Earth Erotica

My non-geo friends don’t get dry mouths and pounding hearts when passing road cuts. Sometimes, I think they’re blind to beauty. Unclothed rocks are some of the most beautiful sights on earth.

Behold this road cut near Kingman, Arizona that had me screaming for the camera:

Road cut on I40, Kingman, AZ

That’s a beauty that loves even elderly digital cameras. She has faults – that makes her even more alluring. She makes me want to take risks, find a place to pull off the interstate, run my hands along her, explore every nuance of her appearance, know her every detail. Unfortunately, we had a schedule, and we only got that one tantalizing glance across the freeway, and then she was gone. The nice thing about the earth, though, is that she doesn’t vanish into the night. She’ll be there when I go back, lovely as ever.

There are surfaces, and we only sometimes get to see beneath them. The earth’s beauty is far more than skin deep, but it’s so often only the skin we see, and that cloaked with water, draped with plants, capped with buildings. But I grew up in canyon country, where the continent likes off-the-shoulder fashions and takes a minimalist approach to coverings. She’s adventurous, daring, not afraid to show off. You don’t even need a nice road cut to see her layers – go anywhere, find a place where running water’s done some daring design, and you’ll be struck speechless.

Box Canyon, Wupatki National Monument

This gorgeous little canyon, cut into the Kaibab limestone, was so wonderful I had to steal my intrepid companion’s camera for a decent shot – my old beast wouldn’t do it justice. The near-sunset light, breaking through clouds, turned the stone creamy white and rich honey gold by turns as it shifted. This is old stone in an aging landscape, dusted with young volcanics, and the combination of youth and maturity brings out the best in both. You want to talk about a pounding heart: this sight had me literally off my feet, lying on a smooth expanse of bare stone in an attempt to catch her best angle.

Box Canyon, Mt. Rainier

In Arizona, there’s not much hiding the earth from view. In the Pacific Northwest, she often goes bundled up, and so those places where you can get a look beneath all the biology becomes even more intriguing. Here, the Cowlitz River, just starting out, has cut a box canyon through Mt. Rainier’s skin, polished it to a brilliant jet-black luster, and then set it against white water. There’s now jewelry made by human hands that enhances natural beauty quite so well as that.

Road cut near Hurricane Ridge, Olympic Mountains

In the mountains, the roads wind along her and she dances, sometimes in brilliant colors, the sea floor raised up on land and cut away, showing off what deep water usually hides. Basalt is beautiful where it wraps round the Olympics, a crescent cloak that in these places looks like a veil whipped around a spinning belly dancer. This road is one of those that will reduce anyone with the slightest sensitivity to geology to incoherent outbursts of appreciative sounds.

Road cut at Ross Dam, Cascades

Sometimes, to get somewhere and make something we consider useful, we cut down through massive mountain shoulders, and find that the rock we thought rather featureless and dull is endlessly intriguing. Orthogneiss glimmers and sparkles up close, threaded with white veins, riddled with faults that, like a dinner companion with a fascinating life story and a flair for the dramatic, keeps us entranced for hours. Other people might spend their time with the lovely blue lake and the snow-capped peaks – we’re likely to have our noses up against bare stone, listening, admiring, and always wanting more.

Road cut on Highway 97, Oregon

I’ve seen people take variously-colored sands and make art of them, but the earth does it effortlessly. Streams and lakes layer sediments in a cacophony of colors, then dry up and vanish, leaving puzzles behind. We stop the car. We walk alongside, we explore, we tease out those stories. These are the things that send my heart racing, leave my skin tingling, make me feel like I can fly. Beneath most surfaces, there’s fascination. And the more I know this great and glorious Gaia, the more I love her.

For AW #37, with love.

Earth Erotica

The Seduction of Subduction


Cascades from Skykomish River, near Gold Bar

This is why I love the word subduction.  Every time I’m reading about the geology of a region, when I come across that word, I get a tingle down ye olde spine.  Because I know we’re in for it.  I know the landscape’s going to be exciting.  I know we’re in for volcanoes and earthquakes and some really wild metamorphism, accretionary wedges and the whole shebang.  It’s all there.  Tell me we’ve got a subduction zone on our hands, and you’ll see me bounce like a Jack Russell terrier who’s just eaten its owner’s entire stock of No Doz and chased it down with a case of Full Throttle.

In a subduction zone, you get some really wild rocks, rocks that’ve been through it, rocks that have been chewed up and spit out, rocks that, were they a letter, would get the post office in deep trouble for the amount of folding, spindling and mutilating they’ve endured. 

Metamorphic Rock, Skykomish River

A subduction zone takes your basic rocks and makes them sublime.  It pushes them down and raises them up.  It takes bits of the seafloor and chucks them up on land.

Pillow Basalts, Olympic Mountains

It takes your basic quiet marine shales, which had been resting peacefully in nice horizontal layers on the sea bed, and squeezes and cooks them into phyllite.  And then it hoists them high, standing them on end, and makes mountains of them.

Phyllite, Olympic Mountains

Right now, right beneath me, the Juan de Fuca plate is subducting beneath the North American continent.  That subduction is the reason I’ve got land to sit on: over millions of years, subduction zone after subduction zone has formed around here, as oceanic plates meet continental, and as the seafloor goes down, bits of island arcs and seafloor sediments and appreciable chunks of the seafloor itself have gotten plastered on, creating the majority of Washington state, and the mountains that lured me here.  It’s a dangerous place to live.  This beauty does come with risk: chains of violent volcanoes, the certainty of an eventual megathrust earthquake.  But it’s worth the risk. 

I’ve been seduced by subduction.  Looking at the result, who wouldn’t be?

Olympic Mountains
The Seduction of Subduction

Accretionary Wedge #34: Encore

So I post the Accretionary Wedge #34, pack up the tents and roll the carnival out of town, and what happens?  People who should’ve been part of the show turn up.  Seems we’ll have to roll back in, then, because these acts shouldn’t be missed!

Image Credit

Due to Twitter not notifying me of a critical message, Anne Jefferson’s brilliant “Bacteria in the sky, making it rain, snow, and hail” got left at the side of the road. And that’s bad, because it’s headspinningly weird! Biology contributes to hydrology which is part of geology contributes to biology and around and around we go!  The remarkable interconnectedness of all these things – life, water and rocks – can make dizzy.  Kinda feeling like I’ve been standing in the center of a really fast merry-go-round now…

Speaking of standing in the center of things that make you feel funny, Helena’s Weird AND Scenic scenery at Craters of the Moon will leave your head spinning happily.  What’s weirder than a landscape that looks like “black vomit” and is so heavy that it’s sunk a 100km region right down?  Rafting volcanoes, dragon skin, a maclargehuge rift – that’s weird and no mistake!

While we’re on the subject of craters….  My Intrepid Companion likes to pretend he’s got nothing to say about geology, but he does.  And he seems to think a maclargehuge hole in the ground caused by a meteor isn’t weird, but when you think about how rare it is to find one this perfectly preserved on Earth, what with all our various agents of erosion, it totally is.  So, go feast your eyes on what happens when outer space geology smacks in to Earth geology.

Garry Hayes at Geotripper rather made my jaw drop with this one: Weird Geology: Accretionary Wedge #34…Our Human Nightmares.  Because I hadn’t put geology and pareidolia together before, but he did, and it’s fascinating.  Beautiful.  And just a little deliciously scary.

So you see, my darlings, why this carnival had to roll back in to town.  The world is far more weird (and wonderful) than we’d revealed in our original installment.  And over this next year, keep your eyes open for odd, outrageous, and ooo-inducing geology, because we’ve not yet exhausted this topic, and you could run away and join the weird geology carnival next summer.

Accretionary Wedge #34: Encore

Accretionary Wedge #34: Weird Geology

It seems to me that there would be no such science as geology if dear old planet Earth wasn’t really damned weird.

Image Credit: Chris Rowan

People had been running into seashells on mountaintops for years.  Seashells.  On mountaintops.  “That’s weird,” they said, and eventually, some clever types not content with “Funny old world, innit?” and “God must’ve done it” arguments said, “That’s really weird.  How’d they get up there?  How, in fact, did mountains get there?”  And then you had Hutton sailing people around to Siccar Point and pointing out the rather dramatic angular unconformity there.  Now, that was weird.  So weird he took twenty-five years and a very verbose book to explain it.

Now, of course, we don’t think it’s all that weird.  But that’s only because it’s familiar.  It’s like your Great Aunt Vanessa, whose personal quirks like dressing every square inch of exposed furniture surface in doilies and pontificating on the personalities of her plants strikes first-time visitors as mightily strange, but after you’ve got used to her and had the origins of those oddities explained away, just seems charmingly eccentric.

I mean, the very idea that these big ol’ solid continents go rafting round the world was so laughably ridiculous on its face that nearly everybody laughed at poor old Alfie Wegener when he floated the idea.  Sure, everybody’d looked at a map of the world at some point and went, “Hmm, Africa and South America are a perfect fit.  Well, that’s weird,” but not as weird as Wegener’s idea – until the evidence piled up, and everything fell into place, and the mountains made sense, and now everybody who knows anything about geology doesn’t think plate tectonics is all that weird at all.  But it is.  Really, really weird.  Just because something makes perfect sense and can be proven scientifically doesn’t mean it’s not strange.

It’s hard to remember how weird all this stuff really is.  Which is why I invited all you all to hop in the wayback machine or scurry out to the field in search of bizarre, befuddling, or simply baffling bits of geology.  What follows is a carnival sideshow of Weird Geology.  Step right this way, ladies and gentlemen, and feast your eyes on mind-boggling minerals, eccentric erratics, and a veritable smorgasbord of delightfully strange stones!

Image Credit: NIH

Roll up and see the famous Siamese Twins, Evelyn of Georneys and Michael of Through the Sandglass, conjoined at the posts Geology Word of the Week: Y is for Yardang and Yardangs: an Accretionary Wedge Weirdness Cross-post!  Feel the stare of the yardang!  Marvel at its perfect form and conformation!

Step right this way, ladies and gentlemen!  Hear Metageologist at Earth Science Erratics announce, “Chalk is weird.”  Surely not chalk, you say!  But surely yes!  This dull, dry, bland-tasting (admit it, you had a nibble, perfectly normal for a geologist even though you weren’t technically a geologist at that age) and indeed chalky rock is indubitably weird, and, dare we say, even strange.  See chalk as you’ve never seen it before!

And speaking of seeing, don’t believe your eyes!  Geology is a master of illusion.  Venture into Magma Cum Laude’s tempting tent, and Jessica shall show you illusions that will leave your brain befuddled and your senses insensible!  It’s all here in Weird Geology: Accretionary Wedge #34, wherein it is proved that seeing should not always be believing.

Image Credit: kh1234567890

Weird Geology?  Holy Haleakala, what’s weirder than molten rock? Let Matt at Research at a Snail’s Pace show you there’s nothing ordinary about rocks melting deep in the earth!

And then, ladies and gentlemen, come this way and walk on land – moving land, that is!  That’s right, Rachael at 4.5 Billion Years of Wonder has a Slow Motion Landslide that must be trod upon to be believed!  It will give a whole new meaning to “the earth moved.”  Guaranteed!

But that’s not all!  No, simple moving earth is not all landslides have to offer!  Let David at History of Geology show you The landslide of Köfels: Geology between Pseudoscience and Pseudotachylite, where you will find pumice created by the friction of a landslide!  That’s truly weird!  Weirder, even, than The toad in the hole

Watch your step, folks, watch your step!  That may be Quicksand you’re headed for!  At Ron Schott’s Geology Home Companion Blog, it is proved “that not all terra is firma,” a lesson you won’t soon forget!

Image Credit: The Church of Man-Love

Hoodoo?  Voodoo?  Erosiondoo!  Phillip at Geology Blues knows that Goblin Valley is Weird!  Take an eerie journey through the hoodoos, at night, on Halloween – the only way to see your truly weird geology!

Oh, but ladies and gentlemen, Malcom at Pawn of the Pumice Castle has landforms that are not only weird, but unsolvedAccretionary Wedge #34: That is Weird will introduce you to the great and terrible mystery of Mima Mounds.  Prepare to be amazed!

And, speaking of mounds, go Geocaching and discover Quellschwemmkegelmounds created by springs.  No mystery how these formed, but plenty weird, as Ole well knows!

Image Credit: Visboo

Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve seen breccia, but never like this!  You will marvel, you will ponder, Silver Fox of Looking for Detachment will prompt Some Thoughts on Weirdness, and A Picture (or Two) (or Three) – and what magnificent pictures they are!  How big can breccia be?  Come this way and find out!

Rocks can be magical, and what could be more magical than a crystal-filled rock appearing where no rock has ever been before?  Special to AW-34 Weird Geology, a blast from the past, Ann at Ann’s Musing on Geology and Other Things has the story of a stone rafted on ice, buried, and brought to the surface by frost. Marvelous!

Continue your tour of  Accretionary Wedge 34: Weird geology at Hypo-theses, where Doctor Ian will show you rocks that will make you gasp, yes, gasp in shock and delight!

And you know that Accretionary Wedge #34 – Weird Geology would not be complete without a very weird wave-cut bench, which On-The-Rocks at Geosciblog provides for your entertainment and edification.

Now see, right here at ETEV, captured in stone, frozen forever, phenomena that will make you wonder about Permanent Impermanence: or, How the Fuck Did That Fossilize? 

And speaking of fossils, ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be amazed, astonished, and astounded at fossil rocks.  Step Outside the Interzone, where Lockwood hosts Weird Geology: Name That Rock Type!  What’s in a name?  Much more than you realize!

Ladies and gentlemen, the carnival is over, but the Weird Geology is still out there, awaiting discovery.  Take up your rock hammers, your beer, and your hand lens, don your boots, and go, intrepid explorers, to reveal the weird and the wonderful, the bizarre and the beautiful, the anomalous and the alluring bones of this good planet Earth.

Image Credit: IGN
Accretionary Wedge #34: Weird Geology

Permanent Impermanence: or, How the Fuck Did That Fossilize?

It’s Weird Geology month here for the Accretionary Wedge.  Geology might not be quite as weird as quantum physics, but it’s got its moments.

There’s a great many weird things to choose from, but I’ll tell you what warps my mind: seeing things we normally think of as temporary preserved forever in stone.

Ripples in the Moenkopi Formation

Two hundred and forty million years ago, waves left ripples in soft sands and silts.  Currents worked and reworked these sediments, and you’d think that something so ephemeral would be wiped away long before the ancient mud flats and river beds turned to stone.  But this time, other sediments swept in and buried the ripples whole.  They lay there under their blanket for hundreds of millions of years, as ages passed, an orogeny lifted the plateau, time turned ancient muds to rock, and erosion wore the blanket away.  Now here we are, in the middle of a desert, looking at the echo of wetter days.

I’m sorry, but that’s just bloody weird.

Walk around Wupatki, and you’ll see ancient ripples exposed.

Ripples, Moenkopi Formation, Wupatki National Monument

They tell geologists all sorts of things about where they formed: whether by wind or water, what direction the wind blew or the water flowed, what an environment long vanished was like.  Just little ripples, most ordinary things in the world, suddenly extraordinary. 

And it gets weirder.

Mudcracks, unidentified sedimentary rocks, Richmond Beach, WA

Where I grew up, in northern Arizona, we got to see plenty of mud cracks.  And the thing about them was, they never lasted.  We’d have a torrential rain (in Arizona, when it rains, it usually pours).  Then it would get dry again (in Arizona, when it gets dry, it gets dry).  And then, a few days later, the hardened mud went back to being ordinary dirt again, worked over by wind, maybe a bit more water, and probably quite a variety of biological beings, all nice and soft and not a crack in sight.  They didn’t last.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that sometimes, if the mud cracks get covered by a nice layer of sand or silt, they can sometimes last forever.

Mud cracks, unidentified sedimentary rocks, Richmond Beach, WA

And if the sediment that covers the mud cracks is a bit different from the sediment the mud cracks formed in, you get some really wild contrasts.

Mud cracks are a dead giveaway that the place these sedimentary rocks formed in suffered from wet and dry cycles.  (I wish these told us more, but they’re in boulders ripped out of their context, so I haven’t got the slightest bloody clue what formation they’re from.  But if you ever make it down to Richmond Beach in Seattle, wander a bit down the beach toward the spot where the train tracks bend, and have yourself a look at the severely out-of-place mauve rocks shoring up the railway bed.)

And it gets weirder.  And wormier.

Burrow casts, Moenkopi Formation, Meteor Crater

These little delights are burrow casts.  Some enterprising animals wormed their way down into the sediments way back when the Moenkopi Formation didn’t realize what it was destined for.  Then something, maybe a flood, washed a bunch of mud and sand down into the poor dears’ homes, making a cast.  These had a slightly more exciting life than some in the formation.  Not only did they get elevated by thousands of feet over millions of years and turned to stone, but then, about fifty thousand years ago, a maclargehuge lump of iron and nickel fell out of space and tossed them around like a salad.  Exciting times.

But that’s not the mind-warping, worldview-changing, weirdest bloody thing I’ve ever seen.  This is:

Raindrops preserved in sediments, Almeria, Spain

Okay, so I haven’t seen that personally.  Chris Rowan has.  I’ve seen structures like these in various formations around Arizona without realizing what I was looking at.  Figured it was just a bit of weird weathering.  Well, in a way, it is.  But the weather happened millions of years ago, when rain fell on the smooth surface of a mud flat.

Raindrops.  Fossil fucking raindrops.  Can you think of anything more unlikely to survive millions of years and who knows what vagaries of erosion than a raindrop?  Such a delicate thing, such a tiny thing, a memory of a brief shower, so long ago, living to tell the tale.

Geology, my friends, is weird, and wonderful.

Permanent Impermanence: or, How the Fuck Did That Fossilize?

Accretionary Wedge #33: Now Available!

Okay, well, it has been for days now, and I’m only just getting to announcing it.  But just in case you hadn’t heard, Accretionary Wedge #33: Geology and the Built Environment: Past, Present, Future is up at Geological Musings in the Taconic Mountains.  Excellent stuff.  Get over there and get your geo build on!

Accretionary Wedge #33: Now Available!

Living With Geology

John Van Hoesen of Geologic Musings in the Taconic Mountains asks a good question for this month’s Accretionary Wedge: “How much or what kind of ‘geology, have you incorporated into you home / living space?”

If I had my druthers, this house o’ mine would be slathered in stone.  Floors, counters, patio, all stone, of all sorts of varieties.  Sometimes, I stand in the aisles of Home Depot and just dream.  Travertine?  Slate?  Granite?  Gabbro?  Something more exotic?  I love it all.

However.  This is an apartment, and the complex might not take too kindly to me ripping various and sundry bits up and replacing them with a riot of rock.  So I’ve had to make do with hand samples.  They’re everywhere!

Mah not-so-grand entrance

If it’s flat, it’ll fit a rock.  That’s my philosophy.

Richmond Beach rocks

Here’s some lovely bits I collected from Richmond Beach, a sandstone sort of thing in a gorgeous mauve color.  You can see the old mudcracks.  I loves them!  There’s just something about an ordinary moment in time captured forever in stone that way.

Mah table

This is my constant companion, the table I sit by whilst writing.  On it, you’ll find some of my most-treasured treasures.  My spessartine garnet, my garnet schist, my carbonundum.  There’s some petrified wood, and odd unidentified bits I’ve picked up on walks along the area, including a chunk of what I’m nearly certain is marble.  Pretty pebbles, some beautiful pieces of local schist, all gathered from beaches.  A few polished stones from Arizona.  The hematite bracelet my mother got me for Christmas, which showed me she really had been listening to all my geobabble.  And a bit of limestone from Lord Hill.  Limestone’s rare around here, so I treasure it.

Zen garden.  Yes, I made the whole thing, including the building.  Look upon my works, ye mighty, and weep!

I love Zen gardens.  If I could have a yard, I’d have a Zen garden in it.  Have to content myself with Zen in miniature for the moment.  The dark rocks in it are bits of basalt picked up around my home in Flagstaff.  They’re from my childhood stomping grounds, so I treasure them.

Arizona Collection and extras

Here’s my rock collection from my Arizona trip.  You can read about the making of it in Arts and Cats I, II, and III, and a treatise on the finished product here.  Beside it, you’ll see some lovely bits of granite picked up in a Grand Coulee road cut.  Granite’s rare round there, so I treasure it.

You begin to see a theme, I’m sure.

On the other side, various bits and pieces picked up around beaches in the Olympics.  Just cuz.

Breakfast Bar

When I moved in here, I was a little overwhelmed by the white.  Decided early on I’d have to do something about that.  I began with some brown marble tiles from the Home Depot across the road, and rounded out with leftover bits of gabbro countertop that Lockwood kindly saved for me.  And atop those, some beauties gathered on adventures near Mount Rainier.

Richmond Beach collection

Okay, so I went a little nuts on the rock collecting at Richmond Beach.  Look, all sorts of awesome stuff had washed up on the beaches.  And there were endless delights in the railway embankment.  And when it comes to rocks, I haven’t got any willpower at all.

Oregon box

This is stuff I collected when out traveling with Lockwood last September.  I just haven’t got round to deciding where to put it yet.  But the dining table’s nearly empty….

Nightstand fountain

This is where it all began, this little fountain.  Nearly every rock on it is something special I bought: a bit of amethyst from Mount St. Helens, various baubles found in rock shops and gift shops around Seattle, Arizona, and other places.  Believe it or not, that tiny little fountain used to represent most of the rocks I owned.

Olympics collection
Closeup of the best sample

These were all collected during our trip to the Olympics.  Eventually, I’ll have them displayed properly.  They’ve got stories of subduction zones and orogenies to tell.  They’re the last thing I see before I go to sleep.  Well, other than my Lord of the Rings posters, anyway.  One of which has some really interesting fantasy geology in it…

Come back after this summer’s adventuring season, and I’m sure you’ll see plenty more.  Now you know why I’m afraid to ever move.  Between the books and the rocks, it’ll probably cost me a gajillion dollars.  But they’re worth it.

Living With Geology