The Teanaway, a geologic story worth telling

Balanced or Exclamation Point Rock then&now
Exclamation Point Rock (aka. Balanced Rock), of Teanaway Community Forest, in 1911 and today. Photos: Ellensburg Public Library/DNR

If these hills could talk they would tell tales of bubbling lava, ancient jungles roamed by coyote-sized horses, and a shoreline sculpted by great blocks of ice.

While all is quiet in the Teanaway now, the beauty that we enjoy today was formed by massive events that gave rise to one-of-a-kind geologic features. The fascinating landscape has a history of drawing people to its location, just a few miles east of Cle Elum.

Here the work of erosion has exposed impressive formations of resistant Roslyn Formation sandstone, remnants of 40 million year-old swamps and rivers that also left behind a coal field mined for more than 80 years.

Even older, a dark, blocky rock unique to this area, and accordingly named Teanaway Basalt, holds up the high ridges north and west of the forest. It was formed as continental plates moved and stretched creating cracks and fissures that basalt lava filled up from below. This process also formed small cavities in the basalt that later filled with silica-rich fluid. This fluid eventually crystallized and become rare Ellensburg Blue agates. It’s the only place in the world where the Ellensburg Blue agate exists.

So, we see that these hills, or at least their rocks, do talk. The Division of Geology and Earth Resources, a part of Washington state’s Department of Natural Resources, is helping people to interpret what these stones say.

A new one-page geologic map and summary centers in on the agency’s new Teanaway Community Forest and surrounding area. Print it and take it with you as you camp, hike, hunt, or climb across this special rockscape. Use it to spot signs of the area’s geology or explore points of interest in this scenic landscape. You’ll leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for how the surrounding mountains and valleys were formed.

The division intends to produce more such one-page summaries for other landscape destinations in the future. This one is available at www.dnr.wa.gov/Teanaway.

When you go, remember to bring your Discover Pass – its display on vehicles is required, as in other state lands.

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