Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of my favorite cities, I think this stop has been the best so far for me. Since I was here just one year ago and we did basically the same things then, I will refer you to that post dated January 15 to 18, 2008. There you will find pictures of this fantastic hotel, the gauchos and city scenes. Check it out. Here are few more pictures from this trip of the Recoleta Cemetery. The recent plane crash in Flagstaff where two popular river guides were killed causes all of us to wonder about life and death. Here in Buenos Aires, the mystery of death to us humans is evident.

Central Buenos Aires and the Rio de La Plata from 10,000 feet.

One of the many alley ways in Recoleta Cemetery, where Buenos Aires elite have been buried since the mid-1800's. Families pay rent to keep there ancestors remains here and sometimes people will even rent space for a casket for only 4 days just to say that their relatives had a funeral in Recoleta.

Many of the mausoleums are ornate with marble and other stone. Many of these mausoleums have 3 or four stories beneath the ground to accommodate the remains of the many generations inside.

One could look for hours at these plaques and find them interesting. I was taken by this one that told a story of one D. Antonio F. Celesia. He was obviously well-liked by many as reads his plaque: "To Professor D. Antonio F. Celesia - From your college disciples and friends".

And a representation of him at work in his chosen profession - a doctor of physiology who taught his students how to know the human body.

This is the mausoleum of the Duarte family and their most famous daughter, Eva Peron.

Eva Peron's plaque.

Look at the detail in this marble statue of a woman holding the door to the family mausoleum. As individual mortals, we forever try to keep the flame of life alive, baffled by those rare but important days when our loved ones do not awaken forever more. By giving scenes of life like this to burial grounds, we try to eases the pain by invoking ideas that something must lie beyond the darkness. Yet common sense and connecting the dots reveals that we are given only so much time - and then are away, making room for other lives. In this way, we perhaps never die. We must make our lives meaningful while alive in the here and now and not concern ourselves with morbid thoughts of our mortality.

For us, the living, life goes on. We go about the business of our lives are try not to think that one day we too will be called to inhabit the cemeteries of the dead. It is as it should be and we cannot change it. Peace and love to Tom and Frank, taken too soon from us. We are reminded of the good you left us. On to Patagonia for now. Love.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rio de Janeiro - After All These Years

Not too long after leaving the Mid-Atlantic region we saw the edge of the New World and the coast of Brazil. I remember looking at the 10-day forecast for Rio about a week ago and there were 10 days of thunderstorms predicted with 60% chance of rain each day. Rio can be sloppy in the rain but it turned out that a break in the weather greeted our arrival. Have a look.

Here is a large river in central Brazil that appeared from under the breaking clouds. It was obviously in flood from the recent heavy rains and silt-laden. I tried to find the name of this on Google Earth but with no luck.

Rio de Janeiro and Guanabara Bay from 10,000 feet. A spectacular view of a spectacular place (remember the harbor at Rio de Janeiro is one of the traditional Seven Natural Wonders of the World). Copacabana Beach center left and downtown at the top of the bay

Here is a look at the front of our hotel, the Copacabana Palace, facing the Atlantic Ocean

The weather was fantastic for just this one day in between storms. This picture is taken from the top of the Corcovado where the Christ statue is located (itself voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007). The Sugar Loaf Mt. (Pão de Açucar) is obvious in the center. Most people in the north do not realize that the coast of South America here runs east and west with the mouth of the harbor (upper left) faces south. This is a view to the east in early morning light. To me Rio is like a blend of San Francisco and Yosemite Valley - a world class city in a world class location.

Here is the famous Copacabana Beach on a Sunday afternoon. So alive, so Brazil. Brazilians are typically not afraid to show their bodies in public no matter how old or wrinkled they may be. This can be a bit of a shock to those who grow up "Puritan-Land" to the north. To me, there always seems to be just a bit of a disconnect between these guilt-free southerners and us who shelter our skin from the cold and snow. One of the great challenges in traveling to, and learning about, foreign lands and people is to see life through the lens of their eyes, rather than drift towards the tendency to judge with our own. On a trip like this, I am reminded constantly about the need to experience rather than judge. But sorry guys, no close-ups of the string bikini's!

From the top of the Pão de Açucar, a wide view of Copacabana Beach, 3 miles long and teeming with throngs of worshipers who call this tropical city paradise.

From the top of the Sugar Loaf, I took this picture of the rocks around the entrance to Guanabara Bay. The water in the bay is highly polluted (skanky is an appropriate term that might be too soft of a word). The Brazilians have many challenges that face them if they want to clean this mess up. But above the shoreline, it is quite spectacular. The Santa Cruz Fort can be seen in the center and guarded the bay from envious French and Dutch sailors and pirates.

Lagoa da Freitas from Corcovado

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ascención Island - The Middle of the Atlantic Ocean!

A rule in aviation is that aircraft with only two engines (like our 757) can never be more than 3 hours from a landing strip. So instead of flying straight across from Cape Town to Rio, we needed to fly far north to a tiny speck of land known as Ascención Island, just 65 miles west of the submerged Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This was quite a treat for our group (maybe I'm stretching the truth here). But I was definitely happy to stop at this outpost in the middle of the sea - it was vivid with volcanic features and we received permission to do a flying tour of the island before we stopped to refuel at a runway - reserved as one of the emergency landing strips for the space shuttle. Here is a photo tour of a place very few people ever see.

Here's the approach to Ascención Island after a six hour flight from Cape Town. Our trip is making the transition from Africa to South America!

And a view of most of the island as our captain positions the jet for great views. Air traffic control was more than happy to let us fly where we wanted.

Although it is under a cloud, you can make out the runway in this pic just to the left of the obvious cinder cone. A photo of this cone from ground level is included below.

The island is over 2 miles tall but three-fourths of it is under the sea. The oldest flows are one million years old and there have not been any historic flows at all (since AD 1501). But geologists note that eruptions have probably occurred since AD 1000. You can easily see some excellent lava features on one of the younger flows in this shot.

Surprisingly, there are a number of trachyte and rhyolite flows on the northeast side of the island. Ascención is not directly on top of the mid-ocean ridge - it's about 65 miles west of that. It has erupted on a the Acención Fracture Zone and is part of a hot spot.

Here's the view of the tarmac as I exited the jet.

Our Explorer jet on Acención Island.

The NASA tracking station on top of a relatively recent cinder cone.

One for the records!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cape Town, South Africa

After leaving the desert our trip descended on Cape Town, South Africa, one of my favorite destinations. Maybe its the similarity in climate and feel to my roots in southern California. Or maybe its just that 'Seouth Afreca' has a character that is too interesting and compelling to ignore. After all, this is the land of Nelson Mandela, who brought down apartheid and then had the audacity to say 'No retribution, look to the future'. Compare this to Zimbabwe the land of painful retribution.

I love history! And it really comes alive for me when I see a classic old painting done by someone who was "there". Here is a Dutch painting of a supply ship entering Table Bay in the late 1600's.

And a very similar view of Table Bay and Cape Town in 2009 when I flew here on a helicopter!

The cable car to the top of Table Mountain actually spins as you go up, giving a great view of the city and the wall of sandstone behind it. The sandstone is Cambro-Ordovician in age (about 500 to 450 Ma) and is interpreted to be laid down in near-shore river systems from today's north.

Lion's head - a familiar landmark west of the city center, is also composed of these bedded sandstones.

This is a shot from the helicopter of Cape Point, near the Cape of Good Hope - made famous in zillions of American 4th grade classes. What a treat to actually come here and see it. Ironically, it is not the southernmost point in Africa - that would be Cape Agulhas about 120 miles farther east of here.

Precambrian/Phanerozoic contact in South Africa. The light colored Cape Granite (below the road) intruded about 540 Ma and the darker seds were laid on top about 70 to 100 million years later. I have seen this contact in many places around the world - Saudi Arabia, Jordan and of course The Great Unconformity at Grand Canyon.

More of Namibia - The Living Desert

The Namib is a very dry desert but not at all dead. Many thousands of species live here from strange looking plants to colorful, adaptive animals. Here is a sampling of some of the things we saw.
Trips out into the Namib are faciltated by great guides and here is one of the best - Tommy of the Namib. Deserts seem to draw out the little kid in everyone and although Tommy is in his 50's chronologically, he is a kid at heart. What a trip we had with him at home in "his office".

This is a plant known as Welwichia. It has only two leaves that grow away from a central stem but it looks like many more since the wind shears them apart. Some welwichias can be 1500 years old.

The welwichia is a diaceous plant meaning that it has male and female plants. Here is a picture of the female plant.

Tommy loved to find snakes, scorpions, chameleons - anything that moved and he was an expert in finding them! Here is a venemous sidewinder snake that he found in a clump of bushes.

Check out the feet on this little transparent gecko! It can dig into the sand and breath while buried to escape the summer heat. Tommy followed a faint trackway that disappeared into the sand and dug this little guy up from down below. Awesome!

If people have heard anything at all about the animals in the Namib, it is probably about this beetle that climbs the crest of a dune, puts its butt in the air where fog droplets coalesce and run down its body into its mouth. Water without rain. Tommy collected about 6 of these along the way as they scurried about.

And then we saw a chemeleon! Fadcinating creatures that have independent eye sockets that can look with one over its back while the other looks forward. Who would have thought that something this large would live in the Namib?

And then we learned why Tommy was collecting all of those beetles.

He called them "chameleon hamburgers"

Ouch! Look at that tongue. It all happened so quick too. I am sure that this chameleon just waits by the side of the dunes for Tommy to bring his guests by every afternoon, knowing that lunch will be delivered by his favorite guide.

It's a about the dunes out here though - they are fantastic and they are a great modern analog for many ancient sandstones we see exposed in the American Southwest. In fact these coastal dunes are great analogs for the Schnebly Hill Formation in Sedona or the the Toroweap Formation in the Grand Canyon.

Here's the crest of a dune. The windward side in on the left with the wind ripples and the leeward side is the steep slope down to the right. These are cross-beds in formation!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Namib Desert - Great Geology!

Our private jet trip has resumed with a four hour flight across the equator and on to the country of Namibia (the former South West Africa). With a population of less than 2 million but the size of Texas and Louisiana combined, it is the second least densely populated country on earth (after Mongolia). But to the geologist it is a paradise! Look at the pics.
This is the "moon landscape" as they call it in Nmibia, located near the coastal town of Swakopmund. It is a tortured land and banded gneiss, and only a few millimeters of rain per year. We toured this area in vans.

Here is a pretty good look at an outcrop of gneiss. This metamorphic rock formed about 600 million years ago when sediments were crushed and buried in a great mountain building event.

The gneiss rocks were probably at quite a depth (15 miles?) to be cooked this much. But below them, things were even hotter and some of those rocks were melted to become magma, which traveled upwards into the gneiss as magma. When these dikes were emplaced they were likely very tabular in shape but continued squeezing and crushing caused them to take this contorted shape. Imagine the amount of material eroded to bring all of this back to the surface today!

Here is further evidence of the extreme compression of the rocks. When the Kalahari craton collided with the Congo craton some 600 Ma, it created the Damara mobile belt, essentially the area between the two that was 'bruised" in the collision. Wow - it's a living planet!

This is the graphic I used on the jet to explain the concept of two continental fragments colliding to create a mobile belt. Notice the two cratons (light colored areas) and the collision zone between them. Swakopmund and the moon landscape are in the dark belt near the town of Walvis Bay.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Burkina Faso - Land of Honest People

Yep - that's what the name Burkino Faso means in one of the hundreds of languages spoken in this country, only the size of the state of Colorado. Some people might remember its former colonial name of Upper Volta. This clean and colorful place is also peaceful. We left on the U.S. inauguration day and there were visible signs that Africa is ready for an Obama administration. We saw elephants, colorful villages, vibrant markets and one great outcrop of sandstone. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

The Kazenga Reserve - envisioned and articulated by a Canadian living in Upper Volta in the 1970's is obviously a very forward thinking kind of preservation. We watched elephants bath and swim underwater in this large pond.

Check out these homes in the village of Tielebe near the southern border with Ghana. They are made of adobe bricks and painted by hand.

Here's an "alleyway" I wandered down while everyone in the village was at the dance.The pots are used to get water or to store millet.

These are the warrior dancers of Tiebele. Everyone looked quite healthy and well nourished. We found out that food resources are allocated to the men first, then the young boys, then women. Children are the last ones on the list - they do this so that only the strongest ones survive. Different for sure but not a bad strategy.

The villagers looking on at the dancers.

The mosque in the town of Bobo Dioulasso. The sticks in the walls are used to climb and repatch the adobe. How exotic. We got to go onto the roof of the mosque.

Entering the "Domeland" near the town of Banfora in the southwest of the country. We used the private jet to fly 130 miles away this day.

What a great outcrop of early Paleozoic sandstone. I saw both symetrical and asymetrical ripple marks in the deposit and it was coarse-grained. It looked a lot like the Cambrian deposits in western North America.

We rarely stop at geologic sites on these trips but everyone was fascinated by this place.

At home on the rocks!