Thursday, July 31, 2014

That Such Places Exist Unsullied...I am Grateful

“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked—as I am surprisingly often—why I bother to get up in the mornings.”

                                                                                                        Richard Dawkins

Geotripper is back! We are home from a glorious journey through British Columbia, Alberta, Montana and Washington. It was a stunning landscape with a fascinating geological story. A detailed series of posts of course will follow, but for today, I am sharing examples of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
Indian Paintbrush in Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Takkakaw Falls, Yoho National Park

Mt. Rundle, Banff National Park

Bow Lake and Glacier, Banff National Park

Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park

Drumheller Badlands in Dinosaur Country

Marmot at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump Park in Alberta

Clements Mountain near Logan Pass in Glacier National Park

Bighorn Sheep at Logan Pass

Rocky Mountain Goats near Logan Pass

Mt. Adams from Sunrise Point, Mt. Rainier National Park

“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” Pico Iyer

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

So Nice When a Plan Comes Together...Chasing Clouds in the Olympics

There's a tenseness that goes with all field studies classes, especially in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. You can't be particularly flexible with the dates when accommodations have been scheduled, and the weather is always a crapshoot. Add in a very ambitious itinerary (rarely a good idea, really), and all kinds of problems are possible.
That's the kind of day we had yesterday. For a variety of reasons, we had two equally important localities that we felt we couldn't miss, but for it to work, we had to have a lot of things go our way: traffic flow patterns, an unusually early start, a very late ferry passage, and vulnerability to the vagaries of the weather.

I love it when a plan comes together (does anyone out there remember what show that came from?). There were overcast skies when we left SeaTac at 6:00AM, but we had no traffic problems, and arrived at the base of the road to Hurricane Ridge. We began to climb, and the clouds fell away!
The view was absolutely spectacular, even more so than my last post, which involved pictures from our reconnaissance trip. Lots of flowers and wildlife to distract us as well.
We then had to find our way to Neah Bay and the Makah Nation Museum, which houses artifacts from the Ozette site, which is sometimes called America's Pompeii. It was a Makah village that was overwhelm and buried by a mudflow, which preserved tens of thousands of artifacts, including wood, fibers and blankets, which are very rarely preserved in this humid environment. They don't allow pictures, so here is a deer instead.

We needed to get back to Port Angeles to catch the late ferry to Victoria. We made it in time, got everyone on board, and we pulled into our hotel. A long day, but with wonderful sights, and a terrifying itinerary that actually worked. But we don't intend to make a practice of it!

Of course, as if to provide a complete contrast, today we had rain, heavy traffic, and had to reroute the entire itinerary, despite being one of the "easy" days with only 70 miles of driving! The road ahead is going to be interesting, as there were heavy rains and flooding in the interior around Kamloops, where we are headed tomorrow. Adventure awaits!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I'm Sorry, This Trench is Full; Those Rocks Will Have to Go Elsewhere

Looking south from Hurricane Ridge into the heart of Olympic National Park
There will be few detailed blogs these next few weeks; I'm on the road leading our Canada/Pacific Northwest field class, and I will be just a bit busy. But I can't help putting up a few photos here and there. In today's pictures we see what happens when subduction zones get out of control, so to speak.

Subduction zones are places where oceanic crust sinks back into the Earth's mantle to be recycled at some future time as magma and lava. The mud and sand that blankets the coast and seafloor often will be scraped off against the edge of the continent to form a highly deformed and sheared deposit called an accretionary wedge. Much of the time, wedge deposits remain underwater or show as low-lying islands, but sometimes the rock gets pushed up into mountain ranges parallel to the coast and subduction zone. California's Coast Ranges resulted in part from such activity, but at Olympic National Park in Washington State, the results are nothing short of spectacular. The mountains have been pushed up into a series of peaks exceeding 7,000 feet in elevation, and with the intense amounts of snowfall, there are a surprising number of active glaciers.
Looking north from Hurricane Ridge across the Juan de Fuca Strait to Vancouver Island
Our trip reconnaissance this week took us to Hurricane Ridge, which has now become a newcomer to my list of the most incredible places I have ever stood. The view is astounding (when conditions are clear). We could look deep in the heart of the park at Mount Olympus, and could see north across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria Island. A marvelous place!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Nation's Birds at the Northwestern Corner of the Lower 48

Just a nice moment from my day. We were scouting out our impending field studies route with a trip to the Makah Nation's lands near Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of the lower 48 states. The Makah have a museum housing artifacts from America's version of Pompeii, a village that was overwhelmed by a mudflow about 500 years ago. The fine-grained mud protected and preserved fabrics and wood artifacts, which are usually quickly decayed in this wet environment.

We were driving the beautiful road along the coast when I saw this pair of Bald Eagles on the tidal flats. We have a few eagles back home in California, but I've only seen a couple of them. It was kind of a neat moment.

We meet our students in a couple of days, and we'll be hitting the highway with an exploration of western Canada and the Pacific Northwest. You can no doubt expect pictures soon!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ah, the Life of the Mariner! Well, Maybe...

Ah, the open sea! The adventures of the water world of planet Earth! The mysteries of the deep! Yes, it's the mariner's life for me. Well maybe, maybe not. It's hard to develop a real opinion on the basis of a single ferry ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It sure was pretty, in any case.
The Port Angeles-Victoria ferry crosses the Juan de Fuca Strait that separates the Olympic Peninsula from Vancouver Island on the the Pacific Coast between the United States and Canada. Although the peninsula and the island are both situated in the same geographic location (the western coast of North America) and are only a few miles apart, they have few similarities. The Olympic Peninsula is composed of seafloor sediment and ocean crust that has been shoved to very high elevations by the Cascadia subduction zone. Vancouver Island has a sliver of some of these rocks, but is mostly composed of metamorphic rocks of the Wrangellia Terrane, a collection of Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks that formed someplace else, maybe thousands of miles away, and which was slammed (geologically speaking) into the west coast by subduction zone and transform fault movements.

We are out doing a bit of reconnaissance for our field studies class that meets next week. We got out to the Sooke region along the south island for a look at the Crescent terrane, and some nice erosional potholes along the Sooke River. Details to follow in later posts!
Oh, and there were lagomorphs too! Cute ones. We passed dozens of them grazing in a freeway median of all places (no, I didn't stop on the freeway for the picture; this one was at East Sooke Regional Park).
The nice thing about traveling this far north is that the sun sets late (this statement does not apply in winter, though!). We had this wonderful view of the Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca around 8:30, and still had an hour of light.

I guess I'm still a landlubber though...I love the solid ground and the rocks too much.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Road Goes Ever Ever On: Getting Into the Field Again!


Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were an important part of my youth, in part because Tolkien constructed a vividly real world in which he set his stories. The mountains of Middle-Earth, whether the Misty Mountains, the Lone Mountain, or the jagged cliffs surrounding Mordor, all seemed to evoke real places that I noted as I grew and traveled more and more. The poetry was pretty cool too, and I think of this poem whenever I set out on a new journey. Can anyone see the Misty Mountains north of Moria in a picture like that above (out of Banff?)
I love taking people to new places they have never seen, and helping them to understand the sometimes mysterious forces that produce these awesome landscapes. We don't usually have to battle orcs and goblins, but there ARE mosquitoes, tourons, and the occasional bear.
What I like better is to see new places and to get to know them. That's why this week is a bit special, because it combines the two. I'm taking our students to some familiar places to me, like Mt. Rainier, the Channeled Scablands, Glacier National Park, and Banff. But I'm also going to be discovering some places that are new to me as well: Olympic National Park, Vancouver Island, the Sea to the Sky Highway out of Vancouver and Whistler. I'm leaving this morning on a scouting expedition, and I'm feeling as excited as any of my students.

Posting will be off and on, as we will occasionally be in some isolated regions, but I'll certainly try to put up some pictures from the road. Take care, all!
Does this resemble Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, at least to those with a pre-Peter Jackson image in their minds?

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Supervolcano" Causes Road to Melt! Hmm, About That...

"Parts of Yellowstone National Park closed after Massive Supervolcano beneath it melts road!" screams the headline in a typical treatment of a modest story out of one of our nation's premier national parks. Let's take the fact that there was a modest sized earthquake a few months ago, and add a video of bison running away from (actually trotting towards) Yellowstone, and you have the makings of a huge non-story. The world is going to end because the "supervolcano" is going to explode and kill us all!

Is the story wrong? In a tortuous sort of way, the story is "accurate". Yes, a road was closed "between" Old Faithful and Madison Junction, insinuating that a major throughway is blocked. It's actually a small side road. The melting of the asphalt was "caused by the massive supervolcano". Technically this is true. All of the geothermal features at Yellowstone are caused by the magma chamber of the "supervolcano",  which heats the groundwater, turning it to steam, which rises through the crust to melt asphalt. But asphalt can melt on really hot days in the desert too.

I don't know...I would think that the people who live and work on top of the gigantic "supervolcano" (more accurately termed a rhyolite caldera) would be a little more worried about their well-being if the volcano were about to blow. Instead, here is the original news release from the park: "Firehole Lake Drive Temporarily Closed" . You can just feel the barely restrained panic in the air... 

Geyser erupts on top of massive supervolcano!! Note the extreme panic in the crowd!
Yellowstone is a fascinating place  with a violent geologic history. But the last eruption was 70,000 years ago. Someday, most likely long after we are all dead and gone, it will erupt again. For the time being, nothing much is happening except for boiling and steaming water. Go see it. And try to ignore the screaming headlines, and enjoy the fact that we have such a fascinating place to see and visit.