Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Field Trip Guide and Road Log from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon via Cameron and Desert View

Are you staying in Flagstaff and headed to the Grand Canyon's South Rim? If so, this field trip guide may interest you and provide you with a more enjoyable and educational journey!

Ten years ago in 2014, I served as a co-leader on a field trip sponsored by the Association of Engineering Geologists and the Arizona Geological Survey. As part of the field trip, I helped write a mile-by mile road log of the geology of the route that covers 110 miles. You can access the field trip guide here. You may need to be a subscriber to academia.edu to access the field trip guide. Enjoy the trip!

Sunday, April 21, 2024

A Quick Trip to Antarctica

It may sound tongue-in-cheek, but after my 24-day journey Around the World on a private jet, a mere 13-day trip to Antarctica meant a lot less packing and unpacking and staying in the same cabin and bed every night. Yes, I flew all the way to Tierra del Fuego and back to Flagstaff without ever having to unpack in a single hotel room - my flight connections were that tight. This trip marked my 31st journey to 'The Ice' and it was one of my best! Have a look.

The city of Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego Island and the Beagle Channel - the jumping off point for Antarctic cruises

Sunrise on February 27, 2024 in the 600-mile-wide Drake Passage - we enjoyed a 'Drake Lake' on this one

Our ship was the 199-passenger Le Boreal belonging to the Ponant Cruise Line (French flagged) 

These are not large cruise ships and the pool is quite small

I had never before in memory witnessed water running from beneath an
Antarctic glacier! Things appear to be warming up on the globe.

View from the top of a hill at our first landing at Neko Harbor

Neko Harbor on the Antarctic mainland

These coarse-grained granite rocks are about 100 million years old and part of the subduction sequence exposed on
the Antarctic Peninsula. Reader and colleague John Warme pointed out the imbrication of the boulders resulting from
storm wash onto the beach!

Cuverville Island is a popular stop to see a Gentoo penguin colony. I first visited here in 1992 and dropped off three
women researchers who set up a seasonal camp among the penguins. They used artificial eggs with electronics that
measured the pulse and heart rate of the penguins as tourists approached the colony - these were baseline studies to
determine the impact of the increasing numbers of tourists on nesting penguins. The result was a 5-meter separation
between people and penguins, a distance in use today.

Gentoo penguins on Cuverville Island

Zodiac cruise around Cuverville Island

It was about this time on our trip that the clouds began to part as high pressure set in!

Amazing ice and crevasse while cruising in Paradise Bay

Antarctica likely has metal resources such as this copper stain
on the rocks in Paradise Bay, However, a 50-year moratorium
on all mineral and oil exploration was signed in 1991 and
finally ratified in 1998, meaning than no mining can occur
on the continent until 2048. Read more about this here.

A leopard seal (Hydrurgaleptronyx) sleeps on a bergy bit

Our "sunny luck" continued on March 2, 2024 when we woke up to brilliant sunshine at Port Charcot

The destination was the monument on top of the hill in the upper right, built by the 1st French Antarctic Expedition
in 1904

Stunning early morning light on Le Boreal with Booth Island in the distance

View from the monument

One of our passengers shared this image of me on top on the monument hill

The amazing part on this glorious morning - no wind! Look at that "glass" on the water!

On the way down the hill, a few humpback whales came to take a look at our ship

Whale and ship

They came right up to the landing deck and hung around - in fact scuba divers had time to dress and enter
the water with them

One of our passengers shared this image with me, taken from an the deck of the ship while I was in a Zodiac nearby

Sailing away from Port Charcot we passed some nice icebergs - in fact it is the icebergs that keep calling me back
to this unique and special destination

Zodiac cruising in perfect conditions near Petermann Island

Looking north into the Lemaire Channel where we encountered Le Boreal's sister ship, Le Lyrial

Sunset near 11 PM on March 2, 2024 from near the Lemaire Channel

In Foyn Harbor on Enterprise Island is the wreck of the whaling vessel, Gouvermoren

Whaling was quite active here from 1915 to 1930

I was lecturing on this trip in the services of Smithsonian Journeys, which I have been leading trips for since 1995.

One of our last stops was in Port Foster, an enclosed bay that sits inside a volcanic caldera

View to the southwest in Port Foster and Kroner Lake, an Antarctica Specially Protected Area

The British Antarctic Survey established a base here in the 1940s complete with an airstrip and hanger for Twin Otter 
aircraft. On my first few visits to this area in the early 1990s, an airplane still "lived" in the hanger.

Sailing back to the north past the South Shetland Islands, we still enjoyed sunshine

Livingston Island

I will be returning to Antarctica in 2025 for two more cruises - I never tire of the pristine landscape, fresh air, and icebergs. I'll be sailing for the first time on a larger vessel, the Regent Seven Seas Splendor. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Around the World in 24 Days - A Story of Stone - Part 4 - Luxor and Giza, Egypt

I'm so sorry for the delay in posting – I've actually been to Antarctica on a two-week trip and was unable to upload photos on the weak internet signal. I'm back to share these images and thoughts on visiting some of the best preserved ancient wonders anywhere on the globe!

Here I continue the story of my Around the World trip completed in January. We left the Serengeti in Tanzania and took an interesting route up to Egypt. The flight was about four hours long as Tanzania is located in east-central Africa. For some reason (and unlike other times that I've done this flight) we did not take a straight line north to fly directly over Khartoum the capital of Sudan. I was looking forward to this as Khartoum is located at the confluence of the White and Blue Nile rivers. Instead we tracked curiously to the northeast over Kenya, western Somalia, eastern Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea, then straight up the gut of the Red Sea. Yep, this is the area where the Houthi rebels are presently firing rockets at ships (none were sighted). (I found out later in asking the captain of our jet that the reason for our detour was security - apparently flying over Sudan today is deemed "risky". The detour was not unwelcome as it provided a highlight for me - flying over the Afar triangle. This is where the Arabian plate has pulled away from the African plate to form the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Afar Triangle Flyover

The red line marks our flight route from Kilimanjaro to Luxor - the geology annotations are by me. Note how the
shape of the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula (where our red colored jet route takes a jog to the left) perfectly
matches the shape of the inset of the Afar triangle. This is where the Arabian plate use to attach to the African plate
prior to 5 Ma. Therefore, all of the solid ground shown in Afar is post-5 Ma volcanic rock that has "filled in" the
depression since Arabia jetted away to the 
northeast from Africa. Map in the public domain and by DEMIS Mapserver.

We obtained a peek at the top of Kilimanjaro, elevation 19,341 feet and the 'Roof of Africa'
See my images from a trek to the top from 2014 here.

For all of you geography geeks I include some screen captures from an app I use called Flyover Country. It shows your location while flying, your altitude, speed, etc. Most importantly, it shows the general geology below you on the ground. Here are three screen captures from my flight over the Afar triangle - the blue dot marks our jets location at the moment I snapped the screen capture. I was seated on the left side of the jet during this flight segment and so I could see things to the left of the blue dot - a perfect venue to observe an active tectonic landscape from 37,000 feet up! This is why I still love to fly.

I include (five photo's below) a shot of the sinuous dark gray lava flows
that are evident on the app here

A canyon system in eastern Ethiopia

Note the en echelon fault blocks of volcanic rocks on the
northwest edge of the Afar triangle

As the Arabian plate began to pull away from Africa 5 million years ago, these blocks were faulted down and rotated

Here is the volcano center and associated lava flows depicted in the Flyover Country app above - awesome!
Note the high-standing volcanic center and dark lave flows radiating out from there

A lone tanker ship cruises north in the Red Sea toward the Suez Canal


Finally, on the ground in Luxor Egypt!

This is the Pharonic-era road to Luxor Temple excavated from beneath millennia of Nile River sedimentation.
The ancient road is located at least 5 meters (16 feet) below the modern city seen on the far left

Inside the temple area, the Pharonic-era foundation was buried to the
bottom of the small windows. Then in the 8th century a mosque was
on top of this  foundation. 20th century excavations have re-
exposed the ancient Egyptian foundations. This is why when 
visiting Luxor, visitors walk below the present-day surface that sits
on Nile River recent sediment.

The entrance to Luxor Temple at sunset on January 16, 2024

Karnak Temple in Luxor

Statues at the entrance to Karnak Temple

The obelisk at Karnak carved from Aswan Granite

The granite was quarried hundreds of miles away near Aswan and transported by boat down the river. The age of the
 red granite is constrain to between 700 and 575 Ma, the older age representing the age of emplacement within an
Archean craton and the younger age as its cooling age. See a paper on this granite here.

A special chamber was open to us this day that held spectacular art frescoes

The colors have survived through the millennia 

Valley of the Kings and King Tutankhamun's Tomb

On the West Bank of the Nile River, tributary streams have carved canyons called wadi's into the limestone and
shale rocks of the Theban Formation. It is Eocene in age, about 50 Ma, and was deposited during the final stages of
the Tethy's Sea. It was in this wadi that Egyptian kings were buried in tombs cut into the limestone. Members of
our jet group were allowed to visit the Valley of the Kings after hours at sunset, after the throngs of tourists had
returned to their hotels in Luxor. We had the valley all to ourselves! I snapped this photo of the Theban Formation on
the drive into the valley.

The authorities open and close various tombs at staggered intervals, to allow for a reduction in outside air in the
tombs. This is the entrance to one of the other tombs in the Valley of the Kings. 

A painted hieroglyph inside this tomb showing a Nile River boat

This is where the king's mummy would have been, along with all of the funerary objects. Some of the tombs were
raided in Egyptian times, some during the time of Alexander the Great, others during the Napoleonic era.

Entrance to Tomb KV62, the archaeological name for King Tut's tomb. Wikipedia has a great write-up of the tomb
here, explaining how the tomb was robbed twice shortly after the young king's death but then repaired with many
 funerary objects replaced. The tombs for Ramesses V and VI were later built just to the west of this and spoil from
these excavations further hid the entrance to KV62. It was not discovered in modern times by Howard Carter
until 1922! 

This is the real King Tut, close-up and personal, still lying inside his tomb. I was actually shocked to see the young
king present here - he must have been "on tour" in an exhibit the last time I was in here. I do not recall seeing
this before.

I did not tickle his feet but was tempted...

Self portrait inside the tomb

The east wall of the tomb. This was an excellent visit to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings!

What a fantastic visit this was to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. But we were not done with Egypt just yet. After two nights in Luxor, we rebounded our jet and made a day stop in Cairo to visit the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. That's right - a 90-minute flight to Cairo, then seven hours on the ground in Cairo, then our six hour flight to Morocco, which will be the last posting for this trip.

Giza and the Sphinx

Again, seated on the left side of the jet, I was able to obtain some great views of the Nile River valley from the air. It was a perfect morning for flying!

View to the southwest rising out of Luxor. The plateau of Egypt's Western Desert is on the horizon and the wadi's that
hold the tombs in the Valley of the Kings can bee seen slicing back into the plateau. In the Eocene, this part of Africa
was inundated in the final stages of the Tethy's Ocean.

View to the south toward Luxor of the Nile River valley

Prior to 1964, when the High Aswan Dam was completed on the Nile River, everything you see in green was subject
to the annual flood of the Nile River. These floods are what nourished Egyptian high culture as the fertile silt of the
Nile refreshed the growing area of the floodplain. The source of these floods was an enigma to the Egyptians as
the floods came in June and lasted until August - a typically very dry time in Egypt. However, it was the snow melt
from the Ruwenzori Mountains in Ethiopia that were the source of these floods. Check out this article from Saudi
Aramco Magazine (May/June, 2006) by John Feeney that describes the very last flood in 1964 to inundate the Nile.
I developed a short lecture for our guests on the jet about this final flood. 

Landing in smoggy Cairo - nearly 23 million people and growing like a weed! In 1950, its population was 2.5 million.

We hardly ever pull into a jetway at airports since our jet will be grounded for our typical stay of two or three
nights. Even for the seven hour stop, we got to disembark on the tarmac and bus to the terminal.

Egypt's GDP is 10% related to international tourism and so the government is proactive to insure the safety of
visitors. many of our guests wondered if it was safe to visit since we had armed guards following us on the one hour
drive from the airport on Cairos far east side to Giza on the far west side. I snapped this photo from our van.

On the ground at the Great Pyramids of Giza! They are truly astounding.

But the highlight of this particular visit for me would be our visit to the Sphinx, which I have seen many times before
but never like we did on this day, January 18. Note the platform to the left of the Sphinx - this is where visitors
typicallyview the monumental statue. However, we were able to utilize the walkway shown on the right to descend
right down to the giant figure.

Close-up of the Sphinx, the oldest known monumental structure in all of Egypt, dating to about 2500 BCE (Before
the Common Era or what used to be called BC - Before Christ). The Sphinx therefore is about 4500 years old!

Our visit included a lecture between the paws of the Sphinx from famed Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass. What a treat!

Views like this are not normally obtained, unless one is with a special group

The lecture venue

Rare view of the Sphinx - what a special day to experience this. After the lecture, I approached Dr. Hawass and told
him I was from Flagstaff. His eyes light up and he smiled - "Oh, I gave a lecture in Flagstaff and loved that place!"
Of course, I knew this because 18 months earlier I had attended his lecture as the Keynote Address of the Flagstaff
Festival of  Science.

A view from the southwest of the Great Pyramids of Giza

View to the northwest

Desert skies, even on the edge of 23 million people, are magical!

Leaving Egypt after our day in Giza, a day I will not soon forget! Join me next week as I do my final post from this
Around the World trip, this time from Marrakech Morocco! Thanks for reading this far!