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Solifluction lobes at headwaters of east tributary of Nome Creek, 75 mi

(128 Ian) SW of Circle, Alaska. Aerial view toward NE. Glaciated Mt. Prindle [5286 ft
(1800 m)] in right background on skyline. (Photograph 2694 by Troy L. Pewe, July 9, 1968).
Quaternary Geology and Pennafrost
Along the Richardson and Glen
Highways Between Fairbanks
and Anchorage, Alaska

Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska

July 1-7, 1989

Field Trip Guidebook T102

Edited by:
Troy L. Pewe Richard D. Reger

Oscar J. Ferrians Donald R. Nichols Troy L. Pewe
Richard D. Reger Randall G. Updike
John A. Westgate John R. Williams

American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C.

Copyright 1989 American Geophysical Union

2000 Florida Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009

ISBN: 0-87590-603-6

Printed in the United States of America

COVER PHOTOORAPH. Placer gold-mining dredge 15 km west of Fairbanks, Alaska in 1947. Dredge floats
in a pond and digs gold-bearing gravel at far left. Gold is extracted mechanically on the dredge. Gravel tailings
are dropped at the other end of the dredge and stacked like giant, upturned coins. Dredge is mining in the
Pleistocene/Pliocene Cripple Gravel between Ester and Cripple Creek. Seventy m of Fairbanks Loess was
removed to uncover the gravel. In the background is a cliff of unremoved Fairbanks Loess 62 m high termed the
Ester Island Section. The type locality of the Ester Ash Bed (840 ka) lies near the base of the loess cliff. Large
scale dredge gold mining ended in the Fairbanks area June 30, 1965. This dredge still floats today in a pond
nearby this locality. (Photograph PK 693 by Troy L. Pewe, July 12, 1947).


Introduction 1

Fairbanks Area 3
Troy L. Pewe, Richard D. Reger, and John A. Westgate

Middle Tanana Valley 17

Troy L. Pewe and Richard D. Reger

Delta River Area 25

Troy L. Pewe and Richard D. Reger

Copper River Area 39

Oscar J. Ferrians, Jr, Donald R. Nichols, and John R. Williams

Upper Cook Inlet Region and Matanuska Valley 45

Richard D. Reger and Randall ·0. Updike


Troy L. Pewe
Department of Geology
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85281-1404

Richard D. Reger
Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys
3700 Airport Way
Fairbanks, AK 99709

Associate Leaders:

John Westgate
Department of Geology
University of Toronto
Scarborough Campus
Scarborough, Ontario
Oscar Ferrians
U.S. Geological Survey
4200 University Drive
Anchorage, AK 99508


General statement R.G. Updike, the original authors.

James C. Walters provided recent information on
Permafrost and marine, fluvial, lacustrine, glacial, frost-sorted features in the vicinity of the Denali
eolian, and periglacial deposits of Quaternary age that Highway. The authors appreciate the efficient
are widespread in the central and southern parts of cartographic support provided by Susan Selkirk
Alaska are forming today. Glaciers are common in (Arizona State University), Duncan Hickmott (DOGS),
mountainous areas, and the forces of glacial action that Dave Vogel (DOGS) and Karen Pearson (DOGS).
formerly shaped much of the world's land area can be Cheri Daniels (DOOS) edited the 1983 guidebook.
directly observed today in southern Alaska. Geological Peter Eagan, Manager, Alaska Gold Company,
processes active in cold regions---periglacial processes Fairbanks, and Walter Wigger of Eva Creek Properties,
such as solifluction, cryoplanation, and the fonnation of kindly granted permission to allow participants of the
permafrost---are known throughout much of the area. field excursion on their respective properties.
Dust is blown from active valley trains and outwash References used in compiling resumes and roadlogs
fans and is deposited as loess on the adjacent terrain. are listed in the general bibliography and in
Five major areas are considered (fig. 1): a) the bibliographies at the end of individual sections.
Fairbanks area, b) the middle Tanana River valley, References, are generally not inserted in the text, except
c) the Delta River area of the Alaska Range, including where controversial points are discussed.
the eastern Denali Highway, d) the Copper River Basin, All radiocarbon dates are given in years before
and e) the upper Cook Inlet region and Matanuska present (B.P.) with appropriate laboratory numbers.
Valley. The Fairbanks area and the middle Tanana
River valley is typical of the unglaciated interior of
Alaska, with its extensive eolian deposits, widespread
perennially frozen ground, and silt-choked glacial
streams near major moraines.
The Delta River area of the Alaska Range and the
Denali Highway are characterized by numerous glaciers 9 5,0 Miles

and deposits that record more extensive glaciation in the ~O Kilometers

past. The Copper River Basin has an interesting record

of alternating glacial and lacustrine deposits. Lake
deposits are perennially frozen and present serious
problems to utilization by man. In the upper Cook Inlet
region and Matanuska Valley---including the Matanuska
Glacier---extensive evidence of multiple glaciation and
numerous landslides generated by the Good Friday
Earthquake of March 27,1964, are present. The Trans-
Alaska Pipelines System parallels the highway for 300
mi (483 km) through the four northernmost areas N

covered by this guidebook.

Organization and Acknowledgements

The overall organizers and editors of this guidebook
and field excursion are Troy L. Pewe and Richard D.
Reger. The section on the Fairbanks area is modified
and greatly updated from the 1965 "Central and South-
Central Alaska Guidebook F" for the Seventh INQUA
edited by T.L. Pewee Troy L. Pewe, Richard D. Reger
and John H. Westgate are responsible for this section.
The remaining four sections are greatly condensed from
an extensive guidebook entitled, "Richardson and
Glenn Highways: Ouidebook to Permafrost and
Quaternary Geology" prepared for the Fourth
International Conference on Permafrost; 1983, edited
by T.L. Pewe and Richard D. Reger. Figure 1. - Index map showing field trip route from
The section on the Copper River Basin is updated by Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska.
the original authors, O.J. Ferrians, Jr., D.R. Nichols,
and J.R. Williams. The section on the upper Cook Inlet
region and Matanuska Valley is updated by Reger and

scale 1:500,000, 1 sheet.
SELECTED REFERENCES Pewe T.L., Ferrians, O.J., Jr., Karlstrom, T.N.V.,
Nichols, D.R., 1965, Guidebook for Field
Coulter, H.W., Hopkins, D.M., Karlstrom, T.N.V., Conference F, central and south-central Alaska,
Pewe, T.L., Wahrhaftig, C., and Williams, J.R., International Association for Quaternary Research,
1965, Extent of glaciations in Alaska: U.S. 7th Congress, Fairbanks, 1965: Lincoln, Nebraska
Geological Survey Miscellaneous Geologic Academy of Science, 141 p. (reprinted 1977,
Investigations Map 1-415, scale 1:2,500,000, Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical
1 sheet. Surveys).
Mertie, J.B., Jr., 1937, The Yukon-Tanana region, Pewe, T.L., and Reger, R.D., 1972, Modern and
Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 872, Wisconsinan snowlines in Alaska: International
276 p. Geological Congress, 24th, Montreal, 1972,
Pewe, T.L., 1958, Geology of the Fairbanks (D-2) Proceedings, v. 12, p. 187-197.
Quadrangle: U.S. Geological Survey Geological Pewe, T.L. and Reger, R.D., 1983, (eds.) Guidebook
Quadrangle Map GQ-110, scale 1:63,360, 1 sheet. to permafrost and Quaternary geology along the
Pewe, T.L., 1969, The periglacial environment, past Richardson and Glenn Highways between
and present: Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska: Alaska Division
Press, 487 p. of Geological and Geophysical Surveys Guide-
Pewe, T.L., 1975 Quaternary geology of Alaska: U.S. book 1, 263 p.
Geological Survey Professional Paper 835, 145 p. Pewe, T.L., Wahrhaftig, Clyde, and Weber, F.R.,
Pewe, T.L.,1982, Geologic hazards of the Fairbanks 1966, Geologic map of the Fairbanks Quadrangle,
area, Alaska: Alaska Division of Geological and Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Miscellaneous
Geophysical Surveys Special Report 15, 109 p. Geologic Investigations Map 1-455, scale
Pewe, T.L., Burbank, Lawrence, and Mayo, L.R., 1:250,000, 1 sheet.
1967, Multiple glaciation of the Yukon-Tanana Wahrhaftig, Clyde, 1965, Physiographic divisions of
Upland, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional
Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map 1-507, Paper 482, 52 p.

T102: 2
Troy L. Pewe 1, Richard D. Reger2, and John A. Westgate 3

RESUME OF QUATERNARY GEOLOGY AND Summers are short, sunlit, and \varm and maximum
PERMAFROST temperatures often exceed 85°F (29.4°C).
Between 1930 and 1980, the mean annual
temperature at Fairbanks was 25.7°F (-3.5°C); the
Location and physiography lowest official air temperature (-62°F or -52.2°C) was
recorded in December 1961, and the highest official air
Fairbanks, at 433 ft (132 m) elevation, is located at temperature (96°F or 35.6°C) was recorded in June
65°N latitude about 100 mi (185 km) south of the 1969.
Arctic Circle astraddle the boundary between Tanana About 30 percent of the annual precipitation falls as
Lowland (to the south) and Yukon-Tanana Upland (to snow, which normally covers the ground from middle
the north) (Wahrhaftig, 1965). Ridge crests in the to late October through mid-April. Total snowfall
vicinity reach elevations of 1,250 to 1,800 ft (380 to varies considerably from year to year but averages close
550 m) and relief ranges from 600 to 1,300 ft (183 to to 70 in. (1.78 m).
397 m). An extensive apron of coalescing piedmont
alluvial fans slopes northward from the foothills of the Permafrost
central Alaska Range to the flo<Xl plain of Tanana River.
Physiographically, the Fairbanks area is divisible in- Fairbanks is located in the discontinuous permafrost
to loess-covered bedrock hills, lower hillslopes and zone, where perennially frozen ground is
creek-valley bottoms, organic-silt lowlands, and flood relatively warm and sensitive to disturbance. Lowland
plains adjacent to Chena and Tanana Rivers (fig. 2). sites are underlain by permafrost, which at the level of
Windblown silt ranges in thickness from a few inches zero amplitude, generally ranges in temperature between
(cm) on hill tops and ridge crests several miles (km) 31.9° and 32°F (-0.6° and O°C), although temperatures
north of Tanana River up to about 200 ft (60 m) on as low as 26.1 OF (-3.3°C) have been measured in local
hillsides near Tanana River flood plai~, which is the areas with especially cold microclimates (Raymond A.
source of this material (Pewe, 1951, 1955, 1968). Kreig, oral communication, June 27,1983).
Fluvial fans of organic silt (retransported loess) spread In general, approximately half of the upland in the
from gullies in loess on middle and upper slopes, vicinity of Fairbanks is underlain by permafrost, most
coalescing and combining with airfall silt to build of which is ice rich (Pewe, 1958a; Pewe and Bell,
complex loess fills up to 300 ft (100 m) thick in valley 1974). However, the extent of permafrost varies
bottoms. considerably, depending on site factors such as
Fairbanks is built on the combined flood plains of geologic materials, vegetation cover, slope angle and
Chena River and Tanana River. This aggradational aspect, and history of disturbance. Permafrost does not
surface is underlain by 1 to 15 ft (0.3 to 4.6 m) of o~cur beneath moderate to steep south-facing slopes and
sandy silt, which blankets sandy gravel containing hIlltops. Depth to base of permafrost in creek valley
lenses of pebble gravel with scattered cobbles as large bottoms varies from 8 to more than 360 ft (2.4 to more
as 3 in. (7.6 em). The alluvial fill is as thick as 700 ft than 110 m (fig. 2). Beneath flood plains of Chena and
(214 m) and contains numerous buried forest layers. Tanana Rivers, discontinuous masses of perennially
Sinuous slough fillings of sandy organic silt up to 30 ft frozen ground are interstratified with unfrozen sand and
(9 m) thick wind across the flood plain. gravel lenses and layers; permafrost table ranges in
depth from 2 to 91 ft (0.6 to 27.8 m), averaging about 2
Climate to 5 ft (0.6 to 1.5 m) where shallow; and maximum
known depth of permafrost ranges from 11 to over 265
Fairbanks is near the center of the continental ft (3.4 to over 80.8 ro).
climatic zone in interior Alaska. Winters are normally Many landforms indicative of permafrost occur in the
long, dark, cold, and dry, and minimum temperatures vicinity of Fairbanks, including open-system pingos,
frequently plunge below -40° to -50°F (-40° to -45°C). low-center .polygons, high-center polygons,
thermokarst PIts, beaded drainage, and thaw ponds and
1 Department of Geology, Arizona State University,
Tempe, Arizona 85287. Soils
'l Divisio~ of Geological and Geophysical Surveys,
3700 AIrport Way, Fairbanks, Alaska 99709. On well-drained upland surfaces in the Fairbanks
3 Department of Geology, University of Toronto, area, where permafrost is not present, Alfic
Scarborough Campus, Scarborough, Ontario, Cryochrepts (subarctic brown forest soils) exhibit
Canada, MIC A4. typical reddish brown to brown profiles 24 to 40 in.

T102: 3
Bedrock hills and loess slopes
Permafrost free * Thermokarst pit
Dredge tailings • Pingo
Generally unfrozen

Flood-plain alluvium (!) Field trip stop

Permafrost with low ice content

Lower hillslope silt and creek valley silt

Permafrost with high ice content

2 3 Miles

2 3 Kilometers

FIGURE 2 Generalized permafrost map of the Fairbanks area, Alaska, showing location of field trip
stops (modified from geologic map of the Fairbanks area by T.L. Pewe, 1958).

T102: 4
Quaternary geology and events
(0.6 to 1.2 m) deep with scattered thin clay layers. In
lowland sites where soil drainage above permafrost is Although interior Alaska was not glaciated, except in
poor, Pergelic Cryaquepts (gley soils) exhibit generally small, local mountain masses (P6w6 and others, 1967;
dark gray or mottled olive-gray and brown profiles with Weber, 1986), glaciers from the Alaska Range
only weakly differentiated horizons. Inactive and active advanced to within 50 mi (80 km) of Fairbanks.
flood plains, and especially low natural levees along Coincidentally, sediment-charged proglacial streams
rivers and creeks, are sites where Typic Cryofluvents like Tanana River deposited hundreds of feet of silt,
(alluvial soils) develop. Horizons are weakly sand, and gravel in Tanana Valley. This heavy
differentiated in their dark grayish brown profiles, aggradation by trunk streams caused nonglacial streams
which are locally mottled by dark brown near the in the southern Yukon-Tanana Upland to deposit up to
surface. Although seasonal freezing is deep in these 400 ft (121 m) of alluvium in their lower valleys. Sand
sites and permafrost is locally present below older and silt were deflated from braided flood plains and
surfaces, it is deeper than 2.5 ft (0.8 m). deposited as sand sheets and the dunes or loess on
nearby landscapes. Slope processes reworked much of
Vegetation the surface mantle to form complex valley fills.
These Quaternary deposits near Fairbanks document
The Fairbanks area is centered in the taiga, or a complex record of alternating cycles of silt and gravel
northern boreal forest, of central Alaska. This open deposition and erosion, and formation and destruction
forest is dominated generally by slow- growing of permafrost. Climatic fluctuations ranged from
conifers, is locally rich in deciduous trees, and contains climates warmer than now to climates colder than now.
numerous dense forest stands, zones of high brush, and Both climatic changes and geologic processes,
treeless bogs (Viereck, 1975). Distribution of including permafrost formation, are related to glacial
vegetation types is controlled by slope, drainage, expansion and recession in tht} Alaska Range south of
elevation, presence or absence of permafrost, and fire the middle Tanana River valley (fig. 1).
history. The .earliest recognized Late Cenozoic event in the
Vegetation around Fairbanks can be grouped into five Fairbanks area is deposition of the now heavily stained
types, named for their general locations, and principal (dark brown to red), auriferous, poorly sorted Cripple
compositions. 1) Bottomland spruce-poplar forest Gravel (P6w6, 1975a), which occurs only
grows on flood plains and low terraces of Chena and discontinuously in buried benches (fig. 3). This little-
Tanana Rivers and is dominated by tall white spruce transported gravel is probably Pliocene/Pleistocene in
and balsam poplar. 2) Lowland conifer-low brush bogs age and may correlate with auriferous gravel in the
develop on cold, moist to saturated floors of upland Livengood area (Karl and others, 1988) and with
stream valleys and on gentle silt fans and aprons that probable tillites in the northern foothills of the Alaska
spread from mouths of upland valleys onto the inactive Range (Carter, 1980). The Cripple Gravel apparently
flood plain of Chena River; in these locations, accumulated in valley bottoms under.intense periglacial
permafrost is continuous and shallow and vegetation conditions; it grades upslope into mass-movement
varies from a compact forest of stunted black spruce to diamicton (solifluction deposits) that is cut by sand-
an open woodland of stunted black spruce with filled ice-wedge casts. These solifluction deposits lie
secondary tamarack and scattered paper birch. 3) The on weathered bedrock under eolian sediments in
most extensive forest type is upland spruce-hardwood numerous exposures from Fairbanks to Big Delta (fig.
forest, which occupies upland slopes above valley 1).
floors. This community grows on cool, steep to gentle A second, less-stained (tan), poorly sorted,
northern exposures. 4) On warm, south-facing middle auriferous creek gravel, the Fox Gravel, is widespread
and upper slopes, the forest is generally a highly in creek-valley bottoms in the Fairbanks area (fig. 3). It
productive mixture of white spruce and paper birch with is the little-reworked equivalent of slope deposits that
less frequent quaking aspen. Treeline on south-facing accumulated during intense periglacial conditions after
slopes is about 2,600 ft (793 m) elevation and is deposition of the Cripple Creek Gravel. The presence
slightly lower on north-facing slopes. 5) Just below of sparse mammoth and bison bones in this gravel and
altitudinal treeline, white and black spruce typically its occurrence beneath the Gold Hill Loess indicate that
form an open woodland. Although there is no alpine it is very early Pleistocenein age.
tundra in the immediate vicinity of Fairbanks, above Sandwiched between the Fox Gravel and the
3,300 ft (1007 m) elevation in the southern Yukon- overlying loess section in some lower creek valleys is
Tanana Upland, hill slopes and summits and ridge the Dawson Cut Fonnation. This thin (3- to 10-ft or I-
flanks and crests bear a discontinuous carpet of low- to 3-m) organic silt is discontinuous. Locally, it
growing herbs, grasses, subshrubs, cushion plants, contains peat lenses, logs as large as 12 in. (30 cm) in
and lichens; this cover is interrupted by rocky rubble diameter, spruce stumps up to 8 in. (20 cm) in diameter
and contains low, dense, pruned thickets of willows preserved in growth position, and bones of bison and
and resin birch in hollows where snow collects each microtines (P6w6, 1975a; Guthrie, 1968). The
winter. presence of trees and its stratigraphic position indicate
that the Dawson Cut Fonnation probably fonned during
an early Pleistocene interglaciation.

T102: 5
which a forest of large spruce and birch returned to
Ongoing tephrochronological and paleomagnetic Fairbanks (Pewe, 1965, 1975a,b; Pewe and others,
studies indicate that a long period of intermittent loess 1989). Relatively warm temperatures that promoted
deposition, retransportation, and erosion began in the return of the forest also caused widespread and deep
vicinity of Fairbanks perhaps 1.5 to 2 million years thawing of permafrost as indicated by the lack of
ago. (Stemper and others, 1988; Pewe and others, massive ice in the Gold Hill Loess. Isothermal plateau
1988; Pewe and others, 1989; Stemper and others, fission-track dating of the underlying Old Crow tephra
1989). The oldest (and thickest) silt exposed in mining as 149±13 ka confirms that the Eva Fonnation is Sang-
cuts is the Gold Hill Loess, which overlies the Dawson amon in age (Westgate, 1988; Pewe and others, 1988).
Cut Formation (fig.3). Although when viewed in its The widespread and conspicuous Goldstream
thawed state from a distance it appears massive, this Formation represents an ice-rich valley-bottom
complex silt contains numerous unconformities and accumulation of loess and retransported loess overlying

o 500 Feet
I • I '. I
o 100 Metres

Old Crow tephra - 150ka

Ice wedge casts
SP tephra - 870 ka
Paleomagnetically reversed section
Cripple Gravel ofGold Hill Loess
Ester Ash Bed - 840 ka
Bedrock Dawson Cut Fonnation (forest bed)

FIGURE 3 Schematic composite cross section of stratigraphic relationships of Quaternary deposits in

creek valley near Fairbanks, central Alaska. Holocene tephra omitted.

relatively weakly developed paleosols. Common the Eva Formation (fig. 3). This dominantly silt unit
mammal remains include bones of horse, mammoth, has a medium brown to gray color due to the presence
bison, lemming, ground squirrel and others. The Gold of abundant disseminated carbonized organic
Hill Loess probably accumulated during several early to fragments. Large foliated ice wedges are abundant,
mid-Pleistocene glaciations when widespread, sparsely especially in the upper part of the formation. Sand
vegetated, nearby silt bars of the braided Tanana River layers and local accumulations of angular creek gravels
provided abundant source areas. Unconformities occur near bedrock slopes and near junctions of
probably represent interstadial and interglacial tributary streams. The silt contains abundant organic
conditions. Isothermal plateau fission-track dates on remains, including peat, sticks, limbs, seeds cached by
tephra near the base and top of the Gold Hill Loess ground squirrels, and rare frozen carcasses of
indicate that it began accumulating long before 870 ka mammoth, bison, and ground squirrel. Bones of
ago and deposition ceased after 150 ka years ago extinct bison, mammoth, and horse are common. Tree
(Westgate, 1988). Paleomagnetic results indicate that line was 1,500 to 1,800 ft (450 to 550 m) lower and
about half of the unit was deposited before 800 ka ago. trees were rare. Alpine tundra pollen is dominant,
It appears that a major erosional (and warming?) fossil vertebrates that lived above tree line are abundant.
interval occurred just after 870-800-ka and much of the Numerous radiocarbon dates and stratigraphic relations
older Gold Hill Loess was removed. Subsequently with older and younger units support the interpretation
intensive loess deposition occurred from 800 to 150 ka that the Goldstream Formation is Wisconsin in age. Its
and probably represents one or two glaciations. complexities reflect accumulation under glacial and
Unconformably overlying the Gold Hill Loess and interstadial conditions when permafrost thawed only
underlying the Goldstream Formation is the Eva partially and reworking of primary airfall silt was
Formation, a 3.3'-ft- (Im-) thick layer of peat lenses, intermittent.
sticks, large logs, and rooted stumps (fig. 3). This unit The youngest units in the Quaternary section are the
documents an interglaciation of major duration during Engineer Loess and its retransported valley-bottom

T102: 6
equivalent, the Ready Bullion Formation (fig. 3). At this site in 1908, the gentle north slope, which
These units lie disconformably on the Goldstream was underlain by unsuspected cellular networks of
Formation. The medium- to dark-brown Ready Bullion foliated ice wedges, was initially cleared. During the
Formation is conspicuously rich in organic material next 14 years, polygonal trenches developed to such a
compared to the Goldstream Formation, including degree that fann machinery could not be safely operated
considerable minute carbonized plant fragments, peat and in 1922 the field was seeded for pasture. In 1927
lenses, and abundant wood. Among the few vertebrate or 1928, part of the field was allowed to revegetate
remains preserved in the Ready Bullion Formation, no naturally. By 1938, thermokarst mounds were 3 to 8 ft
extinct taxa are represented. Although large foliated ice (0.9 to 2.4 m) high and 20 to 50 ft (6 to 15 m) in
wedges are not widespread in the Ready Bullion diameter. In November 1938, in order to determine'if
Fonnation compared to the Goldstream Formation, they the ground ice was still thawing, some mounds were
reach widths as large as 6.6 ft (2 m) in local favorable planed off by bulldozer tractor and intervening trenches
microenvironments (Hamilton and others, 1983). were filled. By the following July, the resulting
Numerous radiocarbon dates demonstrate that smooth surface once again became irregular and in
deposition of the Ready Bullion Formation began just succeeding years polygonal mounds formed as
before 10.5 ka ago and has continued to the present differential ground settlement continued. By 1947, the
(Pewe, 1975a). mounds were again as high as in 1938 prior to grading.
That year the field was abandoned.
The modem woodland on the mounds demonstrates
ROAD LOG AND LOCALITY DESCRIPTION the typical plant succession on lower north-facing
slopes where permafrost is initially deep [a soil auger
0.Q4. STOP F1 5. WEST RIDGE, UNIVERSITY probe in July 1948 encountered no permafrost to a
OF ALASKA CAMPUS depth of 9 ft (2.7 m)]. In the area abandoned in 1927
or 1928 paper birch are numerous and have a maximum
This scenic overlook presents a suitable backdrop diameter of 14 in. (36 cm), black spruce reach a
against which to summarize the physical setting of the maximum diameter of 13 in. (33 cm), alder shrubs are
Fairbanks area (see Pewe, 1958) and to outline major common and the well-developed ground cover features
Late Cenozoic events. On a clear day, there is a striking field horsetail, feathermosses, lingonberry, and
view of the glacier-clad Alaska Range (fig. 1) with Mt. Labrador tea. The part of the former field abandoned in
McKinley [20,300 ft (6,195 m)] elevation 160 mi 1947 has fewer paper birch (up to 8 in. or 20 cm
(250 km)to the southwest. diameter), more balsam poplar (up to 13 in. or 33 cm
diameter), fewer black spruce (up to 6 in. or 15 cm in
STOP F2. THERMOKARST MOUNDS, diameter) and less understory (tall fireweed with
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA AGRICULTURAL scattered green alder and Bebb willow).
Return to Stop 1. Proceed east on Yukon Drive
This locality on the lower north side of the ridge on from Stop 1.
which the Fairbanks campus of the University of
Alaska is situated not only exhibits excellent examples 0.7. Junction with Tanana Drive. Tum right
of thermokarst mounds (high-center polygons), but (south) on Tanana Drive.
their history is well-documented.
These mounds of loess and retransported loess stand 0.8. Junction with Taku Drive. Turn left (north)
up to 8 ft (2.4 m) high and are 10 to 50 ft (3 to 15 m) in on Taku Drive.
diameter; they are separated by polygonal trenches 1 to
5 ft (0.3 to 1.5 m) wide (P6we, 1954, 1965, 1982). 1.0. Junction with Farmers Loop Road. To the
Trenches form where melting polygonal (foliated) ice right (south), a short stretch of Fanners Loop Road has
wedges cause differential settlement of the ground presented a chronic maintenance problem since 1964, 2
surface. Unconnected local depressions first appear years after the road was placed across the perennially
and collect surface runoff, which speeds thawing and frozen, ice-rich,organic fill ofa former slough.
enters subsurface cavities, enlarging them. Gradually, Excessive subsidence over thawing and consolidating
because the ground settles most over ice wedges, peat has almost annually required filling and repaving of
intercellular polygon centers are left standing as the roadway. Drilling in 1977, 1979, and 1980
indicates that materials beneath the roadway include 7 to
4 Road mileage for Day 1 of this field trip begins 9 ft (2.1 to 2.7 m) of asphalt and gravel fill covering up
at STOP F1 (fig. 2). to 15 ft (4.5 m) of peat and organic silt that overlie up to
5 Field trip stops in the Fairbanks area are pre- 11 ft (3.3 m) of pebbly fluvial sand.
ceded by the letter "F" in the guidebook to Tum left (north) on Farmers Loop Road. For the
differentiate these stops from those along the first 0.2 mi (0.3 km), Farmers Loop Road is very
Richardson Highway. However, the letter irregular and periodically must be repaved. Tilted light
"F" does not appear on the numbered stops standards, uneven guard rails, and longitudinal cracking
on Figure 2. of the road fill and pavement indicate that problems

T102: 7
permafrost research in Alaska. Today, most of the site
result from thawing of ice-rich permafrost beneath has become overgrown from lack of use.
highway shoulders. Experiments with geotextiles by 9.4. Junction with Steese Expressway. Turn left
engineers of the University of Alaska and Department (northeast).
of Transportation and Public Facilities are underway to 13.3. Two large rock-and-mud flows moved down
develop ways to reduce these maintenance problems. the east wall of this roadcut through thawed and deeply
1.9. Ballaine Lake on the right is a stable thaw lake weathered schist soon after the cut was opened in 1977.
in thick organic silt. Some homes in the subdivision to A minor, shallow failure also occurred near the toe of
the right have subsided in response to thawing of ice- the west wall.
rich permafrost. .
2.2. Junction with Ballaine Road. 15.2 STOP F5. TRANS-ALASKA OIL PIPELINE.
The long-anticipated, vast petroleum potential of
2.5. STOP F3. FAIRBANKS MUNICIPAL northern Alaska was in part realized with the discovery
COUNTRY CLUB. of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968. To transport large
The fields in which these fairways are laid were fIrst volumes of warm crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to the
cleared in 1910 north of Farmers Loop Road and in ice-free port of Valdez, a 48-in.-diameter (1.2 m)
1939 south of it (P6w6, 1954). Thermokarst mounds pipeline was built (fig. 5).
up to 4 ft (1.2 m) high and 100 ft (30 m) in diameter The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) was the
developed within 4 years of clearing and thermokarst largest privately funded construction effort in history.
pits opened soon after. The concentration of pits north It was built at a cost of about $8 billion dollars by
of Farmers Loop Road was the greatest documented in Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, a consortium of
the Fairbanks area (see fig. 2). eight oil companies. The pipeline routinely transports
The reinforced concrete building housing the former about 1.2 million barrels of crude oil daily to Valdez
KFAR transmitter was built in 1939. At that time, a and is designed to carry up to 2 million barrels per day.
258-ft-deep (78.2 m) water well was drilled through TAPS is one of the most remarkable construction
permafrost between depths of 2 and 120 ft (0.6 and achievements in a permafrost environment. About 74
36.4 m) (P6w6, 1958). Within 9 years, the building percent (590 mi or 949 km) of the 800-mi-long (1,285
had settled intact 2 to 3 ft (0.6 to 0.9 m) and by 1977 it km) route traverses permafrost (Kreig and Reger,
had settled 4 to 5 ft (1.2 to 1.5 m) (P6w6, 1982). 1982). Where permafrost is crossed, the 1300 -to-145°F
Except for broken utility lines, the transmitter building (55°-to-60°C) oil would thaw the frozen ground if
has remained essentially intact through 49 years of special construction methods were not used. Thawing
settlement. It was abandoned several years ago. of widespread, ice-richpennafrost by a buried warm-oil
pipeline could cause liquefaction, loss of bearing
4.5 STOP F4. PERMAFROST PROBLEMS, 5.5 strength, differential settlement, and soil flow. The
MILE FAR1\1ERS LOOP ROAD. greatest differential settlement would occur over ice
The foundation for the house below (south of) wedges, where troughs would form and collect surface
Farmers Loop Road was dug in ice-rich organic silt in water (causing erosion and more thawing). In sections
1974 and the split-level frame house was constructed in of the TAPS route where ice content of perennially
1975. The home was occupied for about a year but was frozen ground is very low or where permfrost does not
vacant in the summer of 1977. At that time, the exist, the pipe is buried in the conventional manner (fig.
building had begun to develop foundation problems due 5A). About 409 mi (658 km) of the pipeline were
to thawing of permafrost by the introduction of heat installed in this mode.
from the warm basement and by drainage from the roof In seven short sections of the line [totaling 7 mi (11.2
and upslope. Shifting of the house separated vertical km)], the pipe is buried and mechanically frozen into
drain pipes, twisted doors out of alignment, and the ground (fig. 5B). These sections include crossings
separated the large, concrete-block front step from the for caribou and other animals in both ice-rich and ice-
house (fig. 4a). By 1983, although considerable poor permafrost. The pipe is insulated with 3 in. (7.6
subsidence had occurred, the house was temporarily cm) of polyurethane foam covered by a resin-reinforced
occupied. At that time, the front step had been fiberglass jacket. Temperature of permafrost in which
removed, the front door had sunk to ground level, the the pipe is buried is maintained by circulating
front yard had been regraded to divert surface drainage, refrigerated brine with electric pump through pipes
the garage roof was severely twisted, and most doors beneath the pipeline.
and windows were non-functional By the summer of About 382 mi (615 km) of the line is built above
1987, the house had once again been abandoned (4b,c). ground because of ice-rich permafrost. Construction of
8.0 The thickest known permafrost in the a large elevated pipeline is a major effort, especially in
Fairbanks area (more than 360 ft or 109 m) is permafrost terrain. Although the pipeline successfully
documented in the drainage of Isabella Creek 0.4 mi discharges its heat into the air and does not affect
(0.6 km) northeast of Farmers Loop (P6w6, 1982, fig. underlying permafrost, other problems related to
65). permafrost and associated phenomena must be
8.8 On the left (southeast) is the U.S. Army Cold considered. In conventional elevated construction, the
Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory Alaska pipe is clamped in a saddle assembly placed on a
Field Station, which was built in 1946 as a center for crossbeam between vertical-support members (pilings)

T102: 8
FIGURE 4b House distorted by
1987. (Photograph No. 4933
by T.L. Pewe June 19, 1987)

Figure 4c House distorted by 1988 by thawing of

underlying ice-rich pennafrost. House no longer lived
in. The birch trees have died because thick topsoil was
added to level the surface and retard permafrost
thawing. (Photograph No. 4987 by T.L. Pewe June
19, 1988).

T102: 9
is jacketed by galvanized steel. This insu:lation k~ps
CONVENTIONAL BURIED SPECIAL BURIED the oil warm and pumpable for a perIod of tIme
sufficient to complete unexpected maintenance.
Oil began flowing southward from Pump Station 1
at Prudhoe Bay on June 20, 1977, and frrst reached the
Valdez Tenninal on July 28, 1977.
Pipe ~---+-~ The elevated mode of the TAPS line across these
Bedding -~~~~ 14- to 19-ft. thick (4.2 to 5.8 m) gravel tailings is
necessary because ice-rich permafrost developed in
A. B. underlying fine-grained dredge-pond sediments within
25 ·years after dredging (Kreig and Reger, 1982, pI.
16.1 On the right (east) is the Dawson Cut mining
exposure of a local, white facies of the Cripple Gravel
of Pliocene(?) age. Type locality of Dawson Cut
Formation (forest bed) is at the base of thick exposure
of Gold Hill Loess (fig. 3).
16.4. Junction with Goldstream Road.

17.2. Turn right (southeast) onto access road to

Fox Permafrost Tunnel.
FIGURE 5 Different construction modes used in
construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System: A, 17.3 STOP F6. FOX PERMAFROST TUNNEL.
conventional buried; B, special buried; C, conventional The Fox Permafrost Tunnel consists of a 360-ft
elevated; and D, anchor support. Diagram courtesy of (109-m) adit cut through perennially frozen silt and
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. fluvial-colluvial gravel of late Wisconsinan and
Holocene age; [Goldstream and Ready Bullion
inserted into the ground (fig. 5C). The 123,000 Formations, (see fig. 3)]. From this tunnel, a 205-ft-
vertical-support members (VSMs) used along the TAPS long (62-m) winze slopes 12° downward through
route are 18-in.-diameter (45 cm) steel pipes that are frozen silt and fluvial gravel into bedrock; a 45-ft-Iong
subject to frost heaving. To eliminate frost heaving, (13.7-m) vertical shaft at the back of the adit allows;
each VSM is frozen firmly into permafrost by a ventilation. This unique research facility was
nonmechanical heat-exchange device that is installed constructed between 1963 and 1968 by personnel of
inside the steel pipe. This device consists of sealed U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering
metal tubes partially filled with ammonia, which Laboratory (CRREL), U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM),
evaporates in winter (simultaneously dra\ving heat and University of Alaska (Fairbanks) (UAF) to test
from the surrounding ground), rises to the tops of the various methods of excavating permafrost, and evaluate
tubes and is liquified by the cold atmosphere deformation of underground openings in permafrost.
(simultaneously releasing heat into the atmosphere Sediments, including several types of ground ice,
through aluminum heat-radiating fins). Following exposed in the walls and ceiling of the Fox·Permafrost
liquifaction, the fluid ammonia flows down the inside Tunnel document local changes of climate, changing
of each tube and again evaporates, repeating this cycle rates of loess accumulation, and cycles of ice-wedge
endlessly as long as the atmosphere is sufficiently cold. growth and thawing in this upper creek valley of the
This simple but efficient heat-exchange device does not southern Yukon-Tanana Upland during the past 44 ka
operate in summer when air temperatures exceed (Sellmann, 1967, 1972; Craig and others, 1983;
ground temperatures. Hamilton and others, 1988). Relatively rapid loess
To compensate for expansion of the elev~ted deposition occurred during cold, dry periglacial
pipeline caused by the warm oil and for contraction conditions. Such conditions are thought by permafrost
caused by extremely cold air temperatures in winter, the scientists to be ideal for growth of large ice wedges.
line is built in a flexible zigzag configuration, which However, Hamilton (Hamilton and others, 1988 and
converts longitudinal pipe expansions and contractions Hamilton and Robinson, 1988) believes vigorous ice
into lateral movements. This design also safely wedge growth takes place in times of slow loess
accommodates pipe motions induced by earthquakes. accumulation in warmer periods (fig. 6). Pollen and
The pipe is secured in a saddle assembly and mounted microscopic plant remains indicate the presence of an
on a shoe that slides on the crossbeam (fig. 5D). As the herbaceous-grass tundra with low riparian thickets of
line expands, the pipe can slide across the beam; as it willow shrubs during cold periglacial intervals; riparian
contracts, the pipe can freely slide ·back. On the thickets of tall willows, birch, and alders dominated
crossbeams, the pipe is anchored in position on special during warmer, moister interstadial intervals (Hamilton
platforms at the end of each zigzag [every 800-1,800 ft and others, 1988). It has long been documented that
(240-540 m)] (fig. 5D). permafrost did not disappear during these interstadials
The above-ground pipe is insulated with a 4-in.- because of their short duration. The presence of frozen
thick (10 cm) layer of resin-impregnated fiberglass that animal carcasses in the Goldstream Formation indicates

T102: 10

7.0 Slightly faster Abundant willows

Deep gullying Warm, moist Shrub willows,
Debris fan from Slow (interglacial) horsetails, sedges Horse, bison,
arctic ground
local ice-wedge

Vigorous growth
of ice wedges
Very cold
and dry


Local melting of Slow Warm, moist Low shrubs,

ice wedges summers grasses, herbs
32.3 (interstadial )
Vigorous growth Slow
36.0 of ice wedges Caribou?

Rapid Very cold Sedges, short

and dry willows, herbs,
(periglacial) grasses (tundra)

.......--~~- __ 38.9 Deposition of Slow

::;.-~~...........- - 43.3 overbank alluvium
Deposition and Cool summers Large riparian
reworking of warm winters willows, alder,
local gravels (interstadial) birch, grasses,
sedges, herbs,

.......,. " - /
Vjf Foliated
ice wedge ~
Frozen thaw
pond ...-;:.,-........., Organic
material .LL
Willow stump
in growth
---=::- Willow branch

sandy stream
0- 0
c=J Loess

date (yr x 10 3 )

FIGURE 6 Composite stratigraphic section exposed in Fox Permafrost Tunnel and interpretation of
geologic events, loess rain, local environment, flora, and fauna. This interpretation has been slightly
modified from Hamilton and others (1988). The tenns interstadial, periglacial, and interglacial have been

T102: 11
this one in the southern Yukon-Tanana Upland. These
that they have been frozen since their burial 36 ka ago ice sheets reach a maximum thickness and areal extent
and earlier (Pewe, 1958,1975a b; Guthrie, 1988). in March or April and melt completely by mid-summer.
17.9. Junction of new and old Steese Highways at
Fox. Turn left_ (southwest). 27.7. STOP F7. THERMOKARST PITS.
19.5. Junction with Goldstream Road. Turn right These fields were cleared decades ago and
(northwest). numerous large collapse pits produced by thawing of
shallow ground-ice masses have pocked them for at
19.8. Crossing of elevated TAPS line. least 25 years. Thermokarst pits typically form near the
boundary between permafrost-free slopes and slopes
19.9. To the left (southwest) is an area of naturally underlain by large, shallow, thin ice bodies in areas
revegetated tailings produced by dredging of gold where the water table is 15to 100 ft (4.5 to 30 m) deep.
placers from 1928 through 1936. Vegetation on these Surface openings .connect by complex subsurface
tailings· ranges from little ground cover to productive tunnels through which annual runoff flows.
mixed forests of birch, aspen, and spruce, depending 28.6. Crossing of O'Connor Creek, which each
on the percent of fine fraction in surficial materials. winter produces an icing up to 12 ft (3.6 m) thick. In
Recolonization is further advanced on fine-grained the lowland to the left (south) can be seen five small
substrates. open-system pingos of Holocene age. These low ice-
23.5. Junction with Clifden Road. To the right cored mounds are developed in discontinuous
, (north) high vertical·cutslopes in unfrozen loess .are permafrost that is about 140 ft (42.4 m) thick (Pewe,
stable except where undercut by erosion. 1965).
24.5. Crossing of Big Eldorado Creek. Beginning 30.0. Junction with Murphy Dome Road. A solar-
in November, .icings begin to accumulate in the powered culvert-thawing device controls the buildup to
channels and floodplains of many shallow streams like seasonal slope icings.

w E
~ spruce stump 4ka C-14 xx x)(
o /~\,

50 ka T LOoess)
Goldstream Fonnation (retransported loess; Wisconsin)
~ __
un_c-:::....-onformit 125 ka (?)
"..--------- xx X x ..................................--..
xx xx Old Crow tephra 150 ka xxxx

~ unconfonnity -
mas t pnmItJVC Dicrostonyx' ~1~R /
XXXXIN xxxx Bone bed
~~fi...... /" SP870ka
unconfonnity ~ R x xxxxx
~ .
xxxxl N xxxx
xxxxx IIR xxxxx
Canal tephra
I ~rctions with Ochotona, Microtus miurlls, Citellus undillatus

~:~ :x; :;~::' .•.~:o:.~".;.: '::...,:~ ...~. ~ ..': :~;~;.~'?:;.•C.:D:; i:<~::.~ Cri~;l~~'~'~G;~v'el
I• 400m

FIGURE 7 Sketch of loess stratigraphy at east end of north wall of Gold Hill Cut, Fairbanks, Alaska.
N=normal paleomagnetic record; R=reversed; --?--?-- inferred contact between polarity units. Samples of
concretions and Canal tephra collected in 1940's and 1950's at base of Gold Hill Loess a few hundred
meters west of this section. XXXXunnamed tephra not yet examined in detail. TL=thermoluminescence
data. Tephra dates are isothermal-planeau fission-track age on hydrated glass shards. Vertebrate
identifications by R.D. Guthrie; tephrochronology and paleomagnetic studies by J.A. Westgate and B.A.
Stemper; thermoluminescence dating by A. Wintle; stratigraphy and early collections by T.L. Pewee

T102: 12
37.2 STOP F8. GOLD HILL CUT. 7 and
32.3. Crossing of Goldstream
Five mi (9km) east of the center
32.2. Happy Crossing of Alaska Railroad, which one of the mining excavations
traverses about 185 ft of retransported silt overlying 40 Fairbanks area 7 and 8). An
ft of coarse alluvial-fan gravel deposited Happy loess about 1 mi km)
Creek; permafrost is about 90 ft thick. deep, and 1,000
thermokarst in ice-rich valley-bottom costs the hydraulic
railroad about $200,000 annually to maintain the track Thousands
between Happy Crossing and Dunbar mi km) loess were ,{"'lC' hl:llrt

to the west (Pewe. 1982; Fuglestad. Gravel


34.9. New the was from

right (west). In August and September 1988, scale dredging leaving
thick (5 em) sheets of rigid styrofoam insulation were surface (Boswell, 1979).
placed directly on frozen, ice-rich, organic silt and The Cripple Gravel
buried by 3 ft (0.9 m) of gravel fill, except directly over coarse, sandy gravel
the culvert through which Happy Creek drains. In this buried bedrock benches (fig.
manner, to slow drainage ~"",A.""... ,.....
U..L..L\,.,,,,,,,..LVJ.J...:J &.","-",

permafrost. deposit contains no Pleistocene

35.4. Junction with Parks Highway. Turn right considered as Pleistocene-Pliocene age, recent
(west). near Livengood, 60 mi km) north of .... "'1·rh"'·nvC'
36.4. Begin deep highway cut with stepped vertical indicates the early placer gold deposits
walls, which was excavated in 1979 through thawed Pliocene (Karl and others, 1988). The
Fairbanks Loess. to be a reworked solifluction deposit that ..LV..L..L..L..L'-''-I-

36.7. Overview of Gold Hill placer cut. Beginning rigorous periglacial climatic conditions.
in 1949, more than 200 ft (60 m) of thawed and frozen were rejuvenated, incised, and then deposited younger
loess was hydraulicked from above this discontinuously gold-bearing, poorly-stratified, gravel deposit termed
frozen bench of Cripple Creek and the gravel was the Fox Gravel, which grades up slope
subsequently thawed. From 1951 to 1957 these gravels deposits (fig. 3). The Fox Gravel is not at
were excavated by large dredges for placer gold. Gold Hill, but exploratory drilling by the

N s
Gold Hill
4 ka (C-14)
Engineer Loess (Holocene)
~.~~ 50 ka (TL)
"y Old Crow tephra 150 ka
. . . 1( '"
'" "'" >37 ka (C-14)
'" " , " >33 ka (C-14)
Cripple Creek

o« 100 200m
« ,
Vertical Exaggeration X4

FIGURE 8 Stratigraphic cross-section of Quaternary sediments, Gold Hill-Cripple Creek area, 9 km west
of Fairbanks, Alaska. Stippled areas represent distribution of modern permafrost. The lower
Fairbanks Loess, where it is overlain by retransported loess of the Goldstream Formation is termed the
Gold Hill Loess (GHL). GHL is about 140 ka at top and IMa at base. At least 12 tephra are in
GHL but not all are shown. Wisconsin and Holocene tephra are not illustrated. N=normal;
magnetic polarity (vertically lined). Excavation of loess over Cripple Gravel was by hydraulic placer
mining, 1949-55. Updated from Pewe, 1965.

T 102: 13
Loess was eroded. On this erosional surface,
represented by major unconformity, there accumulated
in small swales bird gastroliths and fragments of
mammal fossils. Preliminary investigations by Guthrie
indicate that the mammal remains at the unconformity
- Present stream
include older mammals and the most primitive
~ ••• Younger stream gravel Dicrostonyx (fig. 7).
- Older stream gravel Dating of the SP tephra by Westgate and Stemper
near the boundary of the paleomagnetic reversal 25 m
above the base of the Gold Hill Loess reveal that the

tephra is about 870 ka by isothermal plateau fission-
track dating of hydrated glass shards.
Gold Hill Most tephra beds are very thin, crystal-poor, fine-
grained, and contaminated with detrital grains --
attributes that make them very difficult to date.
However, the grain-discrete isothermal plateau (ITP)
2 Kilometers
fission-track technique has been recently applied
·0 2 Miles successfully to the hydrated shards of some of these
tephra. This method gives an age that is corrected for
' L . . . . . - _ - - - - i_ _----I'

any partial track fading that may have taken place in the
glass. The Old Crow tephra, which is located near the
FIGURE 9 Map of present and Pliocene and top of the Gold Hill Loess and the Ester Ash Bed near
Pleistocene stream channels (gold-bearing gravel) in the base of the Gold Hill Loess near Ester, are dacitic
the Ester area, 16 kIn west of Fairbanks, Alaska (from units with abundant bubble-wall shards both being
Pewe, 1965). derived from vents in the eastern Aleutians. In contrast,
the SP tephra (fig. 8) is very pumiceous with few
company outlines the existence of the Fox Gravel and blocky glass shards but with abundant crystals. Its
permafrost distribution (fig. 8). source vent is most likely in the Wrangell Mountains
At this particular excavation the Dawson Cut (Stemper and others, 1989).
Formation (forest bed). (fig. 3) was not observed when Other indications of the great antiquity of the lower
the excavation was made. There was a maximum Gold Hill Loess exposure are fossil mammal remains in
thickness of 202 ft (65 m) of loess exposed in the concretions formed at the base of the loess on top of the
excavation. Cripple Gravel. These concretions contain remains of
This exposure is the type locality of the Gold Hill Ochotona, Microtus miurus, and Citellus undulatus
Loess which lies on the Cripple Gravel in Gold Hill (fig. 7). Following the erosional (and probable
Cut. The loess is quite massive but unconfonnities do warming period) that occurred around 700 ka, .there
exist. Mammal remains of horse, bison, lemming, was deposition of the younger part of the Gold Hill
ground squirrel,and others were recovered during Loess. The upper part of the Gold Hill Loess was
excavation. After the excavation was completed and evidently deposited during one or more periods of cold,
the dredging finished, the loess walls remained quite' rigorous climate and glacial advances in the Alaskan
steep, slumping only locally, but thawing to produce a Range. Loess deposition continued until the Sangamon
relative uniform tan loess exposure, which in reality interglaciation.
revealed a complex stratigraphy when freshly exposed. It can be noted in Figure 8 that the valley-bottom
Several tephra were exposed and collected from 1949- facies of the Gold Hill Loess was removed prior to the
55. One tephra at the top of Gold Hill Loess was deposition of the Goldstream Formation of Wisconsin
identified by Westgate in the late 1970's as the Old age. Probably most of this removal occurred in
Crow tephra (fig. 7). Sangamon time.
In 1983, detailed studies were initiated on the 38.3. On the left (south) is the 1-mi-Iong (1.6 km)
stratigraphy, tephrochronology, paleomagnetism and canal in which a gold-mining dredge was floated from
thermoluminescence of the Gold Hill Loess at the east Eva Creek to Gold Hill in 1951 (Boswell, 1979).
end of the exposure by Westgate, Wintle, and Pewee It 39.6. The distinctive orange tailings of Cripple
was discovered that the lower part of the Gold Hill Gravel on Eva Bench can be seen to the right
Loess was reversely magnetized. More work in 1987 (northwest).
and 1988 by Westgate, Stemper, Pewe, and Guthrie
revealed additional details. Various tephra layers 40.0. STOP F9. OVERVIEW OF EVA BENCH,
exposed over an area of 400 meters (fig. 7) are not EVA CREEK, ESTER CREEK AND CRIPPLE
stratigraphically continuous but reveal cut and fill CREEK (fig. 9).
activity in the past. The boundary between nonnal and North of this vantage point are placer tailings on
reversed polarity in the loess (most likely the Brunhes Ready Bullion Creek, Eva Bench, Eva Creek and Ester
and Matuyama Boundary) reveals a large remnant of Creek. Differences in color identify gravels of
reversed loess 25 m thick present at the eastern end of different ages preserved by drainage changes.
the exposure (fig. 7). Much of the older Gold Hill Distinctive dark-stained tailings of Cripple Gravel west

T102: 14
western AI~ska: Geological Society of America,
of Ready Bullion Creek, on Eva Bench, and along the Abstracts WIth Programs, v. 20, p. A208-A209.
west side of Ester Island follow the oldest stream Holmes, K.W., 1981, Natural revegetation of dredge
course, which is not related to the present drainage (fig. tailings at Fox, Alaska: Agroborealis, v. 13, no. 1,
9). Light-toned gravels along Ready Bullion Creek, p.26-29.
Eva Creek, and Ester Creek follow modem drainages. Karl, S.M., Ager, T.A., Hanneman, Karl, and Teller,
During deposition of the Cripple Gravel in S.D., 1988, Tertiary gold-bearing gravel at Liven-
Pliocene(?) time, Eva and Ready Bullion Creeks good, Alaska, in Galloway, J.P., and Hamilton,
drained south across present Ester Creek to join with T.D., eds., Geologic Studies in Alaska by the U.S.
Cripple Creek south of this locality and then flow east Geological Survey during 1987: U.S. Geological
through the Gold Hill cut (fig. 9). Later, following a Survey Circular 1016, p. 61-63.
slight shift of creek channels, the streams cut Kreig, R.A., and Reger, R.D., 1982, Air-photo
downward, forming new bedrock channels and leaving analysis and summary of landform· soil properties
the old auriferous gravel as benches. Gold was along the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System:
concentrated on bedrock in these channels and was Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical
buried by deposition of the Fox Gravel in early Surveys Geologic Report 66, 149 p.
Pleistocene time. About 1.5 to 2 million years ago, Matthews, J.V., Jr., 1970, Quaternary environmental
loess deposition began in the area. This loess and its history of interior Alaska: Pollen samples from
retransported valley-bottom equivalent deeply buried organic colluvium and peats: Arctic and Alpine
and masked the auriferous gravels until they were Research v. 2, no. 4, p. 241-251.
discovered during early underground mining and deep Matthews, J.V., Jr., 1974, Wisconsin environment of
drilling preparatory to dredging. interior Alaska: Pollen and macro-fossil analysis of a
27-meter core from the Isabella basin (Fairbanks,
Alaska): Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 11,
SELECTED REFERENCES no. 6, p. 828-841
Muller, S.W., 1945, Pennafrost or pennanently frozen
Boswell, J.C., 1979, History of Alaskan operations of ground and related engineering problems: U.S.
United States Smelting, Refining & Mining Army Office Chief 'of Engineers, Military
Company, Fairbanks, University of Alaska Mineral Intgelligence Division of Strategic Engineering
Industries Research Laboratory report, 126 p. Studies Special Report 62, 231 p. (reprinted, 1947,
Carter, L.D., 1980, Tertiary tillites(?) on the northeast Ann Arbor, Michigan, J.W. Edwards).
flank of Granite Mountain, central Alaska Range: in P6we. T.L., 1951, An observation on wind-blown silt:
Short Notes on Alaskan Geology 1979-80: Alaska Journal of Geology, v. 59, no. 4, p. 399-401.
Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys Pewe, T.L., 1954, Effect of permafrost on cultivated
Geologic Report 63, p. 23-27. fields, Fairbanks area, Alaska: U.S. Geological
Craig, J.L., Hamilton, T.D., and Sellmann, P.V., Survey Bulletin 989-F, p. 315-351.
1983, Paleoenvironmental studies in the CRREL Pewe, T.L., 1955, Origin of the upland silt near
permafrost tunnel: International Permafrost Fairbanks, Alaska: Geological Society of America
Conference, 4th, Fairbanks, Alaska, 1983, Abstracts Bulletin, v. 66, no. 6, p. 699-724.
and Program Volume, p. 92. Pewe, T.L., 1958, Geology of the Fairbanks D-2
Fuglestad, T.C., 1986, The Alaska Railroad between Quadrangle, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey
Anchorage and Fairbanks: Guidebook to pennafrost Geologic Quadrangle Map GQ-II0, scale 1:63,360,
and engineering problems: Alaska Division of 1 sheet.
Geological and Geophysical Surveys Guidebook 6, Pewe, T. L., 1965, Fairbanks area, in Pewe, T.L.,
82 p. Ferrians, O.J., Jr., Nichols, D.R., and Karlstrom,
Guthrie, M.L., 1988, Blue Babe, the story of a steppe T.N.V., Guidebook for Field Conference F, Central
bison mummy from ice age Alaska: Fairbanks, White and south-central Alaska---International Association
Mammoth, 30 p. for Quaternary Research, 7th Congress, USA, 1965:
Guthrie, R.D., 1968, Paleoecology of a late Pleistocene Lincoln, Nebraska, Nebraska Academy of Sciences,
small mammal community from interior Alaska: p. 6..36. (slightly modified version reprinted in 1977
Arctic, v. 21, no. 4, p. 223-244. by Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical
Hamilton, T.D., Ager, T.A., and Robinson, S.W., Surveys).
1983, Late Holocene ice wedges near Fairbanks, Pewe, T.L., 1968, Loess deposits of Alaska:
Alaska, U.S.A.; Environmental setting and history International Geological Congress, 23rd Session,
of growth: Arctic and Alpine Research, v. 15, no. 2, Prague, 1968, Proceedings, v. 8, p. 297-309.
p. 157-168. Pewe, T.L., 1975a, Quaternary stratigraphic nomen-
Hamilton, T.D., Craig, J.L., and Sellmann, P.V., clature in unglaciated central Alaska: U.S.Geological
1988, The Fox pennafrost tunnel: A late Quaternary Survey Professional Paper 862, 32 p.
geologic record in central Alaska: Geological Society Pewe, T.L, 1975b, Quaternary geology of Alaska:
of America Bulletin, v. 100, no. 6, p. 948-969. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 835,
Hamilton, T.D., and Robinson, S.W., 1988, Middle 146 p.
Wisconsin interstadial interval, central and north- Pewe, T.L., 1982, Geologic hazards of the Fairbanks

T102: 15
between Old Crow tephra, Sheep Creek tephra and
area, Alaska: Alaska Division of Geological and White River Ash and its significance for the
Geophysical Surveys Special Report 15, 109 p. provenance of other widespread Beringian tephras:
Pewe, T.L., and Bell, I.W., 1974, Map showing International Union for Quaternary Research, 12th
distribution of pennafrost in the Fairbanks D-2SW Congress, Abstracts, p. 288.
Quadrangle, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Westgate, I.A., 1988, Isothermal plateau fission-track
Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map I-829B, age of the late Pleistocene Old Crow tephra, Alaska:
scale 1:24,000, 1 sheet. Geophysical Research Letters, v. 15, no. 4, p. 376-
Pewe, T.L., Burbank, Lawrence, and Mayo, L.R., 379.
1967, Multiple glaciation of the Yukon-Tanana Westgate, I.A., 1988, Dating hydrated volcanic glass
Upland, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey shards of felsic composition by a variant of the
Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map 1-507, isothermal plateau fission-track method:
scale 1:500,000, 1 sheet. Concordance with K-Ar, thennoluminescence and
Pewe, T.L., and Hopkins, D.M., 1967, Mammal zircon fission- track method ages: Abstracts, 6th
remains of pre-Wisconsinan age in Alaska, in International Workshop on Fission-Track Dating,
Hopkins, D.M., ed., The Bering Land Bridge: Besancon, France, September, 1988.
Stanford, Stanford University Press, p. 266-270. Westgate, I.A., 1988, Dating events during the last
Pewe, T.L., Westgate, I.A., and Stemper, B.A., 1988, interglaciaVglaciation transition in North America:
Age of loess in the Fairbanks area, Alaska: Geological Society of America, Abstracts with
Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Programs, v. 20, p. A 2.
Programs, v. 20, no. 7, p. A208. Westgate, I.A., Pewe, T.L, and Gorton, M.P., 1982,
Pewe, T. L., Westgate, I.A., and Stemper, B.A., Tephrochronology of the Gold Hill Loess in central
1989, Refinement of age interpretation of Quaternary Alaska: Geological Society of America, Program
events in the Fairbanks area, Alaska: International· with Abstracts, v. 14, no. 7, p. 645-646.
Geological Congress, Washington, D.C., in press. Wintle, A.G. and Westgate, I.A., 1986,
Rieger, Samuel, Dement., I.A., and Sanders, Dupree, Thermoluminescence age of Old Crow tephra in
1963, Soil survey of Fairbanks area, Alaska: U.S. Alaska: Geology, v. 14, no. 7, p. 594-597.
Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service
Series 1959, no. 25, 41 p.
Sellmann, P.V., 1967, Geology of the USACRREL
permafrost tunnel, Fairbanks, Alaska: U.S. Army
Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory
Technical Report 199, 22 p.
Sellmann, P.V., 1972, Geology and properties of
materials exposed in the USACRREL permafrost
tunnel: U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and
Engineering Laboratory Special Report 177, 14 p.
Stemper, B.A., Westgate, I.A. and Pewe, T.L., 1988,
Age of the loess record in interior Alaska: dating
distal tephra beds by the isothermal plateau fission-
track method: Abstracts, 6th International Workshop
on Fission-Track Dating, Besancon, France,
September, 1988., p. CI-6(O).
Stemper, B.A., Westgate, I.A., and Pewe, T.L., 1989,
Tephrochronology and paleomagnetism of loess in
the Fairbanks area of interior Alaska: International
Geological Congress, Washington, D.C., in press.
Viereck, L.A., 1973, Wildfire in the taiga of Alaska:
Quaternary Research, v. 3, no. 3, p. 465-495.
Viereck, L.A., 1975, Forest ecology of the Alaska
taiga: Proceedings of the Circumpolar Conference
on Northern Ecology, Ottawa, 1975, National
Research Council of Canada, p. 11-122.
Wahrhaftig, Clyde, 1965, Physiographic divisions of
Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper
482,52 p.
Weber, F.R., 1986, Glacial geology of the Yukon-
Tanana Upland, in Hamilton, T.D., Reed, K.M.,
and Thorson, R.M., eds., Glaciation in Alaska: The
geologic record; Anchorage, Alaska Geological
Society, p. 79-98.
Westgate, I.A., 1987, A compositional comparison

T 102: 16

TroyL. Pewe
Department of Geology, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
Richard D. Reger
Division of Geological & Ge~physical Surveys, Fairbanks, Alaska


363.8 7 Start in Fairbanks D-2 Quadrangle 8
The middle Tanana River valley in central Alaska is Richardson Highway and Airport Way, Fairbanks.
approximately 100 mi (161 km) south of the Arctic Mileposts are on the left going toward Anchorage. The
Circle (fig. 1). The Richardson Highway alternately highway is on the flood plain of the Tanana River.
traverses the north .side of the broad Tanana River From Fairbanks to Mile 330, the flood plain is a flat
valley and the southern hills of the Yukon-Tanana surface with meandering streams and a complex
Upland network of shallow swales. The surface layer of silt is
(fig. 10). 1 to 20 ft (0.3 to 6 m) thick and the total thickness of
The Tanana River valley is a large structural basin, alluviaum is 300 to 700 ft (91 to 230 m). Shallow
and much of its bedrock floor is below sea level. swales are filled with about 30 ft (9 m) of clayey silt.
Quaternary deposits 300 to 700 ft (91 to 230 m) thick Permafrost is discontinuous and there are many
are in large part an accumulation of fluvial and unfrozen lenses layers, and vertical zones. The
glaciofluvial sediments from the rising Alaska Range. ground-ice content of permafrost is low, and no large
Deposition of this material pushed the Tanana River ice masses are known.
northward against and near the Yukon-Tanana Upland. Drainage is excellent and permeability is high,
Thick sediments bury a fairly rugged bedrock except locally in silt or where the ground is perennially
topography, but hilltops of bedrock form small knobs frozen. Depth to the water table is about 10 to 15 ft (3
above the alluvial plain. An apron of well-drained to 4.5 m) where permafrost is absent. Soils in this area
coalescing fans.30 mi (50 km) long flanks the Alaska support good crops if they are fertilized. The city of
Range. Fairbanks and military reservations are on the flood
In this section of the guidebook, we discuss the plain.
Quaternary geology and permafrost along the north Because of present aggradation by the Tanana River
side of the Tanana River valley from Fairbanks to Big and the wide, braided nature of the stream, large area
Delta, a distance of approximately 90 mi (150 km) (fig. along the river and on islands, are in various stages of
10). The Tanana River is 230 mi (379 km) long and recolonization by vegetation. Extensive stands of
has an average discharge of 35,000 ft 3 per s) (100 m3 willow (Salix alaxensis. S. Bebbiana, and Salix spp.)
per s) in August at Big Delta. Upstream from Birch and alder (Alnus crispa) exist between Fairbanks and
Lake, it is joined by several sediment-charged Big Delta. Large stands of balsam poplar range in age
proglacial streams and is extensively braided. Stream from 30 to 100 yr. Later stages in plant succession,
gradient is 6 to 7 ft per mi (1 to 1.2 per km) between especially white-spruce stands of all ages, occur along
Birch Lake and Delta River, and the river becomes less the floor plain adjacent to the highway. Black spruce,
braided and more meandering near Fairbanks. A 6-yr larch and bogs are conspicuous at many points along
(1974-1979) study of the Tanana River sediment load the river,. but are absent where the river adjoins hills of
in the vicinity of Fairbanks demonstrated that the the Yukon Tanana Upland.
average annual load was 18,800,000 to 21,800,600
tons (20,700,000 to 24,000,000 metric tons) of 355. Enter Fairbanks D-1 Quadrangle.
suspended sediment silt to fine sand) and 271,000 to
290 tons (298,000 to 321 metric tons) of bedload (fine 349.7. Enter Fairbanks C-1 Quadrangle.
sand to coarse gravel). During this period, annual
mean discharge of the river ranged from 16,720 to 348.6. Village of North Pole. Site of an oil
21,578 ft 3 per s (475 to 613 m3 per s) and averaged refinery that was built in 1977. Using oil from the
19,008 ft 3 (540 n1 3 per s). Downstream from 7 Miles from Valdez on the Richardson Highway.
Fairbanks, the Tanana River meanders widely across
its flood plain and contains few islands compared to 8 U.S. Geological Survey topographic quadrangle
reaches upstream from Fairbanks. map, scale 1:63,360. N'ames and locations of
quadrangle maps used on field-trip route are indicated
6 Condensed and updated from Pewe and Reger (1983) in Figure 11.

T1 02: 11
1...-' ....1.-_ _-----',
20 Miles

9l..--_--l..--_----'2'O Kilometers


FIGURE 10 Index map of the
middle Tanana River valley,
Alaska, showing field-trip

North Slope, this facility refines a small amount of jet and paths rapidly narrow and disappear in areas covered
and heating fuels. by vegetation and unpacked snow. Because the
340. Typical flood plain of the Tanana River with highway is unprotected by vegetation and snow cover,
modern sloughs and a myriad of older sloughs and
other drainage lines.
337.7. Fonner south entrance of Eielson Air Force /0-2 0-1 1
Base. South of this point, a 1964 statistical study of the BIG DELTA
prominent transverse frost cracks in the highway over a C-l C-6
distance of 1 mi (1.6 km) showed that the cracks are B-6 B-5

spaced an average of 105 ft (32 m) apart. These are A-6 A-5 A-4
thermal-contraction cracks in seasonally frozen ground
(seasonal-frost cracks). A recent study by McHattie 0-4

(1980) showed that the spacing of cracks is strongly


related to climate. He hypothesized that the problem I---
relates most directly to thermal-expansion coefficients B-4

and frozen tensile-strength properties of upper-layer A-6 A-5 A-4

soils. McHattie indicated that in an area with 2,000 63°N 63°N
0-4 0-3
degree-days of freezing9}annually, there are about 10 I--- ---'

cracks per mi, but an area 3,000 degree-days of C-4 C-3

freezing has about 25 cracks per mi, and with 4,000

L--- I---

degree-days there are about 55 cracks per mi. The
average number of degree-days of freezing each year in A-6\ A-5 , A-4 A-3

Fairbanks, based on U.S. Weather Bureau air 0-5 0-4/0-3/0-2\0-1 0-8\

temperatures, is 5,042.
Cracking of seasonally frozen ground in interior C-6 C-5

Alaska occurs only in certain restricted environments. 8-8 B-7 8-6
According to present theory, cracking occurs only in
areas that are vegetation free or snow free during winter
(or both), such as roads and pathways near Fairbanks.
In seasonally frozen ground, cracks that traverse roads
FIGURE 11 Index to U.S. Geological Survey
9 A degree-day of freezing is 1 day with a mean topographical maps (1 :63,360) that may be used with
temperature of 1 Fahrenheit degree colder than 32°F. A road log. The six large area maps (i.e., Valdez) are
mean daily temperature of _2° F yields 34 degree-days U.S. Geological Survey topographical maps
of freezing. (1 :250,000).

T102: 18
surface of glaciofluvial material in reentrants in the
it is subject to cracking that results from contraction Yukon-Tanana Upland and are separated from Tanana
stresses created by low temperatures and rapid cooling River by a terrace scarp.
of the ground. Harding Lake is 142 ft (42.8 m) deep, 2 mi (3.5
Most ice wedges that exist today in perennially km) in diameter, and about 50 ft (15 m) above Tanana
frozen ground in central Alaska formed under a more River. The lake bottom is 65 ft (20 m) below river
rigorous climate. Very locally, in favorable level. Harding Lake is unique among lakes on the north
microclimatic environments, ice wedges are growing in side of Tanana River because its maximum depth
interior Alaska. The average diameter of polygons exceeds, by a factor of three to four, the maximum
fonned by thermal-contraction cracking of permafrost in depth of the other lakes. Also, the bottom of Harding
central Alaska is approximately 100 ft (30 m). Lake shows considerable relief, whereas bottom
328.9. Loess-capped bedrock bluff on left. Local profiles of the other lakes are generally smooth.
slumping of this bluff blocked the highway during the Ice-pushed ridges (ice-shoved ramparts) are well
June 21, 1967, earthquake. developed along the shore of Harding Lake. Along the
328.1. Richardson Highway parallels the scarp of a north shore, up to seven distinct ridges, which average
low terrace on the right. Two river terraces follow about 3 ft (1 m) in height, have been counted. The
along the right limit of Tanana River from near the sharpness of these ridges suggests they are only a few
junction of Little Salcha River and Tanana River, hundred years old.
upstream for about 50 mi (80 km). The upper terrace Ventifacts of quartz exposed near the edge of
ranges from 45 to 80 ft (13.6 to 24.2 m) above Tanana Harding Lake at low-water level have orangish-yellow
River and extends upstream to the mouth of Canyon surface staining from lake waters, which indicates they
Creek; the lower terrace is 10 to 25 ft (3 to 7.6 m) are not being faceted; however, they could have been
above the river and has been mapped upstream to the cut during periods of low water after the lake initially
mouth of Shaw Creek. Terraces on the right limit are formed.
obvious remnants of abandoned flood plains of Tanana A detailed bathymetric survey of Harding Lake in
River. However, on the left limit of Tanana River, one 1964 (Blackwell, 1965) revealed that submerged beach
or more terraces with scarps that have been clearly cut features (ice-pushed ridges and wave-built terraces) are
by Tanana River are probably not underlain by material also present. Analyses of the depth of these features
deposited by it. These terraces are probably the distal indicate that the west margin of Harding Lake has been
ends of truncated outwash fans of tributaries to Tanana depressed up to 6 ft (2 m) relative to the east shore.
River from the Alaska Range to the south. Harding Lake formed on the upper-terrace level,
Sediments of the upper terrace on the north side of perhaps in part by aggradation of Tanana River. Recent
Tanana River are considerably more weathered than tilting of the lake---and its exceptional depth---strongly
sediments of the lower terrace. Also, sediments in the suggest that tectonism has had at least a minor effect of
upper terrace contain ice-wedge casts and involutions. its history. Since 1900, at least 16 earthquakes of
Ventifacts occur locally on the upper terrace, but none Richter magnitude 5 or more have occurred within 25
are known on the lower terrace. mi (40 Ian) of Harding Lake.
Logically, terrace surfaces on the right limit of A 20-ft-Iong (6 m) core was collected in 1979 from
Tanana River can be correlated to outwash-plain the deepest part of the lake by Japanese and U.S.
surfaces extending north from the Alaska Range. At this Geological Survey scientists. A radiocarbon date of
time, two terraces are correlated with the two 25,000 to 40,000 yr B.P. is reported for material near
prominent, late Pleistocene glacial advances in the Delta the bottom of the core. Pollen analyses of sediments in
River valley. The upper terrace is associated with the the core revealed that the lake varied from a bog to a
Delta Glaciation and the lower with the Donnelly shallow lake to a deep lake over this time span; the
Glaciation. high-level lake phase is about 8,000 yr old. The
maximum lake age may represent the time of deposition
326.2. Enter Big Delta B-6 Quadrangle. of the upper-terrace sediments or the lake may have
formed as. the terrace surface locally subsided, thereby
319. STOP 1. HARDING LAKE (named after the postdating the terrace.
29th President of the United States, who visited Alaska 308.3 to 308. Black spruce (Picea mariana) forest
in 1923). on left is growing on frozen, organic-rich silt overlying
Aggradation of Tanana River and its major gravel of the lower terrace. Depth to permafrost is 1 ft
tributaries apparently dammed several valleys in the (0.3 m) or less.
Yukon-Tanana Upland during late Quaternary time. 307.4. Ascend to upper terrace of Tanana River.
This damming apparently produced several lakes on the Borrow pit on right exposes Tanana River gravel. A
north side of the Tanana River valley, including ventifact was found near the surface of the upper terrace
Harding, Birch, and Quartz Lakes (fig. 10), and under the 4-ft-thick(I.2 m) silt cover near the southwest
perhaps a dozen others farther upstream. end of Birch Lake.
Most lakes 50 to 150 mi (80 to 240 km) upstream 307. This very rough stretch of road passes
from Delta River are apparently below the level of through a dense stand of black spruce that is about 90
Tanana River at flood stage. Lakes downstream from yr old and underlain by permafrost as shallow as 2 in.
Delta River occur near the north edge of the aggradation (5 cm).

T 102: 19
640) was obtained on the bones. l'he fauna is a typical
306. On the right side of the road at Birch Lake, a Wisconsin vertebrate assemblage from central Alaska
sharp unconformity is exposed between bedrock and that is stratigraphically controlled and radiometrically
overlying loess. Mineralogical studies indicate that the dated. Megafauna remains include woolly mammoth,
silt is compositionally distinct from the quartz arctic ass, western camel, bison, mountain sheep, wolf,
monzonite bedrock, excluding the possibility that the and others. Some of the mammals, such as mountain
silt may be residual in origin. sheep, indicate a lower tree line than now.
Weber and others (1981) believed the section
305.9. STOP 2. BIRCH LAKE. indicates that Tanana River terrace gravels are at least in
Birch Lake lies in a reentrant of the Yukon-Tanana part of early Wisconsin age. Overlying sediments are
Upland and is dammed on the west side by sediments 40,000 yr old (late Wisconsin age). An alternate
of Tanana River. The lake has a maximum depth of 36 interpretation is that basal terrace gravels are older than
ft (12 m) and a diameter of 1 mi (1.75 km). Blackwell early Wisconsin and are simply overlain by dated
(1965, fig. 8) indicated that the surface of the lake is sediments of the late Wisconsin cold period. John
about 30 ft (9 m) above the level of Tanana River and Westgate (personal commun., October 19, 1982)
about 10 ft (3 m) below the surface of the upper terrace. correlated retransported volcanic ash in this section with
In the 1950s and 1960s, it was suggested that the volcanic ash collected by Pewe from Sheep Creek in the
lakes on the north side of Tanana River may hold a Fairbanks area. The ash from Sheep Creek is in the
complete late Quaternary pollen record. In the 1970s, upper part of the Gold Hill Loess, which underlies the
the pollen record of Birch Lake was investigated by Goldstream Formation of Wisconsin age. The Sheep
T.A. Ager, who found that sediments near the lake Creek tephra is pre-Wisconsin in age and is overlain by
bottom are about 16,000 yr old and that an herbaceous the interglacial Eva Forest Bed, which is about 125,000
tundra environment was present about 15,000 yr B.P. . years old (Pewe and others, 1988).
At about that time, the water level began to rise in the
boglike environment and eventually formed a lake 296.5. STOP 3. TANANA RIVER OVERLOOK.
similar to the modern lake. The herbaceous tundra The river is 1.5 m (2 km) wide. The gradient of the
environment evolved to shrub-tundra vegetation about braided stream here is 6 ft per mi (1 m per km). Most
14,000 yr B.P., and by about 9,000 yr B.P., the successional stands of vegetation along the river are
spruce-birch forest had replaced the shrub tundra over dominantly alder and willow. An extensive white-
much of the region, at least in the lowland. spruce stand can be seen in the distance south of the
Birch Lake probably formed near the top of the river.
upper terrace in the past 10,000 to 15,000 yr because 293.0 An excellent exposure of white Old Crow
Tanana River gravel floors much of the lake bottom. tephra occurs on the north side of the highway in a low
Ice-shoved ramparts of Tanana River gravel are built up bluff of loess. The tephra has recently been dated by
around the lake, especially on the west side. Ager's J.A. Westgate of the University of Toronto at about
data show that the earlier interpretation that the lake was 150,000 yr old by the isothennal plateau fission-track
formed by Tanana River aggradation in Delta time is no method.
longer valid because of the youthfulness of the lake.
The original level of the terrace could date back to Delta 292.6. STOP 4. SOUTH WALL OF ROADCUT
time (pre-Wisconsin). AT TOP OF HILL.
300. Mouth of Canyon Creek. The two gravel The elevation here is 1,350 ft (422 m), about 450 ft
terraces of Tanana River apparently converge near here. (137 m) above the modern flood plain of Tanana River.
The lower terrace [mantled by 17 ft (4.3 m) of silt] is Bedrock is intercalated chlorite-muscovite schist and
only 3 ft (1 m) above the present level of the river, muscovite-chlorite schist of the greenschist facies.
whereas the upper terrace, represented by scattered White to clear, discontinuous quartz veins and boudins
patches of calcium-carbonate-coated cobble gravel, is parallel schistosity. Bedrock is weathered to a depth of
17 ft (4.3 m) above the river. more than 25 ft (7.6 m), and the upper 3 ft (0.9 m) is
Weber and others (1981) described the roadcut especially well weathered and deformed by downslope
exposure of eolian sediments, solifluction deposits with movement. Capping this rounded ridge is a particularly
(ventifacts, ice-wedge casts, and radiocarbon-dated interesting section that documents at least part of the
'vertebrate fossils at the mouth of Canyon Creek. The complex pennafrost history of this area. The top 3 to 5
section was well exposed from 1974 to 1978. Local ft (0.9 to 1.5 m) of the section is tan loess, which is
arkosic gravel and sand with a few angular fragments probably of Holocene and Donnelly age and perhaps, in
of volcanic ash (evidently washed into the deposit) are part, of Delta age because it contains Old Crow tephra a
located on top of the Tanana River gravel. This material few hundred meters away. Beneath this loess cap is a
is 50 ft (15 m) above the modem Tanana River and thin [up to about 12-in.-thick (30.5 cm)] , discontinuous
probably is part of the upper (Delta-age) terrace; it is layer of gray eolian silty sand, probably of Delta age.
overlain by colluvium with ventifacts that are overlain Mixed into the sand layer are hundreds of white to buff,
by eolian sand covered with a thin loess layer. pebble- to cobble-size quartz ventifacts that form a lag
Most mammal remains were recovered from the gravel. Composition of the wind-modified stones
lower part of the section in the arkosic gravel and sand, indicates they are derived from local bedrock.
and a collagen date of 39,360 ± 1,740 yr B.P. (SMU-

T102: 20
~ Ventifacts
CiJ Ventifacts

I?;;;;;::::::::d Loess

(2J dunes
~ dunes

mrn Donnelly Dome 63045'

o 5 10 15ml
o 5 10 15 ml !,! \' I I II i !
, " \' ! I I! I ! o 5 10 15 km
o 5 10 15 km

FIGURE 12 Distribution and types of eolian deposits FIGURE 13 Distribution and types of eolian deposits
in the Big Delta area, Alaska, relative to the Delta in the Big Delta area, Alaska, relative to the Donnelly
Glaciation (from Pewe, 1965, fig. 4-19). Glaciation (from Pewe, 1965, fig. 4-20).
The ventifact lag gravel is locally deformed formed a terminal moraine 8 mi (13 km) south of Shaw
downward to form casts in cavities left by melting of ice Creek bluff. Broad gravel plains extended north from
wedges that formerly grew in the weathered bedrock. the glacier to Shaw Creek bluff and into the Shaw
These ice wedges were probably of Delta age but they Creek Flats to the southeast. The braided Tanana River
obviously melted after the quartz ventifacts formed and and associated outwash streams wandered over these
the gray eolian sand layer was deposited. Nearby, the plains. Winds blowing over the outwash plain picked
ventifact lag gravel cuts across ice-wedge casts of gray up sand that cut ventifacts on the plain (Jack Warren
eolian sand that formed by melting of ice wedges and Road and Quartz Lake) and cut and polished ventifacts
infilling of the resulting cavities before formation of the on south-facing bedrock slopes and hilltops from Shaw
quartz ventifacts and deposition of the eolian-sand layer Creek bluff west for at least 20 mi (32 km). Ventifacts
in Delta time. It is not known if these two episodes of were formed from river level to hilltops at least 650 ft
ice-wedge melting were climatically induced or were the (200 m) above the river (fig. 12).
results of local wildfires. Probably throughout the Delta Glaciation, sand and
silt were blown from the plains north and west onto the
288.7. Turn off to STOP 5. SHAW CREEK hills. Sand dunes formed on south-facing slopes of the
BLUFF. hills north and west of Shaw Creek Flats. Some dunes
About 1.5 mi. (2 km) along the old Richardson that migrated over the low hills now lie on the north
Highway on the left is a section exposing 4 ft (1.2 m) side of the hills. Approximately 40 mi2 (100 km2) of
of loess overlying clean, gray, cross-bedded eolian sand dunes were formed at this time (fig. 12).
sand with sharp contact. (This is an excellent place to The sand facies of the eolian deposits covers an
sample the eolian sand). 800-mi 2 area (2,000 km2) north of Tanana River and
thins away from the Shaw Creek bluff area. About 15
STOP 5. SHAW CREEK BLUFF. to 20 mi (25 to 30 km) from the former ice front,
To the south is the panorama of the Alaska Range windblown silt dominates. In the Fairbanks area 60 mi
and the broad Tanana River valley The braided, silt- (96.5 km) away, no sand facies of Delta age is known,
laden Tanana River lies at the base of the bluff 100 ft but thick deposits of Delta-age silt and older are present.
(30 m) below. From this spot, evidence of the middle After the Delta Glaciation, the glaciers retreated, tree
to late Quaternary history of the area can be viewed. line rose, eolian deposition decreased, and base level
In Delta (illinoian) time, a piedmont glacier from the was probably lowered as Tanana River cut into its
Alaska Range pushed north along Delta River and valley filL The sand cover on the lower hills and loess

T1 02: 21
exposure is a well-sorted, medium-grained, cross-
in the Fairbanks area were gullied. bedded, gray eolian sand that is a few tenths of an inch
The Donnelly Glaciation occurred in late Quaternary thick in the shallow valley and as much as 3.5 ft (1.1
(Wisconsin) time, and valley glaciers again pushed m) thick under the ridges (fig. 6). Several sand-or
north from the Alaska Range to the Tanana River sand- and loess-filled burrows of Citellus undulutus are
valley. In the Delta River area, the glacier terminated present in the sand. Near one burrow, Richard H.
near Donnelly Dome. Strong winds again blew sand Pewe found a ground-squirrel skull that was identified
and silt from valley trains and outwash plains to cut as Citellus undulatus by G.D. Guthrie, who noted that
ventifacts. Ventifacts formed during this glaciation the mature skull was smaller than skulls of mature
occur much farther south than those associated with the modem ground squirrels.
more extensive Delta Glaciation and are within 1 to 5 mi A 4-ft-thick (1.2 m) blanket of loess
(1.6 to 8 km) of the Donnelly ice front. Sand dunes uncomformably covers sand, ventifacts, and bedrock.
were limited to areas near Delta River (fig. 13) but A well-developed, 24-in.-thick (61 em) Subarctic
windblown silt was abundant, and areas north of the Brown Forest soil is developed in the loess. The loess
Donnelly glacier were blanketed with loess. Near Shaw maintains a vertical face that is perforated by holes of
Creek bluff and Shaw Creek Flats, thin loess covered bank swallows. About 2 ft (0.6 m) below the surface at
the sand dunes and gullied sand blanket of the the south end of the section is a thin [0.3-in.-thick (0.6
hillslopes. In post-Wisconsin time, additional loess cm)] charcoal layer dated at 2,565 ± 290 yr B.P. (GX-
blanketed dunes and moraines of Wisconsin age. 0254).
A record of alternating periods of cold and warm
286.7. STOP 6. SHAW CREEK ROAD. climates from mid-Quaternary time to the present is
About 0.6 mi (1 Ian) from Richardson Highway represented by sediments in this exposure. Solifluction
north on Shaw Creek Road [on the bluffs on the west deposits were formed under a rigorous climate in
side of Shaw Creek Flats at an elevation of 950 ft mid(?)-Quaternary time at the present elevation of 905 ft
(289.2 m)], only 50 ft (15.2 m) above the present level (289 m), if the area has been tectonically stable. Today,
of Tanana River, a borrow pit cuts across two low solifluction deposits are actively forming at elevations
ridges and exposes a 170-ft-Iong (51.8 m) section of as low as 3,000 to 3,500 ft (910 to 1,070 m) in the
sediments of middle to late Quaternary age (fig. 14). A Yukon-Tanana Upland. Ice wedges that formed in the
calcareous layer of solifluction debris that is from 0.5 ft solifluction deposits may have formed during the latter
(0.2 m) to more than 4 ft (1.2 m) thick and composed part of the cold period or during a separate cold period
of weathered and fractured bedrock has been after the solifluction deposits were stabilized. Ineither
transported a short distance down the gentle bedrock instance, the mean annual air temperature was probably
surface toward Shaw Creek Flats and unconformably at least 3°C to 4°C colder than now.
overlies augen gneiss bedrock. Evidently, some sand was deposited on the hills in
Wedges and pockets of unbedded, medium-grained the latter part of the cold period. A stream cut the small
sand mixed with smaller rock fragments and measuring gully in the center of the section, and rocks foreign to
1 to 4 ft (0.3 to 1.2 m) long by 0.5 to 1 ft (0.2 to 0.3 the area were brought in from upslope.
m) wide occur as ice-wedge casts in the solifluction The cold period was followed by a warm period, as
material. This sand fill contains no ventifacts, is more indicated by the melting of ice wedges and filling of
poorly sorted, and is siltier than the overlying bedded voids by overlying sand and solifluction material (from
sand. The solifluction deposit is complex in the the collapsing sides of the voids). Residual fragments
shallow valley between the two ridges, and there of vein quartz fonned a thin blanket on the surface as
appears to be a gully filled with solifluction debris and the result of a long period of weathering.
large pockets and masses of pebbly sand with With the return of a more rigorous climate (a cold
weathered rock fragments. Several stream pebbles of period probably associated with the Delta Glaciation),
dark, fine-grained mafic rock (unlike the bedrock of the sand was blown against the bluff, cutting and polishing
exposure) are also evident. The pebbles are polished the rock fragments. Cutting and polishing is especially
but not cut by windblown sand. well preserved on quartz fragments and other resistant
A well-developed and extensive ventifact layer 1 to rocks. Eventually, accumulating sand in the form of
4 in. (2.5 to 10 em) thick unconformably overlies dunes and a sand blanket covered bedrock and
bedrock, the solifluction layer, and the sand wedges terminated most ventifact development. Ground
and pockets. Ventifacts of vein quartz from the bedrock squirrels that were abundant at that time indicate near
are well faceted and polished. They form an almost tree-line conditions.
continuous horizontal sheet and range from 0.5 to 6 in. With climatic amelioration, glaciers retreated and
(0.2 to 15.2 cm) in diameter. The largest and most sand deposition ceased or greatly decreased. The sand
striking ventifact is also the only one of exotic lithology; blanket was gullied and in part removed by erosion. In
it is a 6-in.-diameter (15.2 cm) ventifact of black chert the absence of permafrost, downward-percolating water
found in the gully area overlying pebbles of transported deposited calcium carbonate on ventifacts and other
mafic rock. Ventifacts and rock fragments in the clasts. Ground squirrels moved to other areas as tree
solifluction layer and fractured bedrock are coated by line rose.
calcium carbonate on their lower sides. Deposition of the loess layer is probably associated
Overlying the ventifact layer in the center of the with the advance of glaciers during Donnelly time,

T102: 22
when outwash plains and valley trains were little
vegetated. In the last few thousand years, as the
glaciers withdrew and the climate warmed, loess
deposition was reduced and a well-developed Subarctic
Brown Forest soil formed. Radiocarbon dates indicate
the upper layers of loess are relatively young. The sand
and loess deposition and ventifact formation may have
occurred in Donnelly time.

285. Enter Big Delta A-3 Quadrangle.

283. Enter Big Delta A-4 Quadrangle.

275.7. To the left is the former location of Bert and

Mary's Roadhouse, which was built in 1959. For 15
years, a large log lodge (deformed by thawing of
permafrost) existed at this spot. The roadhouse was
torn down in 1964.


Confluence of the braided Delta River and Tanana
River and crossing of Tanana River by the elevated
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS).
At the south side of Tanana River near highway
bridge pipeline crossing is Rika's Roadhouse at Big
Delta State Historical Park established in 1988. This
two-story roadhouse operated from 1909 to 1947 and
forms the centerpiece of the new State Park. This
overnight lodging facility was one of the many lodges
that operated on the old Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail (now
the Richardson Highway). They were the motels of
their day. A few of the roadhouses on this highway
still are in service. Rika's Roadhouse provided
pioneers and travelers with food, lodging, and postal
service for many years, and was the southern terminus
of the cable ferry which crossed the Tanana River at this
point until the construction of a bridge during World
War II.

Ager, T.A., 1975, Late Quaternary environmental
history of the Tanana River valley, Alaska:
Columbus, Ohio State University, Ph.D. thesis,
117 p.
Blackwell, J.M., 1965, Surficial geology and geo -
morphology of the Harding Lake area, Big Delta
Quadrangle, Alaska: Fairbanks, University of
Alaska, M.S. thesis, 91 p.
McHattie, R.B., 1980, Highway pavement cracks---an
Alaskan overview: The Northern Engineer, v. 12,
no. 4, p. 17-21.
Pewe, T.L., 1955, Middle Tanana River valley, in
Hopkins, D.M., Karlstrom, T.N.V., and others,
Permafrost and groundwater in Alaska: U.S.
Geological Survey Professional Paper 264-F, p.126-
Pewe, T.L., 1965, Middle Tanana River Valley: in
Pewe, T.L., Ferrians, O.J., Jr.,Karlstrom, T.N.V.,
Nichols, D.R., 1965, Guidebook for Field
Conference F, central and south-central Alaska,

T102: 23
along the Richardson and Glenn Highways between
International Association for Quaternary Research, Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska: Alaska Division
7th Congress, Fairbanks, 1965: Lincoln, Nebraska of Geological and Geophysical Surveys Guidebook
Academy of Science, p. 36-54, (reprinted 1977, 1, p. 5-45.
Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Pewe, T.L., Westgate, I.A., and Stemper, B.A., 1988,
Surveys), Age of the loess in the Fairbanks area, Alaska:
Pewe, T.L., 1975, Quaternary geology of Alaska: U.S. Geological Society of America, Abstracts with
Geological Survey Professional Paper 835, 145 p. Programs, v. 20, p. A 208.
P~we, T.L., Burbank, Lawrence, and Mayo, L.R., Weber, F.R., Hamilton, T.D., Hopkins, D.M.,
1967, Multiple glaciation of the Yukon-Tanana Repenning, C.A., and Haas, Herbert, 1981, Canyon
Upland, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Creek: A late Pleistocene vertebrate locality in interior
Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map 1-507, Alaska: Quaternary Research, v. 16, no. 2, p. 167-
scale 1:500,000, 1 sheet. 180.
Pewe, T.L. and Reger, R.D., 1983, Middle Tanana Westgate, I.A., 1988, Isothermal plateau fission-track
River Valley: in Pewe, T.L. and Reger (eds.), age of the late Pleistocene Old Crow tephra, Alaska:
Guidebook to permafrost a~d Quaternary Geology Geophysical Research Letters, v. 15, no. 21, p. 376-



--- ---

T102: 24

Troy L. Pewe
Department of Geology, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

Richard D. Reger
Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, Fairbanks, Alaska

RESUME OF PERMAFROST AND 920 m) above the floor of Delta River valley and from
QUATERNARY GEOLOGY isolated erratics up to 15 ft (4.6 m) in diameter in the
Amphitheater Mountains on the south side of the Alaska
The Alaska Range is a glacially sculptured, arcuate Range. The succeeding glacial advance was the Delta
mountain wall extending west and southwest 620 mi Glaciation, recognized by fairly well-preserved
(1,000 km) from the Canadian border to the Aleutian
Range. It is composed of a core of Precambrian or
lower Paleozoic schist and gneiss, and higher
mountains are supported by granitic intrusions of
Mesozoic age. The range is flanked by and in part
made up of sedimentary and volcanic rocks of Paleozoic
and Mesozoic age. On the lower flanks of the range
and underlying adjoining lowlands are weakly
consolidated, coal-bearing conglomerate, sandstone,
and claystone of Tertiary age. The range is extremely
rugged and includes Mt. McKinley [20,300 ft (6,195
m) elevation], the highest mountain on the North
American continent. In the central Alaska Range, Mt.
Hayes, Mt. Deborah, Mt. Hess, and Mt. Kimball are
prominent peaks. Delta River originates on the south
side of the range in Tangle Lakes and flows north.
Richardson Highway (fig.15) crosses the range through
Delta River valley.
The Alaska Range is characterized by spectacular
valley glaciers 1 to 40 mi (1.6 to 65 km) long (fig. 15).
Glaciers are largest and most numerous on the south
side of the range, where they are nourished chiefly by
air masses moving north to northeast from the north
Pacific Ocean. On the south-central side of the range,
modern snowline is at about 5,500 ft (1,670 m)
elevation; on the north side it is 6,500 ft (1,980 m)
At least four Quaternary glaciations, each apparently
less extensive than the previous, are recorded in the
Delta River area of the central Alaska Range. Glaciers
pushed south and north from the crest of the range, and
some of the ice on the south side exited north through
Delta River valley. On the north side, the glaciers
largely remained in mountain valleys, spreading
terminal bulbs onto the lowland of Tanana River valley.
On the south side, glaciers coalesced to form large FIGURE 15 Index map of Delta River area, Alaska
piedmont ice sheets that covered the lowlands and Range, showing field-trip stops.
pushed south into Copper River Basin.
The earliest recognized glacial advance is the Darling breached moraines on the north side of the range. On
Creek Glaciation of· early Quaternary .age. It is the south side, glaciers of this middle to late Quaternary
identified from patches of drift 2,000 to 3,000 ft (610 to advance did not cover all small peaks of the foothills
and extended well into Copper River Basin.
lOCondensed and updated from Pewe and Reger The next two glacial advances occurred in late
(1983). Quaternary (Wisconsin) time and are closely related in

T102: 25
extent and·age. On the north side of the Range,
they have been grouped into one broad glaciation,
termed the Donnelly Glaciation; on the south sides they
have been named the Denali I and Denali II Glaciations.
On both sides of the range, these deposits are
characterized by fresh knob-and-kettle topography. On
the south side, especially in the vicinity of Tangle
are hundreds of square miles of fresh ice-contact
te3turc~s + .......~""QrlI when broad sheets of the
In Holocene a small that is
represented on the south side of the
range ,,"'''.. '' . . . . .an Glacial ·advances of the last few
centuries have left morainal loops within a few hundred
yards to a few miles of present glaciers.


273.1 11 Outwash fan of Donnelly Glaciation, the

bulk of which was deposited before 18,000 to 20,000
yr B.P. Elongate sand dunes 1 to 1.5 mi (1.6 to 2.4
km} long that occur on the outwash fan 0.5 to 1 mi (0.8
to 1.6 km) east of the Richardson Highway are dated at FIGURE 16 Oblique aerial view (to the southwest) of
about 19,000 yr B.P. The dunes are about 30 ft (9 m) outwash plains and moraines of Donnelly age near
high and 100 ft (30 m) wide at the base and covered Donnelly Dome, with the Delta River and Alaska Range
with 3.5 ft (1 m) of loess. They are composed of in the distance. Field-trip stops are indicated along the
brown, well-sorted, fine sand. Richardson Highway. Photograph 210RT-55RT-
M864-55SRW-MM58 by U.S. Air Force, August 29,
268.3. STOP 8. JACK WARREN ROAD 1.3 MI 1949
In front of the Delta-age terminal moraine is an outwash forms the skyline.
plain with well-developed ventifacts under a thin cover
of eolian silt and sand. 252.7. STOP 10. DELTA MORAINE (fig. 16).
263.2. Enter Mt Hayes D-4 Quadrangle. (Refer to The roadcut exposes light-yellowish-brown silty gravel
Pewe and Holmes, 1964). composed of cobbles and boulders of gneiss, granite,
Permafrost is sporadic in the broad, gently sloping diorite, and dark volcanic rocks, with some limestone
outwash fan from the moraine south of Ft Greely to and schist
Tanana River 12 mi (19.2 km) north of Ft Greely. Correlations of glaciations in the eastern and central
Isolated masses of frozen ground exist in places from 3 Alaska Range have been controversial for many years
to 40 ft (1 to 13 m) below the ground sutface; the base because, until recently, few radiometric dates were
of permafrost ranges from 10 to 118 ft (3.1 to 35 m) in available and correlations depend on much less reliable
depth. Drilling at Ft. Greely indicates that permafrost is relative-age criteria. The ages of the Delta and Donnelly
in sandy gravel 10 to 40 ft (3.1 to 12 m) below the Glaciations are still vigorously debated. Initially, Pewe
surface. Most permafrost lies above the present water (1953) related the Delta Glaciation to early Wisconsin
table. The abandoned channel of Jarvis Creek east of ice expansions in the mid-continental United States and
Delta Junction is probably free of permafrost related the Donnelly Glaciation to late Wisconsin
Groundwater is apparently recharged in late spring events. Later, based primarily on relative-age criteria
and early summer when ground thawing permits and a lack of significant radiocarbon dates, he and his
penetration of meltwater from the mountains. Some colleagues revised their chronology, correlated the Delta
water moving northward in the outwash gravel emerges Glaciation with the Illinoian Glaciation of the north-
as springs in the scarp on the south side of the Delta central United States, and correlated the Donnelly
River. A perennial spring flow keeps some creeks and Glaciation with the entire Wisconsin Glaciation.
part of Tanana River unfrozen during winter. Attempts by others to map Delta- and Donnelly-age
moraines elsewhere along the north flank of the east-
262.7. STOP 9. FAA STATION OVERLOOK. central Alaska Range have been frustrated because the
To the south is a panorama of the Alaska Range; Mt type area of these glaciations (lower Delta River valley)
Hayes is the most prominent peak. Where the braided is unique among valleys in the region. First, Delta
Delta River comes into view, it has cut through the River valley cuts across the entire Alaska Range. It
terminal moraine of the Donnelly Glaciation. Directly served as a conduit for ice flowing north from vigorous
west of the overlook, the subdued moraine of Delta age sources on the south side of the Alaska Range. Thus,
the relative extents of Delta- and Donnelly-age glaciers
11 Miles from Valdez on Richardson Highway. were much different in Delta River valley than in typical

T102: 26
light yellowish brown in the weathering zone, which is
generally 5 to 7 ft (1.5 to 2.1 m) thick, and schist clasts
are less common than in weathered Donnelly till.
Donnelly till is generally light gray, but weathers to
light yellowish brown or light olive brown in profiles
that average 1.5 to 2.5 ft (0.5 to 0.7 m) in depth. On
Delta moraines, boulder counts are relatively low, and
many large boulders are weathered into pinnacled
masses. Boulder counts are higher on Donnelly
moraines, and clast surfaces are less affected by
granular disintegration than on Delta moraines.
The most recent work by Ten Brink and Hamilton
has convinced them that this major ice expansion is
early Wisconsin. However, because soil profiles are
much deeper on Delta moraines than on Donnelly
moraines, because many Delta moraines appear to be
considerably modified by slope processes, and because
firm radiocarbon evidence is lacking, Pewe believes the
Delta Glaciation predates the last major (Sangamon)
interglaciation and correlates it with deposition of the
upper part of the Gold Hill Loess in the Fairbanks area.
Recent tephrochronology studies (Pewe, in press)
demonstrate that the Sheep Creek tephra is pre-
FIGURE 17 Oblique aerial view (to the north) of Wisconsin. This tephra overlies what is reported to be
clouds of silt transported by wind from Delta River Delta-age outwash at Canyon Creek.
flood plain near Donnelly Dome, central Alaska (from
Pewe, 1951a, pI. I-A). 251.5. STOP 11. EDGE OF DELTA MORAINE
north-flank valleys, which received less precipitation To the south is a broad lowland of Donnelly-age
and were less active producers of glacial ice. Second, outwash gravel that slopes north-northeast at a gradient
Delta River valley is in a transitional zone between of 93 ft per mi (17.4 m per km) from the terminal
terrain to the east, where valleys have obviously been moraine of a lobe of the Donnelly-age glacier that stood
considerably elevated by tectonic activity and deeply at the east base of Donnelly Dome [4 mi (6.4 km) to the
dissected in late Quaternary time, and terrain to the south] about 20,000 yr B.P. The highway ascends the
west, where the effects of uplift and dissection, front of this terminal moraine in the distance. To the
although obvious, are less dramatic. Like many valleys right, extending from the east shoulder of Donnelly
in the eastern Alaska Range, no evidence has been Dome, is a Delta-age moraine (fig. 16) that is contin-
found in Delta River valley or in the adjacent Yukon- uous with the moraine at this stop. In Delta time, the
Tanana Upland for glaciation that was more extensive glacier completely surrounded Donnelly Dome, which
than the Delta Glaciation, even though Pewe and his formed a nunatuk 700 ft (214 m) above the glacial ice.
associates have searched the area for many years. Donnelly Dome is composed of Precambrian or early
Perhaps pre-Delta glaciations were less extensive than Paleozoic schist and is a stream- and glacier-modified
the Delta Glaciation, or the evidence was destroyed by block that lies on the upthrown side of an active fault
slope processes or buried by subsequent valley filling. that extends from the 'Dome' eastward into the Granite
Many valleys west of Delta River valley contain Mountain area. Granite Mountain is a fault block of
numerous erratics and glacier-scoured surfaces resulting quartz monzonite and associated metamorphic rocks.
from pre-Delta glaciations. Third, lower Delta River The fault scarp along the west front of Granite
valley is subject to heavier eolian deposition than other Mountain is quite prominent and cuts Donnelly-age
valleys along the north flank of the Alaska Range (fig. moraines that were deposited at the base of the
17). A thick blanket of eolian sand and silt that covers mountain by small glaciers originating in short
much of the outer Delta moraine in the type area, mountain valleys (Pewe and Holmes, 1964). The low-
especially west of Delta River, masks morainal relief surface across the top of Granite Mountain is
topography, which appears very subdued. However, probably an exhumed erosional surface covered by
farther west, beyond the thick eolian blanket, the type- Tertiary gravel and coal-bearing deposits.
Delta moraine has a form very much like the nearby During Wisconsin time, strong winds blew across
type-Donnelly moraine. This similar morphology is the unvegetated outwash plain south of this locality and
typical of Delta and Donnelly moraines in most valleys carried sand that cut, grooved, and polished boulders
along the north flank of the Alaska Range. and cobbles to form ventifacts along the southern flank
The most dependable criterion for separating Delta of the Delta-age moraine. Many of these ventifacts
and Donnelly moraines is the difference in their occur on the moraine from this spot north to Ft. Greely
weathering profiles. Delta till is commonly pinkish to (fig. 15)

T102: 27
groups: a) desiccation-crack hypothesis and b) thennal-
251.2. STOP 12. POLYGONAL GROUND AND contraction crack hypothesis. The first hypothesis is
ICE-WEDGE CASTS. Refer to Pewe and others illogical" because of the absence of clay-sized minerals.
(1969) for a discussion of the origin and paleoclimatic According to the thermal-contraction hypothesis, the
significance of large-scale patterned ground in the polygonal pattern is produced by cooling and tensional
Donnelly Dome area. cracking of the ground in winter as a result of volume
Large-scale polygons on the outwash plain of reduction caused by contraction of ice-cemented
Wisconsin age· (Donnelly Glaciation) are outlined by a sediments. Two variants that must be considered in this
network of intersecting, trenchlike depressions 1 to 3 ft hypothesis include seasonal-crack polygons and ice-
(0.3 to 0.9 m) deep and 3 to 6 ft (0.9 to 1.8 m) wide. wedge polygons.
Lichens grow where there is little or no silt in the center Polygons do not crack in seasonally frozen ground
of the polygons. Most mixed evergreen-deciduous in the Donnelly Dome area today. Apparently, for
scrub and shrub vegetation grows in troughs at the seasonal contraction cracks to form under natural
edges of the polygons where the silt is .thickest. The conditions, the former climate must have been colder.
difference in vegetation types between the polygon With greater cooling of the ground, permafrost was
centers and troughs delineates the polygonal pattern. more widespread, and conventional ice wedges fonned
The polygons are 80 to 130 ft (24.4 to 39.6 m) in by contraction cracking of former pennafrost rather than
diameter and three to six sided; most are four sided. as sediment wedges in the seasonally frozen ground.
These wedges formed during the Donnelly Glaciation
and subsequently melted. The resulting voids were
filled with sediment from the adjacent gravel and
overlying loess. .
The climate in the Donnelly Dome area at the time
the large-scale ice-wedge polygons fonned was colder
and more rigorous than today. Tree line was 1,500 to
1,800 ft (460 to 550 m) lower in the adjacent Yukon-
Tanana Upland, and snowline was 1,500 ft(460 m)
lower, based on a study of cirque floors. In Wisconsin
time, air temperature was at least 5.4°F (3°C) lower,
about 21.6°F (-5.8°C), in contrast to the modern mean
annual air temperature of 27°F (-2.8°C).
Study of large-scale patterned ground in the
Donnelly Dome area demonstrates that extensive areas
of ice-wedge-cast polygons can occur in coarse-grained
sediments in regions where permafrost is actively
growing, such as in central Alaska, and where large ice
wedges are still present in fine-grained sediments.
q , , Meters Such an association supports the suggestion that
permafrost and ice wedges thaw more rapidly in coarse-
.' ._----._ _....
' _ _, Fe et grained sediments than in ice-rich, fine-grained
FIGURE 18 Diagrammatic sketch of ice-wedge cast, 245.2. STOP 13. DONNELLY TILL.
Donnelly Dome area, Alaska. Circled numbers indicate The light-yellowish-brown silty to sandy till is
types of sediment: 1, silt mantle; 2, fill of upper part characteristic of the Donnelly Glaciation in the Delta
of wedge; 3, fill of middle and lower parts. of wedge; 'River area on the north side of the Alaska Range.
4, undisturbed outwash gravel; 5, disturbed outwash Schist fragments are also much more common in
gravel; 6, sand; and 7, iron-stained sediments. No Donnelly-age till than in the more weathered till of the
vertical exaggeration (from Pewe, 1965, fig. 17). Delta Glaciation. Only about 5 percent of the granitic
clasts are significantly weathered. Directly·to the north
Wedge-shaped masses of fine-grained sediments of this stop, near Donnelly Dome, is a massive push
underlie the slight surface depressions that mark moraine.
polygon boundaries (fig. 18) and crosscut the massive 244. Enter Mt. Hayes C-4 Quadrangle.
outwash gravel. These wedges have a wide upper part,
a narrow middle section, and an extremely irregular 243.5. STOP 14. NORTH-CENTRAL ALASKA
lower part. They extend from 3 to 9 ft (0.9 to 2.7 m) RANGE AND CROSSING OF RICHARDSON
below the ground surface and all bend and curve to HIGHWAY BY TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE
varying degrees (fig. 18). Some wedges widen and SYSTEM.
narrow again; many terminate in a sharp hook, and During good weather, this is a spectacular view of
some terminate in large footlike masses or bulges. the Alaska Range, Delta River, and large alluvial fans.
Hypotheses about the origin of large-scale patterned Black Rapids Glacier is in the distance. Looking south
ground in the Donnelly Dome area fall into two major to the left, on the immediate skyline is a Donnelly-age

T102: 28
lateral 650 ft above Delta
River. The prominent lateral moraine on other
of the valley is also
The pipeline 1"?""C'C'1THT

this locality
buried at least 6 ft
corrugated metal
Permafrost is T"\?"r'll't~r"''t~r1
location by 12
throughout the
ground ,",,'-J~~lJ~lJ"'U
moisture is
m). Thermal in elevated sel::uun---Kt;CLJ
the ground frozen. Here there is no mechanical ~~V\";~.L.L'"
facility as at some other highway \.;J.\...I.;).;)JU.J.J;..,';'.

there has been no difficulty with this ,""~'-'lJlJ~,.L.Ljii;,,,.

237.5. Floodplain of Delta River. Strong, T"\~?"C'1C't'~n't
winds and a wide, vegetation-free flood plain make the
Delta River an ideal area for observing wind as a FIGURE 19 View (to the south) of the J.\.;J..lJ.~""J.UL.\.,1U
geologic process (fig.17). Winds from the south and crossing beneath Richardson Highway by the
east have blown great clouds of silt from Delta River Alaska Pipeline System at Mile 243.5, Richardson .
and Jarvis Creek flood plains since at least the Delta Highway, Mt. Hayes D-4 Quadrangle, Verncal
Glaciation and have blanketed the adjacent terrain with thermal piles equipped with heat-radiating
loess (Pewe and Holmes, 1964, pI. 1). Clouds of silt ground frozen around the pipe on either side
are blown as high as 4,000 ft (1,200 m) above the land highway. In the background, the T"\1n.~111'''~
surface today and cover hundreds of square miles. As crosses ice-rich permafrost in till of the JL.~ 'L1.L1JL"'''''''A.A.

might be expected, areas leeward .of the source are~s, Glaciation. Photograph 4652 by T.L.
such as the Delta River flood plaIn, are most heaVIly 1981.
blanketed with silt. Smaller areas east of Delta River
that break the regular wind flow are also heavily 226.6. STOP 15. FALLS CREEK AND
Deposits of windblown sediments are also thickest Black Rapids Glacier gained worldwide in
near flood plains. Leaves and limbs of trees near the 1937 when it advanced spectacularly at rates up to 200
river are covered by fine silt during much of the ft (61 m) a day. It was feared that the would
summer. In many areas, tree trunks have small cones quickly reach Richardson Highway, destroy and a~so
of fresh silt at their bases, the result of the silt washing destroy the historic Black Rapids Roadhouse, whIch
down the tree from the limbs and leaves. The floor of was built along the highway near this locality. A radio
the forest is dusty, and a gradual accumulation of silt announcer was stationed at the roadhouse to broadcast
requires that new adventitious roots be extended the details of the glacier crunching through
laterally at higher and higher intervals by white-spruce However, Black Rapids Glacier did not
trees. A constant regeneration of the surface vegetation Richardson Highway as predicted, although studies
is required. Deposits of loess are 1 t~ 40.ft (0.3 to ~2 Pewe in 1949, revealed that earlier Holocene
m) thick. Much more forest vegetatIon IS present In had crossed the river.
upper loess layers than in lower layers, which su~:!ge~sts During the earliest J.\';\';VJ;..~~.I..c.."',1U
that vegetation near the ground surface has not decayed Black Rapids Glacier, ice uU'::J~.lV'U
and disappeared like it has deeper in the section. riding a few hundred
Almost all loess in the immediate area is Holocene bedrock wall. The ice
in age. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the Jarvis Ash diverted Delta River, cut a LJ,"",",,"~~",I"''''
Bed (near the middle of most loess sections) is about was later partially blocked by the fan to
3,500 years old. form Hidden Lake. With thinning and recession of the
235.9. From here to Ruby Creek the scarp that is ice dam, Delta River returned to its and
60 to 100 ft (18 to 30 m) high on the left was cut by lower Falls Creek was diverted north the
Delta River into an alluvial fan of Ruby Creek. After former river channel to enter Delta River at this ation.
the Wisconsin glacier withdrew from the Delta River Later shifting of the creek in to
valley, streams deposited large gravel alluvial fans that sedimentation removed debris from ,.,. h'1,h"I'11"'O

were truncated as Delta River shifted from one side to outcrop.

the other. The fans were capped with a veneer of loess To the north across the river, one can
1 to 40 ft (0.3 to 12 m) thick. gravel of the Gunnysack Creek alluvial fan
the oldest Holocene moraine of Black
The earliest Holocene advance of Black

T102: 29
Holocene moraines.
pushed Delta River eastward at that location and caused The oldest Holocene terminal moraine of Black
it to truncate the fan of Gunnysack Creek. Rapids Glacier is compound and adjoins a fo~est of
At Stop 15 near the mouth of Falls Creek, spruce that is significantly old~r than trees grOWIng ~n
Richardson Highway is cut through bouldery till of the the moraine. West of Delta River, a dense forest WIth
oldest recognized Holocene advance of Black Rapids thick turf and many older fallen and decayed trees
Glacier. In the upper part of this till are several discrete estimated to be 350 to 500 yr old is just beyond the limit
blocks and pods, which are up to 6 ft (1.9 m) in of Holocene glaciation. The oldest solid-center tree
diameter and as thick as 2 ft (0.6 m). These unique sampled in this forest in 1951 was 228 yr old. A
erratics are composed of pieces of the fonner turf- and similar forest exists beyond the oldest Holocene
loess-covered outwash fan of Black Rapids Glacier, moraine east of Delta River and south of Gunnysack
which was overridden during this early advance. Some Creek. In contrast, trees estimated to be as old as 133
blocks near the north end of the roadcut are undefonned yr----and older trees with rotten centers---were growing
internally, although in a thin surface rind, silty block on the oldest Holocene moraine of Black Rapids Glacier
material is mixed with angular to subangular gravel in 1951. Thus, spruce and poplar trees were apparently
from the enclosing till. These blocks were probably present in this part of the Delta River valley before .the
frozen when initially plowed up by the advancing earliest Holocene advance of Black RapIds GlaCIer.
glacier and were deposited before they thawed. Based on tree-ring evidence and the development of an
Although we do not know how far the blocks were incipient soil on this moraine (which indicates it was
carried by the advance, the fact that they remained intact built more than 200 yr ago), Pewe estimates the age of
indicated they were undoubtedly transported only a the oldest Holocene moraine of Black Rapids Glacier at
,short distance at or close to the suIface, probably as part 330 yr B.P. and correlates it with similar moraines at
of the push moraine in front of the advancing glacier. nearby Castner and Canwell Glaciers.
Their thicknesses demonstrate that· the blocks were An arcuate terminal moraine 1 mi (1.6 km) in front
plowed up in late winter when the outwash fan was of the 1937 terminal moraine appears fresh, and has no
frozen at least 2 ft (0.6 m) deep, perhaps by a surge that turf cover, and locally contains a small ice core. In
died out before the following summer. Two thin, 1951, 80-yr-old trees in a first-generation forest on this
discontinuous layers of turf [separated by 3 to 5 in. (7.6 moraine were cored. According to Pewe, the moraine
to 12.7 cm) of sandy loess in one undeformed block] formed about 130 yr B.P. Mendenhall (1900) visited
were dated at 3,120 ± 120 yr B.P. (1-12,109) and the tenninus of Black Rapids Glacier in 1898 and stated
4,350 ± 140 yr B.P. (1-12,108). This indicates that the that the glacier had evidently advanced a few years
earliest known Holocene advance of Black Rapids earlier, leaving a fresh-looking moraine.
Glacier occurred sometime after 3,100 yr B.P. and that' The 1937 advance of Black Rapids Glacier was a
the glacier had not previously expanded to an equivalent rapid surge, and a 300-ft-high (90 m) cliff of ice fonned
position for at least 1,200 yr. Other nearby pods are the terminus. After this surge, the ice thinned rapidly,
made up of turf and loess that are thoroughly mixed and today little ice is visible from Richardson Highway.
with gravel from the enclosing till, demonstrating that The tenninal moraine is still ice cored. The first spruce
they thawed and were remolded, but not destroyed, trees, which were 4 yr old, were found in 1957,20 yr
before being deposited by the ice. after the advance, growing on the moraine where the ice
Two radiocarbon dates of thin, felted peat and a core was no longer present.
branch recovered from between thin distal gravel of the Although the interpretations of the moraines of
Falls Creek fan and the underlying oldest Holocene till Black Rapids Glacier based on the tree-ring evidence
are dated at less than 190 yrB.P. (1-12,110) and less seem logical, the tree-ring evidence is not complete.
than 230 yr B.P. (1-12,111), respectively. They Especially critical is an assessment of the history of the
provide a minimum age for the oldest Holocene Delta River valley in tenns of processes that could kill
advance, but the moraine could be considerably older. trees growing on moraines, including repeated large
Attempts to date this moraine and other prehistoric wildfires, severe infestations by spruce-bark beetles,
Holocene moraines of the Black Rapids Glacier have and severe wind storms. Another phenomenon that
utilized dendrochronology and lichenometry, but the must be evaluated is the timing and magnitude of
results are not conclusive. Pewe's dendrochronologic Holocene tree-line fluctuations in the area. The upper
studies from 1951 through 1957 convinced him that the limit of spruce is .about 800 ft (242 m) above the
multiple Holocene moraines of Black Rapids, Castner, terminal moraine of Black Rapids Glacier, but
and Canwell Glaciers probably were built by concurrent Holocene moraines of Castner and Canwell Glaciers are
advances during the past 400 yr. His observations of less than 200 ft (61 m) below this level. The
spruce colonization on the 1937 tenninal moraine of development of tree-ring-width chronology for the Delta
Black Rapids Glacier demonstrate that near-tree-line River valley would greatly strengthen the application of
conditions, including cool summer temperatures, severe dendrochronology in the central Alaska Range and
winds, and shifting substrates due to melting ice cores, would provide a firm basis for dendroclimatic
delay tree growth on moraines in this part of the central extrapolations.
Alaska Range for at least 15 to 20 yr following In an attempt to date Holocene moraines above tree
construction of the moraines. This delay factor must be line in the central Alaska Range, Reger initially utilized
added to ring counts of trees to estimate the ages of lichenometry at Black Rapids, Canwell, .Gulkana, and

T102: 30
parts of the moraine that were not ice cored. Lichen
College glaciers. The most useful lichen for this sizes suggest this moraine is at least 140 yr old and may
purpose is crustaceous Rhizocarpon geographicum, be as old as 390 yr.
which abounds in the central Alaska Range, is easily 225.1. Enter M1. Hayes B-4 Quadrangle. From
recog- nized, and is reliable for dating elsewhere. The 226.5 to 224.4, Richardson Highway traverses the
initial lichen-growth curve for R geographicum was oldest Holocene moraine of Black Rapids Glacier.
calibrated with the ages of moraines that extend below
tree line at Black Rapids and Canwell Glaciers; these
moraines were dated by Pewe using dendrochronology
(Reger and Pewe, 1969). However, the growth-rate
curve for the same species in the S1. Elias Mountains,
which was calibrated using photographic,

7-Lichen station (Reger, 1964) t N

dendrochronologic, and radiocarbon evidence (Denton Range of maximum thalli diameters

and Karlen, 1973, 1977), is very different than the

o 0 - 4mm
• 11-48mm
curve initially developed for the central Alaska Range. Age of moraines
0.5 1 mi
Recent work by Ten Brink and his associates along the ~ 1937
6 I
0.5 1 km
north flank of the central Alaska Range essentially IS) Younger Holocene
duplicates the curve developed by Denton and Karlen, fZI Older Holocene
which suggests that there is a problem with using tree-
ring ages to date Holocene moraines in the Delta River
valley. However, the tree-ring ages seem to be
supported by radiocarbon dating in Delta River valley; I~"""'--STOP15
therefore, the problem is not settled.
The earliest Holocene terminal moraines of Black
Rapids Glacier are generally unsatisfactory for
lichenometry because of dense vegetation cover and
effects of eolian activity. Dead R. geographicum thalli
up to 3.15 in. (80 mm) in diameter were observed on
the oldest Holocene terminal moraine east of Delta
River, and widely scattered live thalli up to 1.18 in. (30
mm) in diameter were measured. On this moraine west
of Delta River, dead thalli up to 2.95 in. (75 mm) in
diameter were observed, and live thalli up to 1.57 in.
(40 mm) in diameter were measured. The moraine is
partly blanketed by eolian sand, and dead lichen thalli,
show effects of sandblasting. Assuming, as work by
Ten Brink and others suggest, that the lichen-growth FIGURERhizocarpon
20 Relationship of maximum-diameter
geographicum thalli to Holocene moraines
curve of Denton and Karlen (1973; 1977) is of Black Rapids Glacier, Central Alaska Range
approximately correct for the central Alaska Range, (modified from Reger and Pewe, 1969, fig. 3).
lichens indicate that the oldest recognized Holocene
moraine of Black Rapids Glacier is at least 1,265 to
1,450 yr old, not less than 400 yr as trees indicate. If
the present crustaceous lichens in the densely forested 217.2. On the left (east) is the terminus of Castner
area represent plants that secondarily colonized the old Glacier (fig. 21). Stagnant ice of the later Holocene
moraine after the development of the heavy tree cover, advance is exposed 1,000 ft (300 m) to the east (left).
the lichens indicate that the dense forest developed To the right, the elevated Trans-Alaska Pipeline System
about 194 yr ago; this possibility is not ruled out by crosses the flood plain. The pipeline is not mounted on
tree-ring data. Largest live thalli west of Delta River thermal piling because the ground is thawed and water
indicate that lichens growing on the oldest Holocene flows through the flood-plain gravel.
terminal moraine were killed about 320 yr B.P. by 217. Two Holocene advances of Castner Glacier,
windblown sand from the active outwash plain of the which Pewe considers comparable to the earlier and
younger Holocene advance, which, according to tree- later Holocene advances of Black Rapids Glacier, are
ring evidence, is much younger. Live R. geographicum recorded by moraines near Richardson Highway. Part
west of Delta River probably represent a secondary of the older terminal moraine is plastered on the bedrock
colonization that occurred after eolian activity .hill at Mile 216.7 adjacent to the highway, just across
diminished. Lower Miller Creek. The terminal moraine of the later
The largest R. geographicum on the younger Holocene advance is to the left (east of the highway at
Holocene terminal moraine of Black Rapids Glacier is Mile 217) and is ice cored. In 1951, Pewe measured
dated by trees at about 150 yr B.P. and ranges from trees up to 102 yr old growing on the ice-cored
0.43 to 1.68 in. (11 to 43 mm) in diameter; average moraine.
diameter is 0.95 in. (24 mm) (fig. 20). Wherever
possible, lichens were measured on large boulders on

T102: 31
The TAPS route crosses the McKinley strand of
216. STOP 16 OF DENALI Denali fault near pipeline Milepost 589 [between upper
BY THE TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE and lower Miller Creeks approximately 3 mi (5 km)
Denali fault is one of the longest crustal breaks in south of Pump Station 10]. The 48-in.-diameter (1.2
is is supported through zone of potential fault
topographically as an arcuate can movement on 47-ft-Iong (14 m) concrete 'sleepers' that
be traced without from the southwestern are spaced approximately 60 ft (18.2 m) apart for a
Range crest of the range the of 1,960 ft (594 m). This design allows a

Shakwak Trench, Territory, Canada, and maximum lateral displacement of 20 ft (6 m) and 6 ft

perhaps into Chatham Strait in southeastern Alaska (1.8 m) of vertical displacement due to fault movement.
(fig. 22). Some of the largest in the Alaska A project-wide, computer-based seismic-monitoring
Range, many of surge, of the, instantaneous detection,
Denali fault-line valley, including Gakona, automatic reporting of earthquake activity to the
Canwell, Black Rapids, Susitna, and Muldrow Valdez Operations Center. Seismic activity is detected
Glaciers. Recent work on Denali fault has defined the by accelographs located at Pump Stations 1, 4 through
McKinley and Hines Creek strands, which bifurcate 12, and at the Valdez Terminal.
just east of Richardson Highway and rejoin west of 215. To the left (east) is Canwell Glacier, which
Denali National Park-Preserve (fig. 22). Geologic displays clear evidence of older and younger Holocene
evidence indicates that average rates of displacement advances. Lateral moraines of the older advance are
along Denali fault, measured over 10,000- to well preserved upglacier, and a fragment of the terminal
65,000,OOO-yr periods, vary from 0.04 to 1.38 in. per equivalent of this moraine exists at Mile 215 on the
yr (0.1 to 3.5 cm per yr). Offsets of glacial deposits of south side of Upper Miller Creek (fig.21). A spruce
Donnelly age, Holocene alluvial fans, and at least 20 log collected by Pewe in 1953 in till of this moraine is
drainages along the McKinley strand west of here (fig. dated at less than 200 yr B. P. by the radiocarbon
23) demonstrate that 17 to 200 ft (5 to 60 m) of right- method (W-268); however, Meyer Rubin (written
lateral movement and 20 to 33 ft (6 to 10 m) of vertical

FIGURE 21 Oblique aerial view (to the northeast) of FIGURE 22 Relation of major faults in Alaska to the
the Richardson Highway, the TAPS route, and the TAPS route, Richardson and Glenn Highways, and
tennini of Canwell and Castner Glaciers in the central Stop 16 (modified from Stout and others, 1975, fig. 1).
Alaska Range. Dashed line around glacial moraines
indicates termini of younger Holocene advances. commun., 1964) stressed that the log could be older
Photograph 620RI-55RT-M864-55SRW -9M58 by than 200 yr. Redating of the log by the radiocarbon
U.S. Air Force, August 29, 1949. method by Geochron in 1985 gave a date of 310±75 yr
(GX-I0982). This date compares well with age
movement have occurred during the past 10,000 yr. estimates of the glacial advance by dendrochronology.
Although numerous microseisms and a few small A well-developed forest and turf are developed on this
earthquakes have been detected along the eastern Denali moraine fragment. Spruce stumps up to 159 yr old
fault system, historic offset is not well documented. were present in 1951; these trees were probably cut

T102: 32
FIGURE 23 Oblique aerial
iew (to the west-northwest)
along the trace of the McKinley
strand of Denali fault (arrows)
in the drainage of Augustana
Creek between Delta River
and Black Rapids Glacier, M1.
Hayes B-4 Quadrangle, Alaska.
Photograph 94-3 (R.D. Reger,
July 20, 1982).

down 10 to 15 yr earlier. Diameters of !L Mountain. Tertiary continental sedimentary rocks are

geographicum on the south lateral moraine of the older exposed in the lower valley wall across Phelan Creek.
advance range from 5.2 to 6.34 in. (132 to 161 mm) 204.7. Enter M1. Hayes A-4 Quadrangle
and average 5.67 in. (155 mm) (fig. 24). These sizes
indicate that the oldest Holocene moraine is at least 199. Isabel Pass, elevation 3,285 f1. (995 m).
3,160 yr old and may be as old as 3,640 yr. The thick
moss cover on the remnant of the older Holocene
terminal moraine is unfavorable for lichen growth.
The terminal moraine of the later Holocene advance
is well preserved near the highway (fig. 24). A
prominent gravel ridge that is 10 to 15 ft (3 to 4.6 m)
high is forested with a few white spruce, willows, and
alders; it has nO turf, and lichen-bearing boulders are
scattered. In 1951, the oldest tree recorded on this
moraine was 102 yr old. R. geographicum measure 1.1
to 1.97 in. (28 to 50 mm) in diameter on the south
lateral moraine of Canwell Glacier, but on the terminal
moraine they are only 0.71 to 1.3 in. (18 to 33 mm) in
diameter, perhaps because of the tree cover (fig. 24)
Assuming that the largest lichens on the lateral moraine
(which is above tree line) most accurately represent the
age of the younger Holocene moraine, the size of the EXPLANATION

lichens indicates that this moraine is about 550 yr old. 7-Lichen station (Reger, 1964)
A spruce log collected by Pewe in 1953 in till of this Range of maximum thalli
moraine was dated at 200± 15 yr by Geochron in 1985 diameters
(GX-I0983). This date compares well with the age
• 18-50 mm
estimates of the advance by dendrochronology. • 132-161mm

210. STOP 17. RAINBOWMOUNTAIN Age of moraines N

Green and maroon colors are predominantly
associated with volcanic rocks and yellow and green
Younger Holocene
Older Holocene
I o
1 mi
~ k~
colors are associated with siltstone and sandstone. Sill-
like porphyritic andesite intrusions are characteristically
purplish green and rhyolites are dark green.
FIGURE 24 Relationship of maximum-diameter
207. STOP 18. ACTNE ROCK GLACIER Rhizocarpon geographicum thalli to Holocene moraines
This rock glacier is about 1 mi (1.6 km) long and of Canwell Glacier, central Alaska Range (modified
originates in the empty cirque at the top of Rainbow from Reger and Pewe, 1969, fig. 5).

T102: 33
ELEV. 7680 ft.
ELEV. 7900 ft.
ELEV. 7400
2243m ft'l
7000 teet

FIGURE 25 Block diagram of the Gulkana-College Glaciers area, south-central Alaska Range. A, West
Gulkana Creek; B, 1875-1900 A.D. ice~marginal channel of Gulkana Glacier; C, 260- to 560-yr-old ice
marginal channel of Gulkana Glacier; D, College Creek canyon; E and F, latest Wisconsin ice-marginal
channels of College Glacier (modified from Reger, 1964, frontispiece).

197.7. STOP 19. GULKANA GLACIER VIEW on the south side of the Alaska Range (fig.). See Pewe
AND RICHARDSON MONUMENT (fig. 25). (1965) and Pewe and Reger (1983) for a summary of
The pingolike knob standing above the outwash fan glaciology and Holocene advances of Gulkana Glacier.
of Gulkana Glacier (to the southeast) is composed of
rounded cobble gravel. Surface drainage from Gulkana 195. STOP 20. SUMMIT LAKE
Glacier wanders back and forth across the outwash fan, Summit Lake occupies a depression formed when
sometimes draining through the Delta, Tanana, and glacial ice of late Donnelly age stagnated and melted in
Yukon Rivers to the Bering Sea and sometimes into the place. Ice-contact ('dead-ice') deposits are well
Copper River to the Pacific Ocean. For the last few developed at the southern end of the lake.
years, the drainage has been artificially diverted into To the west and south of Summit Lake are the
Delta River. Amphitheater Mountains, which consist of small knobs-
Richardson Highway connects Valdez and --mostly of metabasalt---that protrude 2,000 to 3,000 ft
-'O'.L'v"""..........,.,uand is the oldest major transportation route in (600 to 900 m ) above the drift-covered lowland. The
The highway was· initiated as the Fairbanks- lowland is generally underlain by Tertiary sandstone
Trail in 1901, when Congress appropriated and conglomerate and some coal beds. Denali Highway
its construction. In 1904, funds were traverses the southern Amphitheater Mountains area
~n.,.... rn,nr1t'lf-£1~rI to survey a wagon road along this route. from Paxson to Maclaren River. Glaciers originating
early years, it was mainly a winter sled and on the south side of the Alaska Range pushed over and
road, and the first complete truck and auto trip through these mountains.
reportedly made in 1913. In the 1920s, the road Paxson Mountain is an elongate, 2,000-ft-high (600
was named the Richardson Highway after W. P. m) prominence of metabasalt that can be seen clearly (to
.L" ... ,,# """,I.~..,'"'J.J. who was president of the Alaska Road
.. the south) from Summit Lake. The overflow gorges
."' from 1905 to 1917.
,t"V"Ii"lC'1,["I"I _ _
and drift cover on the mountain record a complex glacial
Gulkana Glacier was intensively studied from 1960 history typical of the Amphitheater Mountains. Isolated
to 1966 under a program of integrated investigations erratics atop Paxson Mountain are thought to be early to
directed by the Department of Geology, University of mid-Pleistocene in age (fig. 26) and a large, weathered
~I£I.''''£I Fairbanks. Since 1966, the glacier has been overflow gorge that is easily visible on the skyline of
continuously monitored by the Water Resources Branch the mountain was probably cut across the crest of the
the U. S. Geological Survey as part of their ice-and- mountain at that time. During the next glacial advance
water-balance studies of selected glacier basins for the (middle to late Quaternary age), ice-marginal streams
International Hydrological Decade (1965-1974). cut open-ended gorges at lower levels on Paxson
Gulkana Glacier, located 4 mi (6.4 km) northeast of Mountain. These notches are partially filled with frost-
Isabel Pass, is one of several temperate valley glaciers rived rubble. Wisconsin advances surrounded Paxson

T102: 34

Quat;emary aae

Glacial erratic8 of

Glacial oVerllow channel


.... ~

FIGURE 26 Glacial deposits in the headwaters area of Delta River, Amphitheater Mountains, Alaska
(from Pewe, 1961, fig. 357).

Mountain. Fresh overflow notches were cut at 22.2 (Denali Highway) STOP 23. ROADCUT IN
elevations of 3,000 to 4,000 ft (1,150 to 1,212 m), and SMALL ESKER.
young drift surrounds the mountain below this 29 (Denali Highway). High Valley (fig. 26),
elevation. Cirques on Paxson Mountain appear to be which extends from Mile 28 to Mile 36.5. Ahead on
Wisconsin and pre-Wisconsin in age. the right across High Valley at an elevation of 4,855 ft
Tum left and proceed west on Denali Highway. (1,481 m) are large steps cut in bedrock. These steps
0.25 (Denali Highway)12. Enter Mt. Hayes A-4 are cryoplanation terraces that stand above the upper
Quadrangle. limit of Wisconsin ice in this area.
7.2 (Denali Highway) STOP 21. ALASKA
RANGE PANORAMA. 29.5 (Denali Highway). STOP 24. WHISTLER
To the north is Delta River pass, through which RIDGE CRYOPLANATION TERRACE SITE (fig.
glacier ice from the south side of the Alaska Range 27).
pushed north to Tanana River valley. Bedrock at this Whistler Ridge is one of two localities just south of
location is greenstone and metabasalt, probably Triassic Denali Highway where cryoplanation terraces and
in age. This location is above timberline in alpine- related periglacial landforms have been studied in detail;
tundra vegetation. the Phalarope Lake site is 3.7 mi (6 km) west of here
near Mile 35 on Denali Highway. These sites are
20.4 (Denali Highway). STOP 22. ICE- typical of bedrock ridges in the Gulkana Upland,
STAGNATION DEPOSITS AND TANGLE LAKES. where many ridge crests exhibit inactive but well-
preserved cryoplanation terraces.
Bedrock is a complex succession of slightly
12 Miles west of Paxson on Denali Highway. epidotized dacite tuffs, agglomerates, and flows of

T102: 35

FIGURE 27 Plane-table map and topographic profile of Whistler Ridge cryopl~nation-terrace site,. Mile
29.5, Denali Highway, Mt. Hayes A-5 Quadrangle, Alaska. Site was surveyed In July 1967 (modIfied
from Reger, .1975, pI. 3).

Triassic(?) age. Cherts are locally present. These rocks decline as steeply as 10 degrees. Tread areas on
are intruded by rhyolite, dacite, and andesite dikes and Whistler Ridge range from about 21,520 to 408,880 ft2
by small diorite-gabbro stocks of Jurassic(?) age. (2,000 to 38,000 m 2).
Small, inactive rock glaciers occupy hollows in the Treads are actually bedrock surfaces mantled by
north-northeast flank of the ridge at an average elevation silty, angular bedrock rubble. On Whistler Ridge, less
of 4,100 ft (1,242 m), and extensive but stabilized than 1 percent of the clasts in the tread debris is exotic
rubble sheets cover lower ridge flanks between about to the local bedrock. Although no holes have been dug
3,780 and 4,150 ft (1,145 and 1,258 m). Whistler to bedrock at this site, cryoplanation terraces on Indian
Ridge is surrounded by an olive-gray, silty till of the Mountain in west central Alaska have similar
Delta Glaciation. Moraines of the Denali I and II morphologies, and excavations to bedrock demonstrate
advances were deposited nearby by ice masses flowing that the rubble veneer generally ranges from less than
south through the valley now occupied by Glacier Lake 3.3 ft (1 m) to as much as 10 ft (3 m) thick. Drill holes,
and by ice masses in the Tangle Lakes lowland to the pits, and trenches on the summit terrace of Indian
east and south. Mountain encountered permafrost at depths of 1.7 to
The Whistler Ridge site features an outstanding 6.5 ft (0.5 to 2 m) below the ground surface. Ground
series of cryoplanation terraces that were notched in the ice was present in silty fillings of bedrock joints as clear
bedrock ridge 700 to 1,100 ft (212 to 334 m) above lenses, seams, and layers as thick as 0.6 in. (1.5 cln)
Denali Highway (fig. 26). Both ridge-crest and hilltop and as unfoliated wedges up to 12 in. (30.5 cm) wide.
forms are present between 4,390 and 4,790 ft (1,330 On Whistler Ridge, tread material is sorted by frost
and 1,451 m) elevation. Scarp heights vary from less action and mass movement into a variety of microrelief
than 10 ft (3 m) to about 45 ft (13.6 m). The mean features. Near the bases of some ascending scarps,
direction that scarps face is 296.8 degrees, but scarp tread rubble is overlain by fans of organic silt.
orientation varies considerably (mean angular deviation Classic transverse nivation hollows indent the upper
of perpendiculars to scarps of 10 ridge-crest terraces at side slopes of Whistler Ridge. Bedrock slopes
this locality is 67.2 degrees). Scarps are generally surrounding the terraces are littered with the products of
covered by coarse bedrock rubble. Although terrace terrace cutting and weathering of side slopes. This
treads appear to be nearly level planes, especially when debris is moving or has moved downslope under the
viewed from the side, these surfaces are rarely level or influence of gravity, primarily by solifluction and frost
planar. Most treads are actually broad, convex slopes creep. Displacement has produced Inany typical
that contrast markedly with steeper surrounding periglacial microrelief forms, including rock-debris
surfaces. They generally slope 1 to 5 degrees and may benches and turf-banked lobes. Rubble sheets at the

T102: 36
cobble erratics of quartz, purplish-brown amygdaloidal
base of side slopes are extensions of this debris blanket dacite, and granitic rocks from the Amphitheater
that flowed as solifluction sheets out over the silty till Mountains north of Denali Highway and from the
surrounding the ridge. They are composed of open- Alaska Range. These erratics also occur in the silty
work, angular debris as large as 3 ft (0.9 m) and Illinoian(?) till that surrounds the ridge. Erratics on
averaging about 4 in. (10.2 cm) in diameter. Rubble Whistler Ridge are remnants of that part of the
sheets are 2 to 10 ft (0.6 to 3 m) thick and generally Illinoian(?) till sheet that was deposited on the ridge
slope 8 to 10 degrees with lobate outer margins. Most where the terraces now exist. The intensive scouring
of the silty matrix in the rubble sheets was removed by during the Delta Glaciation probably destroyed any
rill wash and piping and redeposited downslope as silt cryoplanation terraces that previously existed on the
fans and aprons. ridge.
Cryoplanation terraces form on the crests and flanks Two major advances of the Wisconsin Denali
of ridges and hills when nivation attacks bedrock in Glaciation are recorded by distinctive moraines in the
transverse nivation hollows and causes gradual nearby lowlands (fig.26). Ice of these glaciations was
entrenchment of the hollows. Mechanisms that work in much thinner and less extensive than earlier
concert with nivation to remove the products of this inundations, and there were many ice-free nunataks and
weathering process include mass movement, frost refugia in the Gulkana Upland (including Whistler
action piping, and wind deflation. Nivation does not Ridge). These enclaves were exposed to rigorous
significantly excavate the floors of transverse hollows periglacial conditions of intense frost weathering and
in permafrost areas because the local permafrost table nivation, widespread shallow permafrost, and
acts as a 'base level of nivation,' which controls the accelerated mass movement of the debris mantle. As a
essentially horizontal expansion of the hollow floor result of these conditions, bedrock ridges and hills in
during scarp recession. Bedrock structures are the Gulkana Upland were notched to form
indiscriminately truncated during scarp retreat, although cryoplanation terraces and small rock glaciers developed
nivation can cut preferentially along nearly horizontal on north-facing slopes; rubble sheets also spread across
zones of structural weakness. lower ridge flanks during the Denali Glaciation. Thus,
The products of nivation are removed from nivation the inactive, well-preserved cryoplanation terraces on
hollows onto terrace treads by meltwater washing and Whistler Ridge are probably younger than 75,000 yr.
mass movement. A shallow permafrost table in tread 35 (Denali Highway). On the crest of the ridge
debris serves as an impenetrable barrier to moisture about 0.5 mi (0.8 km) south of Denali Highway, well-
from snow melt, slope runoff, and melting ground ice preserved cryoplanation terraces form large steps
and promotes saturation of tread debris. Because of between 4,470 and 4,710 ft (1,355 and 1,427 m)
this high moisture content, gelifluction and frost creep ele~ation. This ridge is composed of slightly epidotized
transport the products of scarp destruction across the daCIte tuff, agglomerate, and flows of Triassic(?) age
gently sloping terrace tread and down steeper side that are intruded by rhyolite, andesite, and dacite dikes
slopes. of Jurassic(?) age. The cryoplanation terraces formed
Angularity (preservation) of terrace form is a by scarp retreat and overtread transport of weathering
function of the dynamic interaction of processes that products during Denali time, when permafrost was
both cut and destroy (by slope rounding) the terrace. more shallow and widespread and nivation was more
The characteristic stepped slopes and ridges and planar effective than today.
hill tops that typify cryoplanation terraces develop only 35.4 (Denali Highway). The 4,081 ft (1,237 m)
where scarp retreat is more active than rounding of the summit of Denali Highway.
terrace, so that treads form faster than they are
destroyed. The balance between the forces of terrace 40.8 (Denali Highway). STOP 25. PALSAS.
formation and the forces of terrace destruction is The presence of permafrost in this part of the
controlled mainly by climate, topographic location, and northern Gulkana Upland is confirmed by ice-rich
bedrock type. Terrace formation is favored by a cold, palsas on both sides of Denali Highway. The mound to
dry periglacial climate with shallow permafrost; terrace the south (left) has been sectioned by construction
destruction is favored by climatic amelioration. activity. A radiocarbon age of 10,565 ± 225 yr B.P.
The cryoplanation terraces on Whistler Ridge are (GX-2049) for the lowest exposed peat in contact with
inactive. Fresh bedrock surfaces are not exposed in ice indicates that this palsa fonned in Holocene time and
ascending scarps over a large enough area to indicate provides a minimum date for deglaciation of this part of
significant scarp retreat. Sorted microrelief features that Maclaren River valley.
demonstrate across-tread transport of debris are
generally stabilized. The ages of these terraces can be 50 (Denali Highway). STOP 26. ROADCUT
indirectly determined by evaluating the spatial THROUGH ESKER.
relationships of the terraces and nearby glacial deposits.
A major inundation of Whistler Ridge by ice of the
Delta Glaciation is demonstrated by the blanket of silty
till that surrounds the ridge and covers the adjacent
lowlands, and by the presence in tread debris of rare
«1 percent), subrounded to well-rounded pebble and

T102: 31
Geological Survey Circular 289, p. 8-10.
SELECTED REFERENCES Pewe, T.L., 1957, Recent history of Canwell and
Castner Glaciers, Alaska [abs.]: Geological Society
of America Bulletin, v. 68, no. 12, pte 2, p. 1779.
Carter, L.D., 1980, Tertiary tillites on the northeast Pewe, T.L., 1961, Multiple glaciation in the headwaters
flank of Granite Mountain, central Alaska: in Short area of the Delta River, central Alaska, in Short
Notes on Alaskan Geology 1979-80: Alaska Division papers in the geologic and hydrologic sciences 1961:
of Geological and Geophysical Surveys Geologic U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 424-D,
Report 63, p. 23-27. p. ·D200-D201.
Denton, G.H., and Karlen, Wibjorn, 1973, Pewe, T. L., 1965, Delta River area, Alaska Range, in
Lichenometry: Its application to Holocene moraine Pewe, T.L., Ferrians, O.J., Jr., Nichols, D.R., and
studies in southern Alaska and Swedish Lapland: Karlstrom, T.N.V., Guidebook for Field Conference
Arctic and Alpine Research, v. 5, no. 4, p. 347-372. F, central and south-central Alaska, International
Denton, G.H., 1977, Holocene glacial and tree-line Association for Quaternary Research, 7th Congress,
variations in the White River valley and Skolai Pass, Fairbanks, 1965:" Lincoln, Nebraska Academy of
Alaska and Yukon Territory: Quaternary Research, Sciences, p. 55-93 (reprinted 1977, Alaska Division
v. 7, no. 1, p. 63-111. of Geological and Geophysical Surveys).
Geist, O.W., and Pewe, T.L., 1957, Quantitative Pewe, T. L., 1973, Ice-wedge casts and past perma-
measurements of the 1937 advance of the Black frost distribution in North America: Geoforum, v.
Rapids Glacier, Alaska [abs.]: Alaska Science 15, p.15.26..
Conference, 5th, Anchorage, 1954, Proceedings, Pewe, T.L., 1975, Quaternary geology of Alaska: U.S.
p. 51-52. Geological Survey Professional Paper 835, 145 p.
Hance, J.H., 1937, The recent advance of" Black Pewe, T. L., (in press) Status report of the Quaternary
Rapids Glacier, Alaska: Journal of Geology, v. 45, stratigraphy of the Fairbanks area, Alaska: in Carter,
p. 775-783. L.D., and Hamilton, T.D., .
Hanson, L.G., 1963, Bedrock geology of the Rainbow Pewe, T.L., 1987, The Delta River Valley, Alaska: One
Mountain area, Alaska Range, Alaska: Alaska of the 100 classic geological sites in western U.S.:
Division of Mines and Minerals Geologic Report 2, Geological Society of America Centennial Field
82 p. Guide -.Cordilleran Section, v 1, p. 451-456.
Holmes, G.W., and Pewe, T.L., 1965, Geologic map Pewe, T.L., Church, R.E., Andresen, M.J., 1969,
of the Mt. Hayes (D-3) Quadrangle, Alaska: U.S. Origin and paleoclimatic significance of large-scale
Geological Survey Geologic Quadrangle Map polygons in the Donnelly Dome area, Alaska:
GQ-366, scale 1:63,360, 1 sheet. Geological Society of America Special Paper 103,
Hudson, Travis, and Weber, F.R., 1977, The Donnelly 87 p.
Dome and Granite Mountain faults, south-central Pewe, T.L., and Holmes, G.W., 1964, Geology of the
Alaska, in Blean, K.M., ed, The United States Mt. Hayes (D-4) Quadrangle, Alaska: U.S.
Geological Survey in Alaska: Accomplishments Geological Survey Miscellaneous Geologic
during 1976: U.S. Geological Survey Circular Investigations Map 1-394, scale 1:63,360, 2 sheets.
751-B, p. B64-B66. Pewe, T.L., and Reger, R.D., 1983, Delta River area,
Kachadoorian, Reuben, and Pewe, T.L., 1955, Alaska Range, in Pewe, T.L., and Reger, R.D.,
Engineering geology of the southern half of the Mt. (eds.), Guidebook to permafrost and Quaternary
Hayes (A-5) Quadrangle, Alaska: U.S. Geological Geology along the Richardson and Glenn Highways
Survey Open-file Report 55-78, 27 p. between Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska: Alaska
Kreig, R.A., and Reger, R.D., 1982, Air-photo Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys
analysis and summary of landform soil properties Guidebook 1, p. 47-135.
along the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System: Reger, R.D., 1964, Recent glacial history of Gulkana
Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical and College Glaciers, central Alaska Range, Alaska:
Surveys Geologic Report 66, 149 p. Fairbanks, University of Alaska, M.S. thesis, 75 p.
Ostenso, N.A., Sellmann, P.V., and Pewe, T.L., Reger, 1968, Recent history of Gulkana and College
1965, The bottom topography of Gulkana Glacier, Glaciers, central Alaska Range, Alaska: Journal of
Alaska Range: Journal of Glaciology, v. 5, p. 651- Geology, v. 76, no. 1, p. 2-16.
660. Reger, R.D., 1975, Cryoplanation terraces of interior
Pewe, T. L., 1951a, An observation on wind-blown and western Alaska: Tempe, Arizona State
silt: Journal of Geology, v. 59, no. 4, p. 399-401. University, Ph.D. thesis, 326 p.
Pewe, T.L.,1951b, Recent history of Black Rapids Reger, R.D., and pewe,T.L., 1969, Lichenometric
Glacier, Alaska [abs.]: Geological Society of dating in the central Alaska Range, in Pewe , T.L.,
America Bulletin, v. 62, no. 12, p. 1558. ed., The periglacial environment, past and present:
Pewe, T.L., 1953, Big Delta area, Alaska, in Pewe, Montreal, McGill-Queens University Press, p. 223-
T.L., and others, Multiple glaciation in Alaska: U.S. 247.

T102: 38

O.J. Ferrians, Jr.,14 , D.R. Nichols 15 , and J.R. Williams 16

RESUME OF QUATERNARY GEOLOGY dunes and loess depOSIts began to accumulate locally.
Muskegs and marshes that occupy depressions on the
Copper River Basin is an intermontane basin that old lake floor are perched on poorly drained,
ranges from 500 to 4,000 ft (150 to 1,200 m) above sea perennially frozen lake sediments. Numerous thaw
level and is rimmed by 4,500-to 16,500-ft-high (1,370 lakes are active.
to 5,000 m) peaks of the Alaska Range and the
Talkeetna, Chugach, and Wrangell Mountains. Rocks
bordering the basin range in age from middle(?)
Paleozoic to Tertiary. They consist largely of schist,
greenstone, graywacke, slate, shale, and sandstone
locally associated with a variety of minor altered
igneous rocks. Large parts of the Wrangell and
Talkeetna Mountains and local areas in the Chugach
Mountains are·underlain by considerable thicknesses of
basalt and andesite lava flows. Thin andesite and
volcaniclastic debris flows are interbedded with
Pleistocene deposits in the eastern and southeastern
Copper River Basin.
During one or more early Pleistocene glaciations,
glaciers advancing from the surrounding mountains
covered the entire basin floor. During subsequent
glaciations, ice may have covered all but small areas of
the basin floor, but during the last major glaciation large
areas were ice free.
In the early stages of each major Pleistocene
glaciation, ice advances in the surrounding mountains
dammed the drainage of Copper River Basin to form an
extensive proglaciallake. Because glaciers fronted in
deep lake water, end moraines and associated features
in the lower part of the basin (Copper River trough) are
generally absent (fig. 28). However, glacial landforms,
although modified, are still preserved below former lake
levels in higher parts of the basin (Copper-Susitna
Lowland). As glaciers retreated, their deposits were
reworked by lake currents or buried by lacustrine
sediments. Complicated interfingering of lacustrine and
glacial deposits and numerous shoreline features at
elevations below 2,650 ft (810 m) indicate that the lake
shore fluctuated widely as water level lowered during
retreat of glaciers at the end of the last major glaciation
(Wisconsin). Following retreat of glaciers and drainage
of the lake (before 9,000 yr B.P.), permafrost began to FIGURE 28. Index map of Copper River Basin,
form in lacustrine and glacial deposits, rivers began showing field-trip stops.
downcutting into Pleistocene sediments, and cliff-head
Most damage and ground breakage that occurred in
Copper River Basin during the major earthquake of
13 Condensed from Ferrians, Nichols, and Williams, March 27, 1964, was restricted to the southern half of
(1983) with updating. the basin. Several buildings were shaken from their
14 U.S. Geological Survey; 4200 University Drive; foundations, and foundations of several other structures
Anchorage, Alaska 99508. were damaged. Dishes were broken in many
15 U.S. Geological Survey; Box 25046; Denver, dwellings, and locally, sewer lines and other
Colorado 80225. underground pipes were damaged. Ground cracks
16 2905 Bryant S1., Palo Alto, California 94306. commonly occurred on flood plains, of major rivers;

T102: 39
155.2. Trans-Alaska pipeline crosses under the
locally, in low terraces adjacent to flood plains; in highway and remains buried for approximately 2 mi
deltas; along margins of lakes; in toes of alluvial fans; in (3.2 km), where it is underlain by ice-rich permafrost.
highway fills; on steep slopes of river bluffs and Normally the pipeline would have been elevated here;
hillsides; and in areas cleared of vegetation. These however, it has been buried because, according to
ground cracks in unconsolidated deposits generally biologists, this area is an important migration route for
were restricted to areas where one or more of the caribou. Because of the required burial, the line was
following conditions existed: a) permafrost was absent heavily insulated and refrigerated to keep underlying
or deep, b) the ground-water table was near the surface, ice-rich permafrost frozen. Refrigerated brine circulates
c) bedrock was relatively deep, and d) slopes were through pipes buried beneath the pipeline. The building
steep. containing the refrigeration plant can be seen from the
highway. This is the longest refrigerated section of the
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
83.3 17 Enter Gulkana D-3 Quadrangle. Road 149.5. Enter Gulkana C-4 Quadrangle.
generally follows base of slope .on eastern side of valley
of Gulkana River. Roadcuts expose colluvium (a 146. Enter Gulkana C-3 Quadrangle.
mixture of glacial drift and greenstone rubble) that
underlies the drift at a shallow depth. 145.4. Enter Gulkana B-3 Quadrangle.
182.5. Enter Gulkana D-4 Quadrangle. Straight
ahead is Paxson Lake, which is approximately 10 mi Copper River Basin is in the zone of discontinuous
(16 km) long and 0.8 mi (1.2 km) wide. pennafrost. Permafrost probably is present everywhere
177.8. Enter Gulkana D-3 Quadrangle. in the basin except beneath large lakes and major
streams. Permafrost table is 1 to 2 ft (0.3 to 0.6 m)
170.2. STOP 27. FROST-RIVED GRANITE below the surface in some muskegs with thick
BLOCKS NEAR SITE OF MEIER ROADHOUSE. Sphagnum moss, 2 to 5 ft (0.6 to 1.5 m) below the
170. To the left is the site of Meier Roadhouse, one surface in lacustrine and fine-grained glacial deposits,
of the oldest roadhouses along Richardson Highway. and 6 to more than 10ft below the surface (1.8 to more
The main structure was destroyed by fire in September than 3 m) in granular alluvial and glacial deposits.
1960. Permafrost generally ranges from 100 to 200 ft (30 to
60 m) thick, is marginal in temperature [31.1 to 29.3°F

Numerous large blocks of weathered granite are

exposed on the hillside to the left. The well-jointed (_0.5° to -1.5°C)], and includes ice as pervasive,
character of the granite makes it especially susceptible to segregated, interstitial, thin to thick lenses and layers
frost heaving. The presence of these large blocks of (and in a few isolated places, as vertical wedges).
frost-rived granite indicates that the hill was not only Consequently, permafrost is in a delicate state of
just outside and above the glacier border during the last equilibrium and, if thawed by minor changes in the
major glaciation, but also was above the level of a large regimen of ground-surface temperatures such as that
lake that existed in Copper River Basin. Therefore, the brought on by most construction projects, considerable
hill was exposed to a periglacial climate more rigorous surface subsidence may occur. However, because of
than today. its thickness, attempts to thaw permafrost and stabilize
the ground prior to construction generally are
165. Enter Gulkana C-3 Quadrangle. impractical.
128.8. Northern junction of Richardson and Glenn
155.4. STOP 28. VIEW OF WRANGELL Highways (Tok Cutoff). Gakona Junction Village
MOUNTAINS. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Motel is on the right. Glenn to the left and
Preserve includes nine of the 16 highest peaks in the it follows an abandoned drainageway to the edge of a
United States. Mt. St. Elias on the Canadian border is high bluff of Copper River. The edge of this bluff is
18,008 ft (5489 m). This is the largest national park in underlain by windblown sand and silt (cliff-head dunes)
the United States; six times larger than Yellowstone interbedded with peat and other organic material. Cliff-
Park in Wyoming. Straight ahead on a clear day is an head dunes began to form soon after the extensive
excellent view (from left to right) of Mt. Sanford, Mt. proglacial lake drained and river downcutting formed
Wrangell, Mt. Drum, and the floor of Copper River bluffs. Organic material from the base of a nearby dune
Basin. The peaks are late Tertiary and Quaternary was radiocarbon dated at 9,400 ± 300 yr B.P. (W-
volcanoes. Dome-shaped Mt. Wrangell, 14,163 ft 714), and windblown material is still being deposited
(4,387 m), is the largest active volcano in Alaska. It along the top of bluffs. The highway is on a lacustrine
occasionally emits steam and ash. The Copper River plain. Stabilized cliff-head sand dunes are present
Trough and a large portion of the Copper River-Susitna along the bluff of Copper River to the left.
Lowland (physiographic divisions of Copper River
Basin) were covered by an extensive lake during the last 124.8 Enter Gulkana A-3 Quadrangle.
major glaciation (Wisconsin).
115.0 Southern junction of Richardson and Glenn
17 Miles from Valdez on Richardson Highway Highways.

T102: 40
homesteading to evaluate the area as a townsite.
112.5. STOP 29. SIMPSON HILL ROADCUT Because of saline ground water and permafrost
AND COPPER RIVER BLUFF. problems, plans for the townsite were abandoned. A
Roadside turnout on east side of highway provides well drilled to a depth of 323 ft (98 m) at the road
easy access to the abandoned Simpson Hill roadcut (a junction in the fall of 1959 encountered water with
short distance to the southeast) and to spectacular 2,270 ppm dissolved solids and some gas.
exposures along Copper River (a short distance to the 188.3. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline crosses the
east). It also provides an overview of Copper River highway in a special buried mode. The pipeline is
and from left to right, Mt. Sanford [16,237 ft (4,949 heavily insulated, and refrigerated brine circulating in
m)], Mt. Drum [12,010 ft (3, 661 m)], Mt. Wrangell pipes under the pipeline keeps underlying ice-rich
[14,163 ft (4,317 m)], and Mt. Blackburn [16,523 ft permafrost frozen. This pipeline was constructed in an
(5,036 m)]. above-ground mode on vertical support members
Cones of the Drum group of mud volcanoes are also (VSMs) across most of Copper River Basin to avoid
visible. Shrub Mud Volcano is 14 mi (23 km) east- thawing permafrost.
northeast, Upper Klawasi Mud Volcano is 14 mi (23
km) , and lower Klawasi Mud Volcano is 7 mi (11 km) 188.1. Enter Gulkana A-4 Quadrangle.
east-southeast. Lower Klawasi Mud Volcano is the
largest diameter cone of the Drum mud-volcano group; 186.2. STOP 30. GLENNALLEN PERMAFROST
the base measures approximately 6,000 ft (1,830 m) PROBLEMS.
east-west and 8,200 ft (2,500 m) north-south. Lower Numerous buildings in the Glennallen area have had
Klawasi Mud Volcano is about 150 ft (46 m) high. The severe structural problems because of differential
pool in the crater is 15 ft (4.6 m) lower than the crest, is settlement caused by thawing of permafrost. Most
175 ft (53.4 m) in diameter, and discharges carbon- buildings in Glennallen are constructed on colluvial-
solids. The cone lies on the lower slopes of the mantled terrace deposits of Moose Creek. Colluvial
Wrangell Mountains and is composed of clayey silt with deposits [1 to 15 ft (0.3 to 4.6 m) thick] consist largely
smail, angular rock fragments. of gravelly silty clay; terrace deposits [10 to 30 ft (3 to 9
Simpson Hill Roadcut. In the spring of 1954, m) thick] are mostly silty sandy gravel or gravelly sand
during construction of a new telephone line upslope and and overlie a thick sequence of fine-grained, ice-rich,
parallel to the road, a wide swath of spruce forest was glaciol3;custrine deposits. Permafrost generally lies 5 to
removed. This stripping produced rapid degradation of 10 ft (1.5 to 3 m) below the surface and is deeper in
the permafrost table during summer and the release of areas of ground scarring. Moisture content is low in
free moisture in lacustrine deposits beneath the'roadbed. unfrozen granular terrace deposits but where frozen is
Increased moisture caused saturation of the fill and sufficient to act as a cementing agent and to form local
development of small slumps in the outer part of the ice lenses and stringers. Small amounts of ground
road prism (Nichols and Yehle, 1961a). Early in water perched on permafrost provide limited seasonal
September of that same year, a maintenance crew made supplies of potable water. Maintenance of the
cuts in the bluff immediately uphill and downhill from permafrost level in this area is difficult because of its
the fill and dumped cut material on the outer part of the marginal temperature; total artificial destruction of
road to bring it back to grade. Overnight, a 15-ft-wide permafrost before construction is virtually precluded by
(4.6 m) section of the paved road and shoulder slumped its considerable depth. A number of methods have been
through a vertical distance of 10 ft (3 m), apparently adopted in design and construction of new buildings
along a concave glide plane. To repair this major and in rehabilitating existing structures with varying
damage, large amounts of silt were excavated along the ,degrees of success.
cut and dumped into the slump area. Almost a year The Glennallen microwave tower, constructed in
later, the same part of the road subsided 10 ft (3 m), 1960 and utilizing the 'Long thermopile' in the
following attempts to level minor slumps by the foundation, has---almost alone among the structures at
addition of a small amount of fill. Subsequently, Glennallen---remained stable, even through the Alaskan
deeper cuts were made into the hill to obtain the Good Friday Earthquake of March 27, 1964.
required road width rather than again replacing Although well water at Glennallen is hard, it is not
slumped material with fill. Nevertheless, sliding the salty water typical of deep wells in the area. Most
continued and constituted a never-ending maintenance wells at Glennallen are less than 100 ft (30 m) deep and
problem. As a result of this problem and the likelihood do not intersect saline aquifers 300 to 500 ft (40 to 150
of further retreat of the Copper River bluff by river m) below the ground surface.
undercutting upslope from Simpson Hill, the road was
relocated a short distance to the west. The old roadcut 173.2. STOP 31. TOLSONA NO. 1 MUD
exposes several layers of volcanic ash in lacustrine VOLCANO.
pebbly silt and varved silt and clay. Tolsona No.1 cone of the Tolsona group of mud
volcanoes is 0.12 mi (0.2 km) north of the highway.
Glenn Highway. 189 18 . Southern junction of the This mud volcano is one of four mud-volcano cones
Richardson and Glenn Highways near Glennallen. and two mineral springs that compose the Tolsona
Much land around the junction of the Glenn and
Richardson Highways was withdrawn from 1~ Miles from Anchorage on Glenn Highway

T1 02: 41
20 Miles
L - -_ _...L--_ _---.J'


~ Moraine traces

group of mud volcanoes, which is largely west of slides are stabilized and spruce forests grow on them.
Copper River and contains much smaller cones than Others have moved recently---movement in 1946
those of the Drum group east of the river. Springs from formed the large scar that can be seen from near Mile
the Tolsona group emit methane gas and cool sodium- 141. Minor movements occurred in several places
chloride and calcium-chloride waters. within the slide during the earthquake of March 27,
Tolsona No. 1 Mud Volcano, at an elevation of 1964. The brown rock at the summit of the mountain is
2,045 ft, is about 25 ft (7.5 m) high, 600 ft (180 m) poorly consolidated gravel and sand of Tertiary age.
wide, and 900 ft (270 m) long. The crater is about 30 ft 135.5. Enter Anchorage D-l Quadrangle.
(9 m) in diameter. Temperature of the water discharged
from the vents ranges between 38° and 55°F (3.3° and 129.4. STOP 32. NELCHINA GLACIER VIEW.
12.8°C). The cone has gently sloping sides that rise to Eureka Summit, elev. 3,322 ft (1,010 m).
a slightly domed crest on which the activity of several To the south is a good view of Nelchina Glacier, the
gas and water vents has varied from year to year. broad outwash plain in front of the glacier, and
Nelchina River canyon, which is cut into
171.2. Enter Gulkana A-5 Quadrangle. glaciolacustrine deposits and other glacial drift. The
western part of the end moraine of a major glacial
166.2. To the right at Atlasta House and for 11 mi advance during late Wisconsin time can be seen to the
(18 km) beyond, is a hill of poorly consolidated northwest.
sandstone, coal, clay, and gravel of Tertiary age,' During Wisconsin time, the Talkeetna Mountains,
against which glaciers from the Chugach Mountains which are remote from moist maritime air, were not
deposited a prominent moraine in late Wisconsin time. heavily glaciated. Glaciers from the Chugach
A glacial lake remained in existence after retreat of the Mountains, because of their proximity to these air
ice and its 2,450 -ft (747-m) shoreline lies along the left masses, advanced more than 50 mi (80 km) north of
(south) side of the road; its deposits extend to within their present locations and coalesced to form a great
about 10 mi (16 km) of modem glaciers in Nelchina and piedmont glacier that fronted in a glacial lake. Evidence
Tazlina valleys in the Chugach Mountains. of pre-Wisconsin glaciation is obscure, and is either at
high elevations or in areas north of the highway.
154.1. Enter Gulkana A-6 Quadrangle. 105.9. To the south is Lion Head, a steep, glacier-
scoured hill of felsic, porphyritic intrusive rock of
144.5. Enter Valdez D-8 Quadrangle. Tertiary age. The south face overlooking Matanuska
Glacier is nearly vertical and rises 1,400 ft (424 m)
142. To the right is Slide Mountain and for the next above Matanuska River, which is tightly confined
4 mi (6.5 km), the highway follows the southern flank between the glacier and Lion Head at this point.
of Slide Mountain (fig. 29). Large landslides in shale
of the Matanuska Formation have moved down this
unstable slope during the last 10,000 yr or more. Some 101.5. STOP 33- Matanuska Glacier (fig. 29).

T102: 42
Survey Open File Report 85-143, scale 1:125,000.,
Williams, J.R., and Galloway, J.P., 1986, Map of
western Copper River Basin, Alaska, showing lake
Ferrians, O.J., Jr., 1963a, Till-like glaciolacustrine sediments and shorelines, glacial moraines, and
deposits in the Copper River Basin, Alaska [abs.]: location of stratigraphic sections and radiocarbon-
Geological Society of America Special Paper 73, dated samples: U.S. Geological Survey Open File
p. 151. Report 86-390, 30 p., scale 1:250,000, 1 sheet.
Ferrians, O.J., Jr., 1963b, Glaciolacustrine diamicton Williams, J.R., and Johnson, K.M., compilers, 1980,
deposits in the Copper River Basin, Alaska, in Short Map and description of late Tertiary and Quaternary
papers in geology and hydrology 1963: U.S~ deposits Valdez Quadrangle, Alaska: U. S.
Geological Survey Professional Paper 475-C, Geological Survey Open-File Report 80-892C, scale
p. C121-CI25. 1:250,000, 2 sheets.
Ferrians, O.J., Jr., 1966, Effects of the earthquake of
March 27, 1964, in the Copper River basin area,
Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper
543-E, 28 p.
Ferrians, O.J., Jr., Kachadoorian, Reuben, and
Greene, G.W., 1969, Permafrost and related
engineering problems in Alaska: U.S. Geological
Survey Professional Paper 678, 37 p.
Ferrians, O.J., Jr., Nichols, D.R., and Williams, J.R.,
1983, Copper River Basin: in Pewe, T.L. and
Reger, R.D. (eds.), Guidebook to Permafrost and
Quaternary Geology along the Richardson and Glenn
Highways between Fairbanks and Anchorage,
Alaska: Alaska Division of Geological and
Geophysical Surveys Guidebook 1, p. 137-175.
Motyka, R.J., Hawkins, D.B., Poreda, R.J., and
Jeffries, A., 1986, Geochemistry, isotopic
composition, and the origin of fluid emanating from
mud volcanoes in the Copper River Basin, Alaska:
Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical
Surveys Public Data File 86-34, 87 p.
Nichols, D.R., 1956, Permafrost and ground-water
conditions in the Glenallen area, Alaska: U.S.
Geological Survey Open-file Report 56-91, 18 p.
Nichols, D.R., 1965, Glacial history of the Copper
River Basin, Alaska (abs): International Association
for Quaternary Research, 7th Congress, Fairbanks,
Alaska, 1965, Proceedings, Lincoln" Nebraska
Academy of Sciences, Abstract Volume, p. 360.
Nichols, D.R., and Yehle, L.A., 1961, Mud-volcanoes
in the Copper River Basin, Alaska, in Raasch, G.D.,
ed., Geology of the Arctic: Toronto, University of
Toronto Press, v. 2, p-l063-1087.
Nichols, D.R., and Yehle, L.A., 1969, Engineering
geologic map of the southeastern Copper River
Basin, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey
Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map 1-524,
scale 1:125,000, 1 sheet
Nichols, D.R., and Yehle, L.A., 1985, Volcanic debris
flows, Copper River Basin, Alaska: International
Conference and Field Workshop on Landslides, 4th,
Tokyo, 1985, Proceedings, Japan Landslide Society,
p. 365-372.
Williams, J.R., 1970, Ground water in the permafrost
regions of Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey
Professional Paper 696, 83 p.
Williams, J.R., 1985, Engineering-geologic map of the
southwestern Copper River Basin and upper
Matanuska River valley, Alaska: U.S. Geological

T102: 43

Richard D. Reger
Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys, Fairbanks, Alaska

Randall G. Updike
U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia

./::..=..::-"'\-- - - - 7 -. _

Physiography and Quaternary geology

LOWLAND ..................
/ ~
// / /
' - ..... '''''-, /
The upper Cook Inlet region encompasses Cook ./
/ / \

Inlet in the vicinity of Anchorage and includes Knik ////

1'\/ (

........ " )
_ _ Hogan Hill


Arm, Turnagain Arm, and the southern Susitna ", 1 l TALKEETNA ~ ,--'

Lowland. The area occupies a large structural trough

that extends from the Gulf of Alaska northward
__/ (-- _./
I Ii I I Glennallen

between the rugged, intensely glaciated Kenai-Chugach

Mountains, Talkeetna Mountains, and Alaska Range 620;'\, 00'(
I \\e\O
C----l?2 0

(fig. 30). Most of the lowland is below 500 ft (152 m)

elevation, although isolated uplands such as Mt. Susitna
\ - hi::r

r ",

/ ~ \6 I
reach 4,396 ft (1,332 m). Local relief generally ranges 1 i$ Mt Susitna ~aSil1a ,/ CHUGACH MOUNTAINS
tE· ~ ~~V-
from 50 to 250 ft (15 to 76 m). Towering peaks of the Mt spurr,/..

~ ~
~ \,
nearby Alaska Range, Talkeetna Mountains, Chugach I
Mountains, and Kenai Mountains are 6,000 to 12,000 ft /

(1,818 to 3,636 m) high. /


Matanuska Valley is one of two long extensions of I


the Cook Inlet-Susitna Lowland into bordering J

mountainous highlands (fig. 30). It extends east from
the agriculturally important Palmer area about 80 mi
(128 km) to the southwestern comer of Copper River
Basin and generally ranges in width from 2 to 5 mi (3.2
to 8.1 km). Differential glacial erosion has carved the
main valley floor into a series of subparallel,
discontinuous bedrock ridges that stand 500 to 1,000 ft
(152 to 303 m) high and trend downvalley. In the ,
western half of Matanuska Valley, these bedrock ridges i
&0 100 no laD
and troughs are obscured by kame-esker complexes and
outwash-terrace deposits.
Matanuska River and its tributaries drain FIGURE 30. Major physiographic divisions of south-
Matanuska Valley. This turbulent, silty river flows central Alaska relative to the field-trip route (modified
west from ice fields and snowfields high in the from Wahrhaftig, 1965, pI. 1).
Chugach Mountains east of Matanuska Glacier across
braided flood plains and races through narrow, rock- peat-filled fens in the upper valley, where heat transfer
walled canyons and gorges cut since the glacier that into the peat during summer is less than heat flow out of
filled Matanuska Valley receded before 13,000 yr B.P. the peat in winter.
Most of the upper Cook Inlet region has no
permafrost. However, in especially favorable situations Climate
in lowland fens (like beneath black-spruce 'islands'),
where surface insulation is high and incident solar The upper Cook Inlet-Matanuska Valley region has
radiation is low, isolated pods of ice-rich permafrost are a climate that is transitional between the maritime
as thick as 30 ft (9 m) and range in area up to 500 to climate of southern coastal Alaska and the more
600 ft 2 (46.5 to 55.7 m 2). Matanuska Valley is rigorous continental clitnate of the Interior. Although
permafrost free, except perhaps in particularly favorable regional variations are generally known for scattered,
lowland stations along the coast and major rivers, these
19 Condensed and updated from Reger and Updike values are not representative of other lowland sites or of
(1983). alpine locations. Alpine sites generally have cooler

T102: 45
through 400 to 800 ft (121 to 242 m) of elevation in
temperatures and higher precipitation values. which mountain slopes and floors of alpine valleys are
Mean annual temperature varies regionally from 30 covered by dense to scattered alders with interspersed
to 36°F (-1 to 2.2°C).and mean annual precipitation willow and resin birch. Above the alder zone,
generally ranges from 11 to 16 m. (27.9 to 40.6 em) in beginning at about 2,500 to 3,200 ft (758 to 970 m)
lowland sites. elevation, is the alpine shrub-herb tundra, an
Most precipitation in south-central Alaska is from association of low-growing, wind-trimmed willow~
the north Pacific Ocean. Moisture-rich winter storms birch, spruce, and juniper shrubs interspersed with
are spawned in the low-pressure center persisting in the widespread mats of prostrate alpine plants and scattered
Aleutian Islands and move northeast along the southern cushion plants that grow in exposed situations among
coast of Alaska, where they encounter the orographic rock rubble, patches of barren soil, and snow beds.
barrier of the Kenai and Chugach Mountains. Very
heavy snowfall occurs on the seaward flanks of these Soils
mountains as wann, moist air masses are forced up and
over the mountain barrier. The loss of moisture on On most moderately to well-drained sites beneath
seaward flanks leaves north- and northeast-moving air the closed canopy of white spruce and paper birch in the
masses relatively dry. This phenomenon and the upper Cook Inlet region, dominant soils are podzols.
blocking action of persistent, inland high-pressure An exception to this condition is in the lower Matanuska
centers cause winter precipitation values to rapidly Valley, where the rate of modern loess accumulation
decrease inland behind coastal mountains. exceeds the rate of podzolization. These soils are
Consequently, the altitude of the glacier equilibrium-line classed as regosols. Farther from modern sources of
(ELA) increases from about 3,300 ft (1,000 m) on the loess, where rates of silt accumulation are relatively
ocean side of the Kenai and Chugach Mountains to low, soil profiles exhibit greater degrees of
about 4,950 ft (1,500 m) on the inland side of these podzolization.
mountains, and glaciers cover broad areas in the Kenai Poorly-drained sites typically have acidic humic
(1,638 mi 2 or 4,200 km2 ) and Chugach Mountains gleys and organic soils made up mainly of partially
(6,800 mi2 or 17,439 km2). Ice-flow rates, especially decomposed fragments of sedges, grasses, mosses, and
by tidewater glaciers, are high. In contrast, in the shrubs.
Talkeetna Mountains, which are situated leeward of the
Chugach Mountains, ELA is about 5,940 ft (1,800 m),
the area of glacier ice is only about 117 mi2 (300 km2), RESUME OF QUATERNARY GEOLOGY
and glaciers are much less active.
Crude estimates of modern snowline, based on General Statement
approximate elevations of snowline in north-facing
cirques on topographic maps, indicate that large The upper Cook Inlet-Matanuska Valley region was
topographic corridors, like the Cook Inlet-Susitna glaciated repeatedly in Quaternary time, and the region
Lowland, are effective conduits for moving moisture- remains glaciated today (Hamilton and Thorson, 1983;
laden air masses to inland mountain highlands. Hamilton, 1986; Schmoll and Yehle, 1986). Early
interpretations of the Quaternary history of the region
Vegetation by Karlstrom (1953; 1955; 1957; 1964; 1965), Miller
and Dobrovolny (1959), Trainer (1960), and Trainer
Several distinctive forest types and plant and Waller (1965) are based on geomorphic evidence,
associations are present in the upper Cook Inlet region stratigraphic evidence, several radiometric dates, and
as a result of the variable terrain, steep climatic subsurface data (well logs) from the Anchorage and
gradients, complex fire history, and highly variable Palmer areas.
edaphic conditions.
The northernmost extension of the coastal spruce- Late Pliocene-Early Pleistocene Glaciations
hemlock forest densely covers lower, moderate to steep
mountain slopes around Turnagain Arm. On Late Cenozoic events in the upper Cook Inlet-
moderately to well-drained sites elsewhere in the Matanuska Valley region prior to about 200,000 yr
lowlands, forests are closed and are composed of a B.P. are only vaguely understood. Nonetheless, there
mosaic of white spruce, paper birch, Kenai birch, is considerable evidence for late Pliocene-early
aspen, and balsam poplar in stands of different ages as Pleistocene glaciation.
a result of a complex fire history. Alders and willows
are dense along small stream courses, and large black- Mt. Susitna Glaciation. The earliest recognized
cottonwood groves are important on flood plains and glaciation (Mt. Susitna) was named for the ice-rounded
low terraces of large streams. Poorly drained sites have summit and upper slopes of Mt. Susitna (fig. 30),
treeless fens interspersed with an open forest dominated which are higher than the upper limit of the next
by black spruce and paper birch. younger (Caribou Hills) glaciation. The glaciated
Tree line ranges from about 1,700 ft (515 m) surface was cut across the quartz diorite bedrock and
around Turnagain Arm up to about 2,800 ft (847 m) in bears scattered erratics, but no morainal form remains.
upper Matanuska Valley. Above tree line is a zone Very old, ice-scoured surfaces thought to result from

T102: 46
hiatus between the glaciations seems clear, but local
the Mt. Susitna Glaciation occur high in the rates of erosion are commonly very high in areas of
southwestern Talkeetna Mountains. The distribution of moderate to high relief, and the possibility remains that
erratics and ice-modified surfaces indicates patterns of moraines attributed to the Caribou Hills Glaciation were
ice flow across modern stream divides during the Mt. actually built during major stillstands or minor
Susitna Glaciation. This glaciation has been correlated readvances in the waning phases of the Mt. Susitna
with late Pliocene-early Pleistocene glaciation in the Glaciation. Until stratigraphic evidence is found that
north-central Alaska Range and therefore is thought to demonstrates a significant interglaciation between the
be older than 2.7 million yr. Mt. Susitna and Caribou Hills Glaciations, this problem
Karlstrom (1964; 1965) postulated that during the will not be resolved.
Mt. Susitna Glaciation, extensive ice caps broken only
by scattered nunataks were present in the Talkeetna, Late Pleistocene Glaciations
Chugach, and Kenai Mountains and in the Ala~ka
Range. Ice drained through tributary valleys, lIke Based on evidence accumulated during the past
Matanuska Valley, to coalesce in the lowlands and decade, concepts of the timing and extent of late
eventually fill the Cook Inlet-Susitna Lowland to Pleistocene glacier expansions in the upper Cook Inlet-
present elevations of over 4,000 ft (1,212 m). Ice of Matanuska Valley region have changed considerably.
this glaciation probablr joined---th~ough lo~ pass~s Pivotal to a reinterpretation of late Pleistocene events is
and cols---ice sheets In Copper RIver BasIn and In a reassessment of the age and stratigraphy for the
Nushagak-Bristol Bay Lowland, and ice probably Bootlegger Cove Formation, previously called the
flowed south out of the Cook Inlet trough into the north Bootlegger Cove Clay. In 1972, Schmoll and others
Pacific Ocean to form an extensive ice shelf. published four concordant radiocarbon dates between
13,690 ± 400 yr B.P. (W-2151) and 14,900 ± 350 yr
Caribou Hills Glaciation. The Caribou Hills B.P. (W-2369) for shells of marine mollusks found in
Glaciation was named for considerably modified lateral the Bootlegger Cove Formation. Their dates are
moraines and associated drift blanketing the highest generally accepted as valid and demonstrate that at least
surfaces of the Caribou Hills (fig. 30). On the flanks of the upper part of the Bootlegger Cove Formation was
the Caribou Hills, well-preserved lateral moraines of the deposited during a late phase of the Naptowne (late
younger Eklutna Glaciation are plastered over drift of of Wisconsin) Glaciation rather than during a late phase of
the Caribou Hills advance up to about 2,000 ft (605 m) the Knik (early Wisconsin) Glaciation, as previously
elevation. Above this level, a series of ice-marginal concluded by Karlstrom (1964) and Miller and
stream channels, lateral moraines, and kame terraces Dobrovolny (1959). Stratigraphic correlations in the
record progressive thinning of glacial ice during the Anchorage area and indirectly throughout the region are
waning phase of the Caribou Hills Glaciation. tied to this widespread, complex glaciomarine-estuarine
In the upper Cook Inlet region, ice-scoured benches unit.
and truncated spurs of Caribou Hills age occur below
surfaces of Mt. Susitna age and above well-preserved Eklutna Glaciation. Evidence for the Eklutna
features of the younger Eklutna Glaciation. Glaciation is controversial for two main reasons. First,
During the Caribou Hills Glaciation, ice 40 to 60 ft (12 to 18 m) of weathered recessional
accumulated in the highlands of south-central Alaska to outwash, originally designated by Karlstrom (1964) as
form broad ice caps and advanced down major valleys the type deposit for the Eklutna Glaciation in the canyon
to again cover the floor of the Cook Inlet-Susitna of Eklutna River, has been reinterpreted as prograded
Lowland. Recent field work indicates that slopes that fan-delta deposits laid down in an ice-marginal lake of
today are as high as 3,500 to 3,~50 ft (1,061 t.o 1,1~6 late Knik (or possibly early Naptowne) age (Reger and
m) in the upper Cook Inlet regIon were glac.lated. In Updike, 1983). Second, the uniform, deep (up to 175
Caribou Hills time. For at least the second tIme, Ice ft or 53 m), buff-colored staining previously attributed
from Cook Inlet trough probably joined ice masses in to deep weathering in post-Eklutna time (Karlstrom,
Copper River Basin and Nushagak-Bristol Bay 1964; 1965) has been reinterpreted as staining by iron-
Lowland. Morainal relations indicate that glacial ice bearing groundwater percolating through sedIments
from the coastal sides of the Aleutian and Alaska after their deposition.
Ranges was more active than ice from the ~estem
Kenai Mountains and pushed much farther Into the Nonetheless, a major glaciation clearly occurred
Cook Inlet lowland. Ice gradients sloped to low levels between the Caribou Hills and Knik Glaciations in the
upper Cook Inlet region, as indicated by obvious (but
centered in the upper inlet area. Eventually, more
modified) moraines and distinctive, ice-scoured
vigorous ice accumulation in lower Cook Inlet
surfaces below the level of the Caribou Hills Glaciation
apparently produced flow south into the north Pacific
and above and beyond the obvious limit of the Knik
Ocean and formed another extensive ice shelf
(Karlstrom, 1964).
A comparison of our partially dated, revised, late
Despite the better preservation of evidence for the Quaternary chronology for the upper Cook Inlet region
Caribou Hills Glaciation compared to the older Mt. with the oxygen-isotope stages of the world ocean-
Susitna Glaciation, the age of neither event is firmly temperature sequence indicates that the ~klutna
established. Geomorphic evidence for a considerable Glaciation probably corresponds to oxygen-Isotope

T102: 41
are early Naptowne in age.
stage 6 and is roughly Illinoian in age (130,000 to Stratigraphic "and radiometric evidence indicates
200,000 yr old). that the Knik Glaciation is at least as old as early
Wisconsinan and may be Illinoian in age. The Goose
Knik Glaciation. The type section of the Knik Bay peat, which overlies Knik recessional outwash, has
Glaciation is actually a composite assembled by been dated several times beyond the range of
Karlstrom (1964), who correlated discontinuous radiocarbon dating. Peats thought to correlate with the
exposures in bluffs along the northwestern shore of Goose Bay peat because of similar stratigraphic position
KnikArm. In his opinion, the type deposit for the have been dated older than 38,000 to 45,000 yr (Reger
Knik advance is the lower of two till sheets that are and Updike, 1983). More recently, thermolumin-
separated by outwash gravels, a thin glaciomarine escence-dating of the Goose Bay Peat indicates it is
diamicton, and two organic zones. No type moraine of about 175,000 years old (Reger, unpublished data).
Knik age has been designated. Moraines document at least one and perhaps two
At Point Campbell and east of Point Woronzof advances or stillstands of Knik age in the Chugach and
south of Anchorage, an indurated, yellowish-tan to buff Talkeetna Mountains. In the western Kenai Mountains
diamicton of Knik age that is documented in logs of and northern Kenai Peninsula lowland, there is
deep boreholes crops out below ice-contact deposits and evidence of at least three or more advances or stillstands
till of early Naptowne age. This unit varies from during the Knik Glaciation. During Knik time, ice
massive, pebbly silt to finely laminated clayey silt and is apparently covered the floor of the Cook Inlet-Susitna
interpreted as interbedded flowtill and fan-delta deposits Lowland for the last time as broad lobes from tributary
that accumulated in a glaciomarine or glaciolacustrine valleys coalesced. In general, ice gradients in the upper
environment. The deposit exhibits numerous Cook Inlet region sloped south to a central area where
deformational features, including folds with amplitudes today Knik and Turnagain Arms split from upper Cook
up to 10 ft (3 m), low-angle intraformational faults,' Inlet. Highland ice caps undoubtedly expanded during
load-cast structures, and high-angle microfaults, which Knik time, but were probably smaller than earlier
indicate a compressive stress environment under generations. Small cirque glaciers developed in
subaqueous, ice-marginal conditions where both low- extensive nunatak areas between major valley glaciers.
angle slope failures and ice-shove processes were Local moraine- and glacier-dammed lakes apparently
active. Subsurface stratigraphic relationships in this formed on the floor of the Cook Inlet trough at least
area support a Knik age for this diamicton, which is the during the late stages of the glaciation.
oldest diamicton recognized in the subsurface in the
Anchorage lowland and extends continuously beneath Naptowne Glaciation. Most of the floor of
the city. Matanuska Valley and the lowlands of the upper Cook
Knik moraines fonn at least three broad arcs Inlet region is covered by a complex of deposits laid
extending from reentrants at 700 to 900 ft (212 to 273 down during the last major ice expansion. Most river
m) elevation along the western front of the Kenai and sea bluffs expose sediments of this age. The
Mountains to Point Possession on the northern tip of stratigraphy is incredibly complex in this region, where
Kenai Peninsula. Ice-stagnation deposits and very active glaciers, many fronting in lakes or estuarine-
associated moraines that we tentatively attribute to the marine water bodies, dynamically shifted their termini
Knik Glaciation occur on the western flank of the in response to various stimuli until about 14,000 yr
Talkeetna Mountains up to an elevation of 2,400 ft (727 B.P., when widespread stagnation and deglaciation
m). On the western flank of the Chugach Mountains, occurred.
slightly modified lateral moraines attributed to the Knik Moraines of Naptowne age are the most
-GlacIation form dlscrete bands above the obvious level conspicuous, most continuous, and best preserved of
of the Naptowne Glaciation and below subdued the entire Pleistocene series. They are typically very
moraines and sideglacial features probably formed fresh in appearance; knob-and-kettle topography is
during the Eklutna Glaciation essentially unchanged since the moraines were built,
A distinctive morainal limit surrounds Mt. Susitna and the frequency of kettle lakes is typically high. Ice-
and grades from about 1,800 ft (545 m) on the north stagnation features such as kames, eskers, and
end of the mountain to about 1,600 ft (485 m) on the crevasse-fill-ridge complexes have steep sides and
south end. We tentatively date this morainal limit as unmodified summits or ridge crests. Drumlines appear
Knik in age, but it could be early Naptowne. Moraines remarkably fresh and ice-marginal features are sharp
comprising the band are continuous with moraines from and well preserved. Proglacial and ice-marginal
cirques of the same age cut into the eastern and western drainage systems are clearly related to specific moraines
flanks of Mt. Susitna. Floors of these cirques range in and many are graded to high-level. shorelines or deltas
elevation from 2,400 to 3,100 ft (727 to 939 m). built into local lakes or larger bodies of fresh, brackish,
Most of the floor of the Susitna Lowland is or marine waters. In lowland areas, stream systems are
covered by drumlinized, silty ground moraine. These poorly integrated. The cover of postglacial loess is
low, streamlined ridges that are oriented generally generally about 1 ft (0.3 m) thick, although close to
north-northwest and ice-scoured granitic bedrock ridges flood-plain sources of windblown silt, maximum
north of Mt. Susitna and west of the Susitna River are thickness of loess approaches 12 ft (3.6 m). Soil
tentatively mapped as Knik features, but they probably profiles vary in depth from 1 to 3 ft (0.3 to 0.9 m), and

T102: 48
range of 13,690 to 14,900 yr B.P. for the upper third
generally average about 1.5 ft (0.5 m). of the Bootlegger Cove Formation is indicated by
The most complete and conspicuous suite of late radiocarbon dates on marine mollusk shells (Schmoll
Naptowne ice-contact and related glaciofluvial and others, 1972). Because the fossiliferous zones are
landfonns in the upper Cook Inlet region is exhibited in high in the section, we estimate that the base of the
the bilobate complex at the mouth of Matanuska Valley. Bootlegger Cove Fonnation is at least 18,000 yr old; it
Pitted outwash and nested end moraines record ice could be much older. Minimum ages for retreat of
limits during most of the late phase of the complicated marine waters in which the Bootlegger Cove Fonnation
Naptowne Glaciation. Glacier-flow indicators was deposited were determined by dating basal
(drumlins and Rogen moraines) document the freshwater peat overlying the Bootlegger cove
resurgence of the Knik lobe to build the Elmendorf Formation; these dates range from 8,290 to 11,450 yr
Moraine. Abundant kame-esker complexes, esker-ridge B.P. on Fire Island near Anchorage. and from 11,600
systems, a crevasse-fill-ridge complex, and pitted- to 12,250 yr B.P. in the Anchorage area (Reger and
outwash trains and terraces are ample evidence that ice Updike, 1983).
stagnation with considerable meltwater activity and The age of the Elmendorf Moraine is closely
downcutting by streams occurred following the abrupt bracketed between 11,690 and 13,690 yr B.P.
readvance of the Knik lobe to the Elmendorf Moraine. (Schmoll and others, 1972).
Moraines and outwash older than the marine In early Wisconsin time, in response to general
invasion during which the Bootlegger Cove Formation climatic deterioration, glaciers in. the Kenai, Chugach,
was deposited are notched by wave-cut scarps as far and Talkeetna Mountains and in the Alaska Ranj!e
north as the mouth ofWillow Creek. Sand of fan deltas thickened and spread through preexisting valley
graded to the level of that marine transgression is networks into the upper Cook Inlet-Susitna Lowland.
exposed in roadcuts for several miles north of there. Early Naptowne ice from Matanuska Valley and Knik
Stratigraphic studies in the Anchorage area provide River valley joined near Palmer. Ice flowing south
considerable insight about late Wisconsin events in the from the upper Susitna Lowland probably coalesced
upper Cook Inlet region. Interpretation of sea-bluff with the Matanuska-Knik Glaciers system and with ice
exposures and logs of over 950 boreholes in southwest from other west-trending valleys along the fronts of the
Anchorage indicate the presence of early and late Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains. The resulting trunk:
Naptowne deposits. At Point Campbell, the older glacier probably flowed south through Anchorage to
(Knik-age), indurated diamicton previously described is near Turnagain Ann. The lack of an obvious terminal
overlain by a two-fold early Naptowne unit that consists moraine of early Naptowne age in that area indicates
of firnily indurated ice-stagnation material in a lower that the terminal zone of this trunk glacier floated in
zone and till in an upper zone. This early Naptowne lacustrine or marine waters. Subsurface stratigraphy
unit is most readily recognized in the Point Campbell indicates that early Naptowne ice initially stagnated in
area and includes a thin sand layer and 6 in. (15 em) of the south Anchorage area and then readvanced slightly
discontinuous peat at the top. Directly overlying the before retreating to the north. Proglacial streams
early Naptowne unit (or the Knik-age diamicton, deposited coarse-grained fan-delta complexes during ice
depending on location) is a complex late Naptowne unit recession perhaps about 34,000 yr B.P (Reger and
composed of the Bootlegger Cove Formation in the east Updike, 1983).
and, in the west, a thick succession of fan-delta silt, The magnitude of glacier recession after the early
sand, and gravel derived from the north-northwest; the Naptowne stade is unknown, but the presence of early
latter deposits exhibit conspicuous surface pitting Naptowne fluvial deposits and organic material in
indicative of the presence of considerable stagnant ice southeast Anchorage demonstrates that at least some of
during their formation. The two late Naptowne units the lowland was ice free and stood above lake or marine
interfinger. waters.
Seven facies recently identified in the Bootlegger Approximately 29,000 yr B.P., the second major
Cove Formation developed in response to subtle phase of the Naptowne Glaciation began with another
changes in the glaciomarlnedepositional environment influx of glacier ice that eventually reached deep marine
(Updike, 1982; Updike and others, 1982). Facies V waters in upper Cook Inlet. During late Naptowne
contains numerous, scattered dropstones, some as large time, this marine invasion flooded the ·Anchorage
as 14 ft (4.2 m), that probably document proximity of a lowland, probably in interaction between a
calving glacier early in the development of the slight worldwide eustatic rise in sea level and isostatic
formation. depression of the floor of the Cook Inlet trough due to
The latest Naptowne event in the Anchorage area is ice loading. Marine waters inundated the southern
best documented north of the city, where conspicuous Susitna Lowland at least 42 mi (68 km) inland from the
outwash fans and terraces grade up to the Elmendorf present north shore of Cook Inlet. A calving ice front
Moraine. These deposits overlie the Bootlegger Cove probably positioned just north of south Anchorage
Formation. produced numerous icebergs that dumped stones and
Events in late Naptowne time are firmly established blocks to form dropstone-rich facies V of the
by a succession of radiocarbon dates. Many published Bootlegger Cove Formation. As late as 14,000 to
radiocarbon dates for the upper cook Inlet region relate 15,000 yrB.P., shallow marine waters with normal
to the duration of the Bootlegger Cove Formation. A salinity still inundated at least part of the lowland in the

T102: 49
scoured bedrock floor and by the nonsynchronous
Anchorage area, and active ice persisted in south activities of several tributary valley glaciers. Complex
Anchorage. Slightly before about 12,000 yr B.P., high-level spillways and terraces cut in valley fill
when the resurgence of the Knik lobe built the demonstrate progressive ice thinning and complex
Elmendorf Moraine, fan-deltas had prograded from an drainage changes. Many melt-water features are graded
ice mass in the southern Susitna Lowland south and close to but above the present flood plain of Matanuska
southeast into south Anchorage and buried stagnant River. The magnitude of the ice retreat is not known,
glacier ice. The location of this ice mass is indicated by but Matanuska Glacier probably receded upvalley at
pitted outwash fronting the Elmendorf Moraine least to its present terminus.
northwest of Anchorage. Relative-age relationships During late Wisconsin time, Matanuska Glacier
between wave-cut scarps, radiocarbon-dated basal peat, readvanced to a maximum position 2.5 to 5 mi (4 to 8
and the pitted gravel outwash fan previously mentioned km) beyond the modern glacier and resulted in
indicate that marine-estuarine waters of the blockages of both upper Matanuska River and Caribou
transgression occupied low areas west of the terminal- Creek on the north side of Matanuska Glacier and of
moraine complex west of Knik Arm until just before Glacier Creek on the southwest side (fig. 31). Major
12,000 yr B.P.
Not long after the culmination of the late Naptowne
resurgence to the Elmendorf Moraine, the expanded
Knik Glacier system developed a dominantly negative
budget. The final phase of the Naptowne Glaciation is
characterized by ice stagnation, widespread subglacial
meltwater activity, and rapid stream incision. Before
'14,000 yr B.P., Matanuska Glacier began a sustained
retreat of about 35 mi (56 km), which ended with a
significant glacier readvance to a position 2.5 to 5 mi (4
to 8 km) beyond the modern terminus before 13,100 yr
B.P. (Williams, 1986).


101.9. 20 STOP 34. OVERLOOK OF

MATANUSKA GLACIER. Panorama to the south of
Matanuska Glacier terminal area and maturely glaciated FIGURE 31. Sketch map of the present terminus of
terrain of the northern Chugach Mountains. Matanuska Glacier and vicinity showing former
The late Wisconsin and Holocene history of terminal positions (modified slightly from Williams and
Matanuska Glacier has been studied during the past 25 Ferrians, 1961, fig. 1).
yr or more and is now fairly well understood for the
lower (western) and upper (eastern) parts of the spillways, termed the Pinochle Creek spillway and the
Matanuska Valley, although some uncertainties remain. Lake Creek spillway, formed north and west of
Detailed mapping of surficial deposits must be Matanuska Glacier, respectively, when ponded melt-
completed before detailed interpretations are possible waters, overflowed low divides and established new,
for the middle part of the valley, but some general temporary courses downvalley. A glacial-ice dam
observations and conclusions are possible. temporarily blocked Caribou Creek and formed a lake
About 29,000 yr B.P., a compound glacier formed that flooded the Dan Creek drainage before draining
by ice from Matanuska Valley and Knik River valley west into upper Pinochle Creek. Rapid erosion by a
spread as an extensive bulb beyond the mouth of the suddenly larger Pinochle Creek cut a 4oo-ft-deep (121
Matanuska Valley to a maximum position south of m) canyon in soft shale of the Matanuska Formation.
Anchorage and as far west as Susitna River in the Later, ice thinning and recession allowed Caribou Creek
Willow Creek area. Although Matanuska Glacier to resume its former course and left the present underfit
retreated prior to 13,000 years ago (Williams, 1986), course of Pinochle Creek. A large landslide sub-
ice from Knik Glacier apparently remained in a fairly sequently blocked the fonner spillway between Dan and
extended state until about 10,000 yr B.P., when the Pinochle Creeks.
Knik Glacier system stagnated. During this stagnation An outer series of low moraines was deposited
phase, meltwater activity deposited discontinuous during glacier recession following formation of the
accumulations of ice-contact sand and gravel from the terminal moraine 2.5 to 5 mi (4 to 8 km) downvalley
vicinity of Chickaloon west to near Wasilla, a distance from Matanuska Glacier. A radiocarbon date of 13,100
of about 38 mi (61.2 km). Ice retreat in upper ± 60 yr B.P. for basal pond silt in an abandoned stream
Matanuska Valley left no prominent end moraines and channel beside the innermost moraine of the outer series
was apparently complicated by the very irregular ice- provides a minumum age for this late Wisconsinan
readvance (Williams, 1986)
20 Miles from Anchorage on Glenn Highway.

T102: 50
the late Naptowne glacier perhaps about 14,000 yr B.P.
After 13,100 yr B.P., Matanuska Glacier retreated 76. Enter Anchorage D-5 Quadrangle.
upvalley an unknown distance. Subsequently, the 74.3 to 72.9. The road winds through a maze of
glacier expanded to build an inner series of moraines esker ridges that formed in the vicinity of Thirtymile
0.1 to 1 mi (0.2 to 1.6 km) from the present terminus, Lake.
probably once again temporarily blocking lower 71.4 Enter Anchorage C-5 Quadrangle.
Caribou Creek and diverting Glacier Creek (fig. 31). 71.4 to 69.6. Route crosses tread of 10- to 15-ft-
Geomorphological relationships, deposition of up to 12 high (3 to 4.6 m) terrace of Matanuska River. On the
in (30.5 em) of loess, deposition of the outermost south side of the river, note the stream terraces that
moraine of the inner series, and development of a4- to were cut as the river rapidly incised the valley fill
5-in.-thick (10.2 to 12.7 em) weathering profile on this following deglaciation in late Naptowne time. The
loess indicate that this Holocene moraine is probably braided flood plain of Matanuska River is typical of
several thousand years old, but less than 4,000 yr old. wider reaches of the stream.
A terminal-moraine remnant that is 0.25 mi (0.4 kIn) 61.7. Enter Anchorage C-6 Quadrangle.
beyond the modern terminus and covered by a mature 54.4. Crossing of Moose Creek and beginning of
spruce forest, including trees as old as 145 yr (in ascent through glacial sand and gravel.
1982), appears to be much older than 145 yr, perhaps 53.4. Top of grade. For the next 4.8 mi (7.7
by several hundred years. Trees growing on inner km), Glenn Highway crosses an extensive, locally
moraines of the youngest group just beyond the active pitted outwash surface 270 to 400 ft (82 to 121 m)
western terminus are 125 to 145 yr old. Since 1898, above the flood plain of Matanuska River. To the right
when the first photographs were taken of Matanuska (north), eskers provide local relief; these ice-stagnation
Glacier, the terminus has remained fairly stable, features are a continuation of the complex that begins 8
although considerable thinning has occurred. mi (12.9 km) east of here near Granite Creek and
94.2 to 89.1 Glenn Highway traverses a glacial bench continues west to north of Palmer.
above the inner gorge of Matanuska River. The till 51.3 to 51.1. Irregular kettles were formed in the
cover is thin and discontinuous, and there are numerous high-level terrace surface by the melting of dead-ice
exposures of the. Paleocene Chickaloon Formation in masses that were buried by outwash alluvium about
the roadcuts. 14,000 yr B.P. Water-well logs in the vicinity of Mile
89.5 Enter Anchorage D-4 Quadrangle. 51.3 indicate that glaciofluvial gravel underlying this
86.7 Above the road, large blocks of diabase rest terrace varies in thickness from 36 to 96 ft (10.9 to
unstably in the thin blanket of colluvium that covers the 29.1 m) and overlies 12 to 15 ft (3.6 to 5.5 m) of late
glacially steepened surface of the Chickaloon Naptowne till.
Formation. These blocks (rounded by spheroidal 50.4. Junction of Glenn Highway and Farm
weathering) pose a serious hazard in the spring and Loop Road. Surface pitting here results from melting
during or after heavy rains, when they break loose and of stagnant and buried glacial ice. From here, poorly
roll onto Glenn Highway. Long Lake occupies a deep integrated, former stream channels extend northwest
trough plucked and abraded into the Chickaloon into a complex terrain initially formed as a broad, thick,
Formation by glacial ice. sandy outwash fan deposited by Matanuska River over
84.9 STOP 35. OPTIONAL PHOTO STOP. stagnant glacial ice north and west of Palmer; the
Bedrock here is the Matanuska Formation. Late original fan surface was later deformed into a gently
Naptowne till and stratified drift that overlie bedrock are irregular surface when underlying ice melted.
capped by discontinuous colluvium with a well- 48.9. Glenn Highway passes through a series of
developed podzol (spodosol) soil. The B horizon in vegetated and stabilized cliff-head sand dunes. Cuts
this post-Naptowne weathering profile is 4 to 6 in. expose large-scale eolian cross-bedding and buried
(10.2 to 15.2 em) thick. The view upvalley includes humic zones. In the Palmer area, windblown sand
outstanding examples of the effects of glacial scouring. occurs in thin beds and thicker blanket, and locally piles
Archeological excavations in the vicinity of Long up as dunes.
Lake have recovered projectile points, core tablets and 48. Palmer has a very favorable climate for
fragments, biface implements, scrapers, retouched producing grains, hay, vegetables, and dairy products.
flakes, and waste flakes that have close affinities with Mean annual temperature is 35.5°F (1.9°C) and the July
the Denali Complex in the Tangle Lakes area. temperature averages 57.6°F (14.2°C). Average annual
The braided flood plain of Matanuska River, which precipitation is 16 in. (40.6 cm). The growing season
is 450 ft (136 m) below this location, results from an averages 125 days per year. Dominant winds blow
overload of rock debris from Matanuska Glacier and from the northeast in winter ('Matanuska wind') and
numerous smaller ice masses at the heads of many from the southeast in spring and summer ('Knik wind')
tributaries of the river. This reach of the flood plain is (fig. 32).
generally covered by a thick stream icing each winter, Silt loam of eolian origin provides an excellent soil
as are braided reaches. of other streams in interior and for crops. Loess blankets upland surfaces in the.Palmer
northern Alaska. area up to about 2,000 ft (606 m) elevation on nearby
79.7 Begin descent into the canyon of Chick- mountain slopes. Thickness of the windblown silt
aloon River, which has incised 200 to 400 ft (61 to 121 decreases (more or less logarithmically with distance)
m) into the. Chickaloon Formation since the retreat of from a maximum of 15 to 25 ft (4.6 to 7.6 m) adjacent

T102: 51
FIGURE 32. Oblique aerial view (to the south) of loess being deflated by the 'Knik wind'
from Knik River flood plain, Anchorage Quadrangle, Alaska. Photograph 91-10 by R.D.
Reger, May 23, 1981.

to the western margIn ot the Matanuska River flood 19.6. The distribution and character of permafrost
plain in a general west-southwest direction. in the Anchorage area are not well known. This area is
47.6. Junction of Glenn Highway and Palmer- near the extreme southern limit of permafrost, where the
Wasilla Road. End of mileposts for the old Glenn coldest ground temperatures are very close to 32°F
Highway and beginning of new mileage (41.8) (DOC). The frozen state is very unstable, and minor site
resulting from changes in highway alignments and differences strongly control the distribution of
routes. permafrost. Perennially frozen ground occurs in
40.9. Descent onto the 'Palmer terrace.' The exceptionally favorable circumstances, such as beneath
high peak to the south-southeast (left front) is 6,398-ft- black-spruce 'islands' that have an insulating ground
high (1,939 m) Pioneer Peak, a well-known, scenic cover of Sphagnum and feather mosses 10 to 12 in.
landmark in the Palmer area. To the southeast (left) is (25.4 to 30.5 cm) thick and that develop on raised bogs
Bodenburg Butte, a roche moutonee of quartz diorite growing on thick peat. Depression fillings of peat that
that stands about 750 ft (227 m) above a pitted surface probably contain permafrost are commonly 5 to 8 ft
that is equivalent to the 'Palmer terrace' across (1.5 to 2.4 m) thick and locally reach thicknesses up to
Matanuska River. Reger and Updike (1983) described 30 ft (9 m).
in detail late Quaternary features and history of the 15.7. To the left (east), Lower Fire Lake occupies
Palmer area. a shallow glacial trough cut into bedrock.
33.6. Enter Anchorage C-7 Quadrangle. 12.2. Crossing of Eagle River.
32.9. To the right (west) is an excellent view of 10.6. Roadcut through 12,OOO-yr-old Elmendorf
4,396-ft-high (1,332 m) Mount Susitna, the type Moraine.
locality of the Mount Susitna Glaciation. Beyond it is 9.3. Enter Anchorage B-8 Quadrangle.
11,100-ft-high (3,364 m) Mount Spurr, an active, 7.2 Glenn Highway leaves the outwash surface
andesitic, composite volcano. graded to the Elmendorf Moraine and for 1.5 mi (0.9
31.7. Enter Anchorage C-6 Quadrangle. km) passes between two parallel discontinuous drumlin
31.6. Crossing of Matanuska River near its belts.
confluence with Knik River. Matanuska and Knik 6.7. Enter Anchorage A-8 Quadrangle.
Rivers are building a compound estuarine delta at the 5.6. Crossing of Ship Creek.
head of Knik Arm. This reach of Matanuska River is 2.7. Turn right onto McCarrey Street and drive
affected by daily tidal action. up the scarp cut into the Elmendorf outwash onto the
31.2. Enter Anchorage B-6 Quadrangle. outwash plain.
25.7. Exit to Eklutna Village to the right 0.221 McCarry Street curves to the left (west) and
(northwest). Glenn Highway traverses a broad alluvial becomes Mountain View Drive. Beyond two traffic
fan built by Eklutna River at the mouth of a steep- lights, Mountain View Drive becomes Commercial
walled gorge cut in bedrock in the lower Eklutna valley. Drive; continue west on Commercial Drive. Betwe~n
24.5. Begin traverse through a drumlin field Miles 0.2 and 2.3, the route traverses the outwash plaln
formed during resurgence of the Knik lobe to the related to the Elmendorf Moraine.
Elmendorf Moraine.
22.8 Mirror Lake is on the left (southeast). The 21 Route mileage is reset to 0.0 at the traffic light at
steep, deeply gullied rock wall across the lake was the junction of Glenn Highway and McCarrey
repeatedly scoured by ice during Quaternary glaciations. Street.

T102: 52
are separated by the Bootlegger Cove Formation,
2.3. Begin descent from the surface of the perhaps the best-known geologic unit in south-central
Elmendorf outwash plain on an old landslide scarp. Alaska. The thickness of this formation in the
The scarp that forms the bluff to the left (south) Government Hill area ranges from less than 100 ft
predates 1964, although the landslide below the scarp (30 m) to greater than 215 ft (65 m), reflecting the
was reactivated during the great earthquake of irregular floor of the depositional basin and differences
March 27, 1964. in the elevation at the top of the formation.
2.6. Intersection of Post Road and Commercial After deposition of the Elmendorf outwash about
Drive (traffic light); continue straight ahead (west) on 12,000 yr B.P., relative sea level in the Anchorage area
3rd Avenue. lowered, probably in response to isostatic rebound and
2.9. Begin ascent of pre-1964 landslide scarp vertical crustal movements of tectonic origin. Ship
onto Elmendorf outwash surface. Creek responded by eroding deep into both the outwash
3. On the right (north) is the Alaska Native and the Bootlegger Cove Formation. In this area,
Hospital, which was built several years prior to 1964 stream erosion and mass wasting have removed the
and survived the earthquake of March 27, 1964. upper 100 ft (30 m) of the section along Knik Arm and
Directly north, beyond the hospital, is a large landslide Ship Creek. Tidal-flat deposits partially filled lower
that occurred on March 27, 1964, along the south bluff Ship Creek Valley during the late Holocene rise in sea
of Ship Creek as a result of failure of the Bootlegger level, and landslides accumulated along the base of
Cove Formation. Other large, preexisting landslides retreating valley walls.
that were documented along the bluff in this area were The 1964 Government Hill School landslide, like
partially reactivated in 1964. most other major failures in the Anchorage area, was
3.3. Descent down a low, pre-1964 slide scarp. directly caused by failure in the Bootlegger Cove
The tall, pink building on the left (south) that straddles Formation. These massive failures resulted from
the slide scarp was severely damaged during the seismic loading, over-steepened slopes, undercutting of
earthquake of March 27, 1964, but was later repaired the toe of slopes, ground-water piping, induced loading
and temporarily reoccupied. at the heads of former slides or directly on free-face
3.6. Turn right at 'A' Street and cross Ship slopes, and lateral spreading due to removal of support.
Creek overpass. The valley of Ship Creek is eroded The landslides are composed of material from the
deeply into the Bootlegger Cove Formation and the Bootlegger Cove Formation and overlying glaciofluvial
overlying glaciofluvial deposits and is partially filled alluvium, but the stratigraphy is chaotic and the material
with up to 20 ft (6.1 m) of Holocene fluvial silt, sand, is broken into detached blocks. Surface and
and gravel. groundwater characteristics in the vicinity of the
3.8. Take Port Exit to the right. Pass over 'A' landslides are also quite variable, primarily due to the
Street and veer left onto Ocean Dock Road. development of hummocky topography that interferes
4.3. Turn left onto Whitney Road and cross the with surface drainage and disrupts subsurface water-
Alaska Railroad tracks. bearing strata. Several springs occur along the toe of
4.4. Tum left and proceed through the Alaska this slide. Elsewhere in Anchorage, artesian ground-
Railroad complex, under the 'A' Street overpass, past water conditions exist in large slides, but tilt-block
the large railroad maintenance and repair building to the ridges are usually better drained. Surface runoff
toe of the 1964 Government Hill School landslide. quickly retransports poorly consolidated material
5.1. STOP 36. GOVERNMENT HILL downslope in landslide ridges to round and smooth
SCHOOL LANDSLIDE. Among sites in the vicinity of slide topography in a few years. This process has
Anchorage that exhibited multiple ground failures already modified the morphology of the 1964
during the 1964 Prince William Sound earthquake, the Government Hill School landslide.
Government Hill area in north Anchorage attracted
particular attention because of the great variety of local
earthquake-induced damage and the critical role of the SELECTED REFERENCES
area in Alaska's ground-transportation network (Updike
and Carpenter, 1986; Lade and others, 1988; Updike Hamilton, T.D., 1986, Correlation of Quaternary
and others, 1988). glacial deposits in Alaska, in Sibrava, V., Bowen,
In addition to the Government Hill School D.Q., and Richmond, G.M., eds., Quaternary
landslide, which was the focus of most post-1964 glaciations in the Northern Hemisphere: New York,
geotechnical studies, another large landslide occurred Pergamon Press, p. 171-180.
along the bluff to the north, and numerous ground Hamilton, T.D., and Thorson, R.M., 1983, The
cracks were produced in fill and in tidal-flat deposits Cordilleran Ice Sheet in Alaska, in Porter, S.C.,
adjacent to Government Hill. The entire bluff in this ed., Late Quaternary environments of the United
area was also involved in massive landslides before States, Volume 1, The Late Pleistocene:
1964. Several structures have been built on these older Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, p. 38-
slides or on the upland at the heads of the slides. 52.
The Quaternary section here is probably several Karlstrom, T.N.V., 1953, Upper Cook Inlet region,
hundred feet thick. Late Pleistocene deposits consist of Alaska, iILpewe., T.L., and others, Multiple
two stratified, glaciofluvial sand and gravel units that glaciation in Alaska: A progress report: U.S.

T102: 53
Geological and Geophysical Surveys Guidebook 1,
Geological Survey Circular 289, p. 3-5. p. 185-263.
____, 1955, Late Pleistocene and Recent glacial Schmoll, H.R., and Yehle, L.A., 1986, Pleistocene
chronology of south-central Alaska [abs.]: glaciation of the upper Cook Inlet basin, i n
Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 66, Hamilton, T.D., Reed, K.M.,and Thorson, R.M.,
no.12, pte 2, p. 1581-1582. eds., Glaciation in Alaska---The geologic record:
____, 1957, Tentative correlation of Alaskan Anchorage, Alaska Geological Society, p. 193-218.
sequences, 1956: Science, v. 125, no. 3237, p. 73- Trainer, F.W., 1960, Geology and groundwater
74. resources of the Matanuska Valley agricultural area,
____, 1964, Quaternary geology of the Kenai Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply
Lowland and glacial history of the Cook Inlet region, Paper, 1494, 116 p.
Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper Trainer, F.W., and Waller, R.M., 1965, Subsurface
443,69 p. stratigraphy of glacial drift at Anchorage, Alaska, in
_ _ _ _, 1965, Upper Cook Inlet area and Geological Survey Research 1965: U.S. Geological
Matanuska River Valley, in Pewe, T.L., Ferrians, Survey Professional Paper 525-D, p. D167-D174.
O.J., Jr., Nichols, D.R., and Karlstrom, T.N.V., Updike, R.G., and Carpenter, B.A., 1986,
Guidebook for Field Conference F, central and Engineering geology of the Government Hill area,
south-central Alaska, International Association for Anchorage, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey
Quaternary Research, 7th Congress, Fairbanks, Bulletin 1588, 32 p.
1965: Lincoln, Nebraska Academy of Sciences, p. Updike, R.G., Egan, J.A., Yoshiharu Moriwaki,
114-141 (Reprinted 1977, Alaska Division of Idriss, I.M. and Moses, T.L., 1988, A model for
Geological and Geophysical Surveys). earthquake-induced translatory landslides in
Lade, P.V, Updike, R.G., and Cole, D.A., 1988, Quaternary sediments: Geological Society of
Cyclic triaxial tests of the Bootlegger Cove America Bulletin, v. 100, no. 5, p. 783-792.
Formation, Anchorage, Alaska: U.S. Geological Wahrhaftig, Clyde, 1965, Physiographic divisions of
Survey Bulletin 1825, 51 p. Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey·Professional Paper
Miller, R.D., and Dobrovolny, Ernest, 1959, Surficial 482,52 p.
geology of Anchorage and vicinity, Alaska: U.S. Williams, J.R., 1986, New radiocarbon dates from the
Geological Survey Bulletin 1093, 128 p. Matanuska Glacier bog section, in Bartsch-Winkler,
Reger, R.D., and Updike, R.G., 1983, Upper Cook Susan, and Reed, K.M., eds., Geologic studies in
Inlet region and the Matanuska Valley, in Pewe, Alaska by the U.S. Geological Survey during 1985:
T.L., and Reger, R.D., eds., Guidebook to U.S. Geological Survey Circular 978, p. 85-88.
permafrost and Quaternary geology along the Williams, J.R., and Ferrians, 0.1., Jr., 1961, Late
Richardson and Glenn Highways between Fairbanks Wisconsin and Recent history of the Matanuska
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