Siccar Point: A Day In The Field At Hutton’s Unconformity

Siccar Point – In June, 1778, James Hutton, John Playfair, and James Hall gazed on the rocks at Siccar Point and understood that an immense amount of geologic time was needed to produce the juxtaposition of underlying vertically-oriented (Silurian graywacke) bedded rocks with overlying near-horizontal (Devonian, Old Red Sandstone) rocks.

Siccar Point is unquestionably one of the most important geological sites in the understanding of geological time. It was here in 1778 that James Hutton, John Playfair, and James Hall contemplated the immensity of time needed to produce vertically oriented rocks overlain by gently-dipping rocks. The concept of geological time is so fundamental to the science of geology that I really wanted to explore the locality that gave rise to the idea of geological time. So I finally made the trip to Scotland and Siccar Point a couple weeks ago. Wow – what an amazing country! It was a fantastic trip, but for this blog, I’ll just post a few photos of Siccar Point – just enough, perhaps, to encourage geologic time enthusiasts to also make the trip.

Siccar Point is located  on Scotland’s Berwickshire coast, about 40 km southeast of Edinburgh. It is not difficult to get there from Edinburgh if you’re willing to drive a few back roads, and also drive on the left side of the road – which for me was somewhat of an initial challenge (going left on the roundabouts was mind boggling to begin with!). The best directions that I found for getting to Siccar Point are given by Angus Miller, who also runs field trips there. Angus’s directions to Siccar Point and his contact information are found at his Geowalks website.

The gate into the fields for the hike to Siccar Point.

The pull-off for the hike to Siccar Point is well marked by signage. All that one needs to do is walk through the gate and then follow the fence lines south to the Siccar Point locality. There is a small sign on the entrance gate that advises you to beware of the bull. We happened to meet up with a local person while we were hiking through the fields to Siccar Point and she told us that the land owner posted the sign mainly because he’s at war with the hordes of people that tromp through his fields to get to Siccar Point (in Scotland there is the “right to roam”, so one can hike across private property). She also assured us that at the time we were there, the cows were off in another field, so not to worry about the bull. We then just followed the hiking instructions on the sign at the gate entrance, and found that it’s an easy walk to Siccar Point.

The entrance sign to Siccar Point with hiking instructions.
The ruins of the St. Helen’s Chapel are found near the start of the hike to Siccar Point.
Much of the hike to Siccar Point is at field edges, near the sea cliffs.
The fence lines finally give way to the rock promontory that is Siccar Point.

Once one arrives at the rock promontory that is Siccar Point, it is an amazing view looking down the cliff face. The vertical beds of Silurian graywacke outcrop beautifully below Devonian Old Red Sandstone. The “Hutton Unconformity” here marks an approximately 80 million year hiatus. Again, there is also good signage present at the promontory for an explanation of the unconformity.

Siccar Point – the rock promontory that contains Hutton’s Unconformity.
Signage at Siccar Point well explains Hutton’s Unconformity.
A view to the south of Siccar Point where the underlying vertical beds of Silurian graywacke snake along the coast line, under the more gently dipping beds of the Devonian Old Red Sandstone.

 

 

 

 

 

A rope is attached to the fence at the promontory to help the climber down the cliff face. As it was a muddy and slick climb down to the North Sea, I was very glad to use the rope! Much thanks to whoever put the rope there!

Roping down the cliff face was a welcome way to get to the rocks below.
The rope climb back up Siccar Point – once again, I was very appreciative of the rope being there!

It was fun to investigate the unconformity at the sea’s edge. The base of the Old Red Sandstone contained lags from the graywacke, some of which are cobble size.

A closer view of Hutton’s Unconformity with the Old Red Sandstone atop the Silurian graywacke.
A layer of lag clasts at the base of the Old Red Sandstone. The vertically-oriented beds of the Silurian graywacke can be seen beneath the Old Red Sandstone.
A view back up the cliff face gives a good visual of the gently dipping Devonian Old Red Sandstone overlying the vertical beds of Silurian graywacke.

I know that we were very lucky to have good weather for our Siccar Point excursion, but I would have gone there whatever the weather. It is really one of the great geologic sites and well worth traveling part way around the world to see. For a drone view of Siccar Point, take a look at the video done by the British Geological Survey which is posted in an earlier Geopostings blog: Siccar Point from a drone’s view.

 

 

 

Canadian Rockies – Alberta Badlands Geology Guidebook

The Canadian Rockies to Alberta Badlands geology guidebook is published by the Association for Women Geoscientists.

The Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) published their first geology field trip guidebook in late 2016 and it is now available for sale to the general public. This guideboook is a collection of geology road logs, associated geological information, and local cultural history of areas within the Canadian Rockies and the Alberta Badlands. The following text is a brief summary of the guidebook:

“TECTONICS, CLIMATE CHANGE AND EVOLUTION – SOUTHERN CANADIAN CORDILLERA: Road Log and Accompanying Narratives From: Calgary – Lake Louise – Icefields – Field – Revelstoke – Fernie -Dinosaur Provincial Park – Calgary”, published by the Association for Women Geoscientists, 2016.

This field trip guidebook is written by Katherine J.E. Boggs and Debra L. Hanneman, and edited by Janet Wert Crampton and Stephanie Yager. It is the AWG’s first fully published field trip guidebook and is a field-tested guide from their two-week 2014 field trip through the Canadian Rockies and Alberta’s Badlands area.

The guidebook is a 209-page geology tour through many of the well-known parts of the Alberta Canadian Rockies, including the Front and Main Ranges of the Canadian Rockies and the Columbia Icefields. The Burgess Shale’s Walcott Quarry, the Okanagan Valley vineyards, and the Rocky Mountain Trench are trip highlights for geo-tours in British Columbia. The field trip guidebook ends with a geology tour of the Crowsnest Pass area on the British Columbia/Alberta border, and with field stops in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park and at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta.

The field guide is printed on double-sided 8.5″ x 11″ pages with the guide cover on 100 lb paper and the text on 80 lb paper. It has black wire-o binding and a clear acetate front and a black acetate backing for improved field durability. The guidebook’s cost is $55 USD (which includes shipping), and can be purchased at the AWG online store or by phoning the AWG main office at 303-412-6219.

The Field Season Is Going Strong in Southwestern Montana

My field season is in full swing. I recently spent time with students from the Webb Schools in Claremont, CA, during their annual sojourn to southwestern Montana. We prospected a few Tertiary localities, with the students making some good fossil mammal and fossil invertebrate finds. We were also extremely lucky to have a southwest Montana landowner give us a tour of a buffalo jump that is on his land. The following photos are from our various fossil site and buffalo jump field adventures.

woodin-snails
Tertiary fossil snails (about 25 My in age) at one locality captured the interest of students. Once one snail was found, everyone was intent on finding more.
Bob Haseman talks about a buffalo jump in the Toston Valley. He is standing by one of the many tepee rings associated with the jump site.
Bob Haseman talks about a buffalo jump in the Toston Valley of southwestern Montana. He is standing by one of the many tepee rings associated with the jump site. The small boulders on the surface between Bob and the students are part of a tepee ring.
Webb School students hiking up to the "Looking-Out" site associated with the buffalo jump. A eagle catchment area is immediately below the highest point of the "Looking-Out" site.
Webb School students hiked up to the “Looking-Out” site associated with the buffalo jump. A eagle catchment area is immediately below the highest point of the “Looking-Out” site.
eagle-catchment
The eagle catchment area is a shallow depression where a person would hide beneath brush awaiting the approach of an eagle. A nearby animal carcass would aid the quest to capture a eagle which was then used for its feathers.
Chadronian (about 36 Ma) age rocks yielded a few brontothere teeth and bone fragments.
Chadronian (about 36 My in age) rocks near Three Forks, Montana yielded a few brontothere teeth and bone fragments for the curious students.
Chadronian strata in this area contain brown to reddish, popcorn textured floodplain deposits and whitish-colored fine-sand channel deposits.
Chadronian strata in this area consist of brown to reddish popcorn-textured floodplain deposits that contain paleosols and whitish-colored fine-sand channel deposits.

 

 

Siccar Point – The Roots of Modern Geology

Siccar Point, located on the southeast coast of Scotland, is well revered in the geological community. Outcrops at this locale display ‘Hutton’s Unconformity’. This is an angular unconformity where tilted rock units of about 370 million years in age called the Old Red Sandstone (with a basal layer of conglomerate) lie atop nearly vertical strata of greywacke that are approximately 435 million years in age. James Hutton observed these rock juxtapositions while on a boat trip past Siccar Point in 1788 with James Hall and John Playfair. His observations and contemplation of this unconformity formed a basis for his theory of repeated cycles of deposition, uplift, and erosion, which was later known as uniformitarianism.

The British Geological Survey posted a new video on Siccar Point a few days ago. Their video features amazing drone video of the locale and good accompanying audio. It is well worth a view!

A High-Elevation Eocene Fossil Vertebrate Site in the Elkhorn Mountains, Southwestern Montana

dogtown1Af
The Dog Town Mine vertebrate fossil locality is an isolated occurrence of Eocene strata found on the divide between the Toston-Townsend Valley (on the east side of the photo)  and the North Boulder Valley (on the western edge of the photo), southwestern Montana.

The Dog Town Mine Tertiary fossil vertebrate locality is nestled on private property within the southern extent of the Elkhorn Mountains, southwestern Montana. The locality is about 20 miles southwest of Townsend, Montana, where Mesozoic and Paleozoic carbonate, quartzite, and red-colored mudstone, siltstone, and sandstone rocks underlie Eocene (Chadronian) strata. These unconformable Eocene strata contain the Dog Town Mine vertebrate fossil locality.

Earl Douglass (yes, that Earl Douglass of the Dinosaur National Monument fame) first collected at the site on Friday, June 27, 1902 (based on transcriptions from Earl Douglass’ journals done by Alan Tabrum and volunteers from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History). According to his journal, Douglass met a man from Toston, Montana, on horseback and this person told him about the Dog Town Mine, which was located on the divide between the Toston/Townsend and North Boulder Valleys. Douglass was headed to the North Boulder Valley anyways, so he rode to the mine where he found invertebrate fossils (brachiopods and bryozoa) in carbonate rock which was in contact with the ore deposit. A Mr. Allen, who he dined with that evening, told him that more fossils could be found a little ways west of the mine. After dinner Douglass rode a short way west of the mine and found banks along a ravine that looked like Tertiary White River beds. Here he found  “Oreodont, Ischyromys, Palaeolagus, Titanotherium, and turtle remains” (June 28, 1902, Douglass Journal entry). This area is the present Dog Town Mine vertebrate fossil locality.

The Dog Town Mine site encompasses all of the light-colored exposures on the right side of the county road.
The Dog Town Mine locality encompasses all of the light-colored exposures on the right side of the county road seen in this photograph.

 

Tertiary strata at the Dog Town Mine are fine-grained, predominantly consisting of siltstone with minor fine-grained sandstone units. The deposits are probably of aeolian origin, originating from areal sediments rich in volcanic ash. These deposits are probably similar lithologically and in mode of origin to those Tertiary White River units found at high elevations within the Laramie Range and Medicine Bow Mountains (Evanoff, E., 1990, Early Oligocene paleovalleys in southern and central Wyoming: Evidence of high local relief on the late Eocene unconformity: Geology, v. 18, p. 443–446; Lloyd and Eberle, 2012, A late Eocene (Chadronian) mammalian fauna from the White River Formation in Kings Canyon, northern Colorado: Rocky Mountain Geology, v. 47, no. 2, p. 113–132).

Vertebrate fossils have been collected at the Dog Town Mine site for various museums since Douglass’ initial collection. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA houses a collection from the site as well as the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT.

Iceberg Lake Glacier, Glacier National Park – Hiking Through A Changing Landscape

Iceberg Lake is situated in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park. The hike is about a 10 mile round trip and gains about 1275 feet in elevation. The trail winds through prime grizzly bear habitat, so be sure to hike with a group, make lots of noise, and carry bear spray. When I hiked the trail back in September, many returning hikers told our group about a grizzly sow and two cubs that were roaming around by Iceberg Lake. The bears actually walked by the lake shore while my group and many others were at the lake, but there were no harmful encounters. However – just this past week, in this same general area, a sow grizzly with 2 sub-adult cubs (I’m guessing that this is the same set of bears that walked by my group at Iceberg Lake) was surprised by a lone hiker and the sow grabbed and shook the hiker. The hiker used his bear spray escaped with puncture wounds to his lower leg and a hand. So – some words of caution about about hiking in bear country!

The Iceberg Lake Trail

A part of the Iceberg Lake Trail - note the u-shape valley sculpted by glacial processes.
A part of the Iceberg Lake Trail – note the u-shape valley sculpted by glacial processes.

The trailhead to Iceberg Lake is behind the cabins near the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. The first part of the hike, about 1/4 mile, gains about 185 feet. After that initial elevation gain, the trail’s elevation gain moderates. Ptarmigan Falls is about 2.5 miles from the trailhead, and a short way above this is a footbridge that crosses Ptarmigan Creek. The rocky area near the footbridge is a great place for a snack break. Another 1/10 mile beyond the footbridge is the Iceberg Lake Trail junction. The Ptarmigan Trail continues towards the right and goes to Ptarmigan Tunnel and Ptarmigan Lake.Take the other trail branch to continue on to Iceberg Lake. A good trail hike summary for the Iceberg Lake Trail is found at the website “Hiking in Glacier”.

Footbridge over Ptarmigan Creek - good  place for a snack break.
Footbridge over Ptarmigan Creek – good place for a snack break.
Nearing Iceberg Lake as the snow and sleet continue to fall.
Nearing Iceberg Lake as the snow and sleet continue to fall.

The popularity of the trail was clear to me when even on a rainy, sleety, and snowy day,I passed many people on the trail. My group did a leisurely hike, stopping at several places to look at the geology alongside the trail and to do a snack stop by the Ptarmigan Creek footbridge both on the way up and back. It took us about 5 hours for the round trip. That put us back just in time to have a much enjoyed dinner at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn.

Ah - the trail's end at Iceberg Lake!
Ah – the trail’s end at Iceberg Lake!

 

 

The Iceberg Glacier: Recession from 1940 to the Present

Comparisons of the Iceberg Glacier from 1940 to 2015. The photo on the left is a circa 1940 Hileman photo. GNP Archives; the center photo is a 8/14/2008 photo by Lisa McKeon, USGS, and the photo on the right is a 9/6/2015 photo by Debra Hanneman.
Comparisons of the Iceberg Glacier from 1940 to 2015. The photo on the left is a circa 1940 Hileman photo (GNP Archives) the center photo is a 8/14/2008 photo by Lisa McKeon, USGS, and the photo on the right is a 9/6/2015 photo by Debra Hanneman. Click on the photo to enlarge it in a new window.

The Iceberg Glacier is shown in the above photo set beginning in 1940 (this is the photo on the left, which is a Hileman photo from the Glacier National Park Archives) and ending with the 9/6/2015 photo on the right, which I took during my hike to Iceberg Lake. In the 1940 photo, the glacier terminus is quite thick and extends into the basin. By 2015, there is not much left of the glacier. Even with a comparison between the center 2008 photo by Lisa McKeon and my 2015 photo, one can see that much more bedrock is exposed. The older photos are also posted on the US Geological Survey’s Repeat Photography Map Tour Website. For those interested in glacial recession within Glacier National Park, the Repeat Photography website is a valuable resource. The Repeat Photography project is summarized on the USGS website –

This project began in 1997 with a search of photo archives. We used many of the high quality historic photographs to select and frame repeated photographs of seventeen different glaciers. Thirteen of those glaciers have shown marked recession and some of the more intensely studied glaciers have proved to be just 1/3 of their estimated maximum size that occurred at the end of the Little Ice Age (circa 1850). In fact, only 26 named glaciers presently exist of the 150 glaciers present in 1850.

Trail Geology

Sheet sands interbedded with muds in Proterozoic Grinnell Formation.
Jeff Kuhn points out sheet sands interbedded with muds in Proterozoic Grinnell Formation.

Much of the Iceberg Lake Trail winds through the Grinnell Formation, which is a Proterozoic geologic unit within the Belt Supergroup. As Callan Bentley has succintly said of the Belt Supergroup rocks in Glacier National Park:

The rocks exposed firstly from the top down are old sedimentary rocks of the Belt Supergroup. It is called “Belt” after Belt, Montana, and “supergroup” because it is immense. These rocks were deposited in a Mesoproteozoic (1.6-1.2 Ga) sea basin, and show little to no metamorphism despite their age.

Rip-up clasts in Proterozoic Grinnell Formation.
Rip-up clasts in Proterozoic Grinnell Formation.

I was lucky to be hiking with Jeff Kuhn from Helena, Montana, who has done much work with Belt Supergroup rocks in the Glacier Park to Whitefish Range areas. Jeff stopped us at several locations along the trail to look more closely at features within the Grinnell Formation. In general, the Grinnell Formation consists of sandstone and argillite and is approximately 1740-2590 feet thick. It has a deep brick-red color owing to its contained hematite and because it was deposited in a shallow oxygen-rich environment. Sedimentary features that are consistent with the shallow water depositional interpretation include mudstone rip-up clasts, mudcracks, and ripple marks.

Mudcracks preserved in the Proterozoic Grinnell Formation.
Mudcracks preserved in the Proterozoic Grinnell Formation.

All told, it was a hike well worth doing, even if you are not a geology enthusiast!

Ripples preserved in the Proterozoic Grinnell Formation.
Ripples preserved in the Proterozoic Grinnell Formation.

 

A Different Look At The Burgess Shale – The Stanley Glacier Burgess Shale Hike, Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada

The Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale and its contained fossils are legendary to earth scientists. These fossils are by far the best record of Cambrian animal fossils. The importance of the Burgess Shale fossils is also linked to their excellent preservation. The fossils include many soft bodied animals in addition to those with hard parts – an extremely rare occurrence for fossil assemblages.

I finally hiked to the Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge near Field, B.C., last year, just to better understand the context of the Burgess Shale. It was well worth the effort (it is a long, and as other hikers phrased it – a gut-busting hike). Before my Walcott Quarry hike, I’d read that Kootenay National Park just started hosting hikes to Burgess Shale type faunas (BST) in the Stanley Glacier area. It only took a good dinner and a beer after the Walcott Quarry hike to decide that I’d do the Stanley Glacier Burgess Shale hike.

Stanley Glacier Valley, Kootenay National Park - the view is looking west from the upper talus slopes.
Stanley Glacier Valley, Kootenay National Park – the view is looking west from the upper talus slopes.

Stanley Glacier BST fossils (approximately 505 million years in age) are about 40 km southeast of the Field, B.C. (Yoho National Park) locales. Recent work in both the Marble Canyon and the Stanley Glacier areas of Kootenay National Park yielded noteworthy additions to understanding the BST fossils and their depositional environments. BST fossils found in the Marble Canyon area include 25 new species of organisms; 8 new species are now recorded for the Stanley Glacier BST fossils. Of more interest to me (being a sedimentologist), is that the depositional environment in the Kootenay National Park area differs from that of the Field, B.C. area. Although the Burgess Shale fossils are found within the Stephen Formation in both areas, there is a marked difference in this rock unit from one area to the other area. Around Field, B.C., the Stephen Formation is the “thick or basinal” (about 276 to 370 meters thick) Stephen and it resulted from deposition at the base of the older Cathedral Formation Escarpment (a submarine cliff) via turbidity flows. In the Stanley Glacier area, the Stephen Formation is relatively “thin” (about 33 meters thick) and is probably the result of deposition at the distal edge of a marine platform (Caron and others, 2010; Gaines, 2011). The stratigraphic placement of the Burgess Shale rock units also differs from the Field, B.C. area to the Stanley Glacier area. Based upon the presence certain trilobites and stratigraphic evidence (Caron and others, 2010), the “thin” Stephen Formation at Stanley Glacier is stratigraphically above the Field, B.C. Burgess Shale localities.

The Cambrian rock units on the south wall of the Stanley Glacier area. The Stephen Formation is the unit that contains the Burgess Shale type fossils. The lockbox location is the hike’s end.

With that small bit of Burgess Shale background, I’ll get back to the actual hike up the Stanley Glacier valley to the Stephen Formation talus slopes and outcrop. The hike is hosted by Kootenay National Park and is about 10 km for the round trip. The elevation gain is about 450 meters. The first part of the hike is through glacial material and a fire-swept lodgepole pine forest. Forest fires burned through this area most recently in 1968 and in 2003. Luckily for paleontologists, the fire bared many slopes and definitely helped in locating BST fossil beds. A little more than halfway through the hike, one breaks out of the trees onto the talus slopes of Stanley Glacier’s valley. The hike continues over the talus slope to a very large boulder. Several BST fossil specimens are locked in a box kept behind this boulder. Our guide gives an informative talk about the lockbox fossils and we have much time to pick around the talus slope for more fossils.

Burgess Shale type fossil specimens are kept in a lock box behind the large rock. These specimens are the focus of an informative talk by the Kootenay National Park hike guide.
Burgess Shale type fossil specimens are kept in a lockbox behind the large rock located on the talus slope. These specimens are the focus of an informative talk by the Kootenay National Park hike guide.

In 1989, an expedition party from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) located fossils from Stephen Formation talus in this area (Rigby and Collins, 2004: Sponges of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale and Stephen Formations, British Columbia; Royal Ontario Museum Contributions in Science 1: 1–155.). Caron and others (2010) also document that some of their fossil assemblage material came from the talus slope, so it’s worth some time to look around (Caron and others, 2010 GSA Data Repository).

Talus slopes beneath the Cambrian Stephen Formation are prime areas for Burgess Shale type fossils.
Talus slopes beneath the Cambrian Stephen Formation are prime areas for Burgess Shale type fossils.

Keep in mind that this is within a Canadian National Park, so do not keep any of the fossil material. The quarry that has been worked recently in this area (the quarry was initially worked in 2008 by ROM earth scientists) is yet beyond the hike’s end point, near the southwest edge of the cirque.

Stanley Glacier BST shelly fauna includes characteristic Cambrian taxa such as hyolithids, brachiopods, and trilobites. Soft-bodied BST creatures such as the necktobenthic or nektonic arthropods and proto-arthropods Stanleycaris hirpex n. gen., n. sp., Tuzoia retifera, and Sidneyia inexpectans also are part of the BST fauna. Trace fossils are plentiful on some bedding surfaces. These include trails, shallow burrows, and arthropod trackways.

Tuzoia - a fossil arthropod specimen from the lockbox collection.
Tuzoia – a fossil arthropod specimen from the lockbox collection.
Sidneyia - a fossil arthropod from the lockbox collection.
Sidneyia – a fossil arthropod from the lockbox collection (this specimen is actually from Marble Canyon).
Sponge spicules - from the fossil lockbox collection.
Sponge spicules – from the fossil lockbox collection.
Haplophrentis - an enigmatic tubular fossil known as a hyolith. This fossil is from the lockbox collection.
Haplophrentis – an enigmatic tubular fossil known as a hyolith. This fossil is from the lockbox collection.
Anomolarcaris claw - from the lockbox collection.
Anomalorcaris claw – from the lockbox collection.
Feeding traces - from the talus slope near the lockbox.
Feeding traces – from the talus slope near the lockbox.

The Gravelly Range, Southwestern Montana: High Elevation Tertiary Rocks

The Gravelly Range is located in southwest Montana, about 10 miles southwest of Ennis, Montana. Much of the range is covered by the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The Axolotl Lakes Wilderness Study Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, is in the northern part of the Gravelly Range.

Gravelly Range - looking east over Paleozoic rocks to the Madison Range in the far distance.
Gravelly Range – looking east over Paleozoic rocks to the Madison Range in the far distance.

Our field group was interested in looking at Tertiary rocks, so we headed for the Black Butte – Lion Mountain area, the more south-central part of the range. A cold front had just swept through western Montana a few days prior to my field trip. That storm left some snow up on the range crest – yep, that’s right, snow in July. But it did melt off fast and it left vegetation along the Gravelly Range road (the main road that stretches along much of the top of the range’s extent) extremely lush. So it was a gorgeous drive from the Lyon Bridge crossing on the Madison River up to Lion Mountain and Black Butte. And as Black Butte is the highest peak in the Gravelly Range at 10,542 feet in elevation, it was not difficult to find our destination.

Black Butte, at 10,542 feet  in elevation, is the highest peak in the Gravelly Range.
Black Butte, at 10,542 feet in elevation, is the highest peak in the Gravelly Range. Eruptions at Black Butte have a radiometric age date by whole-rock K-Ar of 22.9 Ma.
East side of Lion Mountain as seen from Wolverine Basin. Alkaline basalt caps Lion Mountain, with a K-Ar age date of 30.8 Ma.
East side of Lion Mountain as seen from Wolverine Basin. Alkaline basalt caps Lion Mountain, and has a K-Ar age date of 30.8 Ma.

The Tertiary rocks of interest to us were primarily the Tertiary strata exposed on the west side of Lion Mountain. Fossil fauna from these strata have a North American Land Mammal Age of Whitneyan, and are approximately 29 to 32 million years in age. Carnivore, rodent, insectivore, and rabbit are some of the fauna of the fossil assemblage collected here by past workers.

The west side of Lion Mountain with Tertiary strata exposed under the 30.8 Ma basalt cap.
The west side of Lion Mountain with Tertiary strata exposed under the 30.8 Ma basalt cap.

It was a good workout to reach the top of Lion Mountain, but really was well worth the effort. The Tertiary strata had plenty of features to keep a sedimentologist like myself busy. And the views – just spectacular! To top off the trip – it was obvious that someone had been there before us because we found an aluminum ladder stashed is the trees near the top of the Tertiary exposures. None of us availed ourselves of its use, but maybe next time it will come in handy!

A ladder stashed in the bushes near the top of Lion Mountain. The Snowcrest Range is shown in the distance on the left hand side of the photo. Black Butte pops over the ridge in the photo's upper right.
A ladder is stashed in the trees near the top of Lion Mountain. The Snowcrest Range is shown in the distance on the left hand side of the photo. Black Butte pops over the ridge in the photo’s upper right.

 

 

 

Geological Travels In Cuba

A part of the Vinales Valley in western Cuba – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you’ve ever thought about Cuban geology, now may be the time to get serious about actually going to Cuba and looking at it. As a U.S. citizen, it’s been extremely difficult to legally go to Cuba. I went there in March of 2013 as part of an Association for Women Geoscientists’s geological field trip that we did through the travel company Insight Cuba. It was a very good trip. Our geological guide was Manuel Iturralde, a retired curator from the National Museum of Natural History in Havana and current President of the Cuban Geological Society. Manuel’s knowledge of Cuba’s geology is immense and consequently the geology part of the trip was amazing. But – because I am a U.S. citizen, my travel at that time was done under the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, initially imposed in 1960. That meant to be fully legal I had to travel to Cuba via a licensed “people-to-people” travel agency. The people-to-people visits involve booking a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities for each traveler that will bring about a “meaningful interaction” between the travelers and Cubans – and hence the time for geology is limited. Additionally, the places one can go in Cuba were also limited. For example, U.S. citizens could not visit “tourist” areas, and thus areas of geological interest such as most beach geology was off limits during my tour.

President Obama’s 12/17/2014 announcement on easing of Cuba travel restrictions may well help out those interested in seeing Cuban geology. According to the White House Fact Sheet – Charting A New Course on Cuba -, “general licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in 12 existing categories”, two of which – professional research and professional meetings and educational activities – will help for improving the quality of travel for earth scientists. However, I talked with a person from Insight Cuba today about the new travel requirements, and they said, “a traveler still needs to get a license from OFAC (U.S. Office of Foreign Assests Control), and it still might take about 2 months to get the license”. Unfortunately, in the Insight Cuba rep’s opinion, not much has yet changed for travel to Cuba. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see on what transpires with this in the near future.

But – as I said earlier in this blog, it still may be a good time to think about geology-based travel to Cuba. Manuel Iturralde recently emailed me an announcement for The Cuban Society of Geology’s VI Cuban Convention on Earth Sciences and Exhibition of Products, Services and New Technologies – GEOEXPO 2015 – May 4 – 8, 2015, in Havana. This should be a excellent convention and good way to be introduced to Cuba’s geology.

Just to mention a couple other earth science resources for potential travelers:

  • 2013/2014 Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology (Volume 1, No. 1, 2013. ISSN 2310-0060, Scientific Journal of Geosciences, Havana – now this is the July 2014 version) is online. As described from the website:

    This version of the Cuban Digital Library of Geosciences brings together some 3700 references, 2091 in digital format, most of the published contributions, unpublished lesser extent, the existence of which the authors are aware. The topics cover the various branches of Earth Sciences, with emphasis on geology, geophysics and mining Cuba, or in any way relevant to the best knowledge of Cuban territory, although centrally relate to other geographies. These contributions include books, monographs and scientific articles, a few summaries and maps dating from 1535. Some very important unpublished documents are referenced as are available at the National Bureau of Mineral Resources (ONRM), the Centre National Geological Information ( CNIG ), the map library and collection of science in the National Library José Martí; and library (1989), Institute for Geophysics, University of Texas at Austin. In the year 2012 was published a list of Information Centers Geosciences across the country and how to access them.

  • Journeying Through Cuba’s Geology and Culture: This is a brief article that I wrote for the “Travels in Geology” section of Earth magazine (published July/August 2013) about my trip through western and central Cuba with the Association for Women Geoscientists in March 2013.

 

One of the towering limestone hills locally known as “mogotes” of the Pinar del Río Province in far western Cuba. This mogote is known as Abra de Ancón and it is famous for the site where Manuel Fernández de Castro first found Jurassic marine invertebrate fossils in the late 1800’s.
One of the towering limestone hills locally known as “mogotes” of the Pinar del Río Province in far western Cuba. This mogote is Abra de Ancón and it is famous for the site where Manuel Fernández de Castro first found Jurassic marine invertebrate fossils in the late 1800’s.

Canadian Rockies AWG Field Trip – A Summary

The AWG 2014 Canadian Rockies Field Trip took place from August 28 to September 7, 2014, with a Calgary-area geology pre-trip for early arrivals on August 27.  The main part of the field trip commenced with a mid-morning departure on the 28th from Calgary, and we all headed west along Canada Highway 1 to Lake Louise. After spending two days in the Lake Louise area, we drove north to the Columbia Icefields. A few of us continued further north the next day, on an side trip to Jasper. From the Icefields we toured south to Field, British Columbia, over to Revelstoke, and ended our British Columbia time in Fernie. We then drove east, back into Alberta, and spent time at Dinosaur Provincial Park near Brooks and at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller. The trip ended with our group once more back in Calgary, Alberta.

There were 22 people as full-time field-trippers and two more people on the trip during the Icefields to Field, B.C. part of the trip. Two of the full-time trip participants were students and one of the additional, part-time trip participants, was a student. All of the students on the field trip are from Mount Royal University in Calgary and are students of our field trip leader, Katherine Boggs. Paul Hoffman and Mindy Brugman also helped out for a day or so during the trip. Marcia Knadle and Debra Hanneman did the trip budget and logistics. We had a great field trip guidebook, thanks largely to Katherine Boggs’ efforts. The field trip guidebook, “Tectonics, Climate Change, and Evolution: Southern Canadian Cordillera” will be on sale at the AWG online store soon.

Some of us took to the water and canoed around Moraine Lake near Lake Louise, Alberta. Moraine Lake is located within the valley known as the “Valley of the Ten Peaks” which was once featured on the Canadian twenty dollar bill.
Some of us took to the water and canoed around Moraine Lake near Lake Louise, Alberta. Moraine Lake is located within the valley known as the “Valley of the Ten Peaks” which was once featured on the Canadian twenty dollar bill.
Katherine Boggs talks to the field trip crew about area geology at a stop along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta.
Katherine Boggs talks to the field trip crew about area geology at a stop along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta.
Our intrepid field crew hikes the Athabasca Glacier, one of the six major glaciers of the Columbia Icefield.
Our intrepid field crew hikes the Athabasca Glacier, one of the six major glaciers of the Columbia Icefield.
Paul Hoffman explains features of the Neoproterozoic Old Fort Point Formation near Jasper, Alberta.
Paul Hoffman explains features of the Neoproterozoic Old Fort Point Formation near Jasper, Alberta.
Some of the field trip group took the arduous hike up to the famous Walcott Quarry that is developed within the Cambrian Burgess Shale near Field, British Columbia.
Some of the field trip group took the arduous hike up to the famous Walcott Quarry that is developed within the Cambrian Burgess Shale near Field, British Columbia.
A member of our field trip group shows us one of the Burgess Shale’s trilobites from the Walcott Quarry.
A member of our field trip group shows us one of the Burgess Shale’s trilobites while at the Walcott Quarry.
One of the trip’s frequent rainy days – but we still had fun by the Kicking Horse River at its confluence with the Columbia River, near Golden, British Columbia.
One of the trip’s frequent rainy days – but we still had fun by the Kicking Horse River at its confluence with the Columbia River, near Golden, British Columbia.
Our field trip group poses by Columbia Lake, which forms the headwaters for both the Columbia and Kootenay rivers, and lies within the enigmatic Rocky Mountain Trench near Canal Flats, British Columbia.
Our field trip group poses by Columbia Lake, which forms the headwaters for both the Columbia and Kootenay rivers, and lies within the enigmatic Rocky Mountain Trench near Canal Flats, British Columbia.
The Frank Slide was a must-stop as we drove along the Crowsnest Highway near Blairmore, Alberta. The slide happened on April 29, 1903, when about 82 million tons of limestone fell off of Turtle Mountain.
The Frank Slide was a must-stop as we drove along the Crowsnest Highway near Blairmore, Alberta. The slide happened on April 29, 1903, when about 82 million tons of limestone fell off of Turtle Mountain.
Part of our field trip group discusses Centrosaur Bone Bed 43 during our guided hike at Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta.
Part of our field trip group discusses Centrosaur Bone Bed 43 during our guided hike at Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta.