Sunday, June 29, 2008

Long Time Gone....

Hello all! It was hard, but I just spent two weeks in the wilds with a grand total of one hour of internet time, mostly to deal with student concerns back home. Needless to say, no blogging took place. Great trip though, with 22 students seeing the Colorado Plateau, most of them for the first time. Sights included the obvious, Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, and some of the less obvious, like Cedar Mesa, Hovenweep, Canyons of the Ancients, Topaz Mountain, and Great Basin National Park.

I will be slowly catching up with news this week, and I will try to post a few of my favorite photos. I am starting with one of my fondest moments: we took a night hike under a full moon to White House Ruins at Canyon De Chelly National Monument. The class was a joint effort with our archaeology department, so the picture encompasses the big picture: massive cliffs of late Paleozoic De Chelly Sandstone, ancestral Pueblo ruins, and a mystical night sky. It was a great moment.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Accretionary Wedge #10: Geology and Art

I almost missed the month's version of the Accretionary Wedge, hosted by John at Geological Musings in the Taconic Mountains! I am leaving for the Colorado Plateau VERY early in the morning, and will have very limited web access for the next two weeks. I feel like I will be missing a lot in the geoblogosphere, and fully expect to find a dozen or more geology blogs starting up as students around the country become inspired by their time in the field. I will be anxious to see what comes up in the next few weeks!

The Accretionary Wedge topic for the month, Geology and Art is a great one, and one that deserves a great deal more thought, but with the crush of packing, I can only offer a couple of thoughts off the top of my head...

The best geology-related song: Landslide by Stevie Nicks and the Dixie Chicks (and probably others). I love the song on the merits, but it is nice to see a geological process used as a metaphor for drastic life changes.

"I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
till the landslide brought me down....

Well, I've been afraid of changing
'cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I'm getting older too"

I guess I must be a little sentimental these weeks, having reached my fifties, and watching my son walk down the aisle with his wonderful new wife, and watching my daughter achieve success in her field, even if it isn't geology ;).

The Best in Painted Media: The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci
My wife, the art teacher, tells me that Da Vinci was one of the earliest painters who made effective use of natural settings in his art. So much is going on in the painting of the Mona Lisa, including the rocky peaks and meandering rivers. I am not all that well-versed in art, although in my travels with my wife, I have certainly developed an appreciation for art history, just as she has developed an appreciation for geology. For that matter, so did Da Vinci.

We had the privilege and opportunity a few years back to see the Louvre, and because we arrived very early in the day, we were able to linger in front of the Mona Lisa for much longer than would be normal for such an iconic image. It was a moving experience, one of many in the three days we had in Paris.

It has nothing to do with anything else, but did you know there is an entire 12th-century medieval castle buried underneath one of the wings of the Louvre, and that it has been excavated to the extent that you can walk around and through it? I had no idea when I walked into the museum that I would be exploring a castle too!

Hazards of Geology Field Work

Thanks to Magma Cum Laude for the excellent post on what we learn from geotrips! In sort of the same vein I offer the comprehensive list of everything that can go wrong on a geo-outing. I stole the idea some time back from a magazine ad for a water purification system, but I have continued to add new hazards as they emerge. I would be glad to add some of yours! If Murphy's Law applies, maybe by knowing every possible thing that could happen, maybe we can avoid them (fat chance...).

Here they are, in no particular order:

Geologic Hazards
volcanic eruption
sudden geyser eruptions
dark cold twisting confusing cave
falling stalactites
jutting stalagmites
falling rocks
slippery rocks
loose rock

Pseudoscientific and Mythological Hazards
alien abduction
trolls, dragons and elves

Road Hazards
busted hose, fanbelt
dead van battery
broken exhaust manifold
flat tire
multiple flat tires on same vehicle
boy scouts

Technology Hazards
holes in rock sample bag
flying rock chips
knife accident
helicopter crash
bear trap
vertical mineshafts

Bodily Hazards
ptomaine poisoning
heat exhaustion
skin stuck on seat vinyl
body appendages caught in van doors
broken limbs
Ill-fitting shoes
brain cramps
muscle cramps
bad hair day
1st degree burns
2nd degree burns
3rd degree burns
body odor
mountain sickness
salmonella poisoning

Psychological Hazards
personality conflicts
psychotic episodes
militia uprisings
suncrazed new-agers

Meteorological Hazards
high humidity
ozone depletion
thin ice
sheet ice
global warming

Bureaucracy and Logistics
lost students
No fee waiver
No campsite reservations
group campgrounds
Grouchy park rangers
Officious park rangers
Really ballistic park rangers
no outhouses
no toilet paper
not enough TP

Extraterrestrial Hazards
cosmic radiation
comet collision
black holes
UV radiation

Animal Hazards
deer-car collisions (see also Road Hazards)
Beasties with large nasty teeth
cone-nosed kissing bugs
red army ant attack
marauding raccoons
flying cow chips
territorial grouse
small snakes
big snakes
multiple snakes
buffalo stampedes
black widows
alligators (Permian)
crocodiles (also Permian)
no-see- ums
waterborne microorganisms
dust mites
cattle stampedes
amorous moose
pack of coyotes
skinny dippers
Tyrannosaurus Pecks (large aggressive roosters)

Plant and Protists Hazards
poison ivy, oak, sumac
protruding roots

Thursday, June 12, 2008

When the Slickrock is Really Slick!

Two days to go before we embark on our journey to the Colorado Plateau!

Today's montage is from one of my favorite moments in 2005...a huge cloudburst on the trail to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. The first is a view from near the end of the trail during the height of the storm, including nearby lightning strikes. The second is just after the storm passed. Within twenty minutes or so, the sandstone was already drying out and the setting sun caused Delicate Arch to glow. It is hard to describe the adrenaline, the odors of wet desert vegetation, and the utter wildness of the moment, since the rain had driven away all but a few stubborn stragglers like myself.

Arches National Park has one of the largest concentrations of natural arches in the world, somewhere around 300, depending on the specific definition of 'arch'. They formed in the Jurassic Entrada Sandstone, which was deformed and jointed by rising salt domes. It is one of the most beautiful parks on the plateau. A classic book on the region is "Desert Solitaire" by the late Edward Abbey. Published in the late 1960's, it has stood the test of time, and I highly recommend it if you ever travel out this way.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Two Graduation Messages...

I guess that commencement exercises are just about done for the year (I heard several local high schools on our football field this week). I have to admit that although proud of the accomplishment of my new daughter-in-law (Magna Cum Laude!), the graduation ceremony was, to put it gently, uninspiring. I wish I could have heard the following addresses (courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle):

"I hope you'll remember, during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing naive about your impulse to change this world. Because all it takes is one act of service - one blow against injustice - to send forth that tiny ripple of hope that Robert Kennedy spoke of."

Senator Barack Obama,
May 28, 2008, commencement address at Wesleyan University

"Always remember, my good friends, that there is one sin we must never commit and it is to humiliate another person or to allow another person to be humiliated in our presence without us screaming and shouting and protesting."

Writer-activist Elie Wiesel,
June 15, 1997, commencement address at DePaul University

Digging Dinosaurs for Fun and Profit!

If this photo looks a little ragged, it is a scan from a pre-digital era, those golden olden days of about 1996 or 1997. It was one of the more exciting moments of my geology life, when we discovered a neck vertebrae of a Camarasaur in the wilds outside Green River, Utah. Every kid imagines discovering a dinosaur, and most get in trouble at some point trying to dig up Mom's roses trying to find a Velociraptor or a T-Rex in the back yard. I have come to realize over the years that the geologists and paleontologists that I know are those kids who never outgrew that obsession. It was certainly true in my case.

We pretty much tried to do the right thing. We weren't sure at first that we were uncovering bone. As we outlined a bit more we realized that it indeed was, and (barely) resisted the urge to dig up the whole thing. We covered it over, mapped out the location, and reported the find to the Utah authorities. They met us the next year, and we showed them the site. The next year when we came back, the fossil was gone! We feared the worst, thinking that illegal bone hunters had plundered the site.

To our relief, we found that the state had excavated bone a few weeks earlier, and eventually they were kind enough to give the bone to our local natural history museum as a permanent loan, so local kids can see what the real thing looks like. It is the only dinosaur sample in the collection.

I have been lucky enough to travel widely, and I have seen some incredible dinosaur exhibitions, but there are few opportunities for our local kids to see dinosaurs and other fossil specimens. A few weeks ago, I found out that a local doctor has an extensive collection of spectacular fossils, including a great many ammonites, trilobites, sea-going reptiles and several Chinese dinosaurs (I believe it was a monoclonius or protoceratops; it was a quick perusal). I understand that the owner often makes his collection available to local school children. In a sense it is a shame that the only chance our local kids have to see these treasures is that they are in a private collection, and not a widely accessible public museum (for what it is worth, we are trying to remedy this with a new Community Science Center that will be constructed in about three years).

I bring up this whole subject because of a reference to an article in the Guardian about the conflict between rich private collectors and financially strapped museums. We can't offer our local students a rich fossil experience, so in our area it is the private collectors that take up the slack. When I mentioned the collection to our local Paleontology professor, she expressed some anger that such specimens were in private hands, and not on public display. So I was left kind of conflicted about the appropriateness of these private collections. One of the arguments in the article is that without private for-profit excavations is that these specimens will otherwise be eroded away and lost to science entirely.

What do you all think?

The Nose on my Face...

One more photo from Yosemite this week; I admit it is not very geological, but I had one of the moments on my trip last Wednesday. Have you had the experience of seeing a place repeatedly over the years and not noticing something really spectacular? I don't know if I just missed the right time of year, or am simply dense about all things biological, but I never noticed these beautiful flowers before. They are Western Azaleas, and they were growing right along the trail at Happy Isles. Enjoy....

I am just days away from embarking on the Colorado Plateau adventure with twenty or so students. I am anxious to get on the road, even if I will only have limited internet access. I will try to survive without it...

Monday, June 9, 2008

An Alternate View of Upper Yosemite Falls

If you haven't been to Yosemite Valley in a few years, you may be startled by some of the changes. The bus and auto parking lot at Lower Yosemite Falls has been removed, and the site is being returned to nature. A network of paved trails offer some new and spectacular views of the Upper and Lower falls, including this one from last week. The falls were full and were being blown about by high winds.

Yosemite is a beautiful place. Don't let the crowds scare you away; a midweek visit is not so bad, and a short hike in any direction will often generate some solitude.

Posts will be sporadic for a few weeks; like many of the other posters in the geoblogosphere, it is field season, and I will soon be on the road to the Colorado Plateau. If you REALLY miss my posts, check out the new geoblogosphere roster by Chris at Highly Allochthonous to find some great alternatives. The field is growing fast!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Revisiting Yosemite

It's the week after my son's wedding, and relatives were in town from far away who wanted to see Yosemite. In my Under The Volcano series a few weeks back I was concentrating on the less famous localities in Yosemite Valley that often are missed as people stare at the very famous icons of El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and Yosemite Falls. Silver Fox had a nice set of wind-in-action shots of the Nevada desert; it was windy in our region too, and so I offer a view of Upper Yosemite Falls in a position I had never seen before: practically diagonal. Click on the picture to get the full view...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Classic Papers in Geology - A Geoblogosphere Carnival

Shutter Ridge on the San Andreas Fault near Pinnacles National Monument

Following the lead of Brian at Clastic Detritus, who followed in turn an idea at Skulls in the Stars, I offer a few comments on my personal take on classic papers in geology. There are so many great choices, research presented by people who were so close to grasping the meaning of the next great paradigm, that the researchers who followed were able to connect the dots and see the big picture. The stories of the larger battles over deep time, uniformitarianism, evolution, and plate tectonics are fascinating, and they color so much of what I teach in my classes.

I had a professor who insisted that we read the original works (in the original dusty volumes; we had a GREAT library at Pomona College) in order to better appreciate the mindset of these creative and intuitive people who made the giant leaps in our field. I have to admit that as a college student, I was lazy, and just wanted to know what they learned, and get to the test. My attitude has since changed, and I occasionally go back to some of the original sources to remind myself how our geological knowledge was gained, often at great cost.

In California and the west, extraordinary advances have taken place in the earth sciences, due to the variety of plate boundaries, and the spectacular exposures of bedrock in the desert regions that lie east of the Cascades, Sierra and Peninsular Ranges. A wonderful resource in this respect is a GSA publication from 1999 called Classic Cordillean Concepts: A View from California edited by Eldridge Moores, Doris Sloane and the late Dottie Stout. They collected the original works, going back to the Gold Rush days, and published them along with some present day analysis of how our understanding of these concepts has evolved.

I had a personal connection to one of the classic papers: the 1953 work by Hill and Dibblee,
San Andreas, Garlock, and Big Pine faults, California; a study of the character, history, and tectonic significance of their displacements. This paper was the first to describe huge lateral offsets along the San Andreas, as much as 350 miles, in a time when a single mile of lateral offset was controversial. By demonstrating that vast amounts of displacement had occurred, Hill and Dibblee helped to lay the groundwork for the eventual acceptance of plate tectonics.

Thomas Dibblee (1911-2004) was an extraordinary geologist who personally mapped around a quarter of the state of California. His exploits are legendary. I met a geologist who accompanied Dibblee on a mapping trip, and Dibblee, even at an advanced age, more or less ran along outcrops, recording the strike and dip in his notes without using a compass. The geologist couldn't believe he could do it and whipped out the old Brunton, and found that Dibblee's notes were spot on.

Mason Hill worked his entire career at Richland (later ARCO), and collaborated with Dibblee on a number of studies related to the search for oil fields in central California. The 1953 paper was an outgrowth of that work. In retirement, Mason was a constant presence at Pomona College where I was an undergraduate, and later a technician. I was able to occasionally assist in a small way with some of his research. His 1981 GSA paper included a map of the San Andreas system that he let me design. It was the first time I ever saw anything of my work in print. Mason was kind enough to write me a letter of recommendation for graduate school, and I have to think that given my less than stellar grades, it carried enough weight to gain me entrance to a good program. It was a privilege to work with him.

Geoblogosphere Gets Some Press!

Kudos to the ground-breakers and trail blazers of the geoblogosphere for getting recognition in the dead-tree press: the AAPG Explorer and Geotimes (thanks Chris for the links)! Some of you worked for several years in relative obscurity in a corner of blogworld, but now that world has expanded.

I think what I really like about the geoblogosphere is the fact that you have broken a certain stereotype of bloggers in general, especially in the political world: a bunch of pale dudes who never go outside, living in their parent's basement with bags of Cheetos scattered about. It is a delight to see everyday life from a geologist's perspective in far-flung parts of the world such as South Africa, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, and many of my favorite places closer to my corner of the world, including the Colorado Plateau country, the Basin and Range and California (here, here, and here). And with Tuff Cookie's, Callan's and Ron's help, I am learning a great deal about the mid and eastern United States, where I have spent far less time. There are many more great sites, and I always wake up looking forward to seeing the latest news in the geo-world. One more site I would suggest is See what happens when a geologist spends six months traveling the world...

Great job to all! There are still some blank spots on the geoblogosphere world...I would like to see some more of you starting and maintaining blogs on the earth sciences. And the puns. I love the geology puns. Keep them coming!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Awe-Inspiring....Great Job, NASA!

I need to echo the comments of Chris at Highly Allochthonous about the extraordinary picture of the descent of the Phoenix onto the surface of Mars. I have written before about the incredible gift that technology has given all of us, especially in our ability to see beyond the confines of our own small planet. This is a simply astounding picture...