Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Oklahoma's Wichita Mountains - A Remnant Landscape From the Permian

I recently fulfilled a long-time desire to visit Oklahoma. For many years, I joked that "Oklahoma is the closest place I've never been to." No more. I honestly believe that there is something to see everywhere, even geologically. So after landing in Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport, I headed southwest in a rental car to see the Wichita Mountains. Of course, I would find some very interesting things to see along the way toward the mountains. First stop - Fort Sill. (Hint to the geologists - the description of the geology of the area begins about half-way through the post).

My first view of the Wichita Mountains from the Will Roger's Turnpike and Interstate 44.

The route passes through many different Native lands and the Comanches have always loomed large in my consciousness. Truly, the Lords of the Plains!

I stopped to ask directions and inside the Gaming Office I saw this interesting painting that depicts the Comanches in their prime.

I obtained a day permit to enter the Fort Sill Military Reservation.

Fort Sill is where the Arizona and New Mexico Apache prisoners of war were compelled to live out the rest of their lives. Geronimo made his final surrender in Skeleton Canyon in the PinaleƱo Mountains in extreme southeast Arizona in 1886 and was shipped along with many others to Fort Pickens in Florida. After eight years there, they were removed to Fort Sill in 1894.

Some of the original picket houses still stand at Fort Sill, this one constructed in the 1870s.

The west side of the Fort's parade grounds is located along Geronimo Road.

And of course, my purpose in going to Fort Sill was to visit the gravesite of the leader of the Bedonkohe (Chiricahua) band of Apache warriors. This has been a long-time dream of mine since I partook in the Centennial activities of Geronimo's final surrender in 1986 in Cochise County.

Sign at the entrance to the cemetery along Beef Creek on Fort Sill.

Here it is - Geronimo's grave! Unfortunately, the eagle head has been broken off and there seems to be no indication that it will be repaired. Coins litter the ground at the foot of the pedestal.

Close-up of Geronimo's name on the pedestal.

A wider view of the gravesite location. The view is to the northwest and Beef Creek is behind the photographer. All of the graves are of Apache warriors or their families.

Geronimo's daughter is buried nearby. The date indicates that she was born at Fort Pickens in Florida and died two years after her father did in 1909. The following shots are of various Apaches interred in the cemetery.


Fenton Geronimo

Dohn-Zay (LuLu Geronimo)


Chief Loco

I brought a rock from Arizona to place on Geronimo's grave. I had heard that Geronimo made many pleas with the government to return to his homeland but all requests were denied. To this day, there is still sentiment among some Arizona and New Mexico Apaches to return his remains to Arizona. But people in Oklahoma are resistant to the idea. I thought it would be a nice gesture to bring a piece of Arizona here.

The rock on the grave.

A sign as you leave the cemetery. I too have been a proponent of returning Geronimo's remains to his beloved Southwest. But I must admit that after visiting this cemetery, that is not such an easy thing to do. Here he rests with 300 other Apaches and to remove one from the many is probably not right. This is perhaps why the calls for the return of his remains have not been more pronounced. It was a moving and heartfelt visit and if you love Arizona or Southwest history, a stop here is a must.

On to the Wichita Mountains and its geology!

Location map of the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma. Geronimo's grave is located on the far right of the map about where Highway sign 277 is shown. Locations I visited are Medicine Park, Mt. Scott and Meers, located in the right quarter of the map. Photos included in this post are of the Wichita Granite, Limestone group, and Permian Redbeds (from Gilbert, M.C., 2014, Oklahoma Geological Survey, Guidebook 39).

This is the little community of Medicine Park nestled in the Wichita Mountains.

Mt. Scott is composed of the Wichita Granite, an Early Cambrian intrusive suite. It is important to remember however, that the form or shape of the Wichita Mountains is Permian and was preserved under Mesozoic and Cenozoic cover for most of its existence. This is an exhumed Permian landscape.

Map of the igneous rocks of the Wichita Mountains (from Gilbert, M.C., 2014, Oklahoma Geological Survey, Guidebook 39).

The mountains are part of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge with many bison and pronghorn on the refuge (which I did not see).

This photo is used from Gilbert, M.C., 2014, Oklahoma Geological Survey, Guidebook 39, and shows a Permian streambed (in the foreground) with tributaries trending away from the photographer. This stream is being exhumed from beneath the overlying Post Oak Conglomerate (Permian). Modern Medicine Creek is co-opting the Permian streambed (line of riparian trees in the foreground).

Cross-section through the range showing how the Permian units lap onto the igneous rocks.

The Wichita Mountains are part of the Southern Oklahoma aulocogen (failed rift). For more information on this feature see here. This trend of mountain building extends northwest and also includes the Uncompahgre Uplift in southwestern Colorado. In other words, this uplift was related to the Ancestral Rocky Mountains, so prominent in southwestern geologic history.

Structural setting of the Late Paleozoic basins in south central North America.

Imagine a Dimetrodon walking and seeing this same mountain. Such animals were alive in this area at that time (about 260 Ma).

Another view of these Permian-age mountains driving north toward Meers.

This is Mt. Sheridan in the northern part of the Wichita Mountains.

I was given a hint that there was a famous restaurant (and not much else) in the small community of Meers.

It is a classic small town establishment that prides itself on serving Texas Longhorn burgers. They were good!

The inside of Meers Restaurant.

A last look to the south of the Wichita Mountains.

Driving north on State Highway 58, the landscape flattens out as the mountains are left behind.

This is the Ordovician McKenzie Hill Formation (limestone) that was buckled and deformed in the Wichita Mountains uplift, now exposed in roadcuts along State Highway 19 west of its junction with State Highway 58. A giant unconformity separates Ordovician and Permian rocks in this part of Oklahoma.

Redbeds of the Permian Rush Springs Formation made up a lot of the landscape west of Anadarko on State Highway 9. Who says Oklahoma doesn't have rocks? Only those who haven't been there! The Rush Springs Formation is approximately 300 feet thick with local bands of dolomite and gypsum.

An abandoned gas station on State Highway 9 just west of Anadarko.

These make for great photo studies.

I can guess the time at which the station might have become abandoned - ethyl gasoline was priced here at $0.49 per gallon. In Oklahoma, this means it might have been in the mid-70s. I remember being in shock at seeing the price of gasoline at $0.56 per gallon in Tuolomne Meadows in the High Sierra in 1973.

This was a fantastic day! To see images of Oklahoma City and the lecture I gave there, go to my personal blog at http://all-in-a-days-karma.blogspot.com.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Ten Years as an Arizona Humanities Speaker Comes to an End

On October 30, 2019 and after ten years, I gave my final talk as an Arizona Humanities Speaker. It was in 2009 that I submitted my initial application to the program and gratefully, I was accepted. In those ten years I estimate that I have given over 50 presentations around the state of Arizona to audiences from Ajo to Grand Canyon, and Lake Havasu City to Springerville.

The program is a fantastic bargain for libraries, civic groups, informal education groups, and historical societies. Sponsoring hosts submit a $100 application fee for a speaker, chosen from a catalog of about 50 speakers. Currently, each speaker has two lectures they can give (when I began the program in 2010 speakers could list up to four lectures). Then, AZ Humanities using grant contributions from the National Endowment for the Humanities and individual contributions to the program pays each speaker an honorarium, travel funds, meal, and hotels costs (if needed).

Through the years my lectures have included "Carving Grand Canyon", "Ancient Landscapes of the American Southwest", and "In the Footsteps of Martha Summerhayes: Or How I Touched a Real Piece of Arizona History While Sailing Around an Iceberg in Greenland". While it might seem odd to see some geology titles in a Humanities program, all of my lectures involve telling how scientific ideas came to fruition by human endeavors. They are never just about the rocks.

Sadly, my application for the next two year cycle was not accepted and so I have come to the end of this satisfying adventure in my life. Below are some photos of the venue for my final lecture.

Thank you Arizona Humanities and good luck!

My final lecture was given in Florence Arizona, one of the 10 oldest Anglo settlements in the state. The venue was the McFarland State Historic Park, named after Ernest McFarland, the former US Senator from Arizona (1941-1953), Senate Majority Leader (1951-1953 - until he was upset running for a third term as Senator by an upstart named Barry Goldwater), Governor of Arizona (1954-1958), and Supreme Court of Arizona (1964-1968).

The building served as the original Pinal County Courthouse and was built in 1879. In 1891 it was repurposed as the County Hospital.

My lecture was given in the old courtroom, where many a Wild West trial was held.

After the lecture, my hosts held a small gathering in the beautiful outdoor venue behind the courthouse. One door closes and another opens.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Landscapes and Cultures of Bhutan

Bhutan is an Eastern Himalayan Kingdom surrounded by India and China. Think about that for a moment when you consider that the country only has 760,000 citizens. It was a closed to all outsiders until 1971 and television and the internet were only introduced in 1999. You readily notice how this influences a visit to the country today. There is no private touring in Bhutan - everyone must be on an organized tour with a guide (except for Indian nationals who were recently granted visiting privileges without a guide). It's an un usual and mountainous country.

The Four Pillars of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan.  In 1972, King Wangchuck instituted a measurement known as Gross National Happiness, whereby the purpose of the political state was to insure a level of contentment for all citizens.

The national flag can be seen painted on the winglets.

The flight into Paro (the only international airport) is an adventure and only a few pilots with the national airline (Druk Air) are licensed to fly into it. Mountains require a sharp S-turn in some conditions.

Literally, everywhere I went in Nepal and Bhutan, the sidewalks were paved in cut slabs of muscovite schist. It was astounding that this stone was used along such a wide margin of the Himalayan front.

Here is a close-up of a hand sample along a road cut. These rocks were altered from shale that was deposited in the Proto-Tethys Ocean, in existence from about 700 to 500 Ma. The metamorphism occurred along the thrust faults that underlie the mountains.

Our first stop was Thimpu, the capital of the county. While visiting the Textile Museum, I saw these two workers carrying a load of dirt to a construction site. This technique was observed elsewhere and although I did see a few bulldozers, muck of the labor is still done by hand.

Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BCE, and the modern history begins in the 7th century when people came over the Himalaya from Tibet and introduced Buddhism. (A structure in Paro remains from this time period of settlement). Numerous fortresses/monasateries called Dzongs dot the countryside and the one seen above sits in the Thimpu Valley.

The Thimpu Dzong at night is a beautiful sight.

A giant Buddha statue has been built on Thimpu's southern hillside. We were able to enter the temple that sits beneath the statue.

Monks at the Buddha statue.

The Buddha and clouds.

This is a view to the north of the Thimpu Valley. The High Himalaya are hidden by clouds but the mountainous nature of the landscape is evident.

After leaving Thimpu we drove east on the East West Road, which took us over Dochula Pass, elevation 10,171 feet. Here there are 108 memorial chortens or stupas that overlook the highway.

Unfortunately, the clouds covered the High Himalaya and we could not see the glaciated peaks in the distance. However, the large cypress trees in this protected area were fabulous to see. As I have observed in Nepal, the peaks are what your eye sees readily but the depth of the cvalleys is no less astounding. A hint of that can be observed in this photograph.

Our local guide, Dorji, prepares the prayer flags that we will hang across the East West Road. This location is one he uses only for the Smithsonian trips.

Our driver, Sonam, takes the string across the road...

...and climbs the road cut across the way...

...to a tree that looked to be too young and too dead to hold him - to make the final attachment. Honestly, this feat was amazing to watch as he was dressed in what looked like inappropriate shoes for climbing loose soil and dead trees! But Sonam was in the equivalent of our Green Berets and as such is used to doing death defying feats. It was amazing to watch.

As we entered the valley of Punakha, I made a friend at a local temple site. Rather, she made a friend as she was the one to come over from where her mom was selling crafts and just sat on my lap.

The journey included a rafting trip on the Mo River, the mother river in the native tongue.

We ran about 15 kilometers on the Class II stretch. Water rom the Himalaya!

A wonderful lunch was prepared for us riverside after the trip.

This beautiful Dzong is also located on the Mo River.

This is the covered bridge leading to the Dzong.

And a view from inside the covered bridge.

The artwork inside the Dzong is fabulous and reflects Himalayan themes. Note the snow-capped peaks in these two paintings.

Hallway in the Dzong.


I'm pretty sure a grandmother is carrying her grandchild while the great grandmother looks on.

Another view. Bhutan is off the path well-traveled but if you have the resources it is well worth the effort.