Montana’s autumn is my favorite time of the year to do field work. Daytime temperatures are usually cool enough to encourage one to keep moving and the lighting is simply gorgeous. It is also one of the best times to visit areas in and around Yellowstone National Park (YNP) because most of the tourists have gone home. So no huge bear traffic jams or jostling for parking spots at the better known thermal spots in YNP and surrounding environs – it’s just a wonderfully introspective time for field forays. What follows are several photos that chronicle some of my fall wanderings in the greater Yellowstone area, both in terms of wildlife and geology.
Some of my favorite sightings in YNP are bison at any time of the year. But the autumn snows bring on the bison’s technique of using its head to clear snow away from any vegetative food source. The result of their snow-clearing activity is a snow-masked face.
And where the snow hasn’t stacked up much, the YNP bison calmly graze and occasionally congregate on a ridge line to watch what remains of the YNP visitor traffic.
Geological features in YNP take on new dimensions with the golden low and slanting light of autumn. I’ve spent much time re-photographing geologic features at all scales that seem to glow in this season’s light.
The fall staging areas of sandhill cranes in southwestern Montana are mesmerizing. Staging areas are those locations where cranes annually congregate during late September into October, spend several days foraging through fields for food, and eventually continue on their migration southward from Montana to Colorado and the southwestern U.S.. The staging area that I usually go to is near Dillon, Montana, where hundreds of cranes can be viewed.
As I said initially, it’s hard to surpass a Montana/YNP autumn!
It’s time for our yearly update talk on field work and data compilation for the Tertiary geology and paleontology of the central Gravelly Range project in southwestern Montana. The Madison Ranger District in Ennis, Montana (5 Forest Service Road) will be hosting my talk on Monday, April 2nd at 10am in the Madison Ranger District conference room. We have a project permit from the US Forest Service because our project area lies within the Madison Ranger District – and the USFS District people have been really helpful with our project logistics. Thus, this is the perfect way to let them know what we did this past field season and how the whole project is coming together. The Madison District just sent their public announcement for the talk:
Dr. Hanneman and Dr. Don Lofgren, PhD (Director, Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, Claremont, CA 91711) and their team have been executing a multiyear study in the Gravelly Range near Black Butte resulting in many interesting paleontological findings right here in our own back yard. Please join Dr. Hanneman and the Madison Ranger District for an update on this project and what they hope to unearth this year!
It’s a very intriguing project on high-elevation, mainly Eocene-Oligocene Tertiary geology and paleontology (mostly vertebrate and floral). So – anyone with an interest in this and who is in the geographic area, is welcome at the talk!
Within the last few weeks I’ve had several requests for available resources on Cuban geology. The requests, of course, have come from individuals outside of the U.S.A. Guess that they sense opportunities for working with and understanding Cuba’s geology that we are backing away from. In any case, I’ve sent the requests on to Manuel Iturralde-Vinet, the person who has worked and published an immense amount of information regarding Cuba’s geology. Manuel has now sent me back an updated list of resources and said:
Traveling to Ireland has been something I’ve wanted to do. So, when the opportunity came up to go to Scotland, I couldn’t leave the general area without seeing at least some of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I only made it as far south as Dublin, but I guess on the positive side, that leaves many places that I need to visit on a future trip.
I flew from Glasgow into Dublin, rented a car, and first headed for Northern Ireland which is the subject of this blog. The causeway coastal route in Northern Ireland (from the North Channel coast eastward to the Irish Sea coastline) is a drive that I wanted to try. I ended up driving only about half of it – from Ballycastle east to Port Stewart because I spent so much time stopping to look at rocks and scenery.
The total area of these flows is now much reduced compared to their original extent, but they still constitute, at 3,800km2, Europe’s most extensive lava field. Traditionally the lavas of the Antrim Lava Group have been divided into three main phases of activity, separated by two extended periods of quiescence or limited, local activity.
The two areas that I spent most time at during my coastal causeway drive are the Carrick-a-rede Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway. These areas are developed within the Lower and Middle Basalts of the Antrim Lava Group and contain an Inter-basaltic Bed of reddish-weathered regolith and paleosols. A photo tour of the two areas are shown below –
A rope bridge connects the mainland with Carrick-a- Rede island. The first rope bridge was built in 1755 to facilitate fishing of Atlantic salmon. The salmon fishery has since died out, but the bridge is maintained as part of National Trust lands.
The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As noted on its UNESCO website:
The Giant’s Causeway lies at the foot of the basalt cliffs along the sea coast on the edge of the Antrim plateau in Northern Ireland. It is made up of some 40,000 massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea. The dramatic sight has inspired legends of giants striding over the sea to Scotland.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I took part in a central California tectonics field trip a few weeks ago that the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) sponsored. Tanya Atwater and Art Sylvester, professors emeriti at the University of California Santa Barbara, Department of Earth Sciences, led the field trip. During the field trip, we made numerous stops between Los Angeles and Hollister at areas where the San Andreas Fault bounds the North American/Pacific plates. Interspersed with fault-specific localities, we explored associated geology such as turbidites around Point Lobos, marine terraces in the Morro Bay area, and pillow/flow basalt at Port San Luis. The final stop on the field trip was an overlook on Santa Barbara geology at La Cumbre Peak with Tanya’s explanation on the tectonic evolution of the Transverse Ranges. If you are not familiar with the tectonic history of this general area, go to Tanya’s web site (http://emvc.geol.ucsb.edu/) and download her visualizations on global/regional tectonics. There are also visualization downloads on ice-age earth and sea level changes, so treat yourself to some very worthwhile earth science information by downloading these visualizations, too.
The following photos are from what I think are field trip highlights, including a brief caption regarding the geology shown in each photo. More information on many of the photo localities can be found in “Roadside Geology of Southern California“, 2016, by Art Sylvester and Elizabeth Gans.
A few days ago I did the hike to Grinnell Glacier, one of the iconic glaciers in Glacier National Park. The glacier lies within the Swiftcurrent drainage area, in the northeastern part of the park. The hike, at least the way I did it, is about 11.6 miles round trip. It is possible to catch a boat ride at the Lake Josephine Boat Dock by the Many Glacier Hotel, which cuts the hike down to about 7.5 miles round trip. But – the first boat goes out at about 8.30 am, and as I didn’t want to wait around for it, I decided that adding on the extra miles for a fairly level stretch around Swiftcurrent Lake and Josephine Lake would be easy to do. It is an easy hike around the lakes and a very good warm-up for the rest of the climb to Grinnell Glacier. But – be aware that this area is known for grizzly bear activity as I found out when I met up with a grizzly on the trail. Because I’m writing about this encounter, it obviously ended OK, although I was glad I had bear spray readily available.
The glacier is named after George Bird Grinnell, who first explored this area during the summer of 1885. Because of bad weather, he did not actually get to the glacier during his 1885 travels. However, during the late fall of 1887, he was able to pack most of the way into the glacier by mules, and then hike the remaining distance by foot. Although he certainly was not the first person to see the glacier, the glacier does bear his name, presumably given it by a Lieutenant John H. Beacom of the United States Army, 3rd Infantry, who accompanied him on the 1887 trip to the glacier.
Back to the hike – after about a mile from the junction of the Swiftcurrent Lake Trail with the trail coming from the North Shore of Lake Josephine boat dock, Grinnell Lake comes into view. A little further along the trail one can see Grinnell Falls dropping several hundred feet down from the headwall behind Grinnell Lake.
And – even at this distance, Salamander and Gem glaciers pop into view in the distant cirque. The hike continues along beautiful alpine meadows and even through one waterfall that cascades down the cliff adjacent to the trail. There is a rest area with pit toilets right before hiking the final switchbacks that traverse the terminal moraine to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.
The three glaciers that once comprised the Grinnell Glacier occupy parts of a cirque developed along the area called the Garden Wall.
Grinnell Glacier is still the largest of the three ice fields and covers about 152 acres. Unfortunately, this glacier is receding rapidly as the U.S.Geological Survey notes that from 1966 to 2005 it lost about 40% of its acreage. At about 5 acres, the hanging glacier called Gem Glacier, is the smallest named glacier in the park. It sits in the notch on the cliff face above the Grinnell Glacier. This glacier lost about 30 percent of its acreage from 1966 to 2005. The Salamander Glacier covers about 57 acres on a ledge off to the east side of the Grinnell Glacier. It apparently separated from the Grinnell Glacier sometime before 1929 and has undergone a 23% size reduction from 1966 to 2005.
For those interested in viewing photographs of the Grinnell Glacier from various times and viewpoints, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Repeat Photography Project has many archived photographs. This project is a documentation of glacial decline through photography and it is well worth perusing through their photo archives. Two of the earlier photographs are shown below – one from the original 1887 trek and a later view of the glacier from 1940 just to pique one’s interest.
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.
Some winter days in Yellowstone National Park are so amazing with clear blue skies and sparkling snow that they just take your breathe away. Luckily enough, I just experienced several of these kinds of days which I packed full of cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and animal watching.
One of the groomed trails that held a good snow base until about early afternoon is the Blacktail Plateau Loop. The trail follows melt-water channels that are associated with “Retreat Lake”, which was formed by the Beartooth glacial ice mass blocking the lower end of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone during the Pleistocene.
The Tower ski trail provides access to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone area. A favorite stop of mine is the Calcite Springs overlook where the thermal springs lie south of the overlook, on the west side of the Yellowstone River and Pliocene/Pleistocene sediment and basalt are on the Yellowstone River’s east side.
A groomed ski trail also accesses the Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. However, after a few days of spring-like temperatures, the snow was so melted back that I just used my snowshoes to trek through the icy slush. Some thermal features were still covered by snow and slush, but others appeared much more vibrant against the white snow/slush blanket.
Aphrodite Terraces lie a short way north of the White Elephant Back Springs:
My favorite thermal feature of the Upper Terraces is Orange Spring Mound. The spring is supported by a fissure ridge and is intermittently active. Because of its low water discharge and subsequent slow growth, it has built up a characteristic cone shape.
All in all, it was perfect wintertime fun trekking around in Yellowstone. Can’t wait to get back there when the bears come back out from hibernation!
During the 14th century, the Inca ruler Inca Pachacuteq (Tito Cusi Inca Yupanqui) transformed the central Andean area of present-day Cusco, Peru into a major urban center. The city became the capital of the Inca empire, containing religious and administrative areas that were surrounded by fertile agricultural expanses. In the 16th century, the Spanish conquered Cusco, building their Baroque churches and palaces atop the remnants of the Inca city. Today about half a million people live in Cusco. The city is now known for its amazing indigenous population and as a mecca for tourists that travel on to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Cusco Historic District
Cusco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and the boundary for the site is mostly what is known as the Historic District (link here for a map of the UNESCO inscribed property). I did tour some of the buildings within the Historic District, my favorite being the Convent of Santo Domingo. The Spanish built this church on the remains of Qurikancha, a revered Incan temple for the Sun God Inti. The Inca stonework is the foundation for the cathedral and it is truly enthralling to see. Interestingly, numerous earthquakes have extensively damaged the cathedral, but the Inca stone walls still stand largely undamaged.
The Vino Canchón Market
The markets of Cusco – now they are an experience that can’t be missed. If you love food, Vino Canchón in the district of San Geronimo, is the place to go. This is the largest market in Cusco, supplying families as well as businesses with all kinds of produce, hardware, flowers, and many other items. It is also a market where the traditional Quechua language dominates the conversations. The Vino Canchón market is open daily and vendors are happy to talk with customers and the inquiring tourist.
Saqsaywaman and Its Geologic Puzzle
Saqsaywaman is the ruins of a fortified complex located at the northern edge of Cusco, on a hilltop that overlooks the city. As briefly summarized by Lake and others (2012):
“Most of the complex was demolished by Spanish settlers, who used the Incan stone to rebuild Cusco into a Spanish colonial town. What remains of the Saqsaywaman complex are large limestone blocks along with some shales, plasters and limonites which were too large for the Spanish settlers to easily remove. Some of these blocks are over 125 tonnes. Chroniclers state, that the construction ofSaqsaywaman was initiated by the ninth Inca, Pachacutec and was continued by his son Tupac Yupanqui Inca, between 1431 and 1508. The construction of Saqsaywaman is testament to the stonework engineering ability of its builder architects: Huallpa Rimachi Inca, the first and main Builder, followed by Maricachi Inca, Acahuanca Inca and Calla Cunchuy Inca. The remaining walls lean inward, which according to current theory allowed the Inca to create a more earthquake resistant structure, and are comprised of mortar-less joints so closely interlocked that even a single sheet of paper cannot fit between the blocks.”
The Geologic Puzzle at Saqsaywaman
On the north side of the Saqsaywaman Archeological Park is a strange outcrop. The outcrop is andesite, but it is marked with north-east trending grooves. It is so deeply grooved in fact, that it’s known as “El Rodadero” – the roller coaster.
In a quick scan of the geologic literature, it appears that ideas for groove formation have ranged from glacial grooves, to faulting, and to the andesite being plastic to partially molten as it was extruded and basically corrugated due to the overlying wallrock. The consensus on groove formation appears to be that of the viscous flow model, but here are links to the references I found, so decide for yourself: