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Moving Beyond Postcards

An experienced traveler has to move onward and upward when it comes to his appreciation of the outdoors. The postcard-worship of the newbie/vacationer is no longer of much use to him. Many people are uncomfortable with statements like this because they think they are negative. Was it "negative" when you graduated kindergarten and were promoted to first grade?

A year ago I experienced an unusually powerful example of "aesthetic evolution" near Socorro, NM. Explaining it seemed like a big project. And we all know what people do when they are dreaming things up into a big project. They procrastinate. Since I returned to this area recently let's see if it I can knock it down to size, this time around. 

I went into a certain area along a dirt road. My expectations were very low. In fact I remember henpecking myself about the choice of road and the waste of gasoline. It was a complete surprise to encounter some sexy and naked "structural geology."

It's an RV blog cliche to rhapsodize about geology in other contexts, such as red rocks in Utah. Red certainly is a nice color and very impressive if you are looking at it for the first time. But after standing there (like a dope) looking at red rocks, you must eventually admit that it was red rock 265 million years ago, yesterday, tomorrow, and probably hundreds of millions of years from now. So what are you supposed to do about it, exactly?

Anything static quickly becomes boring regardless of how postcard-ish it seems, initially. That is why many people love rivers; fast running wildlife, horses, and dogs; a trickle of water dripping out of a rock in arid country; and rapidly developing clouds and storms. It's also why some people (like me) consider photo cliches like mountains, oceans, wildflowers, and sunsets to be boring after a few seconds. 

If you agree with any of that, even just for the sake of argument, you must wonder how I can see geology as interesting. Talk about "static"! Layers of rocks have been standing there with the same stupid look on their faces for hundreds of millions of years, Ice Ages and volcanoes excepted. 

Actually though, I'm admiring "structural geology": the change of rather uniform layers of sedimentary rocks into photogenic topographic sculptures by means of differential erosion from water, in a dry country! Trying to imagine those processes does not seem boring and static. 

How did these weird shapes in the landscape get here?

At first they seemed like volcanic dikes, which are vertical wall-like extrusions of lava out of cracks in the earth. If the surrounding material erodes away, the "wall" is left by itself. My favorite example is near Shiprock, west of Farmington, NM. St. George/Hurricane UT also have some fine examples.

But a hike revealed that those wall-like structures in the second-to-last photo were sedimentary layers that were upended at exactly 90 degrees. How does that happen?:

But whatever you do, don't think about the stupid color or pretty shapes -- think about the process that might have created these strange structures.

At the bottom of the arroyo the rocks became rounded. That's the usual thing in arroyos. It makes a great impression on you to be stepping on sharp rocks and cacti, while feeling guilty about how all this must feel on your dog's paws. And then, over a distance of a step or two, the rocks turn smooth and white:

Perhaps the soft curves in arroyos are easier to believe if we stop thinking of them as being "rounded by water", and think about a water-borne slurry of abrasive rock particles wearing the bigger rocks smooth.

No wonder I procrastinated a year. This post is already long. Part 2 will wrap this up with what I experienced this year. 


Newagenomad said…
Been enjoying your blog for sometime. Great pics and educational:)
Very kind of you, Nomad. I went over and looked at your blog. It seems that we have similar "habitats." Maybe we'll run into each other one of these days.
XXXXX said…
I have no problem seeing geology as interesting. PROCESS is much more fascinating than the final product which, as you point out, is what often captures the imagination.
I suppose you are often near mountains which so easily lends itself to this study. I am close to the ocean and the plentiful clifts here also present great opportunity. Recently I have been captivated by the process required to produce the agate that is so plentiful here. The beauty of each rock, each as different and unique as each human being that walks the earth, is a fascinating study. To hold one of these rocks and try to imagine its long journey, thousands of years really, all that had to happen in order to produce this rock in this particular way, is what I think you are referring to.
Another fascinating aspect to this is that it is our history as well. As products of evolution forces, as children of this planet Earth, our history is not much different. Our bodies are composed of the chemicals present on earth and all came together, woven in such a way, to produce each individual person.

George, once again you offer a comment that really should come with a PayPal donation box, as you carve out a career for yourself as a professional commenter.
Boonie, Google Laramide Orogeny. I suspect it's the real reason you see the layers upended like that. They were pushed up by deep tectonic processes, the same ones responsible for many of the numerous anticlines and synclines in our part of the West. Or perhaps it was the Sevier, I'm not as familier with where you're at as in Utah and Colorado.

As for redrock, come on up and I'll take you out and we can discuss the processes that resulted in the many different shades and colors of red (iron) - for example, the beautiful Cutler Formation, which was originally the Ancestral Rockies of 300 mya. There's lots to learn about what happened from the color also, it's not just from sedimentary structures and layers. Color can be important. It's also beautiful.
Anonymous said…
Too bad you are not able to see beauty for what it is, not just how it was conceived. I can picture you looking at the Mona Lisa, wondering it if is oil base or water base paint. Answer: Oil base :)
XXXXX said…
I'm always amazed at those who feel brave to offer cutting criticism under the cloak of "anonymous". It seems, Anonymous, whoever you are, that YOU have been the one to think about how the Mona Lisa was conceived. Caught your hand in the cookie jar, my friend.
As for me, I often wondered what the big fuss was about the Mona Lisa. It was on my list to seek out at the Louvre and, after seeing in, I can only conclude "Different strokes for different folks."
Now, now, George, a blogger who writes anonymously can hardly object to anonymous comments. And it wasn't that "cutting."

I don't expect "attaboys" from commenters. Of course I want them to focus on ideas and information, rather than make ad hominem remarks.

In fact, Anonymous is correct: I DO consider the Mona Lisa "result" to be completely uninteresting, but would find the technique of the artist at least somewhat interesting.
XXXXX said…
Yes, perhaps you are correct in that it wasn't that cutting. I am guilty of suspecting that this person wandered over from another website as the first "brave" soul to cast the first stone at the sinner. The frenzy of the lynch mob reached its crescendo over there and it became necessary to disperse some of this energy. I hope I'm wrong.
I do not understand why there is a battle here. Process vs. Product. One is not better than the other. I do not care, nor want to know, what preceded the goings-on elsewhere as I am more interested in the topic itself.
The truth is, IMHO, that product is much easier to understand. It is tangible. But the waters are murky. And to avoid or diminish process is to fail to understand how the product was created in the first place. It is also to fail to understand how any product can ultimately be improved.

I do apologize for any leaps in judgment regarding any person or persons which I might have connoted here.