Friday, September 24, 2010

Adaptive Reuse of Quarries: Swimming, Climbing, and Filming

Like cats, many quarries have multiple lives, or at least continue to be used long after people have pulled out stone for buildings. My most recent reminder of this was an article in one of Seattle’s local newspapers. The story described how the Index quarry, which Swedish immigrant John Soderberg opened in 1904, had been purchased and protected by the local rock climbing community.

The Index granite, technically a granodiorite, was an important building material in Seattle in the early part of the twentieth century. Soderberg took advantage of the proximity of the Great Northern Railway tracks to ship the stone. It went primarily into curbs and foundations, including my favorite building in Seattle, Smith Tower, but like many a local stone, its luster soon faded, other stones came into the market, and quarry closed down by the mid 1930s. And then the quarry was forgotten until rock climbers discovered it as a great climbing area close to Puget Sound.

Hundreds of climbing routes were put up over the years, much on private land, as well as some in Forks of the Sky State Park. Luckily for the climbers, the private owner, as well as the state parks department, were supportive of the climbers but that support may not have lasted so the Washington Climbers Coalition decided to buy the climbing wall site. On August 25, they completed the purchase of the property and named it the Stimson Bullitt Climbing Reserve.

This is not the only adaptive reuse of abandoned quarries. While working on my book, Stories in Stone, I came across several similar sites. The great granite quarry of Quincy, supplier of stone for the Bunker Hill Monument and numerous structures on the east coast, is also a favorite urban climbing area.

Perhaps the most famous ex-quarry is the one that starred in the movie Breaking Away. After the quarry flooded, it became a popular swimming site. When Breaking Away came out, so many people sought out the quarry that the owners regretted that they ever let the filmmakers shoot there. Access to the quarry is now discouraged, prohibited, and forbidden.

Portland, Connecticut's fabulous brownstone quarry also flooded, initially when the nearby Connecticut River overflowed into 200-foot-deep hole. Later, a hurricane pushed water back into the quarry and closed it permanently. The property had been slated for development--the plan called for cutting a channel to the river and opening a marina--but then the real estate market crashed. The city of Portland bought the property in 1999 and it was designated a National Historic Landmark the following year. At present, the quarry and site have been opened for a variety of adventure activities, including snorkeling, mountain biking, and zip lines. I am not sure such use truly honors the people who worked the quarry and supplied stone for buildings from Boston to San Francisco but it is a creative use of the land.

P.S. Just got a short note from Dave Tucker at NW Geology Field Trips that reminded me of one other swimming pool quarry. Here is what Dave wrote: "The public pool in Tenino, WA, occupies the old quarry south of downtown. It is closed for the season now. Some water runs through a pipe above the quarry to form a waterfall into the pool. I talked with a local high school kid who was sneaking a smoke by the pool, he said it is ‘hundreds and hundreds of feet deep’. I thought he was just smoking tobacco, but after that comment, not so sure. Just east of the pool area is a stack of big sandstone blocks with splitting holes visible on the edges. All stacked up to form a maze and play area."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Moab's Building Stone: Questions Remain

Ah, Moab, My Moab. For the first time, I decided to see what I could find out about the local building stone. I hadn’t noticed the stone much during the nine years that I lived there in late 1980s and early 1990s. Why would I? I had the most stunning rocks in the world to look at all around me. Now that I am older and wiser, I looked more closely at the few buildings of rock in the land of red rocks.

The best known building of stone is Star Hall. The locals used red rock, what those in the east call brownstone. At present, Star Hall is used for plays, concerts, films, and the like. It is a simple, yet elegant design with a gambrel-style roof and arched windows. Some have called the building Richardsonian Romanesque though it lacks the true rough hewn nature of blocks that I associate with that style but then I am not an architectural historian.

As one might expect of a building erected in 1905 in rural Utah, it was built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormons. These wild and crazy early pioneers sought a meeting and recreational hall. In Grand Memories, a history of the area published by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, it states that Will Shafer, a carpenter, designed the building; Steve Day quarried the stone; Will Bliss hauled the stone (making four trips a day with his wagon team); and Angus Murray Stocks, a well known mason, dressed the stone. They began working sometime in the spring of 1905 and finished in May 1906.

According to Grand Memories, Day and Bliss got the rock at the “Goose Island stone quarry about a mile above the river spring.” The spring has long been known as Matrimony Spring and until 2008 emerged out of pipe a few hundred yards up Utah SR-128. (Southeastern Utah District Health Environmental Health Scientist Jim Adamson declared the spring contaminated and closed it to public access. At present, you can still access the spring, which now flows directly out of the wall. By the way, if you look carefully under the water at the spring you can see several three-toed tracks, probably dinosaur but possibly pterosaur.)

View of Kayenta Formation at Goose Island

During my visit to Moab, I tried to locate any evidence of a quarry at Goose Island. The area is the first broad bench of rock up the Colorado River and dominated primarily by the Kayenta Formation, a Jurassic age fluvial sandstone. I could find no evidence of any quarry though I did find a neat piece of metal buried in the sand. I suspect that there was no formal quarry and that Day probably just blasted or broke off pieces of rock, which Stocks shaped on site at Star Hall. I also tried to locate any evidence of why Goose Island is called Goose Island and had the same lack of luck.

View from area above Goose Island (where are the geese and where is the island?)

I was also told by a local resident that the Star Hall stone was quarried further up river at Jackass Canyon. The canyon is across the road from the Hal Canyon campground. This area seems less likely as a quarry spot because the slopes consist of rocks of the Moenkopi Formation and Chinle Formation, neither of which would make good building material. Both units are too soft. Of course, Day could have cut stone from debris blocks that had fallen from the rock units above the Chinle and Moenkopi but there is no way to verify this. Plus why would Day travel five miles further to get rocks.

Ultimately, I have to go with the original source of Goose Island though I write this without complete confidence. The stones in Star Hall don’t really look like the Kayenta; they seem too pink but they are fresh, cleaned surfaces as opposed to the weathered rocks found in nature. Any additional insights would be appreciated.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to the Beginning: A Reading in Moab

Long ago when I graduated from college, I ended up in Moab, Utah. It was here that I truly fell under the spell of rocks. For the next nine years, I hiked, biked, canoed, backpacked, and explored the red rock country of southern Utah. It was a geologist's paradise with few of those pesky green things called trees getting in the way of seeing stone.

Now, for the first time since my book Stories in Stone was published I am going back to Moab. While there, I will give a reading at one of my favorite bookstores, Back of Beyond Books. The sister store to Arches Bookstore, Back of Beyond (or Bob, as I call it) focuses on regional books, with new, used, and antiquarian selections, including first editions of many Edward Abbey books. It will be an honor and pleasure to talk about how my time in Moab led me down the path to focus on the cultural and natural history of building stone.

The reading will be at 7:00 P.M. on Thursday, September 9. It should be a fun time!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fossils in our Nation's Capital

No, the title doesn't refer to the ancient beasts roaming the halls of Congress though I do wish some of them would go the way of dinosaurs. Instead, I want to highlight a web site I just learned about. It is Fossils in the Architecture of Washington, DC: A Guide to Washington's Accidental Museum of Paleontology. The site has been put together by Christopher Barr, a lawyer who has lived in DC since 1979. As the name implies, the site's goal is "to describe, or at least list, all of the public fossils occurring in Washington's architectural landscape."
Barr has done a first rate job of assembling a thorough list of the fossil-rich buildings throughout the capital. For each building, he provides an introduction on what you can see, where to see it, and a history of the building. In some cases, he also speculates why a particular stone was chosen. He then provides photos (with helpful scales) of the fossils, which he describes in detail, providing geologic background. Finally, he documents who helped him and where one can obtain more background information. Nowhere else have I found such a well-put-together site about urban fossils.
Urban fossils are amazing resources and offer an excellent way to get people interested in fossils, deep time, evolution, and geology in general. Plus, as Barr has done, these fossils are a great way to get people to think about human history. He does list a many of the guides that are available but it is such a small list considering the wonderful fossils found in the urban environment. I hope that Barr's site can inspire other urban paleontologists to do the same thing in their cities.