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Showing posts with the label geology

The Earth's Best Dandruff

Every backcountry traveler or camper has had a nightmarish experience with wet clay roads. But do you know about "anti-clay", that is, a surface that is as miraculous on the positive side as wet clay is on the negative?

It is easy to be ignorant of what causes wet clay's amazing properties. It would be so nice to learn about things when they make huge impressions on you -- that is the very time when you are motivated to learn. 

There might be a really good source of popular science out there, but I haven't found it yet. (And extra credit to any reader who has any ideas on this.) I am familiar with Wikipedia and "How Things Work". They both help. But the Wikipedia articles on a scientific topic quickly degenerate into the algebraic patois of the specialist, which makes for excruciating reading.

What I need to find is popular science, written by an educated layman or generalist, with a minimum of info-mercial intrusions.

But let's get back to "anti-clay…

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 grassl…

The Patience of Rockhounds

When we were camped in the wash near Moab recently, a half-dozen trucks drove by one morning. It took a few minutes before I could tell what they were up to. They were rockhounds.

How strange it seemed for somebody to be pursuing an inexpensive and, may I say, old-fashioned activity. The outdoor sports around Moab are usually more flamboyant. It's as if each tourist is locked in competition to out-glamor every other tourist, in a frenetic orgy of adrenaline and dollars. Since I feel drawn to just about anything that is out-of-step with modern times, these rockhounds started me thinking...

What fraction of the time does a rockhound come up with anything interesting? How can anyone be so patient?


Perhaps their patience isn't so unique. A dog sniffs for a rabbit, and chases across the field with all the hope in the world; and it usually comes away empty-jawed. How many times does a professional salesman hear, "Maybe. I'll think about it," before he actually closes a de…

My First Flash "Flood," part II

Between the noise and the rain and the sticky goo, I was getting cabin fever. Not just a hackneyed expression, this is a real state of desperation. Oddly enough, whenever I have personally experienced this mood, I rebelled against it with the most determined optimism. This can seem odd or even a little magical to the person experiencing it, but, if we are to believe William James in The Will to Believe, it is common behavior:
It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem, on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest. The sovereign source of melancholy is repletion. Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us; our hour of triumph is what brings the void. Not the Jews of the captivity, but those of the days of Solomon's glory are those from whom the pessimistic utterances in our Bible come. Germany, when she lay trampled beneath the hoofs of Bonaparte's troopers, produced perhaps the most optimistic …

William Blake Paddles Down a Dry Granite River

The word 'flow' in the title of the last post and a comment by uber-commenter, George, reminded me of something. Gee, if only the search box in blogger worked right. After some brute-force-searching I finally found that other post. 

This blog isn't a travelogue of Breaking News of the day. There is too much of that approach on the internet. The more minute-by-minute writing becomes, the more trivial it gets. So I rewrote this other experience, hoping that a couple "moments of truth" will come across more clearly to the reader.
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The Little Poodle and I "paddled" upstream -- on the mountain bike -- along the popular Arkansas River, near "Byoona" Vista, CO. We saw one river rafting company after another. As luck would have it, we made it in time for their mass "descension" of the Arkansas River. (If balloonists at the Albuquerque festival can have a mass ascension, then rafters in Colorado ca…

Flowing Through Colorado's Best Land

Gunnison, CO. Why try to restrain myself? I am in my favorite land in Colorado. Good luck to those who enjoy static shapes and colors in the landscape. But I'll never understand them, for better or for worse.  For me, the outdoor experience is primarily about motion, be it transportation, cyclical processes and strife in the environment, or my own motion as an observer.  Even an activity as pokey as hiking can provide enjoyment if I vicariously experience the frantic running of a doggie hunter companion. 

I don't care how the motion is achieved; be it horse, bicycle, a raven playing with ridge-lift, human hang gliders, or kayakers. (As long as it doesn't require a yukkie engine.) Perhaps I should add a You Tube gadget to this blog and let you click on the opening-credits scene of William Wyler's "The Big Country" (1957).

And indeed it is a big country in the upper valley of the Gunnison River. It's a land that has a healthy balance of horizontal and vertica…

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 …

Aesthetics Bend Under Strain

Some types of outdoor enjoyments are easier than others. Getting a kick out of desert poppies takes little effort. But experiences of that type don't stick with you very long either.
Appreciating geology is far more difficult. Geology is huge and fundamental. Despite being able to see it raw and exposed in arid lands, such as the American West, it is difficult to actually enjoy it in the normal sense of the word. For one thing it doesn't move, except in the case of active volcanoes. It is also hard to pronounce all the scientific terminology. The whole thing can be off-putting because it seems cold and technical.
Go for a hike or a mountain bike ride through the mountains and you will occasionally see some impressive folds. Sometimes they're just little guys at road cuts. And yet something keeps you from doing backflips about them. How could hard, strong, brittle rocks be permanently deformed? Bent into arcs.
When possible, I try to anthropomorphize "uninteresting"…

Mining Engineer Qualifying Exam

For 10 points answer the following question on today's pop quiz. Theses photo were taken in southern Arizona, somewhere near Ajo.

If you were going to open up a mine here, what kind of mine would it be?:
Anthracite coal.Gold.Athabascan tar sand petroleum.Cobre, copper.Garlic.

Learning New Four-Letter Dirty Words in Geology Class

It's a world of a different color where I'm camped now compared to Moab, which is just a couple weeks in the rear view mirror. Here in the lower Rio Grande Valley the world is grey, brown, and buff, which is rather bland compared to the red sandstone of Moab.

After a night of hard rain it began to dry up.  I needed to go to town to do the usual errands. (Here an RV travel blog should begin spoon-feeding the eager reader with every minute and mundane detail of his errand and shopping trip.) The road was a recently graded county road, with a hard gravel surface. But at one spot the color abruptly changed from buff to "red". Having been in Moab recently, I thought that it was a small area of red sandstone. Still, a slow yellow light began blinking in the back of my head. Then there was a small dip. I was surprised how difficult it was to get back up the hill. Whew! That was close. What the heck kind of sandstone do you call that?

A couple hours later, the errands were o…

Impressions on Mind and Mudstone

Lower Rio Grande valley, New Mexico. Why is it that we know so little about how the vaunted gadgets and machines of our Age work? Perhaps that says something of our educational system; or maybe it is just inherently difficult to approach science and technology in layman's terms. Some people probably think technical subjects are uninteresting since there is nothing personal or emotional about them.

But there must be some explanation for stopping dead in my tracks when I saw this shadow on a shale rock on some BLM land recently.


My goodness, it looked identical to the fossilized leaves on a shale rock that belonged to an impressive rock-collection that my father "inherited" from a retired school teacher, back when I was a kid. One of my siblings turned out to be the real rockhound, but I was interested in them too.

At first the sheer size and color of the quartz crystals and geodes made the biggest impression. (Think of the razzle-dazzle that you find on the tables at Quar…

Lay's Potato Chips of Sandstone

A big part of the art of camping is stepping away from the 'looked over', and wandering amongst the 'overlooked'. The best way to do this is to camp where the scenery is subtle or mediocre in the immediate foreground, but more promising in the distance. Naturally that provides the incentive to go for a walk, right from the RV's door.

But you still go with low expectations. You have to try to be interested in what there is to see, and you have to look for ways to experience it beyond mere 'looking'. Usually, the surprises are on the positive side.

In that spirit Coffee Girl and I took off on a day that was supposed to be dreadful, but in fact, was delicious: what a luxury it is to leave the wide-brimmed sombrero at home, and welcome the sun's warmth onto my face, while enjoying the bracing chill.

We encountered the thinnest lamellas of sandstone that I've ever seen. They were fragile and nearly exfoliated.


Surprise on Snake Hill

The dogs and I went exploring the Plains of San Agustin. Wikipedia tells us that it is a graben, like Death Valley. Graben means ditch in German; have some fun ggrrrowling the word out. It is a block of land that sinks between two parallel faults or cracks. Supposedly San Agustin sank 4000 feet, and then filled halfway in with sediment from the nearby mountains.

Old Rocks

In the Southwest a few years ago. 'Love at first sight' is a principle that doesn't seem to apply to geologic layers, at least for me. It fails in both directions. When I saw red-rock Utah for the first time I drooled over it like anyone would. But once the brain has seen red rock and admitted it as a possibility, it ceases to be interesting. And yet I know RVers who make a big deal of it, long term. Red sandstone cliffs decompose into loose red sand which is impassable to a mountain bike.

Conversely I was none too crazy about granite at first. It was crumbly and ignoble. Eventually though, the eroded hoodoos and gargoyles win you over.

Soon you appreciate the sure-footedness that you have while scrambling over granite rocks, but it's the dry washes that are the most fun. They are filled with granite decomposed into coarse sand. Granite sand can be sharp-edged; under the shearing pressure of your shoe it locks up and makes for easy walking.

My little poodle bec…

Back to Normal

The rescued poodle was coming along fine. He and my (unnamed) new dog were confused by each other, but they will probably get along.
How nice it was to get back on the road--back to normal--and drift over the high plateaus of the Southwest, those brilliantly-lit, elevated, display cases of geology. It has been a long time since I saw Shiprock near Farmington, NM. The last time I was here a friend and I were such newbies that we didn't know that it trespassing to travel on Indian reservations, off the main highways. We actually boondocked right at the base of Shiprock until a Navajo kicked us out.

The main peak is an old volcanic throat. The surrounding rock, probably sandstone, has eroded away.

On this visit I especially enjoyed the volcanic dikes that radiate away from the main peak. They were formed when igneous rocks oozed through cracks. They extend for  miles, but are only a few feet wide. In places they looked like a crumbling brick wall, with holes.

When you loo…

Geologic Time

Normally I only have a bit of success in getting anything out of geology books. It's not the geologist-author's fault (ahem) necessarily--it's the nature of the subject to have lots of jargon and memorization in it.

On a mountain bike ride the other day, my little poodle and I headed up the Uncompahgre Plateau on a smooth dirt road. It was pleasant but unexciting, and since there was no special scenery along the way it seemed like the ride might be a little disappointing.

But then the magic started happening; I started to lose self-consciousness and melt into the landscape. There is a trance-like quality to one's state of mind at times like this. Perhaps because of that, or because of the congruity of the bicycle's speed and the gradual changes up the plateau, I was able to imagine the grandeur of geologic time. "Imagine" or "appreciate?" I'm not sure. But in either case it would have been impossible for me to experience this any …

Living with a Laccolith

North of Gunnison, CO. My little poodle and I hiked up the small "mountain" behind the camper. There was no real trail. We kept traversing the slope so it wouldn't be too steep. Eventually we found a game trail to follow. Then we'd lose it, or at least, it seemed so. This became a game, far more interesting than following a real hiking trail.

We found a large spherical mushroom, with a crack. It made me thick of that scene in "Jurassic Park" when they watch the dinosaur egg hatching.

The little "mountain" was not tall and we were soon at the top. It proved to be quite flat on top--maybe just a little tipped or domed. Geologists would call this a "laccolith," formed by igneous material intercalating sedimentary stratifications, followed by...you can see why reading geology books is about as much fun as conjugating verbs in Latin. What the geologists would say if someone taught them English is that hot lava under pressure sque…

Colorado's San Juans

Clearly, the San Juans are Colorado's best eye candy, in the usual postcard sense. The San Juans are newer than the other ranges and are volcanic, rather than folded or fault block ranges. Here was our first route in the San Juans:


Stratified sedimentary layers I'm used to--but a green layer? How could a wind-blown seed find purchase on a slope like this?

A motorist stopped when he saw my little dog in the BOB trailer behind the mountain bike. He was a serious amateur photographer and was studied up on nature. He thought the seeds would have been dropped by birds into the cracks or holes that even a steep slope must have. Probably so, but how did these plants or bushes propagate up there?

We finished our ride and returned to find a Silverton couple saddling up two llamas, for an overnight trek up to an alpine lake. 


They are members of the camel family, but don't have humps. Their hooves are more like a hard pad, with two-toes and funny toe nails. How would t…

Orogeny and Erosion

We are camped in the national forest right on the route of the recently completed Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. The other day we rode a forest road up to the foot of Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado. The most pleasant surprise was the marvelous, hard-packed, sandy texture of that particular forest road.

I couldn't get the word 'orogeny' out of my mind. What a beautiful word. It means mountain-building. Of course the opposite of orogeny is just as important. Erosion is one way to look at it. As detritus is swept down the side of a mountain, to the valley, the small stuff should drop out last, at lower altitude. Indeed we were benefiting from that today on the ride.

The forest was a lodgepole pine monoculture. If ever a tree was aptly named, it is the lodgepole pine. The forest was as bland as you can imagine, but it wasn't as dark and depressing as a spruce/fir forest. When I stopped pedaling and held my breath, I could hear nothing--no wind…