Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The 10 most incredible places I have stood

In celebration of Earth Day, Geotripper started a series of blogs where he identifies the most [geologically] incredible places he visited. In his opening blog, he encouraged his readers to play along so I started making my list. I found the endeavor harder than it seems because for I lived in Utah, and each and every place in southern Utah that I visited could have been part of this list. In refining my list, I tried to include places that were more than just incredible for their geology, but also hold special meaning to me.

Here is my list (unfortunately I don't have pictures of some because many of the places were experienced in pre-digital camera and pre-geology days so my limited images are often not in  focus or focused on the geology):

10. Black Box Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah - There are a number of slot canyons I could have chosen, but in the end it came down to this one because it had all of the slot canyon features (and was one of the most rugged hikes I had ever been on). Although not as narrow or deep as a some of the other canyons of the San Rafael Swell, the rugged nature of this canyon makes this the only slot canyon I have visited in Southern Utah that we saw no other groups (It was also one of the most exhausting day hikes I have ever been on, 12 hours with several sections we had to swim, and early on there is 15-20' drop that makes you commit to the whole canyon.) In addition to the slot features, I was impressed by the snags and logs wedged 20-30' above the canyon bottom from flash floods.

9. Eagle's Rock, Lake of the Woods, Ontario -Eagle's Rock is not much more than a high cliff on one of the islands in Lake of the Woods. But geologically it is part of the Canadian Shield. Recent ice ages have removed all the overlying sediments exposing Archean Aged grandiorite. These rocks represent some of the oldest rocks on the surface.

8. Silver King Mine, Park City, UT. I tried to think of one of the places I had been under ground, the two that were most memorable were an old copper mine near Watersmeet, MI, and the Silver King Mine in Park City UT. Although the copper mine was still actively being mined for pure copper, for this list I choose the Silver King Mine which is until recently was open as a tourist attraction. Parts of the mine are still being dewatered today as part of the water system for the Park City but unfortunately the tours of the mine are no longer available to the public. The highlight of the tour was when the tunnel we were in (on  a railroad cart) goes past a long straight drainage tunnel. This tunnel was completed in the 1920's by miners boring through the hard (mostly granitic) rocks from both directions, but it is so straight that as you go past it you can sere the opening into daylight over 1000 feet away.

7. Lassen Peak, California - I have climbed on two of the Cascade Volcanoes and both  were incredible experiences. I would have chosen Mt. Shasta, but the altitude got me before making the final summit. So Mt. Lassen it is.

6. Yosemite Valley, California - Truly a majestic place and the last two time I have been to Yosemite it has been in the winter or early spring. The snow in the valley keeps the number of people down, but it also muffles the sound running through the valley. In the winter the water falls are sometimes barely a trickle, but the ice cones at the bottom and the frost from the sprays is a beautiful scene.

5. Many Glacier Valley, Glacier National Park, Montana - I spent a summer working as a concessionaire for one of the hotels in Glacier national Park so there are several memorable moments and places within the park, but to me the most incredible place is the Many Glacier Valley. Many Glacier Valley is really the junction of three glacially carved alpine valleys, and up one of them Grinnell Glacier still is (barely) holding on. The valley is full of alpine glacier features such as Aretes (The Garden Wall), Truncated spurs (Grinell Peak), Paternoster Lakes,  hanging valleys, cirques and tarns. The place I chose was the top of Swiftcurrent pass, standing on the narrow arete of the Garden Wall, looking down the Swiftcurrent Valley.

Near Artist's Vista, Makoshika State Park
4. Makoshika State Park, Montana - For four years we lived in Montana, we had Makoshika State Park in the back yard of the Community College I was teaching at. Makoshika is a badlands park with extraordinary sedimentary features with the added feature that the K/T boundary runs right through the park so has you drop down into the many coulees and washes you enter into the Late Cretaceous age and dinosaur fossils are abundant. (Most of the fossils are bone fragments and chips but I did run across some ceratopsin frills and a jaw bone). But for some politicking in the 1930's Makoshika might have become a national park. That it didn't is a mixed blessing because it is much less busy than the nearby (and entirely Cretaceous aged) Teddy Roosevelt National Park, but at the same time many of the paleontological resources are being lost because it does not get the attention (money and personnel) as it would if it were a national site.

Lake Baikal
3. Shore of Lake Baikal, Siberia - As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to spend a summer doing a language program at University of Siberia. At the end of the program the group took the Trans-Siberian Railway to Lake Baikal. Unlike the American Great Lakes, there was almost no development along the shores with near pristine landscapes to the north, barely visible across the lakes were snowcapped mountains just visible through the clouds.

2. Ice Cave in the Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska - While in college, I participated in the Juneau Icefield Research Program. Before heading up onto the icefields, we took a day trip to the toe of the Mendenhall Glacier. Where a stream was exiting the glacier, a large ice cave had been carved, and inside the light was filtered into an eerie glacial blue. 

1. Goblin Valley State Park, UT - The first time I went to Goblin Valley, Halloween was on a weekend and near a new moon, so my friends and I saw the name and figured it would be the perfect place to go celebrate. I was immediately taken in by the strange hoodoos and desolate feel and it has been my favorite place ever since. The story I often tell is that even though I lived in Utah for over 7 years, I never made it to see the Grand Canyon. On 5 separate occasions, I set out planning on going to the Grand Canyon, but I would make it to Goblin Valley the first night, and then never get much further.  A couple of years ago we had the opportunity to go back, and though it is a fair bit more developed it is still my favorite place.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Palouse Falls

The first year we lived here in Oregon, just after one of my geology classes had covered the Columbia River Basalts, a couple of my students took a weekend trip to Palouse Falls. They came back from their trip excited because they had been able to take what we had talked about in class and apply it to what they saw at the falls.

Because the Falls are nominally on the way to Spokane, WA or Moscow, ID, I would try and make a side trip to the falls on one of our trips for one of Sam's athletic competitions. Every time we would make the trip, I would plan on stopping on the way home, but something always came up (a snowstorm, a sick traveling companion, cold weather, a wrong turn, a snowstorm, lack of daylight due to a championship softball game, another snow storm) and I hadn't yet made it to the falls. I was finally able to make it this years when I had a couple of extra hours on a trip to Spokane.

The Palouse River cuts a narrow canyon through several prominent layers of Columbia River Basalts, and at the lower falls, there is an alcove where the river drops 56.6m (186ft) into a large plunge pool. From the falls, the river continues about 6 miles to where it empties into the Snake River above Lower Monumental Dam.
Lower Palouse Falls
It was a nice spring day, so marmots were out sunning themselves on the cliff side. It was a great lesson in camouflage that when we got about 5 meters away it took a while to pick the two marmots out from the dark basalt rocks along the edge.

Two marmots enjoy the spring sun.
From the main parking area, a short trail heads north to an overlook of the Upper Falls. From the overlook, a trail leads down into a wide side canyon and to the upper falls. Because we were limited on time, we only hiked down to the level of the UP Railroad grade for a view down the canyon.

View of Upper Palouse Falls from the Railroad grade.
At the base of the cascades of the North Falls, the river makes an almost 90 degree bend. This bend is because during the Ice Age Floods, the path of the Palouse River was diverted into a series of NW-SE trending faults.

The ancestral Palouse River used to follow the Washtucna Coulee to Kahlotus and Connell some 50 miles before ultimately discharging into the Columbia River near Hanford). But the volume of water resulting from the Ice Age Flood pushed the river out of its ancestral channel. The steeper gradient of the fault dominated channel allowed river to carve a deep enough canyon to capture the flow path after the floods receded. The abrupt transition from the ancestral channel into the nearly straight fault driven system can be seen in this Google Earth screen shot.
Google Earth image showing the fault channel of the modern Palouse River

Friday, April 4, 2014


 Last summer we took a long road trip back to the Midwest. On our travels through Montana, we stopped for a day at Gem Mountain outside of Philipsburg, a commercial sapphire mine. Well, not really a mine because the company scoops placer deposits from a quarry and bags the mud and brings it to the facility. Then you can buy 5-gallon pails of gravel and sift through them looking for sapphires.
Sam sifting through her bucket of gravel
We bought a bucket of gravel for each of us, and spent a nice morning looking through the gravel. In the end we found about 100 Carats of rough sapphires. Although the rough sapphires have some color to them, they did not have the vibrant blue color. 
Rough Sapphires
In order to bring out the color, the sapphires need to be heat treated by heating them to 500C for several hours. For a small fee, Gem Mountain will send your sapphires away for treatment. We did send some stones away for heat treatment and cutting, and we finally got them back today. Here are the two biggest stones, each ~2/3 carat.
Sapphires, treated and cut.
We only sent a couple of stones out for treatment  and cutting, so I still have ~100 smaller stones that I would like to see if I can treat myself. I tried to heat treat some of our sapphires at home, but I couldn't get them hot enough so next I am going to see if putting them in a kiln will work (as soon as I find someone who will let me use their kiln.) 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mt. Hood

Had to take a trip down the Gorge a few weeks ago. Got this nice view of Mt Hood and the lenticular cloud above it.