Time Traveling at Saltese Uplands

October 9, 2021

By Emalee Gruss Gillis, Conservancy volunteer

I discovered in the open lands of the Saltese, that rocks and humans have something in common. We both grow and change under pressure. 

On a recent hike organized by the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy (INLC) and led by geologist Nigel Davies of Eastern Washington University, we went back through time. As our group made our way up through the winding paths of the Saltese Uplands Conservation Area, I learned that these same lands were once bought by a developer interested in building a golf course and housing. However, an economic crisis hit which led to the Spokane County Parks acquiring 552 acres of the land in 2010. Recently, INLC conserved another 55 acres for public use. 

Going back further, I learned the land we were hiking in was named after Chief Saltese whose tribe once inhabited the area with their many horses.  

In Nigel’s talk, he took our group back long before Chief Saltese’s time. He took us to 15,000 years ago when a huge flood ravaged the land. Hundreds of thousands of gallons roared through the Saltese Uplands when a glacial ice dam broke in Montana. Our group looked down at the small Lake Saltese which is a quiet remnant of the violent flood just like the Montana granite that can be found on the land. 

We went back further to 45 million years ago. Nigel showed us sheered rocks that were evidence of a process that occurred, then called doming, where pressure from underground pushed rock and formed the basic landscape of the Saltese Uplands. 

Nigel took us back even further to 1.3 billion years ago, a time span I can barely comprehend! At that time, the land that is now Siberia, Australia and Antarctica pulled away from ancient North America. That split formed the most fundamental layers of what is now the Saltese Uplands.  

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned on the hike was deep underground, heat and pressure cause minerals to grow. I always thought of rocks as stagnant things, but I discovered in the open lands of the Saltese, that rocks and humans have something in common. We both grow and change under pressure. 

As we wound back down the path, the sky opened up and poured rain, erasing our footprints. I wondered how many generations in the future would work to continue to keep this land open and free of development. I thought about those future generations and wondered what pressures they would face from climate change and changing economies. I know that as they made footprints, the rocks lying deep in the ground below their feet would respond to vertical and horizontal pressures and continue to change their shape and composition just as they had for 1.3 billion years.