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Geologic story of the North Cascades button
North Cascades National Park:
Early Encounters with the Rocks
rock art!
Petrographs on the shores of Lake Chelan, painted by early North Cascade residents
The first explorers in the North Cascades who had an interest in rocks may well have been the native peoples, quarrying chert and volcanic glass for tools and weapons. According to archaeologists, hunters quarried chert for weapons as early as 8,000 years ago in the Skagit River valley near what is now Ross Lake. Based on radiocarbon ages of old campfires at quarry sites, archaeologists estimate that the early rock-workers were most active in the mountains between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago.
spacer image Native peoples established trails over some passes in the North Cascades. The first Europeans, seeking furs, gold and trade routes, followed these trails. By the 1890s, mining claims were established in many areas, including in the vicinity of Harts Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, the upper North Fork of the Nooksack in the Mt. Baker Wilderness, and the Cascade Pass area of North Cascades National Park. The first professional geographer to see a significant part of the back country was George Gibbs, who in 1849 explored the Skagit, Chilliwack, and Pasayten drainages. His travel was no doubt difficult, but his rather dry account does no justice to the magnificence of the country.
spacer image In the early 1900s, as part of a resurvey of the border along the 49th parallel, Canada and the United States sent geologists to study the area along the border. George Otis Smith and Frank Calkins of the U.S. Geological Survey worked on the U.S. side. Although Smith and Calkins made significant contributions, their report pales beside that of their Canadian counterpart, a young professor from Boston named Reginald Daly.
Daly’s cross section
Part of a cross section along Canadian border from Daly’s 1912 report. It shows young volcanic rocks (volcanic rocks of Mount Rahm) resting on rocks of the Hozomeen terrane and intruded by a younger plutonof the Chilliwack batholith.

Lumberjacks had cleared trees from a 100-foot-wide swath along the border, allowing Daly, usually mounted on a horse and following the tree fellers' trails, to reach terrain never seen before by geologists. His extensive report, published in 1912, was, for more than 40 years, the major source of geologic lore for the North Cascades. However, vast parts of the North Cascades remained unknown geographically and geologically until more recent times.
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This site is a cooperative endeavor of the
US Geological Survey Western Earth Surface Processes Team
and the National Park Service.
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This page was last updated on 12/1/99
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Material in this site has been adapted from a new book, Geology of the North Cascades: A Mountain Mosaic by R. Tabor and R. Haugerud, of the USGS and published by The Mountaineers, Seattle