Monday, April 07, 2014

Into the Heart of Monument Valley

I recently led a group of amateur archaeologists into Monument Valley. This landscape icon never fails to impress. It truly is an awesome place.

Taken from John Ford Point looking north. Let's meet the rock layers of Monument Valley.

There are four rock layers that make up a typical red rock butte in Monument Valley and from oldest to youngest (bottom to top) they are labeled above. The Organ Rock Shale is often overlooked since it only forms the "apron" upon which the "monument" stands. It is however, one of my  favorite rock layers as it represents the outwash deposits from the Ancestral Rocky Mountains in Colorado (follow it northeast and the clasts get larger). It is time-equivalent to the Hermit Shale in Grand Canyon. Next, forming the massive walls of the buttes in Monument Valley is the De Chelly Sandstone, an eolian deposit left in a giant sand sea or erg. It was, of course, first described in Canyon De Chelly to the southeast of here. Both of these deposits are Permian in age. Cryptically exposed on the tops of the buttes are two thin remnants of Triassic age deposits, the Moenkopi Formation and the Shinarump Conglomerate Member of the Chinle Formation. They are both fluvial (river) deposits, with the Shinarump being coarser-grained. Some uranium exploration was completed within the Shinarump during the Cold War on top of some buttes in Monument Valley (not shown). Not exposed but making up the floor of the valley is the Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Once these monuments have eroded away, incision into the Cedar Mesa Sandstone/Halgaito Shale couplet below may renew the process again and perhaps forming a Monument Valley II. (Or perhaps Monument Valley III if the process also happened previous to this one, in layers now completely gone today). Wow!

We were a group of 18 and had a wonderful day of exploration.

Cisco from Kayenta served as our local Navajo guide.

There are a few Navajo families that call the valley home and their hogans (earthen homes) can be seen occasionally.

Although the floors are dirt, the walls and roof are made from beautifully fashioned juniper logs. Here is a loom for weaving rugs.

A scene reminiscent of another era.

The massive walls of De Chelly Sandstone are composed of cemented grains of quartz sand. These massive quartz bodies will often yield conchoidal fractures that are scalloped-shaped upon the walls of the cliff.

Boulders of De Chelly Sandstone lie on the valley floor where they are ultimately shaped by wind and sand. This area, known as Pancake Alley,  gets its name from the way the boulders tend to fracture along the bedding planes in the sandstone, yielding rounded planes like a stack of pancakes.

Where the Organ Rock Shale trends beneath the valley floor, the De Chelly Sandstone walls rise straight up, providing a natural palette for the prehistoric artist.

And what rock art there is! This is the "famous" Big Horn Panel near the Eye in the Sky. Members in our group noticed how the large animal appears to be in motion

The Eye in the Sky

In a remote corner of Monument Valley, an Anasazi ruin appears in an alcove.

More rock art is seen nearby. These are recumbent kokopelli's or flute players.

Cross0bedding in the De Chelly is well developed. However, I know of a place where these angled beds shows signs of disruption, perhaps from a gravity slide that may have been initiated during an earthquake. Look at how these beds seem to have slumped downhill along one of the planes and then ruptured as they slid. The horizontal line at the level of Ronnie's head is a small scale fault plane where the beds above were thrust to the right over the lower beds.

Close-up of the same feature showing how small blocks of sand remained coherent as they slid downhill. This may suggest that the sand was partially lithified when it happened. Note that the lower bed is not disrupted and still retains the original angle of the cross-bedding.

Ear of the Wind arch. It seems like many body parts are covered in the naming of the arches here.

A final view of the valley from Artist Point. Monument Valley is an awesome place and I never get tired of seeing it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Newest Grand Canyon Lecture Posted On You Tube

On Thursday, March 20, I hiked 9.5 miles from Phantom Ranch to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. And then later that same day, I gave the Evening Program to over 100 persons. It is the latest update on my lecture, "How Old Is The Grand Canyon".

Mike Quinn of the National Park Service Collections Museum videotaped the lecture and you can watch it here on this You Tube link.

Since the lecture was given to the general public and many of the Park's interpretive rangers, it was difficult to exactly know how deep or wide I should go with the subject. It would've been easy to alienate one population in that varied audience. My goal therefore, was to inspire and intrigue as large a number of audience members as possible, without making it too general and to not include some gems of the new ideas. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Osos (or Hazel or Steelhead) Landslide in Washington State - Can Geologic Information Be Better Utilized by Non-Geologists in Geohazard Assesments?

View downstream of the Oso or Steelhead landslide of March 22, 2014. Photo courtesy of Jay Inslee
A devastating landslide in Washington state on Saturday, March 22 was an accident waiting to happen. The area had experienced numerous slides within the past 65 years, with the most recent event occurring in 2006 (see the table below, from the Yakima Herald). Unconsolidated glacial debris (composed of loose, uncemented rock, sand, and mud) deposited during the Ice Age is responsible for the weak substrate in this part of the Cascade range. To find out more about the geology of the area and the history of recent movements on the slide, see this excellent blog posting here. The Seattle Times published a story and an excellent graphic here (use your cursor on the first graphic to see a cartoon drawing of the area before the slide and a photo superimposed after). In addition to the geologic hazards, nearly 14 inches of rain fell within the last 30 days, making something like this virtually inevitable. To understand the recent weather component of this event, see Jeff Master's Weather Blog here.

Also see some excellent before and after pictures here.

Past landslide events or reports about this area:
  • 1949: A large landslide (1000 feet long and 2600 feet wide) affected the river bank
  • 1951: Another large failure of the slope; the river was partially blocked
  • 1967: Seattle Times published an article that referred to this site as “Slide Hill”
  • 1997 report, by Daniel Miller, for the Washington Department of Ecology and the Tualialip Tribes
  • 1999: US Army Corps of Engineers report by Daniel and Lynne Rodgers Miller that warned of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure”
  • 25 January 2006: large movement of the Steelhead landslide blocked the river

View upstream of the Oso landslide. Photo courtesy of Jay Inslee
With the death toll currently at 27, there are an additional 22 people who are still missing. The death toll is sure to rise, making this a geo-tragedy of epic proportions. I saw the first images of the slide while watching a national Saturday night newscast. When I first looked at an aerial image of the area, I could easily discern the convex indentation in the slope of a hill that screamed, "landslide." And then the newscaster announced that this was the before picture of the area. An obvious earlier landslide was in plain view to anyone with basic geologic training.

So it was not a secret that this area was ripe for more sliding. A report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1999, warned of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure”  on this slide. The report was written by Daniel Miller and Lynne Rodgers Miller (husband and wife). When she saw the news of the mudslide Saturday, she knew right away where the land had given way. He did too. Read their quotes and the ones below in this article from the Yakima Herald.

Yet, John Pennington with the Snohomish County Dept. of Emergency Management is quoted as saying, “This was a completely unforeseen slide. This came out of nowhere.”  And Snohomish County Executive John Lovick and Public Works Director Steve Thomsen said Monday night they were not aware of the Miller's 1999 report. “A slide of this magnitude is very difficult to predict.There was no indication, no indication at all,” said Thomsen.

So it goes. Geology once again in the backseat in our society, while some of those in power stick their head in the sand, denying obvious science. One has to wonder to what extent the people who chose to live there, essentially staring up at the barrel of a geologic shotgun, were made aware of or sought out information about the landslide hazard here. They must have known something I would think. I also wonder if the hazard was downplayed in any way by developers or real estate agents? In my personal experience, most people buy homes without a hint of awareness about geohazards. Look at any flood event, earthquake, even volcanoes. People tend to think that "it won't happen to me or in my lifetime". And agents Often do what they can to make the sale.

Make no mistake, this is a tragedy deserving of our sympathy to the victims. At some point however, we have to take a stand against misinformation used to promote pure, economic interests. In the 21st century, we have the resources and the know-how to understand many geologic and meteorologic risks. Yet certain segments of our society routinely use their resources to denounce science as "uncertain", "risky", or "damaging to the economy". Scientists need to become advocates for people who may otherwise live in harms way.


Timothy Egan in the New York Times:

Andrew Alden at Geology:

Lee Allison's Arizona Geology Blog:

Photo from CBS News:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Creation of Misinformation Regarding Science

To my loyal blog readers, thank you for allowing me the time to recover from my most recent 30,000 mile jet trip to Africa and South America. That was a travel and blogging marathon, and I needed a few weeks to catch my literary (and literal) breath. I am now back in the saddle again.

Science in modern society suffers a few ills, not the least of which is the production of misinformation that can be used to negate certain unwelcome results. From a personal perspective, I have seen the way certain religious groups attempt to discredit accepted methods for the dating of rock formations. Multiple lines of evidence that yield reliable and verifiable dates are nonetheless refuted by some who would rather we use a few verses in a 2,000 year old book from the Middle East to interpret earth history. With such beautiful evidence for an ancient earth (which by the way elevates the idea of god in most peoples minds), why would anyone adhere to the the idea of a 6,000 year earth? It boggles the mind.

Some scientists are finding that the generation of misinformation is itself a topic ripe for study. Robert Proctor, professor of the history of science at Stanford University, has undertaken a study of the development of misinformation and an interesting article published in the LA Times can be read here. Proctor looked at the first wave of manufactured misinformation that was developed by the tobacco industry. From there the vice has grown to include climate change deniers and the Affordable Health Care Act fear mongers. It all leads to greed.

In the end, science is the field that suffers. We create a society that not only fears science but despises it. One need only look to see the results in the society we live in.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Apollo 8 Earthrise - December 24, 1968

I remember the moment well. It was the first time that a live television broadcast was made back to Earth as humans circled the moon. We were at my Uncle Nate's house in Pomona, California and everyone but me had drifted out of the TV room to the merriment that was occurring around the Christmas tree. I was captivated by the images of the first Earthrise ever witnessed.

Now, imagery from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is allowing scientists to recreate the moment exactly as it occurred more than 45 years ago.

Watch this excellent 7-minute video to see it as if you were there in the Apollo 8 Command Module.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Jet Trip Concludes - Some Reflections

Most everyone I spoke to on this trip expressed some mixed emotions as we approached Sanford Airport in Orlando. No one was eager to go on for another week - these trips are too fast paced and action packed. No ones waistline could take it either. But the group was quite congenial and good natured and some friendships were made. So it was with some ying and yang that we bid this trip to the history bin.

What is it like on jet rip like this?
Well, we get to walk on tarmacs a lot and get close to the jet and it's inner workings

Even stand by the engines and get a short description of how it works from the two engineers that travel with us

The jet is quite roomy with comfortable seats and fantastic service

Eazster Foldvary was our expedition leader...

...with Ester Pereria as the assistant. They were both fantastic trip leaders (I have traveled with them both before many times).

But what is it really like? I find that I need to decompress a lot on these trips, to just look for any private moments I can since the rest of the time I am so public. For that reason, I usually feel like I wish I had talked more to my fellow staff persons on the trip. I think we all are so involved with our jobs every moment and stealing the few moments we can for private time that we really have so little time to just reflect on it all. There is probably no way around this, just interesting.

I really enjoy seeing the world we live in. As I have mentioned many times on these pages, I thoroughly enjoy watching the jet slice through the sky and scraping the clouds. It is so beautiful up there and when you have the luxury to fly often, the tendency to watch "deeper" increases. Today, on the way home in my commercial jet, I watch overcast over Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico for four hours! I guess I am odd that way. But hey, it is better to be entertained than bored to tears.

I wonder when this gif will come obits eventual end. But I often recall the plea I made to my dad in 1964, when I asked him to take me to another state. I've always had the desire to see far off places and meet other cultures. That will never change. And now, I have the lovely Helen to come home to and I just feel like the luckiest person in the whole wide world!

Statistics for the trip:

We traveled 23,560 statute miles on the private jet. With my commercial flight to London and back home, I went over 30,000 miles on a jet in 25 days.

We had 14 take-offs and 14 landings on the private jet.

We used 53,698 US gallons of fuel

We used 1300 pounds of ice, 70 pounds of cheese, 120 bottles of white wine and 140 bottles of red.

Whew! I'm coming home Helen.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Masaya Volcano and Grenada City, Nicaragua

Our last stop on this African and South American adventure was at the active volcano of Masaya and the colonial city of Grenada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua.

On the rim of the crater. The steam and gaseous smoke hug the inner walls.

Hiking up to the sister crater to the east

Looking back to Masaya 

This crater has been inactive for many years and we could see its floor. The steam and vapor in the other cone precluded a view inside.

Note the alternating cliffs and thin slopes. The cliffs are formed from lava flows while the slopes are horizons of ash and cinders that are unconsolidated, thus weathering into vegetation-covered slopes.

Every now and then the wind would shift and we could see a bit into Masaya crater

The unvegetated ridge in the background is part of the outer ring of a caldera and the lack of trees is due to the volcanic gases that blow in that direction. It was a fantastic morning.

Masaya last erupted in 2008

Note the lava flow that spilled from over the rim of the crater in 1772

We drove east to visit the colonial city of Grenada 

Fantastic architecture

Colorful street scenes

Archaeological finds from near Grenada

 I love colonial porches

Back in Managua we visited the ruins of the city cathedral, destroyed by the 1972 earthquake

And we got to visit the wonderfully preserved footprints made about 2,120 BP, in soft volcanic soil. The site is called Ancahualinca. A description can be read here:

The trackway is remarkably preserved in stone now

They are protected by a ramada that shed rain

And are found within a neighborhood in Managua. Thanks for reading. I'll be back home with Helen on Saturday.