Whenever I drive to Yellowstone National Park’s northern gate, I pass by the Devil’s Slide. It seems that the slide is my gate keeper to the park, and it is always fun to see it in all our different seasons. And once again, during a chance conversation in the park, I was asked about the geology of Devil’s Slide. Because of that conversation, I thought that I’d spend some time blogging about the slide’s geology.
Devil’s Slide is a part of Cinnabar Mountain, which contains steeply-dipping to overturned Paleozoic and Mesozoic strata. Cinnabar Mountain is fault-bounded on its north side by the Gardiner Fault, a north to northeast dipping reverse fault zone. At Cinnabar Mountain’s north end, the Gardiner Fault juxtaposes Archean crystalline rock (now partly masked by Tertiary intrusive rocks and Quaternary glacial sediments as shown on geologic map snapshot below) on the fault’s northern, up-thrown side against Paleozoic strata on its down-thrown, southern side. The Paleozoic-Mesozoic strata in Cinnabar Mountain are contorted because of drag associated with the Gardiner Fault.
According to Marius Campbell and others (1915, p. 92), “Cinnabar Mountain was named in the early days, when the bright-red streak that marks it from top to bottom was supposed to be due to the mineral cinnabar, a red ore of mercury.” (From: Guidebook of the Western United States: Part A – The Northern Pacific Route, With a Side Trip to Yellowstone Park, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 611). We now know that the bright red streak is not cinnabar (a brick-red form of mercury sulfide), but the area of red in Devil’s Slide is actually a set of Triassic age red beds that mark widespread continental deposition and limited marine incursions throughout the Rocky Mountain region. The red beds in this case get their color from the oxidation of iron-rich minerals contained within the rocks.
And now for the jumping fox and its association to my Devil’s Slide discussion – as I said previously in this blog, the conversation that I had with a fellow-park goer a few days ago brought about my blog on Devil’s Slide. My conversation about the slide happened while I was watching a fox hunt rodents in YNP’s Round Prairie, a gorgeous meadow near Pebble Creek Campground in the park’s northeastern area. The female fox hunted for hours that morning, and several photographers and myself were enthralled with her hunt. The light snowfall of the night before accentuated the bushy fall coat of the fox and gave the hunting scene great color contrast. Here are are few photos from the hunt:
The Lake Myvatn area, located in northeast Iceland, has an amazing, and truly beautiful, volcanic landscape. This area lies within Iceland’s North Volcanic Zone, which is a part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – the spreading rift between the Eurasian and North American plates that slices through Iceland. Lake Myvatn is the fourth largest lake in Iceland, and is quite shallow, with the deepest part being only about 4 meters. This area is also renown for its wetlands and birdlife, with the lake’s numerous bays and its outlet to the north-flowing river Laxa being host to a multitude of birds.
My favorite experience at Lake Myvatn was riding an Icelandic horse around the pseudocraters in the Skútustaðagígar area of Lake Myvatn (southwestern part of the lake). Pseudocraters are unusual in that they are rootless volcanic cones that formed in this area about 2300 years ago when basaltic lava flowed over the water-logged lake sediment, resulting in the cones being built from steam exploding through the lava. So -not only did I want to see pseudocraters, but I also wanted to lean how to tolt because this is a natural gait exclusive to Icelandic horses. According to Riding-Iceland.com,
“the Tölt is a natural, fluid gait of the Icelandic Horse, during which at least one foot always touches the ground. Foals often tölt in pastures at an early age. The tölt is an extraordinarily smooth four-beat gait, which allows the rider an almost bounce-free ride, even at 32 kmh (20 mph). “
I contacted Safari Horse Rental (located just off the main road in the Skútustaðagígar area) and set up a two hour ride. Gilli was my guide, and he took me through mostly private land to both look at pseudocraters and to teach me how to tolt. It did take me awhile to understand how to let my horse know it was time to break into the tolting gait, but when we both got it figured out, wow! what a way to see pseudocraters! I’d urge anyone who loves to ride horses to try this!
Again – I’ll highly recommend that the best way to view Lake Myvatn’s pseudocraters is by tolting on an Icelandic horse!
I did a snorkel tour of the Silfra fissure with Dive.is while I was in Iceland a couple weeks ago. That is a very impressive way to view part of the mid-Atlantic ridge system! Here’s what Dive.is says about Silfra that makes it so unique:
“Silfra is a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park. The rift was formed in 1789 by the earthquakes accompanying the divergent movement of the two tectonic plates . The diving and snorkeling site at Silfra is right where the two continents meet and drift apart about 2 cm per year. Silfra is the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel directly in a crack between two tectonic plates. The earthquakes of 1789 opened up several fissures in the Thingvellir area, but the Silfra fissure cut into the underground spring filled with glacial meltwater from the nearby Langjökull glacier.”
There are 6 people to a group for the snorkel tour, with each group accompanied by a guide from Dive.is. Jake was our guide and he was great! The tour is simply snorkeling through basalt and more basalt, but with the water clarity, the colors are beautiful. There is also one place where you can stretch across the fissure and basically touch both plates.
I also took video while I was snorkeling, so am inserting a clip from the first part of the snorkel tour at the end of this blog. The video clip includes the time when we all get geared up, have our gear checked, and then flipper-walk down the entrance ramp, into the water. We all have to do a flip over to our back once we’re in the water, just to make sure we can maneuver once we’re in the water. The clip continues on as we snorkel through the first several minutes of exploring the fissure. At the end of the snorkel tour, we hike back to where the Dive.is vans/equipment are. After taking off our gear – which getting off the dry suit is somewhat of a challenge – we have hot chocolate and cookies. Because the weather was so nice, it was a pleasurable experience to stand around and feast. But – we were told that in the wintertime the guides take the hot water that is suppose to be used for the hot chocolate and it pour down the snorkelers’ necks so the dry suits can be pulled off. Glad I opted for late May to do this!
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 a positive side, that leaves many places that I need to visit on a future trip. I really wanted to go on a Cliffs of Moher Tour for example, as I’ve heard so many good things about them, but that’s one of the many things that will have to wait until next time unfortunately.
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.