Saturday, December 16, 2017

Announcing "Ancient Landscapes of Western North America" My Newest Book Published by Springer for 2018

My latest book, Ancient Landscapes of Western North America, is now available online in print and e-book formats. With a publication date of 2018 this is a brand new title just in time for the new year. ALWNA is the second book in the Ancient Landscapes series with the first one being Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. The new book can be purchased at (once on their site, just type the title of the book in the search bar and it will pop up).

In this new book, Dr. Ron Blakey's stunning paleogeographic maps take center stage again, but this time the maps cover much larger areas in western North America, running in many cases from southeast Alaska to Sonora Mexico, and from the Pacific coast to Colorado. A few sample maps and diagrams can be seen below. I wrote the text that leads readers on a journey through time in the western North American Cordillera. Cordillera is a Spanish word for rather large and rugged mountainous areas. Our original intent was to title the book, Ancient Landscapes of the Western Cordillera but both of our non-geologist wives objected to that wording as being cryptic. Being good husbands, we listened to them. Geologists borrow the word from the Spanish and commonly use the term to refer to the active margins of both North and South America.

This map shows the Pacific edge of North America at about 270 Ma (million years ago) with the state lines serving to place the ancient landscapes upon the modern ones. Various shades of blue represent sea water at relative depths  with darker blue depicting deep water and lighter blue to whitish depicting very shallow water. Land areas are obvious with mountains shown amidst light yellow coloring that depicts the location of ancient sand dunes. In the Four Corners area, the Kaibab Sea is portrayed which deposited the Kaibab Limestone now exposed on the rim of Grand Canyon. The micro-continents shown in California and Nevada are drifting toward the east into the edge of the continent during the Sonoma orogeny (mountain building event). There are dozens of portrayals of western North America like this at various time slices for the last 3,500 million years.

This set of five maps is Figure 7.5 and shows five separate time slices of the Pacific edge of North America during a 15 million year period from 165 Ma to 150 Ma. The large wedge-shaped micro-continent seen in the bottom three maps depicts Wrangellia (labeled WR) and is perhaps the most important exotic terrane that accreted to North America at this time. 

One of numerous diagrams that accompany the maps. This cartoon shows four time slices at 160, 130, 80, and 50 Ma as various terranes accreted onto the edge of the continent.

A sample page with colorful photos of the rocks that inform the maps. All photographs were taken by Ron and myself in our various geologic exploration of the west. In photograph a) the fluvial (river) deposits of the Chinle Formation in Petrified Forest National Park are shown, while b) shows the orange sandstone cliffs in Coyote Gulch, Utah in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

I include a sample of my writing style below with the Epilogue:

The back cover of our new book, Ancient Landscapes of Western North America depicting the North American Cordillera at about 80 Ma. The Sierra arc (a linear volcanic mountain chain) is located in this depiction in central and southern Nevada, and western Arizona. Only at about 20 Ma was the crust stretched to bring the Sierra Nevada mountains to their present position in eastern California. Stories like this abound in the new book! Order your copy today at

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The 2018 AAPG Geosciences in the Media Award

On December 1, 2017 I received the following note from the President of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG):

Dear Wayne,
Good news! As president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, I have the privilege of informing you that you are the 2018 Geosciences in the Media Award recipient from AAPG! In reviewing your body of work, including webpages and wonderful geology books, it is clear to me that AAPG is very proud to recognize you with this very well deserved recognitionThere will be an article in the December issue of the Explorer. AAPG Headquarters will be following up soon.
I am delighted that I will be the one to present the award to you at Opening Ceremony, at ACE in Salt Lake City, Sunday, May 20, 2018! Congratulations, well deserved, all the best!
Charles A. Sternbach, AAPG President 2017-2018 

This award comes as an utter and complete surprise. However, it is a distinct honor to receive it. Many readers of my books, articles or this blog may know of my passion for sharing geology, landscapes and deep time with anyone not fortunate enough to have studied them formally. But I thought that I was working out here in the wilderness of tourism and adventure travel. I was unaware that such a prestigious organization was paying any attention at all to my earthly musings, books or articles. I thought that my work could hardly ever be recognized by those who make a living in academia or industry.

I am deeply touched and honored to accept this award. Here is a link to the formal announcement that was published yesterday in the December issue of the AAPG Explorer. Here is a link to the AAPG home page.

Those that know me well will not be surprised to learn that on the morning of the award ceremony (May 20, 2018), I will wake up in a hotel room in Lisbon Portugal. I will have just completed a 23-day Private Jet excursion with TCS World Travel as a geologic lecturer. I will have lectured to a group of 54 people in Lithuania about the "Ice Age in the Baltic Sea," the "Tectonic Assembly of the Asian Supercontinent" while in Turkmenistan, and in Oman about the "The Natural History of Oil and Petroleum in the Middle-East." As that trip comes to a fitting end, I hope to catch a flight from Portugal to Salt Lake City and accept the award in person.

Thanks to all of my loyal readers who have made this award possible!

Description of the award in the AAPG Explorer, December, 2017

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2 Billion...Seconds

Sometime this month, I passed a major milestone when I experienced my 2 billionth second. (Note: I was asleep at the time and did not note it specifically). I suspect it is my interest in geology and time in general that causes me to pay attention to such seemingly mundane things.

Screen capture near the moment of my 2,000,000,000 second
A few years ago I passed my 20,000 day and I threw a party for a small group of friends. I would say that the general feeling among them was they were happy to get together but less inspired for the reason of the get-together. "Why are you celebrating this Wayne?" was kind of the general consensus. Maybe they were just thinking that I have a piece of paper sitting around and that I had been putting marks on a piece of paper for 50 years! I don't know. But the secret to knowing how many seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years you've been alive can be found on numerous web site., I like this one.

We can't wait for our birthdays in our youth and reluctantly accept them as we age more and more. Everyone thinks it is right and proper to celebrate years and many people I know mark the 0 and the 5 birthdays with much reflection on reaching a milestone. So why not other increments of time. 

The chart above shows some significant numbers for me. I have also just recently passed my 33,333,333 minute! Wow!! And my 555,555 hour. (Which by the way seems like a very small number). 750 months wasn't too long ago.

Go ahead - keep track of all your birthseconds, birthminutes, birthhours, birthdays, birthweeks, and birthmonths. We need more things to celebrate in our lives anyway.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Morocco's Atlas Mountains Near Marrakech

The last stop on this whirlwind tour was Marrakech Morocco. Since I had visited the city many times before, I chose to go on a side trip with only two other passengers to the Atlas Mountains. It could not have ben a better choice.

This is our hotel, the amazing La Mamounia. It is considered one of the 10 best hotels in the world. The grounds are fabulous. Marrakech is located on a flat plain away from the mountains.

But they are not far away and after traveling south a short distance (20 miles) sedimentary rocks are seen that have been uplifted into foothill terrain.

When the vehicle stoped at the end of the road, we embarked on a hike. In this tiny village were huge boulders that had come off the mountain front. Later on the hike, I would recognize their interesting origin.

We took one lane roads to the village (at about 5000 feet above sea level) and then hopped on the trail. This is where our 45 minute trek up to another small village began.

Along the way we saw walnut trees that have been plucked for the bark which is used to clean teeth. The scars from this activity were seen on many trees.

Rocks with large plagioclase crystals were evident. Note the area left of the lens cap with the many holes in it. This may be a vesicular volcanic rock that was erupted out with the plagioclase laths. These rocks are Precambrian in age and so many of the original volcanic textures are gone.

Looking at back at the village where we started the trek.

Villages up another side valley in the side of the mountains.
Approaching the destination, we see more huge boulders lying on the slope. What could they be?

This is the highest peak in this part of the High Atlas, Mt. Tabkoul at an elevation of 13,671 feet. There are many trails in this part of the mountains and we saw many trekkers from Europe who were backpacking on multi-night trips.

We were welcomed to the village called Aremd, by the "mayor" and a woman who was making traditional bread.

She pats out the dough into flat layers and then cooks on the metal pan above a mud oven The bread was delicious!

A musical serenade for our little group.

The "mayor" then performed the tea ritual, which was quite elaborate and took over 20 minutes with many pourings in and out of the cups of mint leaves.

One of the pours of tea being made.

Many Moroccan meals are prepared in the tajin. Here we had a vegetable and a chicken tajin for lunch.

While looking up to the mountains, I saw where the huge boulders might be coming from. The background slope in the far distance on the upper right was composed of lighter-colored rocks. However at the base of this slop[e was a darker pile of huge boulders that had a concordant surface with the same looking material behind the buildings and the top of the two poplar trees. It appeared to me that part of the upper mountain had broken away and came to rest at the foot of the mountain as a huge pile boulders. The stream has since dissected through the deposit after it was emplaced. Thus, the position of Aremd on a relatively flat surface was wholly due to catastrophic slope failure from the above. Some of the boulders have been dislodged again coming to rest in the lower village. I had our interpreter explain what I was seeing to the "mayor"but I think he was stymied at the part where I said 'a long time ago.'Amazing geology!

A picture might help. The dashed blue line on the right is the boundary between the light-colored bedrock and the loose boulder deposit. The orange line shows the top of the debris field (dashed where the deposit is scoured out by the stream). The boulders originated within another rock unit higher up on the mountain to the right and splayed out into the valley.

The village has an aspect of the Medieval and electricity has only been here for about 30 years.

It was apple harvest season and everywhere we looked we saw apple groves, people picking apples, gathering and packing apples, selling apples, giving us apples.

Rugs and flowers in Aremd.

This rock looked like rhyolite, more evidence of ancient volcanism.

Local nuts in a tajin-looking basket.

Fragrances everywhere is what I will remember of Morocco - and the stunning landscape.

This concludes my journey Around the World. 32,000 miles in.the private jet (37,000 miles for me living in western North America). It was the trip of a lifetime but I get to do another one next April on a totally different itinerary. Thank you reading!

The Fantastic Rosey Rocks of Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan

Next stop on the big trip Around the World was the Lost City of Petra in Jordan.

This is the new entrance gate to the site, the first time I have seen it. It is a very nice approach compared to what it used to be. Admission to the site - $62 per person.

As one starts down the trail, the red rocks begin to appear above the stream bed. The name of the rock unit here is the Rum Sandstone of Cambrian age (about 500 Ma).

One immediately sees the carved sandstone as they enter the Siq - the name in Arabic for slot canyon.

To prevent flash floods from damaging their rock city, builders placed a dam across the bed of the Siq (a modern version is seen beneath the white building). This diverted flood waters toward a 300 foot culvert carved through solid sandstone and into another nearby drainage. The sites development began around 200 BC and lasted about 400 years until 200 AD.

Entering the narrow part of the Siq.

Note the domestic water channels at eye level carved into the slot canyon walls.

The Rum Sandstone is riddled with Liesegang banding, concentrations of iron that formed when groundwater fronts (prior to canyon cutting) dissolved iron in one part and pushed it downstream into other parts where it concentrated as layers irrespective of depositional bedding. Here, dark colored iron bands frame a water channel in the canyon walls.

The slot canyon is about 300 feet deep and at its narrowest part is only 10 feet wide.

These remnants of a carving along the canyon wall shows a man leading a camel (the camel feet are in the center and left of photograph). The carvings appear to have been scoured by flood water, likely after the city fell into ruins.

This is the end of the Siq as it enters the larger stream. I doubt that many photographs of this spectacular end to the kilometer-long slot canyon are taken because...

...when one turns the other way, they see one of the most famous and magnificent mausoleums in the whole complex, a carved structure known as the Treasury. All of these buildings were constructed as mausoleums for the rich and it is presumed that the larger the mausoleum, the richer the benefactor.

Close-up of the Liesegang banding in a canyon wall.

A theater was also carved into the sandstone. The theater was carved in the 1st century AD, before the Roman occupation. However, the similarity of the architectural design however suggests a sharing of ideas between the Nabateans and the Romans.

This magnificent structure was a very large mausoleum. Look at the amount of material removed from the natural slope on the left. The sandstone is relatively soft but hey, rock is rock.

Natural light fills the mausoleum. Note the spectacular Liesegang banding on the roof.

The tombs were raided of their contents likely quite soon after the site was abandoned. Although Petra is often called the Lost City in the Western world, the local population never lost sight of the ancient city.

On May 19, 363 AD, Reqem (as the Nabateans called their Rose City) was destroyed by a massive earthquake. Here a column lies prone - it may or may not have fallen during the quake. A short article on the quake can be found here.

After lunch we walked one mile and 700 feet up to the Monastery, another great mausoleum but this time located out of the canyon floor and on a high ridge.

The view to the northwest is toward the Dead Sea rift valley. The Jordanian flag flies in the breeze.

A few years ago, I noticed that the red sandstone rests on dark colored Precambrian crystalline rocks. In the American Southwest this contact is known as the Great Unconformity and one could rightly use that term here (and elsewhere in the world). I have seen such a contact in Cape Town South Africa, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Antarctica.

A photo with the 300mm telephoto lens reveals some interesting geology. In the upper left background, white Cretaceous-age limestone has been faulted down and rotated into the Dead Sea rift. The amount of displacement is thousands of feet. I never noticed it before but with the telephoto view, another rock unit can be seen located between the red sandstone above and the dark crystalline rocks below. It is the vertically jointed massive unit in the photo center and it is composed of
late Precambrian rhyolite and andesite.

A juniper tree frames the view.

On the way back down I took a camel ride through the city. This completes my journey to Petra in 2017.

The following day our group visited Wadi Rum, a location made famous when featured in movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones - The Last Crusade. The Great Unconformity is visible in this view at the center of the photo.

The Rum Sandstone takes on familiar shapes to anyone schooled in the southwest deserts of Arizona and Utah.

I have never seen such well-developed case-hardening (and related core softening) in a sandstone. It forms when groundwater dissolves cement in the interior of the sandstone, then groundwater brings the solution to the rock surface where it evaporates, leaving the cement on the wall and making it harder.

Entering a slot canyon in Wadi Rum.

The petroglyphs take forms not familiar to New World archaeologists. An old Arabic script before dots is also present in these carvings, dating to about 2000 years ago.

A geologist had obviously been here to take oriented cores from the iron-rich rocks. These were taken to determine the magnetic orientation of the iron, which can help determine the latitude of the rock during deposition.

The final stop on this trip is the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.