Mima Mounds for Cloudspotters

Strange Sightings: Mounds of Mystery and Flying Saucer Clouds.  
    This past Sunday I went cloud watching at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve just south of Olympia. Most visitors to this 637-acre site are there to see and the mysterious naturally formed earthen mounds that cover this Puget prairie grassland. The landscape is strange to be sure, so strange that scientists have been unable to determine exactly what caused these mounds to form.
    Theories of origin include seismic activity, wind, retreating glaciers, swelling and shrinking clays, and (a favorite of the press) burrowing of pocket gophers. Most people discount the gopher theory, but it's fun to see wide-eyed children imagine the out-sized creature living in these mounds, many up to 8 feet tall and 30 feet across.
  While gophers do burrow in the these mounds (and everywhere else in Thurston County!), they are not likely to be the architects of Mima Mounds. Dissected mounds show they are composed mostly of loose sand, fine gravel, and decaying plants. These mounds are the official type specimen for other such mounds found elsewhere in the U.S., China, and Australia. They may be called mima mounds or pimple mounds, hog-wallow mounds, or prairie mounds.
   But last Sunday, I was out to see the clouds without the distraction of the wildflowers that blanket the prairie here in April and May. Flowers would have kept my gaze earthward, not skyward where the clouds were processing by. I spent well over hour strolling the trails and lolling at the preserve, watching one large cloud band take shape ever so slowly.
Lower altocumulus lenticularis ("lennies" or "flying saucer clouds") and higher cirrocumulus clouds.
   Mima Mounds makes a great cloud-watching site because this open prairie is carefully preserved through prescribed burns, eradication of invasive Scots broom, and removal of aggressive Douglas-firs (a species thriving on the land surrounding the preserve).
A distinct band of altocumulus clouds, perhaps 30 miles wide, stretched across the sky .
   At home later, I went to the National Weather Service website and saw this exact cloud on their satellite imagery. The cloud was skirting the edge of the high-pressure system we've enjoyed earlier this week. Fun!
  And this morning, heard on KPLU radio a report on Mima Mounds. Fun!

Click here for more information and directions to the preserve.