Friday, December 31, 2010

After the Storm

It was a good one! The last snow storm dropped 19 inches here at 255 E. Hutcheson Drive and now its really cold in Northern Arizona.  At noon today the sun is shining brightly and the temperature is 16 degrees! Here are some pictures of our house.

You may recall from a blog I posted here on January 23, 2010, of my pick-up truck buried in snow. We'll, just about 11 months later here it is again at the new house.


Our backyard is the south side and this will melt off first in the sunshine.


The view from our front yard looks toward the San Francisco Peaks.


The front of our house. Note the pile of snow from the road grader which is about 5 feet tall.

"Walking in a winter wonderland......"

Scenes like this really get me thinking of the summer days in Buenos Aires right now. It's probably close to 92 degrees and folks are sitting out on the grass drinking beverages in the sunshine. I really do not like snow.

Come on sun, melt it all away!

You might be able to see one tiny geranium flower in the window. It's nice and warm in our home.

The view out of our front window.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A "Ground Zero" Hike Into Meteor Crater, Arizona

The Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona is Earth's best preserved extraterrestrial impact site and is located  35 miles east of Flagstaff. The understanding that this feature is extraterrestrial in origin is complicated by the fact that it lies adjacent to the San Francisco volcanic field, where over 600 volcanoes are strewn across the landscape. After seeing it for the first time in 1891, none other than the eminent 19th century geologist G.K. Gilbert concluded that the feature was formed by a volcanic steam blast through rock and groundwater. However, a self-taught geologist from Philadelphia, Daniel Barringer, was convinced that it was an impact site and set about to prove this through careful field study, borehole drilling, and persistence. Although he never lived to see his ideas widely accepted, the evidence is overwhelming now for an impact origin.

On Wednesday, December 15, I had the pleasure of hiking down to the floor of the crater with Barringer's grandson, Drew Barringer. I serve with Drew on the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Northern Arizona and when he offered to take myself and other geologists and friends on a hike to the floor of the crater, I jumped at the chance. It was certainly one of the top "bucket list" destinations for a geologist. (Note that liability and safety concerns render hiking to the floor of the crater off limits to the general public. For this hike, Drew wanted the chance to visit his childhood "playground" with a few friends who are also trained geologists. Do not attempt to hike to the bottom of Meteor Crater without prior permission).

Travelers heading east on Interstate 40 from Flagstaff can see the upturned edges and ejecta blankets of rock that outline the crater (background). Prior to its interpretation as the site of an impact, the low hills were locally known as Coon Mountain or the Franklin Hills. Most travelers have no idea these low hills are Meteor Crater or that a 550-foot deep hole exists within them. 

Here is Drew Barringer besides the largest meteorite ever found from this impact. It is on display within the museum present on site. Incredibly, this stone weighs over 1,400 lbs. and was discovered about 5 miles from the impact! Look at how the flash from my camera is superimposed on the aerial image of the crater behind Drew. It makes it looks like the bolide is on its way into the ground.

Drew leads us west along the Rim Trail, walking on a blanket of ejecta material.

A view to the west along the Rim Trail showing the overturned ejecta blanket that rests on top of Meteor Crater. The light colored material on top is the Kaibab Limestone which is overturned in this position. It rest on reddish Moenkopi formation of which about half is overturned as well. Bedded Kaibab Limestone, which is locally brecciated from the impact, makes up the tilted strata below. 

A view of the south (shadowed) and west (sunlit) crater walls and floor from the rim. The crater is about 550 feet deep and is deeper than the surrounding plain outside the crater. Studies indicate that between 100 and 150 feet of post-impact material has washed into the enclosed crater.See the following image to know something of the size of the bolide that created the crater.

Same photo as above with a red dot indicating the interpreted size of the bolide, about 150 feet in diameter. This image shows how small of an object it takes to create such a large landform. The bolide hit the earth at between 26,000 and 32,000 miles per hour. The kinetic energy was enormous. The crater is about 4,000 feet in diameter and 2.5 miles in circumference.
Image taken from the publication, "Guidebook to the Geology of the Barringer Meterorite Crater, Arizona" by David Kring, 2007. This image has the postulated Ice Age vegetative zones superimposed over the modern landscape (note the Spruce Forest Zone on the left which no longer exists in this part of Arizona). The red circle denotes the 12-mile diameter scorch zone where everything was burned upon impact. The yellow ring denotes the 20-mile wide zone where all large animals were killed or wounded. And the blue ring denotes the 40-mile wide zone of hurricane force winds away from the blast.

Starting down the trail into the crater. The ruins of the original visitor center building can be seen in the background.

View of the ejecta blanket from inside the lip of the crater. Remember that the white Kaibab Limestone lies stratigraphically below the red Moenkopi Formation. But here, blocks of white Kaibab lie over the Moenkopi as ejecta was forcefully thrown from the impact site.

As we approached the floor of the crater, I was taken by these eroded blocks of Kaibab Limestone that have dislodged from the walls of the crater and come tumbling down the slopes.

Our group approaching the borehole site on the floor of the crater. 

The borehole site is fenced for safety and on it is a cut-out of an astronaut and a real American flag.

A piece of the ruined equipment near the borehole.

Giant levers on the wench serve as artful beacons on the floor of Meteor Crater.

Author Rose Houk and geologist Michael Collier pose in front of the old boiler on the floor of the crater. We did not find any coal debris around the boiler and we were stumped as to how the boiler could have been fired.

As we made our way uphill along the steep trail, the clouds of an oncoming winter storm framed the crater walls. Thankfully, the storm held off until our return to the visitor center.

Not everything we saw related to the impact which is thought to have occurred about 50,000 years ago. Here in beds of the Moenkopi Formation are the burrowing remains of some Triassic critter (right of the lends cap) and in the block above this are impression of rip-up clasts within sandstone. To learn more about rip-up clasts, see my blog from a Henry Mountains field trip here.

Near the top of the trail are many old artifacts from days gone by. This looks to be some kind of contraption for use with mules that brought supplies to the crater floor. 

Scott Harger inspects a huge block of ejected Coconino Sandstone on the rim of Meteor Crater. This specimen retains original Permian-age cross-bedding within it but was thrown out of the impact site. It is most likely overturned in this position.

This is a close-up view of the same block, which can be seen to be brecciated but still retaining original cross-bedding.

Looking into the ruins of the old visitor center on the rim of the crater.

Debris is strewn about the ruin site and documents a time long gone in northern Arizona.


Our group returning back to the museum area ans walking on top of a slab of Coconino Sandstone ejecta.

 Here is a normal view of the Coconino Sandstone ejecta blanket on Meteor Crater's south rim. See the next photo for a clearer view of it.

Enhanced view of the Coconino Sandstone ejecta blanket. The rocks outside the colored area are Kaibab Limestone ejecta which is more golden in color.

A view northwest to the oncoming storm. The photograph was taken on the crest of the ejecta blanket and looks down about 120 feet onto the surrounding landscape. Thanks to Drew Barringer for allowing us geologists to experience this world-class landform from its central heart.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

More on the Cardenas Party

My most recent blog post was written with the intent to inspire thoughtful discussion. There has been a multitude of discussion about it with some at Grand Canyon National Park. I admit up front that I am more accepting of newer ideas than most others. Some people prefer to initially react in the negative when new ideas are presented - until those ideas can be proven to be right. I tend to accept things more readily because I believe that it can be a faster way to the truth, whatever the truth actually is. In my field of Grand Canyon's geologic evolution, the skeptics hold all of the cards and you know the status of where we are with that.

Anyway, I agree that it is more likely that this inscription was made by someone from Bass's era (hired help or tourist). But Dr. Kenny's hypothesis rightfully should spur a new round of thought on how exactly did the Cardenas party spent their time at Grand Canyon? "Three days on this bank looking for a passage down to the river..." is a powerful description of men looking for a route down into the canyon. To me, the Desert View to Moran Pt. area is not conducive for this, especially to flat-landers like the Spanish. Whether the inscription itself is from the Cardenas party or not, I find it plausible that the Spanish would meander along the rim and attempt a descent as soon as the Esplanade came into view - ironically right here where the Grand Scenic Divide first comes into view as one approaches from the east.

I was told by park staff last night that the esteemed archaeologist Robert Euler visited the site in the early 1980's and proposed that the inscription was left by some Bass era person. However, since the proposed location of the "first view" was first offered in the late 19th or early 20th century, our knowledge of how people interact with landscapes has grown exponentially. A re-evaluation of the "norm" seems to be warranted.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Did the Cardenas Party Leave a Rock Inscription in Grand Canyon in 1540?

An inscription on the Esplanade Platform near the Bass Trail stirs debate (photo © Wayne Ranney, 1991)

A geologist in Colorado has proposed that a mysterious rock inscription found in the Grand Canyon may record the exact place where the first people of European descent could have laid eyes on the Grand Canyon. Traditionally, historians have proposed that the "first view" should be located somewhere between Desert View and Moran Point, in the far eastern part of the canyon. Their reasoning stems from journal references to a place with "low twisted pines and open to the north", and the fact that their Hopi guides would not have walked any farther than necessary from the journey's origin on the Hopi Mesa's. Additionally, journal entries state:

Captain Melgosa and one Juan Galeras and another companion ...
spent three days on this bank looking for a passage down to the river [and] made an attempt to go down at the least difficult place... They returned … not having succeeded in reaching the bottom ... They said they had been down about a third of the way and that the river seemed very large from the place which they reached. [emphasis added]

Using these very subtle landscape clues (ones that allow geologists to see a bit more into the mystery than perhaps a historian can), geologist Ray Kenny of Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado thinks he may have found where the "first view" might be. He thinks it could actually be located farther west in the vicinity of the South Bass Trail (where low twisted pines are also located). There, a cryptic rock inscription about a third of the way down on the Esplanade platform can be found, that reads simply, "Monte Video" (perhaps roughly translated as, "I see the mountain"). The calligraphy used is reminiscent of early Spanish script and it appears to be of rather old age. One wonders, if not a Spaniard who wrote this, who then? William Wallace Bass? Not likely. I think Kenny may be on to something. You can read about the hypothesis in its entirety here. Be sure to hit all of the tabs listed on the left side of this page for a full treatment of the hypothesis.

I visited this remote site in April, 1991 while serving as a guide on a Museum of Northern Arizona Ventures trip. I was led there by historian Jim Babbitt who was my co-leader at the time. Memory recalls that Babbitt had been long perplexed by this odd inscription and its cryptic message. I too became curious about the inscription but never gave it much thought until the NPS article above was brought to my attention. Kenny's hypothesis seems reasonable to me. The calligraphy is certainly from an antiquated time. And known Spanish incursions into the canyon were quite rare until we stole - er acquired - the land from Spanish domination.

But more important is the notion that the "first view" party would necessarily travel the shortest distance possible to reach the river (which was the primary objective for the trip west from Hopi in the first place - to resupply the Coronado Expedition via the Sea of Cortez by ship). This is Euro-centric thinking at its finest - "get me there in the shortest, quickest way." While it's still possible that they could have first approached the canyon from a point farther east, it's also likely that with "three days exploring this bank," they could have wandered farther west to the South Bass area. (As Kenny points out, it's likely that the Hopi would not want the perceived intruders to know about their routes into the canyon in the Desert View area). Also, "a third of the way down" would take them to the Esplanade level in the Bass area of the canyon and the Desert View to Moran Point area is one of the least likely places in all of Grand Canyon to attempt a trip down off the rim. Lastly, the Hopi used a well maintained trail from their mesa's to the canyon home of the Havasupai, and the South Bass area is not that far from this route. A landscape perspective has not previously been utilized in attempting to solve the mystery of where the "first view" party saw the canyon.

And so the Grand Canyon again leaves us with a wonderfully appetizing mystery. Let's see where this one leads us!

(All photos this posting © Wayne Ranney, April, 1991)

View to the north from near the South Bass Trailhead. Fossil Mountain on the left with Mt. Huethawali on the Esplanade Platform to its right. The terrace north of Mt. Huethawali is where the inscription is located.

View of the Esplanade Platform from near the inscription site. The Esplanade has formed a broad terrace in western Grand Canyon where the Hermit Shale has retreated off of the harder sandstone below.

Looking at the inscription near Mystic Spring. It's tantalizing the think that members of the Coronado Expedition in 1540 left this inscription.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Guided Walk on the Trail of Time

This past Saturday, I led a group of about 30 people on the "Trail of Time" at Grand Canyon. They were members of the Central Arizona Geology Club in Prescott which is very active with lectures and field trips. They posted a short blog about the trip here. It was wild and windy day but thanks to their interest we made a one mile walk in three hours! Only at the Grand Canyon do you get "brownie points" for taking longer walks!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Geology and the 2010 Moab River Rendezvous

The 2010 Moab River Rendezvous was held under sparkling sunny skies from November 11 to 14 and featured a one-day float trip on the Colorado River, numerous lectures and films, and a gathering of scientists and river enthusiasts. I was honored to be the Keynote Speaker on Saturday, Nov. 13, with "Carving Grand Canyon". This lecture was very well received and has been revamped to include the latest findings on how the Grand Canyon formed. Pictures of a lecture are not that exciting but look below to see how the river trip worked out!

(You can also read about and see photo's from my posting on the 2009 Moab River Rendezvous here).

The trip took place on Friday, Nov. 12 and put-in at the Hittle Bottom ramp near the Fisher Towers. One of the highlights of the Rendezvous was the participation of three historic replica boats from the 1950's. Here the Flavell and the GEM (replicas) take to the water at the put-in.

Gus Scott and Richard Quartaroli stand in front of the Flavell before she was launched on her maiden voyage

One of the highlights of the trip for me was seeing geologist Peter Winn again after nearly 18 years. On my very first Grand Canyon river trip in 1976, Peter was an ARTA boatman who shared a story about transgressing Cambrian seas. I remember the proverbial "light-bulb" going on for me at that moment and knew that geology was what I wanted to pursue after hearing his stories from the rocks.

Myself with Peter Winn at the lunch stop

A picture of me with Bill Bishop, a colleague from our days as boatmen with Worldwide Explorations

Here is a shot of the two main organizers of the event - geologist Tamsin McCormick and Director Michael Smith of Plateau Restoration. PR does great work rehabilitating beaches from exotic plant invasions and placing students in conservation positions and careers. They are the main sponsors of the River Rendezvous. Board member Leif Johnson looks on from behind.

River historian Roy Webb (University of Utah) looks at a piece of driftwood on the lunch beach. But this is not just any old piece of driftwood - it is a piece from the old Dewey Bridge upstream on the river. In April, 2008, the bridge caught fire and was destroyed. You can read about this historic loss here.

Michael Smith examines some of the hardware that was used to identified this historic piece of driftwood. He proposes to raft this piece of history back to town where it can be preserved as a part of Moab area history.

Now for the geology part! I took this picture from the boat beach which shows rounded river boulders resting on an outcrop of the Cutler Formation. Across the Colorado River and far in the distance are the Fisher Towers, fantastically eroded monoliths cut into the same formation.

The La Sal Mountain laccolith received a dusting of fresh snow just a few days before the Rendezvous began. These spectacular mountains provide much of the scenic charm found everywhere in the Moab area. They formed when magma spread laterally within sedimentary layers and cooled into a dense rock called trachyte. This all happened between 28 and 22 Ma. Relatively recent erosion has removed the once-enclosing sedimentary rocks and left the intrusive rocks in these peaks. Not visible from this angle is Mt. Peale, the highest point in the range and considered the highest point on the entire Colorado Plateau at 12,726 ft. (it barely beats out Mt. Humphrey's on the San Francisco Peaks at 12, 633). To read more about laccoliths see my previous postings on the Henry Mountains and other Plateau laccoliths.

Fantastic outcrops of Triassic rocks near Castleton Tower. Aprons below consist of the Moenkopi and Chinle formations, The towers are cut into the Wingate Sandstone. To see photo's of Castleton Tower from the open doors of a helicopter look here!

Eroded rills in the Moenkopi Formation along the Colorado River near Moab

The trees were still showing gold in Moab at this late date. All of the fall colors out west are a little later than normal this year.

Jason Hughes takes the oars of the GEM while boat builder and river historian Tom Martin looks on (left) with his wife Hazel (right). The 2010 Moab River Rendezvous was a great success. Plan on attending it in 2011!