Hancock Field Station

Field Notebook

Hancock Field Station
Field Notebook - for Student use
Omsi - Notebook compiled by Michala K. Chitwood, 1999

Table of Contents:
pg. 1 - Map of Camp
pg. 2 - Ready, Set,
pg. 3 - Go!
pg. 4 - 5 Cycles
pg. 6 - Rain Shadow Effect
pg. 7 - Semi-Arid Desert Ecosystem
pg. 8 - Habitat
pg. 9 - Communities
pg. 10 - Animal Signs and Tracks
pg. 11 - Water Quality
pg. 12-13 Natural History Sightings
pg. 14 - Geology
pg. 15 - Rocks and Fossils
pg. 16 - Clarno Formation
pg. 17 - John Day Formation
pg. 18 - Columbia River Basalts
pg. 19 - Fossils
pg. 20-21 Human History

The Story of Hancock Field Station:
Hancock Field Station is a natural science field camp established by amateur paleontologist Lon Hancock in the 1940’s and managed by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) since 1951. Sitting in the high desert grasslands near the John Day River, it is a perfect starting point for exploration of the surrounding canyons. Its proximity to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument makes it ideal for studying geology and paleontology. In the nearby sediments lies the story of life from when the area was a subtropical forest to the beginning of the Ice Age. We see evidence of these climatic changes in the fossils found and researched by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Over time, Eastern Oregon developed into the semi-arid desert that we study today. Bobcat, coyotes, owls, rattlesnakes, lizards, and scorpions leave tracks, scat, and other signs we can follow. In the spring, the hillsides are multi-colored with wild flowers. Clear night skies offer opportunities to study astronomy all year. The area is also rich in cultural history. We see American Indian pictographs drawn hundreds of years ago, old homesteads built by the first settlers, and school houses from the early 1900s. All this and more is waiting for your discovery and exploration.

2. Ready, Set, ----
Before heading off to your field study, make sure you take everything you will need. That includes all of your Standard Field Gear. Each item is required to make sure your day is fun and safe. As you hike, remember these other important tips:
1. Always hike with an adult leader and at least one buddy. Do not leave the group without telling anybody, then take your buddy with you. Even when spread out in an activity, keep alert so you will know if instructions change.
2. Do not handle or bother wildlife. Many critters will bite, sting, or scratch if they feel threatened. Observe only.
3. Be prepared forall weather situations. Even if it looks nice in the morning, the weather can quickly change.
4. Stay on the trail, unless the leader takes you off of it. This way, plants and other neat things won’t be trampled. If you pick something up to look at it, put it back when you are finished.
5. Do not litter. It is ugly, and the food you drop has salt and other chemicals that are harmful for wildlife.
6. BE QUIET! You will see more wildlife, have a richer time, and others will enjoy your company more.
STANDARD FIELD GEAR: Long pants, warm outer layer, hat, boots, rain gear, lunch, 2 quarts of water, sunscreen, day pack, field notebook, pencil or pen; optional items - binoculars, compass, field guides, camera

3. Go!
Your investigation of the semi-arid desert will be much more interesting if you use all of your senses. While you hike and explore, you will be amazed by what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. In the lists below, write the different sensations you experienced. A note of caution: do not taste anything without your instructor’s OK. Poisonous plants and fungi do grow in the desert.
Smells: _______________________________________
Textures: _______________________________________
Tastes: _______________________________________
Colors: _______________________________________

4. Cycles
Have you ever heard the phrase, “What goes around comes around”? It means that everything moves through cycles; material is moved through different stages of a system, sometimes changing its physical shape or chemical makeup, but eventually the original material returns to the beginning, where it begins the cycle again. The WATER cycle is one example that explains how the earth’s water constantly flows through ecosystems. At times it is a gas that rises in the atmosphere; other times it is a liquid that drains through the earth; and sometimes it is a solid that falls from the sky. No water is lost, though, as it travels through the cycle. Fill in the water cycle diagram below with the following terms:
Precipitation Saturation
Condensation Evaporation
Transpiration Ground Water
Surface Run-off

5. The Nutrient Cycle
The Nutrient Cycle is another example. The elements that living things need to be active, to build cells, and to reproduce pass through a cycle that makes them available for all members of the ecosystem. If one stage does not happen--if any of the cycle components are removed--the elements will not be processed for use at other stages of the cycle. The ecosystem’s health degrades, affecting all members. Draw a line from the nutrient cycle components on the left to their correct definitions in the middle, then to an example of each on the right.

Carnivore breaks down food into soil Racoon
Rock makes its own food Fungus, Bacteria
Herbivore eats meat Bunchgrass
The Sun source of important gasses Deer
Omnivore eats plants CO2, O2
Producer source of the earth’s energy The Sun
Decomposer eats plants and meat Soil
Air source of minerals Coyote

6. Rain Shadow Effect
Eastern Oregon has a desert climate because of the RAIN SHADOW EFFECT. As Diagrammed below, water evaporates off the Pacific Ocean, forming clouds that are blown toward shore. As they rise in elevation, cold air condenses the water into clouds and rain, where it falls on the coast range and the Willamette Valley. As the clouds continue eastward and upward, they lose more water, dropping rain on the west side of the Cascades. If clouds reach eastern Oregon, they are without most of their water. In spring, larger clouds and stronger winds form in the west, causing heavier clouds to reach the desert and yield the year’s rain.
List two other places where there is a rain shadow effect:

7. Semi-Arid Desert Ecosystem
Eastern Oregon was not always a desert. The rain shadow was a result of a geologic change that affected the climate over time. As the Cascade Mountains grew, fewer clouds passed over to eastern Oregon, reducing the amount of precipitation that fell each season. This affected the local plants and animals. Some species died, others left to be replaced by new organisms that came to the area, and some adapted and survived. The ecosystem changed from a tropical rain forest to a temperate hardwood forest to a dry grassland.
List three ways that plants can move from area to area: _______________________________________
Organisms that adapted to survive had traits that made them successful. Traits that were successful during some stages of the environmental change were not successful at other stages. This resulted in a succession (a gradual cycle of dominance and extinction) of different species over time. We can see this succession by studying the fossil record.
Today, we can see some of the traits that make species successful in a desert climate. The white fuzz on a sage leaf protects it from the sun. The jackrabbit’s ears are covered with blood vessels that cool it down when the wind blows through them. California Quail chicks dart under cover when a hawk flies overhead. Coyotes shed their warm underfur in the spring. Meadowlarks migrate to warmer climates in the fall. List three animals and an adaptive trait each has to live in the desert:
List three plants and an adaptive trait each has to live in the desert:

8. Habitat
The place where a species is usually found is its HABITAT. That is where it finds all that it needs to live and reproduce. For example, Northern Flickers live in trees where they excavate nest cavities and find insects under the bark. Pronghorn live in wide grasslands where they browse for food, can spot predators easily, and can escape quickly. Species can live in a wide variety of habitats, or only a narrow range, depending on how loose or strict their habitat requirements are. For example, Common Yarrow has very general requirements and grows in deserts, grasslands, forests, and alpine tundra. Canyon Wrens have very specific requirements and live only where there are steep, rocky cliffs with crevices for nesting. Below is a list of habitat requirements and their potential sources. Draw a line from each component to its correct source.

Energy / Fire trees, crevices, webs
Area soil, rock
Air sun, chemical bonds
Water fields, hillsides, caves
Earth O2, CO2, N2, CH4
Shelter rain, dew, springs

Habitats can be as small as a hole in the ground (funnel-weaving spider), a leaf (aphid), or a bat’s ear (mite). They can be as large as a tree (beetle), a hillside (ground squirrel), or a watershed (trout). Below, give an example of each organism on the left, then list its habitat on the right. Use a field guide for reference if you need help.

Organism Example Habitat
Mammal _________________ _________________
Reptile _________________ _________________
Amphibian _________________ _________________
Insect _________________ _________________
Bird _________________ _________________
Plant _________________ _________________

9. Communities
COMMUNITIES are made of different populations of species that share the same habitats. They interact as they acquire the resources they need to survive. The outcomes of their interactions may yield different results, briefly described below:
Mutualism Both benefit
Commensalism One benefits whilte the other is not affected
Parasitism One survies by taking advantage of the other
Predation One kills and consumes the other
Competition One is negatively affected by another in a rivalry
for a limited amount of resources

Below, write an example of each interaction type. On the first line, list the two interacting species. On the second, list what is gained or lost.
Mutualism: _________________ _________________
Commensalism: _________________ _________________
Parasitism: _________________ _________________
Predation: _________________ _________________
Competition: _________________ _________________

These interactions constantly occur, often involving more than one species in more than one way. Through them, organisms are fed, decompose, build homes, develop the soil, frow, kill, become ill, heal, expand territory, disperse seeds, and act as habitat. When scientists include community interactions with the physical world surrounding them (such as climate patterns, watersheds, or geologic events), they are classified as ECOSYSTEMS.

10 . Animal Signs and Tracks
Sometimes, the only evidence we have that an animal has been in a place are the signs it leaves behind. Feathers, scat, dirt mounds, blood, fur, carcasses, pellets, nests, trampled grass, broken twigs, and torn bark are all signs of animal activity in an area. The best thing to do when you find animal signs is to STAY PUT. You want to avoid stepping on and losing any other evidence of activity. Next, LEAVE IT ALONE. Its position is critical to interpreting what happened to put it there. Also, certain signs (scat, owl pellets, bones) may have harmful bacteria on them. Then, LOOK AROUND. Often, the one sign that you find is part of a larger picture. A pile of scat may be next to a trail of tracks that leads to a den or a carcass. Last, ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS. Who was here? How many different species? How many individuals? How did they interact? With practice, you can learn how to find and interpret these signs and stories in nature. Start by learning common animal tracks. Consider the tracks below, especially their sizes, and write on each line the animal that made the track. Next, circle the tracks that you saw at Hancock.

11. Water Quality
Aquatic organisms require healthy water systems to survive. Temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH are simple water quality measurements that help gauge the health of streams, rivers, and lakes. With your instructor, perform these tests and record your observations below. OBSERVE THE BODY OF WATER AND FORM A HYPOTHESIS ABOUT ITS QUALITY. Use your knowledge of aquatic systems to guess what the quality of the water will be (high, medium, or low). MEASURE AND RECORD DATA. The measurements will be compared to quality standards to assess the quality of the body of water.
Temperature: <55 degrees F (<12 deg. Celsius)
Dissolved Oxygen: 7-12 ppm
pH: 6.5 - 8.5
1. Dissolved Oxygen (DO)olecules bond with water molecules. Fish and plants absorb oxygen from the water to survive. DO is measured in parts per million (# of O2 molecules per million H2O) from 0-15ppm.
2. Temperature
High temperature forces oxygen from the water via evaporation and encourages algae to grow, which pulls more oxygen from the water.
3. pH (acidity/alkalinity)
pH stands for “parts Hydrogen” and is measured on a scale from 0-14. Water with low pH (0-5) is acidic, high pH (8-14) is alkaline (basic), and middle pH (6-7) is neutral. Highly acidic or basic water causes molecular bonds to separate, which can lead to cell damage and organism death.

Compared to the “High Water Quality Standards”, how did the water rate? Was your hypothesis correct? Why or why not?

12. Natural History Sightings
MAMMALS: Elk, Mule deer, pronghorn, bobcat, coyote, mountain lion, raccoon, river otter, striped skunk, bat, black-tailed jackrabbit, Cottontail rabbit, badger, beaver, bushy-tailed woodrat, deer mouse, golden-mantled ground squirrel, muskrat, northern pocket gopher, kangaroo rat, porcupine, vole, yellow-bellied marmot

REPTILES: Common garter snake, gopher snake, night snake, racer, striped whipsnake, western rattlesnake, northern alligator lizard, side-blotched lizard, short-horned lizard, western fence lizard, western skink

AMPHIBIANS: Long-toed salamander, pacific treefrog, spadefoot toad, western toad

BIRDS: Canada goose, common merganser, great blue heron, killdeer, ring-necked pheasant, california quail, chukar, American kestrel, golden eagle, northern harrier, osprey, prairie falcon, red-tailed hawk, turkey vulture, barn owl, great horned owl, western screech owl, mourning dove, common nighthawk, northern flicker, white-throated swift, canyon wren, rock wren, bank swallow, cliff swallow, violet-green swallow, common raven, mountain bluebird, Townsends’s solitaire, loggerhead shrike, European starling, brewer’s blackbird, brown-headed cowbird, northern oriole, red-winged blackbird, western meadowlark, chipping sparrow, dark-eyed junco, lazuli bunting, lark sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, house finch, American goldfinch, Say’s phoebe, western kingbird, belted kingfisher

INSECTS: field cricket, darkling beetle, Jerusalem cricket, praying mantis. red velvet ant

PLANTS: Arrowleaved balsamroot, biscuitroot, broadleaf cattail, buckwheat, cheese weed, clasping pepperweed, cocklebur, common thistle,, common yarrow, fiddle neck, golden cleome, grass widow, locoweed, lupine, monkey flower, paintbrush, bigweed amaranth, phlox, rough eyelash, russian thistle, showy penstemon, sotrksbill, sunflower, tumble mustard, wild onion, wooly mullein, white-leaved globemallow, blue wheat bunchgrass, cheatgrass, great basin wild rye, Idaho fescue bunchgrass, big sagebrush, bitterbrush, broom snakeweed, gray rabbitbrush, saltbrush, western juniper

ARACHNIDS: black widow, scorpion

The hills around Hancock hold many fascinating stories interpreted by geologists from around the world. Here are some terms to help you understand what you will see on your hike.
The LAW OF SUPERPOSITION states that in a pile of earth, the soil at the bottom was deposited first and is the oldest. The soil at the top was deposited last and is the youngest.
STRATIGRAPHIC LAYERS of rock and soil make up a hillside. Each was deposited at a different time and can be separately mapped and studied.
List three things that can be learned by studying stratigraphy: __________________________________________
A FORMATION is a set of stratigraphic layers that are grouped together because they differ from the layers above and below them in distinct ways. Formations can be separately mapped and studied. List three ways that formations can differ from each other:
__________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________
The THEORY OF PLATE TECTONICS states that the Earth is covered by a rock crust that is broken up into seven very large plates and a dozen smaller ones. These plates float on liquid rock surrounding the Earth’s core. The plates may collide with, slide alongside, or dive under and over each other. List three possible results of tectonic plates meeting:
__________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________

Rocks teach geologists about the history of the earth. Rocks are divided into three categories, depending on how they were formed. Just like the water and nutrient cycles, all of the compnents of rock are interrelated and are present at each stage of the ROCK CYCLE. Although rocks may change shape, color, or form, the original material remains.
Below each rock pile, write in one of the rock types. Complete the diagram by filling in each arrow with the correct processes. There may be more than one processes per arrow.
Deposition, Erosion, Sedimentary, Metamorphic, Igneous, Pressure, Melting, Heat, Cementation

Describe a physical characteristic of each rock type:
Sedimentary: __________________________________________
Metamorphic: __________________________________________
Igneous: __________________________________________

The Clarno Formation, the oldest formation found around Hancock, has been dated to 55-35 mya. It primarily consists of mud flows (lahars) that started in the Clarno Volcano Range that lined the present day John Day River valley. Unlike today, the Pacific Ocean lay only 100 miles west of Clarno. With the Cascade Mountains, there was no rain shadow effect. Combined with the fact that the world’s climate was over-all warmer, the result was a sub-tropical rain forest. Over 100 inches of rain fell annually, allowing lush, broad-leaved plants to grow thickly over the volcano slopes.
Primitive horses, tapirs,, and bearlike animals shared the forest with catlike carnivores, rhinos, and brontotherium. Forests of palm, walnut, pecan, sycamore, katsura, banana, horsetail, and fern were periodically swept away by mud flows (lahars) that raced down the sides of the Clarno volcanoes, making a jumble of leaves, branches, and trunks in the valleys below.
Today, we see evidence of this life and activity in the colorful fossil soils (paleosols) of Red Hill, the mud cliffs of Equisetum Canyon, the peak of Rancheria Rock, the petrified wood around the Hancock Tree, and the rock pinnacles (hoodoos) of the Palisades.In the back of the notebook, draw a picture of a fossil you found in the Clarno Formation.

The next oldest rocks are part of the John Day Formation, which is 18-35 million years old. About 35 million years ago, a major geologic event took place that changed the climate and the kinds of rock that formed the area. The oceanic plate responsible for the Clarno Volcano Range abruptly changed position. It began to dive (subduct) under Oregon much farther to the west (where it is located today). With this major change, the Clarno Volcano Range became extinct, and the Cascade Range began to grow. Most of the rocks and soil of the John Day Formation came from wind-carried ash erupted from the Cascades.
As the Cascades grew, moisture from the Pacific Ocean was slowly cut off. Also, the Earth’s climate was cooling and the North American plate had moved northward to cooler latitudes. This led to the slow drying out of eastern Oregon.
The land became pockmarked with lakes surrounded by alder, dogwood, elm, maple, grape, rose, and the deciduous Dawn Redwood. This forest was home to saber-tooth cats, mice-deer, Entelodons, oreodonts, and three-toed horses. A long series of ash falls from the new Cascade Range preserved these remains, so we may study them today.

List three main colors of John Day and Clarno palesols.
Circle the one that does not contain fossils.
__________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________
In the back of the notebook, draw a picture of a fossil you found in the John Day Formation.


Towering over the Clarno Basin are the lava flows of the Columbia River Basalt Group. Named for the river that cuts through them, these basaltic lavas form the high cliffs around Hancock and throughout the Pacific NW.

Before these lavas flooded the area, declining eruptions in the Cascades sent less and less ash to eastern Oregon. Erosion took over as rivers carried millions of years worth of sediment to the Pacific Ocean. Then the lavas came and flooded the river valleys and basins. When the eruptions stopped, all the land was buried except high ridges and peaks.

Where did all this lava come from? It probably came from a huge plume (bubble) of magma that slowly rose hundreds of miles up through the Earth’s mantle to the surface. Beginning about 17mya, molten rock from the plume squeezed up through cracks in the surface. Enormous floods of lava spread over the land for tens, even hundreds of miles.

The lavas did not erupt all at once. Eruptions would stop, then a new set of cracks would form, and lava would pour out. This went on for millions of years. In Picture Gorge, 17 different floods are seen.

The time between some lava floods was enough for soil to form and for ecosystems to develop. Plants and animals slowly colonized the new land, only to be destroyed by the next lava flood.

Since then, the climate has gradually become drier. At first, the climate supported elephants, camels, deer, bears, sloths, peccaries, rabbits, rhinos, turtles, dogs, badgers, and beavers. But the drier climate could not support many of these animals. Also, deciduous forests moved to higher elevations while the lower plains developed into grasslands. Over time, eastern Oregon turned into a semi-arid desert with the flora and fauna that we see today.


Fossils are tools that paleontologists use to populate their images of the ancient landscape. By studying fossils and their placement in the stratigraphic column, paleontologists learn what organisms existed, what climates they lived in, and what environmental changes occurred to affect them. Because the information that fossils supply is intimately tied to the layers in which they are found, please do not remove them from their correct stratigraphic layer. Observe, sketch, then leave them.

List three things we can learn about an organism from its fossils:

List four fossilization methods:

List three methods that paleontologists use to date fossils:

According to paleontologists, what is the most important part of a fossil skeleton?
What is the age at which preserved remains are considered fossils?
Are human-made items this old or older considered fossils?


The human history of the Clarno Basin spans thousands of years. Evidence of occupation is found in artifacts excavated by erosion and archaeologists, in rock art at river’s edge and on cliff faces, and in oral histories passed down through generations of local Native Americans.

The John Day country was used by both Northern Paiute and Tenino tribes. Family groups had traditional hunting and gathering lands, but increased their opportunities by marrying into different tribes. If times were difficult, they visited relatives to reduce their group size or to gain access to more resources.

Lives were often lost to severe weather, poor growing seasons, war, and disease. But the people survived by efficiently using the desert’s abundant resources.

In the winter, the desert highlands were home to single family groups who cached (stored) food for the season. When necessary, members left their pit houses to hunt for fresh elk, deer, or rabbit. Time was spent repairing old toos and making new ones.

In the spring, steelhead, biscuitroot, and the resumption of trade routes brought fresh food and materials to the groups. Stores were replenished, extra items were packed, and the groups began to migrate northward to meet for fishing and trading at a traditional spot on the Columbia River. As they traveled throughout the summer, groups met to exchange news, form alliances, and trade items. Fruits and nuts coming into season, as well as migrating animals, were harvested, eaten, prepared, and cached for the next winter.

When the groups met at The Dalles in the fall, they traded goods, caught and dried salmon, and stocked up to return to the highlands for winter.

List three local plants that the native people used for:
Food: _____________________ _____________________ _____________________
Tools: _____________________ _____________________ _____________________

Sheep, horses, and cattle were brought to the Clarno Basin in the late 1860’s to graze on the valley’s once abundant bunch grass. Many ranchers, sheepherders, and settlers have come and gone, leaving behind homesteads, sheepherder’s cabins, and graveyards. Shaniko, once North America’s largest shipping center, is not a ghost town.

Today, ranchers, farmers, and other natural resource managers must deal with the results of past land-use practices such as overgrazing, loss of perennial grass cover, changes in wildfire frequency, increased juniper and sagebrush abundance, decreases in native species such as steelhead, and the introduction of non-native species such as cheatgrass.

The current Pine Creek watershed restoration efforts, designed to enhance fisheries and wildlife habitat, are an example of what can be done to help decrease the impacts of some of our past land-use practices.

List three signs of human history that you have seen on your hikes:

List three ways that introduced species affect an area: