Archive for March, 2010

Cougar Mountain Coal Mines

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Up a short trail from the Red Town entrance to Cougar Mountain Park, there is a coal mining exhibit, with a coal car, a mine shaft, and signs with pictures of the coal operations and maps of the coal works.  It is hard to believe that there was so much going on here, and now it seems, at least superficially, to have reverted to wilderness.  There are hints, such as the giant mine shaft almost a mile and a half away from the other mine works.  Could that really be connected underground with the other entrance?

I set out to find out more about the mining operations.  I started in the local B&N, with the “Images of America” books on Issaquah.  That has a few pictures, with some impressive buildings and towns, but little hard information, other than the fact that there was constant strife between the miners and mine owners.

Issaquah Geologic Map

Next I turned to a geologic map of Issaquah, which shows where the coal seams run through the park.  Yes, indeed, the coal seam runs under the Red Town entrance, runs under Cave Hole Trail, and continues on up to where the shaft emerges near the clay pit.  So it is possible that the mines followed the seam all the way.

But what about those trenches, fissures, whatever, on the east side of Claypit Peak?  There is one near the top, and others half way down.  They are perpendicular to the direction of the seams, not along them as I would expect.  Maybe they were searching for the seams?  A clue in the references section of the geologic map led me to the Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources (website).  There I discovered a fascinating report, written in 1912, on the coal mines of King County.  It turns out there were mines in Issaquah proper, in Newcastle (the mines at the Red Town trailhead), and in Renton.  These were all tapping into the same seams.  Here are some pictures from that report.

Coal Creek Mine Cars

Bunker at Issaquah Mine

And there was a map of the mine itself.  This same map is posted on the mining exhibit, but I have never been able to study it carefully because of the cold, the rain, or the patience of whoever else I am with.

Map of Coal Creek Mine

But the very best was that the report appendix had a contemporary geologic map.  Here is a part of it.

Geologic Map 1912

This shows the mines extending from Red Town toward the (current location of the) clay pit, but do not show any activity where I have observed the trenches, which would be in the middle of square 31 and to the left (west) in square 32.  But they do lie roughly along the path of the coal seams, which can be presumed to continue their path from Red Town to Issaquah.

One thing I have learned by studying the geologic map is that there is a distinct change in the composition of the bedrock running roughly E/W through the park.  On the one side is a layered shale and coal rock, and on the other a much harder formation made up of volcanic sandstone, volcanic ash, and lava flows.  I have wondered about the cleft, seen so clearly with Google Earth, between Wilderness Peak and Claypit Peak, down which Newcastle Queen Creek flows.  It turns out that the boundary between these formations lies almost exactly along Newcastle Queen Creek.  I guess the steepness of the whole southern part of the park owes to this harder lava-based bedrock.  It seems, too, that the vegetation is different across this divide, but that may be my imagination or it might be due to the pattern of logging that took place.

Other interesting publications on the same website: A 1984 report on coal mining in Central Kings County, containing this map:

Coal Mine Map - Cougar Mountain

Finally, in this publication, I found the most detailed map of the Cougar Mountain Coal mines:

Cougar Mountain Coal Mines

The Red Town trailhead is in the upper left.  The mine shafts appear to be denoted by a square with the top-left corner colored in.  The shaft near the Red Town trailhead is visible, near the number 17.  The air shaft near the clay pit is also visible, in the center.  The tunnels do actually extend that far, and beyond, and in fact extend as far in the other direction as well.  The air shaft, mentioned in the Wikipedia article, is also shown near the number 28 on the far right.

Of interest are the little Y-shaped lines perpendicular to the coal seams.  Near Claypit Peak, and on the far right, there are many of these labeled “incomplete”.  Near the Newcastle-Queen Mine Trail there are several as well, shown connecting to the coal seams.  These appear to be tunnels, allowing access to the mine from the surface.  If so, this suggests the trenches are collapsed mine access tunnels.  I guess that would kind of make sense.

List of DNR Papers mentioning Coal

Cougar – West Tibbetts Creek Connector

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Yesterday I tried to follow West Tibbetts Creek connector, described in the Wikipedia page on Cougar Mountain Park, but got lost part of the way along and bushwhacked back to the trail.  So today I went back to try to find the path.  I was also inspired by a trail I saw yesterday but did not follow, and by the report of a geocacher, who managed to ascend most of the way up to the Fantastic Erratic south of the Bear Creek Trail.

I climbed up the road, but this rime took the right branch at the clearing, the one closer to the creek.  There was one place where there is a connector path leading across the creek to the Bear Ridge Trail, which I checked out but continued on up the road.  Shortly afterwards, the road ended, the terrain got much steeper, and there were few clues as to where to go next.  I tried keeping in the canyon bottom, where it was really bushy, going up a ridge, where it was steep and slippery, or directly up (where is was even steeper).   I aimed for yesterday’s waypoint, where the Newcastle-Queen Mine road ends (turning into a trail).  The slope was beginning to get less steep, and then I realized I was crossing a trail.  The West Tibbets Creek Connector.  How could I have gotten lost on such a distinct trail.

The trail traveled along the contour, heading towards the Bear Ridge trail. But suddenly, on a narrow ridge, it headed directly down, quite a ways, right to where I lost the trail yesterday.  Yesterday I was expecting the trail would head down, where it actually went up the ridge.  The only direction I did not examine closely.  After paying a visit to the Fantastic Erratic, I headed back, determined to see where the trail led.  After climbing back up the ridge and crossing the stream, the trail gradually descends as it heads south, finally intersecting the Newcastle-Queen Mine road just above a clearing and junk pile.  If you wanted to head up to the clay pit, it might be possible to head southwest after crossing the creek, heading for the road end.

I never did find the mine shaft and equipment promised by the Wikipedia article, but I did notice a series of trenches, 6 to 10 feet deep, trending in a roughly N/S direction.  These are much like the trench much higher up on Claypit Peak, in which Blackwater Pond sits.  They are also aligned with each other, and are perpendicular to the coal seams and to the rock beds exposed at the clay pit, which are E/W.  I wonder if these trenches were some kind of exploratory excavation, hoping to locate the coal seam?

Consulting a geologic map confirms that the coal seam runs nearby, so maybe this is what is going on.  But maybe not — the seam does not go anywhere near Blackwater Pond.  If anyone knows what these trenches are, please leave a comment.


GPX: West Tibbetts Creek Connector

Cougar — Blackwater Pond

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

The Newcastle-Queen Mine Trail ascends from the Bear Ridge Trailhead on Highway 900, ascending steeply up a series of old woods roads.  I did not see any of the mining artifacts described in the Wikipedia page, but was able to follow the road to its end, where it turns into a brushy trail, leading directly to the east end of the clay pit.

It is a steep and slippery climb up the slopes of the clay pit to the summit plateau of Claypit Peak, where the Blackwater Pond trail follows a strange trench around the east side of the mountain, eventually leading to Blackwater Pond (itself in the trench).  At the pond, the trail turns, and heads directly up toward Wilderness peak, eventually reaching Wilderness Peak trail and East Fork Trail.

Descending, I was looking for the South Precipice trail, which begins near the Fantastic Erratic.  I found a distinct trail, and followed it for a ways south, but eventually I lost the trail and headed down the ridge.  Before long, I rejoined the Bear Ridge trail.  Next time I will try to stay higher, at least until I cross the creek.

Note: Wikipedia had described Blackwater Pond as being in the headwaters of the East Fork of Coal Creek, and described the East Fork Trail as passing it.  Actually Jerry’s Duck Pond is in the East Fork headwaters, and Blackwater Pond is on the other side of the watershed, draining east to Tibbetts Creek.  The sign above is at Blackwater Pond, and the one to the right is at the fork in Blackwater Trail where it goes east to the East Fork or west to Blackwater Pond.  I have corrected the Wikipedia article.


GPX: Blackwater Pond

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