Geology Class Field Trip

Both my Geology Class and Geology Lab offered self guided field trips for extra credit. I’m the kind of student who takes advantage of extra credit every time it’s offered, regardless of how good my grades already are, so I did them.

I mapped out the points of interest, printed out the paperwork, and slapped them on a clipboard, then Dave and I hopped on the bus to downtown. He’s not a college student, but he and I share a fascination with cool stuff. Like rocks.

We had fun learning about the history of the natural materials used in the construction of more than a dozen buildings in the South Park blocks of downtown PDX.

While on the field trip, I got an unexpected offer for help.

This is the Portlandia statue atop the Portland Building. You might recognize it from the opening credits of the tv show Portlandia.

This walking tour of downtown, pointing out geologic points of interest was lots of fun. As we walked up to each place, I read the paragraph describing the building materials and a brief story of the building’s construction. If there was a historical marker at the site, we read that, too.

Occasionally a homeless person passing by would pause to listen to our narrative before meandering on their way.

We take this learning business very seriously, as you can see.

We were surprised to learn that City Hall, the building where we shot this goofy picture, was built on the foundation for another building. As they started construction in 1895, they realized that with all the annexations to the city, they needed a much larger building, so a new building was commissioned to be built on the site.

Although the marble used in the planters in front of the PacWest Building was quarried in Finland, it was cut and polished near Carrara, Italy, a centuries-old location for stonecutting. Carrara is home to the quarry where Michelangelo obtained his marble.

Old Stone Wall Meets New Stone Wall
The Old Rubble Wall (to the right) connected to the new stone wall (down the sidewalk)

The site most fascinating to me is the rubble wall.  It was partially dismantled and rebuilt for safety reasons in 2010. The description in the guide tells of a curious history of the wall:

“The rubble wall that surrounds the block bounded by Fourth and Fifth Avenues and Market and Mill Streets has an interesting history. In the 1860s, sailing vessels arriving from Europe discharged their ballast at the foot of Clay Street before taking on a shipment of grain. Parishioners of the local Catholic church hauled the basalt pieces in wheelbarrows up to St. Mary’s Academy and built the wall that still stands intact today. Basalt is no stranger to the downtown area, and it is odd that rock from Belgium was used instead of the same kind of material from the cliff below Broadway Drive, which is several thousand miles closer, and a downhill haul to the Academy.”

Some of the sites were simply plaques or statue bases.

Farrell's Sycamore
Sycamore Tree – planted by Sylvester Farrel 1880*
Business End of Roosevelt's Horse.jpg
Besides the glare on Dave’s glasses as he looks up at the business end of Roosevelt’s horse, the juxtaposition of the sign in front of Dave’s face makes me giggle.
(Immature, who me?)
Travertine supports plant life
Here is a teeny tiny tree in travertine
Surprise Mural
After trying to decide if the lighter material used in the alcove at the end of this building was natural or man-made, I realized it’s paint. The end of this building is a mural.
SHadow of the ELm
This sidewalk sculpture, “In the Shadow of the Elm,” represents one of dozens of elms that stood in the South Park Blocks.
D'Agostino Sculpture
Artist Fernanda D’Agustino created 18 of these sculptures for a building on the PSU campus
Granite at Melting Pot Restaurant
This beautiful granite is the exterior wall outside the Melting Pot restaurant.
I love the quartz sparkle.

After taking this field trip, we discovered it’s impossible to NOT see natural rock used everywhere as building materials. Even Dave points out interesting granite, marble, and other natural materials to me, which I think is really neat.

If you would like to take this walking tour, you can download the PDF we used here: South Park Blocks Field Trip. This guide was written in 1985, so some of the sites have new names, but the same buildings still stand.

You may also want to follow the following suggestion made by my professor – at the end of this paragraph. (We did.)

Field Trip commentary

Overall, we had a great afternoon.

* This tree is actually a London Planetree, planted by Mr. Farrell’s house in 1880. I find it impressive that a tree this old continues to thrive in downtown Portland, despite all the changes that have transformed the neighborhood over the last 137 years.


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