Friday, January 24, 2020

One of My Most Popular Posts - The Geologic Slump That Closed US Highway 89, February, 2013

As I am still recovering from bilateral knee replacement surgery, my friend Joan recommended that I repost some of my most popular stories. What a great idea.

This first installment was written by me while traveling in Egypt, where I received word that US Highway 89 had been closed indefinitely due to a "geologic event". The Google Earth images really showed that this particular area is prone to geologic slumping. Enjoy!

(Note: I have removed dead links from the original story).

I am taking time out from my "Around the World" trip and writing from Luxor, Egypt where I visited King Tut's tomb today. Many friends, colleagues and one very special wife have written to me to share news of a giant slump that has closed State Highway 89 between Flagstaff and Page, Arizona. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is calling this a  "geologic event", one that occurred on the morning of February 20 (local Arizona time). ADOT has already produced an informative and image-rich video describing in engineering terms what happened to the road and what it might take to fix it (thanks to John P. for providing this link to me).

I can give an informal geological assessment of the rock failure as I travel that road often and am familiar with the geologic setting of that portion of the highway. It is one of the most scenic roads in all the state of Arizona.

View from Highway 89 looking west toward the upper part of the Grand Canyon, known as Marble Canyon. The slump area is located just left of this shot and earlier slump deposits are visible in the foreground. The large boulders are collapsed fragments of Navajo Sandstone that fell from the Echo Cliffs (behind the photographer) from the previous slumping events. Photo taken in November, 2007

View to the south of the Echo Cliffs (photo taken in winter, 2010). The older slump is also visible in the foreground and is a part of the recent slump area.

Great view of slump material which is common on this slope. The slump was caused by cohesion failure in the Triassic Chinle Formation. Anyone who travels Highway 89 north of Cameron will know the havoc that this shale and mudstone lithology creates in the bed of that highway. Motorists often "enjoy" a free massage since the clays and shales swell when wet, then contract as they dry.

The Chinle Formation exposed north of Cameron Arizona, displaying the soft nature of the shale, claystone and mudstone bedding. Photo taken on October 17, 2009.

Chuck LaRue of Flagstaff sent me this Google image of Highway 89 and the ancient slump is quite obvious from this vantage. Note how the white colored Navajo Sandstone clearly has slumped downslope just above the highway in this view. Note that road construction in the late 1950's curved around the westward protrusion of the slump material.

Same image with lines highlighting the prehistoric slump area. The solid red line shows where the rocks broke away from, the dashed yellow line is the top of the slump block. This mass of rock slid downslope about 250 to 300 feet. The age of slumping is unknown to me.

A 'Halfway Around The World' Assessment - As I can believe, ADOT geo-engineers are on site evaluating options. Some rumors suggest that the highway may closed up to one year. The bed failure of the highway necessitates a tedious detour around the slump to State Highway 98, making a trip from Flagstaff to Page some 50 miles farther. Some brave travelers may try the unpaved Coppermine Road but likely just once if they do (the road is quite bumpy). I am sure that one viable option is to quickly pave the Coppermine Road. Some have also said that maybe the "slump route" may be abandoned. Not likely.The road is too scenic and too direct for that and engineers rarely say, "We give up"  these days. Look for a massive stabilization project on this slope, very similar to that undertaken on the Mesa Verde approach road in southwestern Colorado. (There huge portions of the Cretaceous Mancos Shale have often slipped, yet the National Park Service has completed very expensive and a well-engineered solution there. ADOT will do the same here, hopefully that will be landscape interpretive friendly, and we will be able to one day travel this great road again. However, this slope will also one day again slide downhill as it has for at least the last several hundred thousand years. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Trail of Time at Grand Canyon - Part 2 of the Charles Carrigan Video of My September 2019 GSA Field Trip

Here is the video made by Charles Carrigan of Day 2 of our GSA Field Trip in September, 2019. The video is 15 minutes in length and covers our 2+ kilometer-long walk along the Trail of Time at Grand Canyon National Park. Thanks to Charles for making these informative and educational videos! And to the 43 participants on our trip. There were about 5,500 professional geologists who attended the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Phoenix, Arizona.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Video by Charles Carrigan of My GSA Field Trip to Grand Canyon, September, 2019

Readers may recall that I participated as an invited speaker and field trip leader for the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America. One of the participants on that field trip made a professional grade video of the trip and now has Day 1 of the trip posted online. You can view this 8 minute video here. Great job by Charles!

I will post the video from Day 2 of the field trip once Charles makes it available, early next week.

Remember, as the narrator says, "As recently as 40 million years ago....."

Ha! The life of a geologist!

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Origin of the Domestic Tomato

I have a great interest in the origin of common foods. I am especially interested in those that originated in the New World, such as corn, avocados, peanuts, pineapples, chili peppers, and quinoa. Now a study of the genome of the domestic tomato gives information on its place of origin. It appears that tomatoes that were blue-berry size originated in modern-day Ecuador, with variants making their way to Meso-America on the Mexican Plateau, and then another movement to the Yucatan Peninsula where the larger varieties were developed. You can read a summary of the study here. The scientific abstract can be found here. On my computer, I could click on the PDF link and obtain the entire scientific paper.

Tomato domestication history is generally depicted as a “two-step” process with an increase in fruit size from blueberry-sized SP to generally cherry-sized SLC, and then to the very large-fruited common tomatoes (SLL) consumed around the world. All the signs from the study analyses pointed to the intermediate group (SLC) emerging in Ecuador—far earlier than human domestication— then spreading out northward over time, suggesting that human use of SLC came much later. They reconstructed a putative domestication history of tomato groups, focusing especially on the under-explored intermediate stage represented by SLC. They found that SLC originated in Ecuador probably as a wild species over 78 KYA, likely as a vicariance event that separated more coastal SP populations from inland emerging SLC.

Credit: Hamid Razifard, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Monday, December 23, 2019

Earthly-Musings on Short Hiatus for a Few Weeks

On December 6, I had bilateral knee replacement surgery. I guess it's true - the Grand Canyon takes its toll. I am happy to pay the toll given all of the wonderful and exciting adventures I've had. I am in the process of rehab and recovery,.Thus, I will be taking a break from posting until sometime in mid-January. Thank you for your patience.

Enjoy the "Then and Now" photos below.

Cuyahoga River Ohio, on fire from industrial waste - 1969.

Cuyahoga River and Cuyahoga Valley National Park today after clean-up. Clean air and water legislation works!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Lecture for The Men's Dinner Club of Oklahoma City

My trip to Oklahoma in November 2019 was to give a lecture to the Men's Dinner Club of Oklahoma City. I took a few pictures of the venue and the people.

This dinner club was established just a few months after Oklahoma became a state (in November 1907), with Oklahoma City as the capital, stealing it from the former capital at Guthrie.

About 150 people were in attendance in the Sam Nobel Special Events Center at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Unfortunately, the lecture was held after hours and I could not see the museum. But it looked like a real treasure not to be missed.

Five triptych's of western art were on display in the lecture hall. This one portrays Monument Valley in Utah and Arizona. The triptych's  painted by New Mexico artist Wilson Hurley.

A view of my opening slide inside the lecture hall.

I recognized this painting of Grand Canyon, viewed from  the South Kaibab Trail on Cedar Ridge.

A photo taken with the immediate former governor of Oklahoma who was in attendance. She is pictured to my left, Mary Fallin. He husband, Wade Christensen is to her left. The others were attendees in the photograph for the local newspaper but were unidentified to me.

This was a suit and tie affair. And I compiled!

While in Oklahoma City, I visited the National Memorial at the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. This was the site of the bombing on April 19, 1995.

A reflecting pool (covered while under reconstruction) marks the site of 5th Avenue that ran on the north side of the building (on the left in this photo). The vehicle with the bomb pulled up in front of the building about half way down the length of the pool.

The northeast corner of the original building is preserved as part of the monument.

The chairs each represent one of the 168 people killed in the act of domestic terrorism. The nine rows of chairs represent which floor the person was employed on.

The Memorial is a moving tribute to a senseless act of destruction and murder. The perpetrator was a white nationalist intent on destroying the government. One wonders if the harmful idea that, "...the government is the problem," so callously stated by a former President of the United States, helped to fan this senseless act. As a country, we need to abandon this  harmful idea and the notion that it is proper politics. Indeed, many of our current problems stem from this worthless idea.

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