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Flood rocks added to Tualatins Ice Age collection


The Tualatin Heritage Center received two pieces of history Dec. 22 in the form of Ice Age era rocks.

Weighing in at 5,500 and 20,000 pounds respectively, they came to the area from Montana 15,000 years ago by the Missoula floods, a series of Ice Age floods created by a periodically bursting ice dam near the Canada-Montana border.

The Tualatin area served as a significant gateway channel for the floods, according to geological historians. Each of these floods wielded a force 10 times stronger than that of every modern river in the world combined. It's no wonder that any number of multi-ton rocks were carried across state lines into Oregon.

A score of these rocks, called 'glacial erratics,' have been found throughout the century in the area. However, a couple of large specimens that were found within Tualatin were carted off elsewhere over the years. This left Tualatin Historical Society President Yvonne Addington on the lookout for other flood rocks.

That's where Gaston farmer Douglass Ott comes in.

'I knew that rock was there (on my farmland) since 1963, but for the longest time, I didn't know what it was doing there,' Ott said of the nearly 3-ton rock that now sits at the Tualatin Heritage Center. 'I realized it was granite, and granite's not supposed to be here. This is a volcanic area.

'The old time farmers just had to go around it, there was nothing they could do about it,' said Ott, who has lived and farmed in Gaston all his life. 'My dad and I got a bulldozer and pushed it to the end of the road. It lay there for 47 years.'

One day, Ott saw Rick Thompson, president of the Columbia River Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute, speaking on local television at a symposium hosted by the Tualatin Heritage Center. What Thompson had to say about the floods cleared up Ott's question about what this rock was doing here, far from home. So he made a phone call.

'He didn't believe me at the time,' Ott said. To many, a rock is a rock is a rock, but to a farmer who knows his land or to a natural historian, a rock that belongs in the Rocky Mountains sticks out like a sore thumb here in the Pacific northwest.

A neighbor of Ott's made it known that she had a strange rock on her property as well. When Addington was told that these Gaston residents were willing to donate the erratics to the Heritage Center, she welcomed the opportunity.

The erratics were delivered, free of charge, by Tualatin businesses Clopton Excavation, Curtis Heintz Excavation and Axis Crane and Excavation. A grand unveiling hosted by the Heritage Center is expected to take place in January.

Last summer, the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce received a $27,750 grant from the Washington County Visitors Association for a project to turn Tualatin into a hot spot for Ice Age history, artifacts and information. Other fossils and artifacts that visitors can already view in Tualatin include a mastodon skeleton that rests in the Tualatin Public Library.

According to Thompson, the last erratics to be discovered were 23 rocks of varying sizes found a couple of years ago at a Willamette Valley winery.

'In the 20s, over 250 locations were found in this area with glacial erratics,' Thompson said. 'Some weren't that large, some were bigger than the ones (at the Heritage Center). We find less now, the way we move around, the way we kick people off our property, and the way farmers tend to want to get those things out of their fields. They roll 'em into holes or they end up in blackberry bushes or they blow 'em up.

'People don't want strangers coming onto their property to look at these things. Sometimes they won't report them.'