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A Spurt of Appreciation for Living Geology

In a Star Trek episode in Season 3, some aliens moved at extremely accelerated speeds, so fast in fact that the Enterprise crew couldn't even see them. They could only hear an insect-like buzz when the aliens went by. It also worked in reverse: to the aliens, the Enterprise crew were frozen, static.

That captures the disconnect between a human observer and geology. I have always wanted to be more knowledgeable and interested in geology, but something got in the way.

While camped on the edge of the ponderosa forest near Springerville AZ, recently, I was lured to the road that climbed a large volcanic knoll (aka, cinder cone). It was an easy hike. What a grand view you can get from a few minutes of hiking and a couple hundred feet of elevation gain! That is especially true near some kind of boundary, in this case the ponderosa forest/grasslands boundary at 7500 feet.

From my cinder cone I could see 15 more cinder cones in the Springerville volcanic field. Since they were in the grasslands, they had a weird tawny mammary appearance. I didn't photograph them because they weren't really impressive in the usual trivial postcard sense.

But the view offered something more important: the ability to imagine geology. Instead of the eyes glazing over with boredom when you read a series of words like 'Pleistocene', or see a sequence of numbers like 2.4 millions years, etc., I was able to grab onto the scene mentally. Why, the newest volcanic cinder knolls were only a few hundred thousand years old.

More helpful than the newness was the sheer number in view at one time. What if I were standing on this same volcanic cinder cone, and looking to the east? That is where the newbie would be likely to pop out, because of the westward drift of the continental plate. How quickly would the baby volcano be born? It would probably glow red at night.

Imagine hot red splat shooting off into a cold, dark sky. How high? Then it falls back down -- as a still warm rock? -- and builds the cinder cone's height, to be hiked up and enjoyed by some other human, when my own bones have mouldered back into the soil. Food for grass.

Could I stand on this cone and see several other cones glowing at once? Ahh, wouldn't that be grand! And would I actually be in danger from their expulsions? 


Ed said…
Very good posting. Great word pictures!
AZ has gotten a little of everything, doesn't it?