Saturday, February 28, 2009

Heading to Moab

Last night we had a fantastic turnout at the monthly meeting of the Four Corner's Geological Society. Nearly 75 people showed up for a magic carpet ride of time travel across the Colorado Plateau. Thanks to the faculty members at Ft. Lewis College in Durango who encouraged their students to attend. It was especially nice to meet so many of them last night.

And thanks also to all who have posted comments on this blog. Today we'll drive northwest through some great scenery on the way to Moab. I'll be posting pictures of it all and then giving a lecture at the Back O' Beyond Bookstore downtown.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Santa Fe to Durango

Wayne and Helen relaxing at the Grand Canyon Association's "New Mexico Headquarters"

After a wonderful stay in Santa Fe, we turned the Subaru north on U.S. Highway 284. We didn’t get too far before we arrived at the “eastern branch” of the Grand Canyon Association in Tesuque. Yep – Ron Short, who designed the “Ancient Landscapes” book (the reason for this book tour), moved here in November and has a wonderful set-up here. He designs Grand Canyon materials remotely from these adobe-lands in New Mexico. Another great wonder in this modern, wired-world we live in.

Exposure of the Santa Fe Group

Leaving Tesuque we drove past the eroded remains of the Santa Fe Group, the “dirt” washed down from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, filling the Rio Grande Rift. This gravel, sand, and mud deposit is perfect for making great adobe and the homes just seem to rise up naturally right out of the earth here. One unusual rock formation we saw is called Camel Head and I include a painting of it below. We found this painting in a small restaurant in EspaƱola.

Camel Head Rock, painting by Zeye Johnson

Ron Short had told us about this restaurant but mentioned that in the three attempts he had made to eat there, it was always closed. Hmmm? That didn’t sound right since it came to him so highly recommended. We drove towards the center of town and soon saw the hand-painted sign just to the right off the highway: Matilda’s. That’s it.

We turned in the drive and it sure didn’t look open to us. A rumpled children’s swing set was swaying in the breeze. “Looks like its been closed for awhile Wayne”, Helen said disappointingly. I kept driving farther into the compound past dilapidated cars and tired adobe homes. “There it is,” she said. “What do you think?” I took one look and said,”Let’s try it.”

Boy, are we glad we did! It was excellent and the best part about it was that Matilda was there. She is the originator (1956), owner, operator, hostess, and waitress. Her 80+ years haven’t slowed her down a bit. If you ever get to EspaƱola, just hope that it is not a Monday, the only day of the week they are closed. She was so gracious and friendly. I ordered the red beef enchiladas, and Helen had the green with cheese. Check 'em out on the table there!

We still had ¾’s of the drive to do and ½ the day had already passed. I’ll let the pictures do the talking from her on out – it was a great sunny day and the Rockies and Plateau were at their best. Check it out.

The eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau near Abiquiu, New Mexico. These are beds of the Chinle Formation. The Rio Grande Rift has lowered these same rocks tens of thousands of feet just east of here.

Where the Plateau meets the Rockies near Chama, New Mexico. The area has received 132 inches of snow already this winter and the people we spoke to here are glad for the respite of sunshine this week is bringing to the southwest.

Chimney Rock, east of Durango - where deposits of the Mancos Sea (92 million years ago) are arched up in the growth of the Rocky Mountains (70 to 40 million years ago).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Santa Fe

Yesterday, Helen and I drove out to Santa Fe to begin a little lecture tour for the new book, "Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau". We were up 2 hours before the sun and left Flagstaff in the dark. We pointed the little Subaru east and began our adventure. We watched the sun rise just west of Holbrook and got to see the Painted Desert in all of its early morning glory. The Chinle Formation sure is pretty in that low angle light.

We entered New Mexico and enjoyed seeing the Wingate Cliffs on our left. Soon, the graceful profile of Mt. Taylor was in view, still layered in a white blanket of snow on its southern slope. Lava flows and the Chinle once again guided us to the eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau.

Once in Santa Fe we met with our host Richard Atkinson of the Public Lands Interpretive Association. Over 75 people showed up for the 2 PM lecture and we sold lots of books. But more important we got folks interested in the long march of geologic time and the wondrous record of earth history that is preserved for us on the modern landscape.

Today we are driving north through fantastic scenes towards Durango. I'll pull out the camera and include some shots from this drive. Just know that we are on a quest to find beauty and the best green chile along the way.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

To Panama and It's Canal

Leaving Iguazu Falls, we flew over the heart of the Amazon Basin. It was mostly cloudy but upon nearing the equator, we caught a view of one of its main branches.

The meanders are incredible, especially when you consider how big these rivers are. The photo was shot from 39,000 feet

Huge ships transit the Panama Canal carrying goods from around the world. The countries with the biggest transport needs here are the U. S., China, Japan, Chile, and Canada. Fees of $200,000 per transit are not uncommon.

Shown here is a section of the Galliard or Culebra Cut, where the Continental Divide has been breached. Note the tilted strata in the cut, raised to this position as the Panamanian Land Bridge was formed about 3 million years ago.

Panama is actively constructing a wider canal, with new locks, to be completed for the 100th anniversary in 2014. Here are some of the machines that are making the Galliard Cut wider.

A view of the Pedro Miguel Locks on the Pacific side of the canal. It is an ingenious scheme where water is let down into these locks from a reservoir on the Chagres River. Ships transit the reservoir at 85 feet above sea level.

A view of a "Panamax" ship, one that is just able to fit into the locks. Modern shipping allows for wider ships, thus the canal is being completely redone to accommodate larger ships.

Exiting the canal onto the Pacific Ocean, there is an incredible view of the Panama City skyline. Huge condominiums are being constructed on the coast here. However, a part of old Panama still exists.

The old and the new in Panama

This area was in much decay a few years back but it is being restored to its former glory. There were many similarities to the French Quarter in New Orleans.

A beautiful bouganvillia in Old Panama marks the end of this incredible journey.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Iguazu Falls - One of the Best

Leaving the cold climate of Patagonia, we landed at hot and humid Iguazu Falls one of Earth's great waterfalls. We visited on the Argentinian side this time. The falls are tremendous to witness and no one leaves unimpressed.

Looking up the channel of the Iguazu River to the Garganta del Diablo - translated as the Throat of the Devil. The spray is voluminous and partially blocks a full full of the falls.

Here is a close-up view of the lip of the falls. The power is immense.

Walks on the Argentinian side of the falls have many of these little cascades. I have visited the Brazilian side many times where most of the water is found.

We took a ride in one of these boats on the river. We had to put the cameras away for that one.

Shown is an aerial view of the falls from our jet with Argentian on the laft and Brazil on the right. Notice how wide the river is above the falls (about a mile) but how it drains into a very narrow channel (only 600 feet) below. The falls are eroding upstream and capturing a quite sluggish river. This happens very slowly at only about 3 feet every 1000 years.

Rounding Cape Horn By Boat

I've been out of e-contact for the last part of this trip because of the lack of online services. After leaving Buenos Aires we flew south to Patagonia and the southern city of Ushuaia, Argentina. Here we boarded the Mare Australus for a cruise in the fjords of the Beagle Channel and chance to see the famous Cape Horn. We were not disappointed in these endeavors.

A look inside of our Explorer jet. There is lots of room but no place to stand and hang out. Everyone sits in a first class seat and there is a chef on board.

Flying in to Ushuaia, we got a great view of the mountains on the island of Tierra del Fuego. It is a fantastic place with usually stormy weather but our luck held and the views were spectacular.

Here is Mt. Olivia to the east of Ushuaia. The rocks here are metamorphic for the most part and formed in the Mesozoic Era (about 120 Ma) as part of the Pacific Ocean subduction complex beneath the western edge of South America.

Here it is - the southern end of South America - Cape Horn. We arrived on a rare cloudless, still day and were able to go ashore. This is a view south towards Antarctica only 600 miles away. The sea doesn't look like a washing machine on days like these.

The lighthouse at Cape Horn, manned by members of the Chilean Navy

Here is a monument to all of the sailors lost at sea while rounding the Horn. The number who lost their lives is estimated at 10,000 souls. Can you see what is represented in the monument?

Self portrait from Cape Horn monument. The answer to the question above - it's an albatross, symbol of those who lost their lives here.

After leaving the cape we sailed north to Wulaia Bay, visited by Charles Darwin in 1834. This was a rich gathering place for Yamana Indians, the worlds southernmost people. We hiked into a beech forest when I snapped this shot towards the bay.

The Yamana are totally extinct now, savaged by disease and a program of extermination in the late 1800's. Fortunately, photographs survive of these amazing people, who lived in a very cold place without the use of much clothing. This image is one I used in my lecture about Patagonia.

Looking towards an oncoming storm. This was one of the rare times we received rain on this trip.

Here's the Pia Glacier as it spills out from the Darwin Range on the island of Tierra del Fuego. It has receded a great deal in the last 30 years.

More Pia Glacier

Just 30 years ago, this rock was buried in ice. The glacial striations that were etched into it are evident and it was features like these that gave geologists the evidence for prior Ice Ages.

The rocks beneath the ice show evidence for massive amounts of compression in the creation of the Patagonian landscape. This cliff face, almost 1,000 feet high, shows how the rocks were bent almost 180 degrees.

Folding of the rocks (at depth where they are ductile and not brittle) is evident on many scales. This basalt intrusion was variably folded (see sandal for scale).