sliding down to the road level.

 

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We scanned the rocks for the distinctive rusty squiggly pattern described in the book (which said these were quite common here). Try as we may we could not find anything matching the stromatolite description in the text. We did see evidence of extremely ancient shorelines with rippled and cracked muddy sediments frozen into place hundreds of millions of years ago. I tried to load one nice looking piece into the back of our JEEP but, given the current laws of physics, I did not succeed. :P

 

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I tried several times to work my way up the talus slope but the rocks were just too loose to gain much of a foothold and get very far up-slope. Any attempts to climb up resulted in sliding back down on a carpet of rocks that dropped away just as quickly as I stepped upward doing a pretty good mimicry of the stairmaster endless escalator exercise machine at my gym. As I couldn't see any definite stromatolite pieces down lower in the piles I suspected I'd not find anything different higher up and didn't feel like a major injury on the first day of a 10-day trip (for once, common sense got the better of me). I did find a smaller piece of ripply shoreline that I considered lugging back in my suitcase and an interesting layered piece that was quite different from most of the other rocks but I was there for (what was supposed to be an easily obtained) sample or two of fossil stromatolite and, striking out on this locality, gave up with only photos to remember this fun but fruitless hunt.

 

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digit

Before leaving Clark Fork and heading south to our next destination on this trip, we stopped at the second locality mentioned in the Rockhounding Idaho book--8B, the Lightning Creek site just west of town. This site promised the opportunity to collect some tumbler material that I'll try polishing up in my rock tumbler once I'm back home. This site did not disappoint with large gravel bars that were quite easily accessible and dry this time of the season. It didn't take us long to collect some nice stripey sedimentary rocks with alternating blank and white bands that I hope will take a nice polish. We also picked up a few nice rounded cobbles of granite that will likely polish up well. There was another type of rock that was not very common but was found from time to time while wandering the gravel bars. It kinda looked like a magnified granite with larger crystal structure that always appeared like a collection of darker spots on a lighter background. Some cobbles had a more coarse spotted pattern and some a bit more fine but always more pronounced than the salt-and-pepper patterning of the granitic cobbles that were much more common. If anybody on this forum knows the likely identity of what we were informally calling 'leopard rock', I'd be interested to hear what this is really called.

 

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digit

After departing Clark Fork we spent a scenic 2.5 hour trek south to the small town of St. Maries--all the while catching up on a backlog of over 500 podcasts that I've saved up on my iPod just waiting for a good roadtrip like this. We pulled into our home for the next two nights--a really neat 104 year old mansion of a building now converted into a quaint B&B. We dropped some things in our room (a really nice master suite) and then headed out to check out a locality on the St. Joe River also mentioned in our Rockhounding Idaho book--Site 14 (47.24892, -116.01290). This site with good access under a bridge over the river was also mentioned as having some nice tumbler material and we collected a few more interesting pieces. Interestingly, the "leopard rock" that we saw (and collected) up in Clark Fork was conspicuously absent here.

 

It took me little time to break out the new gold panning equipment I had sent to the house shortly before leaving. I ordered a "normal" plastic gold pan and something called a Turbopan from Australia that I'm still trying to get the hang of (but failing at the moment). We last panned for gold well over a decade ago in northern Georgia and have at least 15 cents worth of gold flake to show for my efforts. :D As usual, it's not what we find but the experience that we enjoy the most (though, truth be told, we'd have enjoyed it more if we'd been more successful at finding the "color" in our pans). This time was more of a warm-up for another site we plan on visiting east of Boise later next week. I just wanted to get my feet wet and see how well I remembered how to pan.

 

I think I had the technique down reasonably well as I was able to clear off the lighter material and get down to some decent pinkish garnet sand with reasonable efficiency. Sadly, there was very little "black sand" mixed in with the garnet sand which is usually the last heavy material left in the pan once all of the lighter material is panned off. Not only was there very little black sand to go with the fair amount of garnet sand but and gold flake ("color") was also quite absent. At least we got to try out the new gear and had some fun. I really needed to find some larger rocks that would have formed some traps where gold would have settled and accumulated but there were no real likely spots in this section of the river and it was getting a bit late to explore much more. Hoping for better success next week.

 

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Tomorrow we are off to Clarkia (which is so small as to not have guest accommodations which is why we are staying nearby in St Maries). The quest for tomorrow is Miocene (~15 myo) fossil leaves at the Clarkia Fossil Bowl (which doubles as a motocross track as well as a famous Lagerstätte). More tomorrow (and for the next several days) as this quest continues.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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Ludwigia

Thanks for the report and have fun the next few days.

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Foozil

Great report, good luck and have fun :) 

Also, can you please let us know the Turbopan goes for you? I'm thinking of getting one :D 

:popcorn:

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Monica

Wow, Ken - it sounds like a fantastic trip! Best of luck at your next stops!!! :fingerscrossed:

 

Monica

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WhodamanHD

Great report! Best of luck on the next sites!

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RJB

Excellent report and great pics too.

 

RB

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ynot
9 hours ago, digit said:

looked like a magnified granite with larger crystal structure that always appeared like a collection of darker spots on a lighter background. Some cobbles had a more coarse spotted pattern and some a bit more fine but always more pronounced than the salt-and-pepper patterning of the granitic cobbles that were much more common.

This rock is most likely a pegmatitic granitic rock. (a coarse grained granite.)

 

Sounds like a slow start. Hope it gets better (collection wise). Beautiful scenery though.

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digit

Pegmatite granite would sound about right as it did look to the untrained eye like granite that had magnified crystal structure. Hope this stuff tumbles well as I picked up several specimens.

 

Off to go try our luck at the Clarkia Fossil Bowl for some Miocene leaves. At least they seem to be abundant there so we shouldn't get skunked.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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JohnBrewer

A great report. Love the ripple slabs. :)

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Nimravis

Great report and really like the pics.

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jcbshark

Good luck guys and great pics as always Ken.... if we had good here I'd be hunting that too:fistbump:

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Darktooth

Love the report and pics!

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digit

Here's day two of the trip which was a trip down from St. Maries, where we are staying, to Clarkia--home of the Clarkia Fossil Bowl which is a world famous Lagerstätte for Miocene leaf fossils. It's almost inaccurate to call these fossils as these are not mineral replaced pseudomorphs of the original leaves from 15 million years ago, but odd as it may seem, the actual leaves themselves--surviving so remarkably well preserved that scientists have been able to extract short sequences of DNA from the leave material.

 

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The site was discovered in the early 1970's when Francis Kienbaum exposed an abundant accumulation of these fossil leaves. We met up with Francis' grandson Riley who was working on the premises building a metal rack. He showed us around and explained a bit about the site (much of which I had already learned through some online research). What I didn't know is that it is commonly believed that Francis discovered this botanical treasure trove while constructing the motocross track that shares the location. Riley said that his grandfather was using heavy machinery to construct a trail for his snowmobiles for the approaching winter season when he struck some clay-like chunky materials that were messing up the smoothness of his proposed trail. When he looked closer he noted the numerous black leaves that were turning up in this section of the slope he was excavating. He contacted the local university to see if they could help with this mystery and the story goes that the receptionist in the geology department told him that if he was having problems with leaves in his snowmobile trail that he should invest in a leaf blower and stop wasting the department's time. :) He persisted and the confusion was cleared up. They sent some paleontologists to the site and the rest is history.

 

Riley showed us some of the diversity (over 100 plant species) that are known from this locality. Some are plants that would be recognizable from my part of South Florida (swamp association) as this area was much warmer and wetter 15 million years ago. There are also some floodplain-slope association species like Metasequoia that are now represented by relict populations near the upper Yangtze River area of China. While most of the specimens that come from this site are leaves, there are some bugs found here including beetle wings that still retain their original color. Another uncommon find are freshwater fishes (pictured below). The specimen in the jar up on a shelf next to a photo of Francis comes with a story as well which Riley was happy to share. A scientist had asked for this particular specimen to be preserved in a jar of kerosene?!? and that he would pick it up later. It has been sitting on this shelf for over 30 years waiting to be claimed.

 

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Below you can see the fossil bearing locality on the exposed section of the slope. Immediately adjacent to this area where tens of thousands (if not more) fossil leaves have been retrieved is the motocross track. We were the only diggers for several hours but then around noon two additional customers turned up but they had motorbikes instead of wielding butter knives to pry ancient prizes from the ground.

 

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digit

With instructions from Riley we headed down the road to the site and chose an area that seen some recent activity where we could see the black fossil bearing layers. We were told to avoid the lighter cream colored layer that was a thick non-stratified layer of volcanic ash that does not contain fossils. We cleared out a lot of broken up material from the area so we'd have a good place to sit and work. The outer layers of this mudstone (clay) dry out and shrink forming a checked pattern that makes the surface crumble away with little effort. We had learned that we needed to get past this dried surface area (which was easy as it falls away with little effort). When we got back into the cooler moist material we started splitting it with our supplied tool of choice at this site--a butter knife.

 

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Many of the leaves (and there are an unbelievable amount) tend to be broken or don't split out well. When leaves are found that are keepers, the procedure is to wrap them in newspaper keep them cool to slow the drying process. Since these are actual leaves with real leaf material they need to be dried slowly or the leaves will peel themselves off the substrate. One of the leaves that we chose to leave behind sat out in the sun and it started to curl itself off the backing.

 

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digit

Most of the leaves we encountered were a jet black color. Some, however showed signs of their original autumnal coloration (mostly browns, oranges or rarely green) before the exposure to the sun and atmosphere oxidized them and making them lose the ephemeral coloration till they looked like their already blackened brethren.

 

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doushantuo

Very good report ,Digit.

Does anyone here have a digital copy of Smiley?:D

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digit

Tammy tried an area above where I was working which was just below a thick volcanic ash layer. She was finding some interesting pieces up in this zone but the leaves seemed to be most insubstantial and almost ghostlike compared to the shiny black leaves we were finding below.

 

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We spent most of the day at the site enjoying the highly unusual experience of uncovering perfectly preserved Miocene leaves in a wide variety of forms (and temporarily--colors). The site is sunny and even with lots of exposure protection and copious amounts of hydration, it was still a long hot day which proceeded an evening with a steady diet of ibuprofen. More to come tomorrow as we head back down to Clarkia this time with star garnets on our hit list. We're then continuing on south to our cabin in Cascade where we'll stage with Tammy's sister's family for the eclipse (fingers crossed for clear skies). We just found out that the cabin does not have wifi so we'll probably have to go to town and post updates from there. Stay tuned.

 

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Cheers.

 

-Ken

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Monica

Those are some gorgeous leaves, Ken - congratulations!  I love the different colours!!!

 

Good luck for the rest of your trip (and for clear skies on Monday!)

 

Monica

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Virgilian

For fish fossils in the Upper Miocene Chalk Hills Formation, the Pliocene Glenns Ferry Formation, and Pleistocene floodplain deposits of Idaho, see the following pdf format file. Includes a technical text, photographs of fossils, and a map that shows the general geographic position of fossil localities:

 

Fish Biostratigraphy of Late Miocene to Pleistocene Sediments of the Western Snake River Plain, Idaho

 

 

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Plantguy

Great stuff Ken! Nice to see some big rocks and plant fossils! Keep having fun! 

 

Regards, Chris

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doushantuo

Thanks for the Links,Virgilian.

I already had the Smith piece ,but I appreciate the thought behind it.:dinothumb:

(My collection of Cenozoic fish articles is huge:P)

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