Kamiak Butte and Substrate Quartzite

By: Kaitlyn Behrendt

Kamiak Butte is an interesting location with many different aspects from the ground up, from starting at the base of where the Butte originated, all the way to the wildlife that surrounds it now, much is to be explored and deciphered. Before understanding the many biotic pieces of Kamiak Butte that all interact with each other, the formation of the Butte in a geological sense is important to understand. When discussing Kamiak Butte in a geological way, the main key word to focus on is Quartzite. Quartzite is the main rock form that the Butte is made of, and with this information the ecological connections starting at the ground shows the growth Kamiak Butte has encountered over many years. 

What is Quartzite

Quartzite is a type of metamorphic rock made of quartz (King, 2019). This means that to form quartzite, it started as quartz and overcame changes from high pressure or heat over a long period of time that are physical and or chemical. An important characteristic of quartzite is that it is tough and durable (King, 2019). Another important fact of quartzite is that it is created when events such as mountain formations happen (King, 2019). In simpler terms, Quartzite is created from sand and silt that has eroded, coming together, to create something stronger when erosion usually has a negative connotation in the environment. Quartzite is what makes up Kamiak Butte, which is an interesting concept to understand as we look at how this relates to the Columbia River Flood basalts. 

Quartzite pictured at Kamiak Butte

What is a Flood Basalt and What is the Columbia River Flood Basalts?

A flood basalt is an eruption that occurred which created layers of mafic rock over the surface. According to an interactive article from Michigan Tech University, flood basalts are “…said to be the result of mantle convection through hot spots, which occur sporadically in time and place” (Rose, Michigan Tech University).  This geologic event is referred to as CRBG, Columbia River Basalt Group. This is the connection to how the Palouse Formation was created. The Columbia River Flood basalts were created from lava flow, and according to USGS, these basalts are “…one of the best-preserved continental flood basalt province on Earth…” (USGS). These come from effusive eruptions, and are in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The Columbia River Flood basalts, more than likely as described from USGS, came from a hot spot where upwelling was occurring (USGS). This geologic event is not only interesting, but extremely awe-inspiring in the amount of individual lava flows that occurred. Over 300 individual lava flow events covered Washington, Idaho, and Oregon (Oregon State University, 2021). Dr. Peters from the geology department of WSU describes how the basalts were set in layers from the floods (Peters, 10). 

Nick Zentner a geology instructor from Central Washington University, describes how everything was buried by the lava flows, and because of this the mountains already present were submerged by the basalt (Zentner2017). The rock that the lava covered is still there, making a connection with Kamiak Butte because it uniquely is a structure that is not completely covered by the lava.  

Kamiak Butte’s Connection to Quartzite & Flood Basalt:

Kamiak Butte is very unique when it comes to its creation. According to (Lenssen, Ice Age Flood Explorer), Kamiak Butte is, “made up of mostly two types of rock: quartzite, possibly from around the time of the Cambrian era, and a mix of undivided agrilitesiltite and phyllite.” (Lenssen, Ice Age Flood Explorer).  When discussing the Columbia River Flood basalts and Kamiak Butte, the Butte stands tall above where lava flows occurred. In a field trip guide from the WSU geology department, Dr. Peters describes, “After becoming compacted and cemented to form sandstone, the rocks remained buried. At a later date they underwent relatively mild metamorphism, at low temperatures and pressures, becoming quartzite” (Peters, 9). Dr. Peters also describes how the Butte was a mountain before the basalts (Peters, 9).  As the Butte was being pushed up above other mountainous structures, quartzite emerged above the lava flows of the flood basalts. As this happened, the quartzite of Kamiak Butte was already at a higher elevation than how high the flood basalts were covering. 

Basalts are layered geologic structures and because of Kamiak Butte’s quartzite structure, there was resilience towards further erosion, which is the reason to its uplifting, standing above the flood basalts. A similar structure in the Palouse to Kamiak Butte is Steptoe Butte. Both are similar in that the way they were created, with quartzite being the main rock type. Kamiak Butte is one of the few structures from this geologic event that was uplifted and thus not overtaken by basalt, but still made of quartzite created long before flood basalts were even deposited.

Overview and more Information

To sum up the main points, Kamiak Butte is a structure of quartzite unique to the Palouse. It is an interesting geologic site because of its uplifting prior to the Columbia River Flood basalt events making it stand above the lava flows. From the knowledge about quartzite, the types of soils that come from Kamiak Butte also have an interesting history. The resulting soil of the Butte is a cause and affect relationship from its quartzite structure. Kamiak Butte is such a unique place in the Palouse that residents and tourists alike are able to find an area that does not contain basalt, but rock formed long before the events of the lava floods. 

Follow the guide from Dr. E. K. Peters in the WSU geology department to have a step by step instruction on how to explore Kamiak Butte!  


Bush, J.H., Garwood, D.L. (2006) Bedrock Geologic Map of the Pullman 7 ½ Minute  Quadrangle, Whitman County, Washington. Palousebasin.org.  http://palousebasin.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/PULLMAN_DESCRIPTION.pdf 

(2021) Columbia River Flood Basalts. Oregon State University.  http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/columbia-river-flood-basalts 

Hooper, P.R, Webster, G.D. (1982) Geology of the Pullman, Moscow West, Colton, and  Uniontown 7 ½ Minute Quadrangles, Washington and Idaho. State of Washington  Department of Natural Resources.  https://www.dnr.wa.gov/publications/ger_gm26_geol_map_pullman_moscow_colton_un iontown_62k.pdf 

King, H.M. (2019). Quartzite: The Metamorphic Rock Composed Almost Entirely of Quartz.  Geology.com. https://geology.com/rocks/quartzite.shtml#properties 

Lenssen, S. Not all Buttes are the Same. Ice Age Flood Explorer. Accessed 14 February 2021 https://floodexplorer.org/items/show/79#:~:text=Kamiak%20Butte%2C%20specifically %2C%20is%20made,undivided%20agrilite%2C%20siltite%20and%20phyllite. 

Peters, E.K. From Opals and Ancient Mountaintops to Ice Age Lakes. Washington State  University Geology Department.  https://research.libraries.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/2098/Opals_to_Mountain _Tops.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y 

Rose, W. I. Flood BasaltsMichigan Tech University.  http://www.geo.mtu.edu/KeweenawGeoheritage/BlackLavas/Flood_Basalts.html 

Schlosser, W.E. (2020). Lithosphere & Flood Basalts in the Pacific Northwest [Video]. https://youtu.be/xVkQ9ldsrSw 

USGS. Columbia River Basalt Group Stretches from Oregon to Idaho. Cascades Volcano  Observatory.  https://www.usgs.gov/observatories/cascades-volcano- observatory/columbia-river-basalt-group-stretches-oregon-idaho 

USGS. What is Metamorphic Rock? USGS. https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-are-metamorphic- rocks-0?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products 

Zentner, N. (2017). Flood Basalts of the Pacific Northwest [Video]. Central Washington  University. Retrieved from Washington State University Natural Resource Ecology  Blackboard. https://youtu.be/VQhjkemEyUo