I really enjoyed the article on Bob Mierendorf’s work in the North Cascades National Park.

However, a couple of the photos raise some questions for me if you can pass them on to Bob for me. On page 29, the top two photos show a large culturally modified stone, in the left photo Bob has his hand on it, in the right hand photo it is next to his arm.

What I would like to know is: How did that stone become so modified? And what do you think its purpose was? There are no hints in the article or the caption for those photos. My personal guess is the stone was used as a whetstone? Am I close?

I enjoyed the whole article as well as the photos on page 33. However, the caption on page 32, of the photos on page 33, was very unprofessional and stands out as a piece of personal propaganda. Not the quality I would expect of WSM.

The black and white photo from 1916 is looking north, the color photo that it is being compared to is looking south. One photo is in black and white, one photo is in colour. It is not possible to compare how “lush” the pass is, or is not, or come to any other conclusion when the photos are not of the same subject, and in the same medium.

Herman R. Goetjen


Regarding the rock, Bob Mierendorf replies:

That’s a good question from an observant reader, for sure.

The quick answer is that we’re not yet certain about the stone’s function, but we are investigating this.

The longer answer is: this is one of several “tabular rocks” that we found that had been carefully placed in horizontal position around the edges of two heating pits. The rock in the photo that the reader refers to does not show obvious signs of wear or alteration. but that could be because the natural soils are extremely acidic, so much so that the exterior rind of nearly all of the granitic rocks in the soil is chemically pitted, with the result that any prior surface marks, scratches, polishing, etc., might have weathered away. Having said this, possible functions for these tabular rocks might be as cooking feature furniture, i.e., to hold or provide a platform for processing food resources; alternatively, as a griddle, i.e., foods to be cooked could have been placed on the heated tabular rocks; and then we will be identifying other possibilities. As for the “whetstone” idea, this is a viable possibility, at this point. The rock does have some broad, shallow, subparallel grooves that immediately attracted our attention, and we thought this could be a grinding stone of some sort, but again, the rock surfaces are so weathered and pitted that I cannot with confidence support one hypothesis over the other, given current data, but we are still collecting data, so we’ll see.

Hope this helps, Bob


Regarding the “personal propaganda,” Tim Steury replies:

The comment regarding warming was offhand and unsubstantiated in context.

Our discussion at the pass was wide-ranging, and because of the wind and microphone interference, I did not record the relevant part. In other words, I should not have alluded to that conversation in a brief caption.

When I asked Mierendorf by email if he recalled the conversation, he was not sure, that it may have concerned “the decrease in seasonal snowpack associated around the 1930s (plus or minus a decade) that resulted in earlier than ‘normal’ melt-out of the snow, resulting on a longer growing season for plants, resulting in successful tree invasion in the longer-opened meadows. I think I referred to a group of trees below Cascade Pass in Pelton Basin, suggesting that they could be there due to decreased snow pack, which in that place is controlled by amount of avalanche snow deposition.”

Mierendorf recommends a discussion of massive invasions of subalpine meadows and possible climatic influence in Jerry F. Franklin and C.T. Dyrness’s Natural Vegetation of Oregon and Washington (OSU Press 1973).

He also suggests a more current (1996) discussion in the article, “Temporal and Spatial Distribution of Trees in Subalpine Meadows of Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, U.S.A.,” by Regina M. Rochefort and David L. Peterson. (PDF, 1MB)

Finally, the U.S. Global Change Research Program has compiled an exhaustive list regarding this subject.