Crazy Columns and Ice-Polished Rocks: Salt Creek Falls

I’m not going to say a damned word about lineaments. Let’s just say that traveling down Route 58 is something of an intrigue: you’re crossing the Cascades, but it doesn’t feel that way. You’re on a long, nearly straight road that doesn’t seem to go up much. Mountains rear all round you, and yet here you are, merrily zipping through them. There are some extraordinary things about the Pacific Northwest: these long, straight, bizarre structural features, some of which are barely accepted as real and others as yet only suspected, are among the most perplexing. But they’re very nice to take a road trip on.

So there you are, zipping along, unfussed by steep grades or switchbacks, and then, just before you get to Willamette Pass, you’ve got this little attraction. Well, I say little. It’s only the second-highest waterfall in all of Oregon.

Salt Creek Falls

Salt Creek Falls is a marvel of falling water, but it’s not quite as interesting as the geology that surrounds it. I mean, yes, tall as Niagara, “most powerful waterfall in southern Oregon,” yeah, fine. Whatevs. You know what I was looking at after having gawked at the pretty falling water for two minutes? That’s right, the rocks.

There’s a story here, and it begins on a tall, bald outcrop that’ll draw a geologist’s eye faster than any amount of falling water.

Outcrop, Salt Creek Falls

Okay. So here we have a bit of bare rock in the Pacific Northwest – intriguing enough. It’s surrounded by forest (with rhododendrons – don’t ask me why wild rhododendrons fascinate me, they just do). The trees and plants seem determined to colonize everything up to and including near-vertical cliffs, so why have they avoided this?

Other side of Ye Balde Outcrop, hooman for scale

So, if you’re crazy for rocks like Lockwood and I, you get up there to nose around a bit. You’re obviously standing on columns of something volcanic. That much isn’t hard to figure out. And it looks like it’s been polished by millions of exploratory feet. Could it be bald because everybody, their siblings and their friends climb up? Possibly. Though it’s hard to imagine they’d have knocked the trees down. Then there’s the idea that it got scraped clean whilst folks were building the nice paved overlook, but why would they do that? No reason.

Bend down. Get your nose to the stone.

Striations. Camera battery (1 1/2″ by 1 1/4″) for scale

All right. Striations. That got Lockwood all excited, but me, not so much. I can think of many reasons for a rock in a public place to get scratched. But there’s one more clue. Have a look at the valley we’re in:

U-shaped valley with a V-shaped valley bunged in

Oh, it’s hard to see. Lockwood had to point it out, and then it was clear as day. That, my friends, is your classic U-shaped valley, only the creek’s carved a deep ravine into the bottom of it. But now we start to get a sense of this place. This has got the Pleistocene’s clammy fingermarks all over it. Your beautiful bald outcrop was scraped clean and bare, then polished up a bit by the glacier that carved that valley. This was a cold land, once.

These were exciting times. The Cascades we know today were coming into existence. And they were doing it through an ice cap that stretched all the way from Mount Hood to Mount McLoughlin, nearly two hundred miles of cold, hard ice that may have reached almost half a mile thick, busily grinding away at the volcanics. Glaciers spilled down stream valleys, plowing them from V’s to U’s. Cascades volcanoes that stopped erupting during these icy times didn’t fare well – we’ll see what happens to a volcano that goes dormant or extinct while glaciers are busy. It leaves them jagged shadows of themselves.

So look at that valley again, and notice the rounded shoulders of the surrounding highlands, and how only the tallest bits are jagged, and you’ll get a sense of the power of an ice cap. Then look at the V-shaped notch there now, and you’ll begin to appreciate the power of tens of thousands of gallons per minute of water roaring through after the ice went away. This is the fate of mountains: to be ground, sliced, diced, and worn away to something more acceptable to gravity.

Salt Creek, below the falls, busily buzzsawing away

All right. Let’s head on down the trail and have a closer look at these columns, shall we?

Salt Creek Falls, with view of columns

You know, I know what you’re gonna say. “Oh, boy. Basalt.” And yes, it’s Oregon, and yes, there’s a billion trillion tons of basalt, but in this case, it’s actually andesite. Yay, andesite! Okay, it’s andesite that kinda looks like basalt, but still. It’s more exciting! Because andesite is rather like Two-Face: it can flow very politely and quietly like basalt, sweet as Harvey Dent, or it can explode all over the place with extraordinary violence, like Harvey Dent’s worse half. 600,000 years ago, this flow added its bit to the Cascades, and cooled into the happy little columns we see today.

Happy Little Columns topped by Happy Little Trees

They create some wonderful patterns in falling water: happy water bouncing over happy little columns:

Bouncing Water

Some of the happy little columns become crazy little columns, though.

Columns o’ chaos

If I had a time machine and surviving-fresh-lava gear, I’d head back to see what this bugger was up to. Why did some of its columns form ramrod-straight whilst others are practically horizontal, or curved? I’d imagine it was contending with some ice round the edges, maybe some water, that caused it to cool all funny. But I could be utterly wrong. The more I study how columns form, the more confused I seem to get.

But that’s all right. We’ve got a lovely valley filled with mist from the waterfall to contemplate when crazy columns make our noggins hurt.

Mist drifting down-valley

Walking that part of the trail is an exercise in caution: it’s covered with hunks and chunks of rock that have parted company with their surroundings and decided to go wading. Only they didn’t make it all the way to the creek, because they landed on the path. One caught my eye.

Could it be… striations?

Looks a bit striated. And what have we here, gleaming in the sunlight filtering through the trees?

Glacially-polished rock

Why, that’s a fine example of glacial polish! Superfine. Smooth and slick to the touch, shiny as anything. Glaciers sometimes do an amazing job buffing up the rocks to a nice gleam. It’s probably a good thing this baby wasn’t sitting in direct sunlight, because the glare would’ve been like the reflection off a brass mirror.

Glacial polish closeup

How nice is that? Too bad about the lichens.

So there you have it, my darlings. One small half-hour to forty-five minute jaunt, and you’ve got a nice waterfall, some volcanics, and a passel of outstanding glacial features to enrapture you. Not a bad place, that. Nice opening act to the later geo-dramas.

Lockwood with Salt Creek Falls

Lockwood will be doing up his own bit on this lovely little location soon. Don’t miss it!

Ye olde indispensable tomes which, combined with Lockwood’s instruction, allowed the author to sound semi-knowledgeable:

In Search of Ancient Oregon – simply the most beautiful book written about Oregon’s natural history.
Crazy Columns and Ice-Polished Rocks: Salt Creek Falls

Dojo Summer Sessions: The Writer's Rituals

I think most of us who write, no matter how skeptical or non-superstitious we are, have our little rituals to summon the Muse (not that the wretched entity comes when called). Consider this an invitation to regale us with yours.

I’m not picky when it comes to blogging. I’ve done it in my PJs, but usually sans Cheetos, thus not fully confirming stereotypes. Something arises I wish to pontificate upon, and so pontification occurs. I can blog any time of day or night, in a variety of settings, in various stages of dress or un, with or without prior preparation depending on the subject.

But fiction, that’s a different beast. I’ve successfully written a few times in places outside my home, but that’s a rare thing. Generally speaking, in order to summon the storytelling, I have to be ensconced in my comfy chair in my living room, within sight of my Yoshitaka Amano prints of Morpheus. I must be fully dressed. I’ve never felt comfortable writing fiction in my jammies, although I’ve managed it a few times when the Muse has rousted me out of bed. I must have music playing, and the music must be agreeable to the characters I’m writing. I’ve gotten involved with quite a lot of musical genres I had no use for simply because a particular character required them. Strange, perhaps, but there it is.

Some stories require a clean house. Some require sobriety, some a nice mixed drink. It’s nice to know these things in advance so that writing can commence.

There must be darkness. I have a terrible time writing in daylight, which is why Seattle winters are such a compliment to my writing and its summers make it nearly impossible. That’s fine. A writer needs to get out occasionally, experience life in order to create lifelike worlds, so I just use the summer to accomplish that feat.

I have a special hand soap I use, a very deep floral scent that washes away all traces of the day. I plug in a nice jasmine scented oil. Scent is an important component of emotional states, as science has proved, and those particular scents signal my brain that it’s time to shake off the remains of the day and get on with the real work.

Some stories are helped along by particular shows or movies, even if they aren’t the same genre or atmosphere as what I’m writing. So I might spend an hour or two watching one, before the real work starts. Then, shot full of adrenaline, I have one final preparatory smoke out on the porch, look at the stars (if the Seattle skies have obliged), and sit me down in the chair to invite further forays into the realm of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

It may sound a bit complicated and unnecessary. To non-writers, it probably smacks of madness. But there you are: without at least a handful of those rituals, I sit staring at a blank screen, and words too often refuse to come. I’m sure neuroscience will one day be able to calmly and dispassionately explain all in great detail. It might even come up with ways to persuade the Muse to work even on nights when the rituals have failed, and the brain remains as stubbornly blank as the screen. Until that day, I just stick with what’s worked so far, like a pigeon performing a crazy little dance in the belief that this is what makes the food appear.

Creativity is a weird and wonderful thing, innit it?

Dojo Summer Sessions: The Writer's Rituals

Los Links 8/23

Whelp, I managed to catch up on all the blog reading I’d missed whilst adventuring. It wasn’t easy, as it was interrupted by long periods of unconsciousness. Exercise makes you energetic my arse.

It’s been quite the week, what with an earthquake on the East Coast and a hurricane ditto and Nymwars heating up and all. I’ve added an extra-special Nymwars section, since it’s beginning to seem ‘nyms are second only to atheists in the hated-by-society department. I think it’s because companies think people with pseudonyms don’t spend money and some very unobservant people think that folks never do or say anything nasty under their real names. I hope these delusions are only temporary, but in the interests of not killing brain matter by oxygen starvation, I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve not had time (as per usual) for snappy little descriptions, but I’ve bolded a few pieces of especial interest for those without time to read everything. Some beautiful, evocative, and thought-stimulating posts came across my stream last week. I hope you all enjoy!

Virginia Earthquake The Wednesday Centerfault (8) – Virginia M5.8 Earthquake.

Washington Post: For central Virginia’s seismic zone, quake is an event of rare magnitude.

Slate: Is Washington as Earthquake-Proof as Los Angeles?

ABC13: Seismologists From Virginia Tech Talk Earthquake.

Buzz Feed: 20 Stunning Photos Of The Damage Caused By The East Coast Earthquake.

Mountain Beltway: The Mineral, VA earthquake of August 23, 2011, Cracking up and Aftershocks.

Bad Astronomy: What’s with all these earthquakes?

Scientific American: A “sixth sense” for earthquake prediction? Give me a break!

Clastic Detritus: Snapshot of Seismic Waves Traveling Across Virginia.

CNN: Why quake rang like a bell.

Eruptions: NYC Earthquakicane Armageddon: Random distibutions and the folly of correlation.


Glacial Till: How a small Oregon town continues to teach me about geology and Meteorite Monday: Sikhote-Alin Meteorite.

Neatoshop: Poorly-Punctuated Equilibrium.

Georneys: Geology Word of the Week: L is for Lepidolite.

The Loom: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Death threats for scientists?

White Coat Underground: Dr. Pal, why do you love Big Pharma so? and When a “scientific study” is neither.

Superbug: Cost of Compassion: Drug Resistance in Military Hospitals.

Speakeasy Science: At the Door of the Loony Gas Building and Of Dead Bodies and Dirty Streets.

The Scientist: An Unlichenly Pair.

Lounge of the Lab Lemming: Mass–independent isotopic fractionation.

Scientific American: Don’t Just See, Observe: What Sherlock Holmes Can Teach Us About Mindful Decisions.

Laelaps: Chain, Chain, Chain… Chain of Food.

Scientific American: Eyewitness Testimony Loses Legal Ground in State Supreme Court.

Culture Lab: When all you can smell is your brain.

Neuron Culture: Reef Madness 10: Darwin’s Earthquake.

History of Geology: Earthquakey Times.

Scientific American: Modern Rivers Shaped By Trees.

Wired Science: Clever Dolphins Use Shells to Catch Fish.

The Last Word on Nothing: Science Metaphors (cont): Resonance.

History of Geology: Cities and Geological Risk.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Nanotechnologists Are Targets of Unabomber Copycat, Alarming Universities.

ScienceNews: Asteroid sample nails meteorite source.

Reuters: America is losing another generation to science illiteracy.

The Dynamic Earth: Sole-Saving Sed Structure Sunday!

Life, Unbounded: Pitch Black: The (almost) dark truth about hot Jupiters.


The Coffee-Stained Writer: The Land of Misfit Words.

Tobias Buckell: Writers and pellets.

Indie Author: Ebook Madness: Don’t Confuse Ebook Conversion With Ebook Formatting!

The Coffee-Stained Writer: The world is your classroom.

Patricia C. Wrede: Deeper still.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: What’s Wrong With Sex?

Anne R. Allen’s Blog: RIP the Author Book Tour—and why you shouldn’t be sad to see it go.

A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing: How to Make Your Reader Cry: Anatomy of a Death Scene.

The Scicurious Brain: High Fructose Corn Syrup: Much Maligned? Or the Devil’s Food Cake?

Women’s Issues

The Poke: Best Twitter apology this week.

On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess: Your Home Birth is Not a Feminist Statement and In Reply to Kate Clancy…

Context and Variation: Why do those who advocate home birth feel the way they do?

DrugMonkey: Home Birther Logic. or “Logic” actually.

Thus Spake Zuska: What Function Does Denial Serve?

The Spandrel Shop: Is there a dark side to the breast feeding movement?

Whizbang: Better Late Than Never.

JAYFK: FFS: Ladies, your vagina is just fine.

Adam Serwer: The Nice Guy And The Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Religion and Atheism

Butterflies and Wheels: Can you call your husband ‘Lord’?

Utne Reader: Look God, No Hands.

Paula Kirby: Evolution threatens Christianity.


Anil Dash: What they’re “protecting” us from.

Culture of Science: When Facts Don’t Agree With Your Political Bias, Fire The Scientists.

Mike the Mad Biologist: The Left Does “Give a Fig About Science”–For Its Own Sake.

Guardian: The Tea Party moves to ban books.

Almost Diamonds: We Can Have Better.

The Weekly Sift: One Word Turns the Tea Party Around.

The Nation: Michele Bachmann, Wife in Chief?

Grist: Why Michele Bachmann thinks she can get gas under $2 a gallon.


I Speak of Dreams: A Public Servant, Blogging and Tweeting Under His Own Name, Has Been Silenced By His Employers.

The Skeptical Lawyer: Lessons from EpiRen: do public employees have free speech rights?

Respectful Insolence: The consequences of blogging under one’s own name.

PulpTech: Google Plus: Too Much Unnecessary Drama.

Gizmodo: Google’s Real Names Policy Is Evil.

On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess: What’s In A Name?

White Coat Underground: The death of pseudonyms? Not so fast…

The Atlantic: All Hail Anonymity.

Society and Culture

Food Safety News: Asian Honey, Banned in Europe, Is Flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves.

Crooks and Liars: It’s Time for a Pro-Quality-of-Life Movement.

Guardian: Vietnam’s rice bowl threatened by rising seas.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Eco-labelled fish may be unsustainably fished, or the wrong species.

Superbug: Food Safety in China, and the Risk to the U.S.

AlterNet: Schools Nationwide Cutting Down to 4 Days a Week, Because Wealthy Refuse to Pay Fair Share.

The Portland Mercury: The $1 Million Twitter Fight.

Almost Diamonds: Why Should I Pay for Your Health Insurance.

Naked Capitalism: How Chase Ruined Lives of People Who Paid Off Their Mortgages.

Los Angeles Times: Take back the liberal arts.

The Express Tribune: Obituary of liberal-secularism — I

Los Links 8/23

Dear Famous Scientists: Please STFU About Areas Outside Your Expertise

Erik Klemetti, on Twitter, had steam coming from his ears on Wednesday:

WHY, OH WHY did Bloomsberg talk to instead of a geologist about the VA earthquake? Come on, people!

That’s probably because some journalists seem to find it impossible to distinguish between various types of scientist. They also want a big, recognizable name in their headline. So when an event happens and a scientist needs to be consulted, they call the first big name scientist who comes to mind, no matter their discipline. To quote Rocko’s Modern Life: “Those guys are idiots.”

And perhaps, just perhaps, if we smack them for stupidity often enough, they’ll develop an ability to distinguish between different types of scientists, and figure out whom to call for a quote when various events occur.

But I have a beef with the big-name scientists *coughKakucough* who blabber about subjects they have little or no relevant expertise in rather than calmly saying, “Damn it, Jimmy, I’m a physicist, not a geologist. Go phone a geologist. Quote me as saying, ‘I have no idea, as I did not study geology.'”

It’s that simple. And someone who does science for a living should know enough to know when they don’t know, and be intelligent enough and tough enough to be comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” Observe Professor Rowena Lohman, who teaches geophysics at Cornell. After delivering kick-ass accurate answers to a variety of questions within her area of expertise, is perfectly comfortable telling a CNN reporter that she is not omniscient:

CNN: Is the East Coast ready for an earthquake?
Lohman: That’s a question for a different kind of scientist or engineer.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done. Alas, that does not seem to be how Kaku does it.

I’d love to try an experiment. Next time there’s big physics news, I’d love to interview a microbiologist, say, or a seismologist, and write up a big newspaper article using only them as experts, and then stuff it under the nose of Michio Kaku. “See what happens? See how infuriating it is when experts pop off on subjects they know nothing about?” Perhaps that would help him overcome the compulsion to spout on subjects far outside his realm. Perhaps that would convince him that he doesn’t need to babble any old response to clueless journalists, but hand out the phone numbers of relevant scientists instead. And perhaps after several instances of that, the clueless journalists will become clued.

Alas, I don’t work for a major paper. Anyone who does willing to try said experiment? It would be a kindness to several geologists whose heads are currently feeling a little prone to explosion.

(Shot glass raised to the poor nameless writer at CNN’s opinion section who was smart enough to head for an expert in geophysics and tectonics rather than a string theorist when the earth went wobbly. Kudos to you, unknown wise journalist!) 

Dear Famous Scientists: Please STFU About Areas Outside Your Expertise

First Rule of Great GeoTrips: Start at OMSI and Build II – Fossil Madness!

One of the beautiful things about OMSI is the Paleontology Lab. This is a place where a mere rope stands between you and delights like this:

Triceratops in jacket – snazzy!

I believe they’re freeing a triceratops from its matrix of rock. Again, the distractions of friends kept me from paying as much attention to the details as I might have done (no complaints about that!), but one can absorb quite a bit snapping a few photos and drooling over a few touchable displays.

Here’s something I adored:


Okay, so it’s not real. It’s a resin cast. But it was taken from an actual stegosaurus, and stegosaurus is cool. The fact the tail spikes are called thagomizers because of a Far Side cartoon is fucking awesome. I got to touch a cast of a thagomizer, people. That tickles me right down to me toes.

I’ve always liked the Steg. Other kids in my grade-school class went in for T-Rex, but I figured a dinosaur with armor plates and freaking tail spikes that could potentially beat a T-Rex to death was way cooler. Besides, we have a special relationship, Steg and I. When I was out sick in kindergarten on the day when we were making clay dinos with cookie cutters, my teacher saved me a stegosaurus. I hung it on my wall and petted it and loved it, although I didn’t name it George. You can keep your silly T-Rex, y’all. I have a bloody awesome stegosaurus. My Steg can kick your Rex’s arse.

I’m more convinced of that than ever, because that tail spike was at least two feet long, and damned thick. You would not want to be walloped with one. Allosaurus certainly did not want, but got anyway. Yeow.

Here’s another bit of yum:

Mesosaurus brasiliensis

Mesosaurus brasiliensis should gladden the hearts of all geologists. This is a Permian freshwater critter, a marine reptile that nommed on fish and swam around in lakes and rivers in what became South America and South Africa. It couldn’t cross oceans, and there were no such things as bilges back in the Permian in which stowaways might travel. Turns out this aquatic reptile is excellent evidence that South America and South Africa were once joined – score one for plate tectonics!

There are leaves, too, though I didn’t photograph the sign for them, so I haven’t the foggiest what they are:

Fossil leaves

The preserved veins are incredible. The leaf margins don’t seem to have been preserved well, which is unfortunate, because having preserved leaf margins would tell me whether these are from a temperate or tropical forest. Experts probably don’t need no stinkin’ leaf margins to figure it out.

Ooo. More triceratops!

This is what fossil preparers deal with. Respect them.

Hard to believe something coherent will emerge from that mess, but the folks who take the tiny little tools and scrape the rocky matrix away a fragment at a time make it happen.

Sometimes, though, all you have to do is split open a slab, and a thing of beauty emerges:

Archaeopteryx replica

How gorgeous is that? Archaeopteryx is a fascinating creature, which I should know much more about. Alas, all I know is that it’s a creature with features of both bird and dinosaur, the first feathered dinosaur found, and there’s been a recent dust-up over its place in the avian family tree, which Brian Switek dispatched nicely in an ode Archaeopteryx richly deserved. For myself, simply admiring.

Another Triceratops Interlude

You’ve gotta respect people who can wrap a huge, heavy rock full of delicate bones in plaster and haul the bastard back to the lab. After having hoofed a great many pounds of hand samples back to the car and then up the stairs, my hat, as it were, is off.


I believe, though I do not know, foolishly not having photographed the accompanying informative sign, that these are fossil brachiopods. They look quite a lot like clams and so forth, but there are differences between bivalves and brachiopods which explain why bivalves are now common as muck and living brachiopods are much rarer, although brachiopods were far more common in the past. Those wanting more information are encouraged to consult this handy .pdf.


I love this stuff. I love a rock that is, basically, all shells and can make cannonballs bounce. So when I had a chance to get my hands on some coquina for the first time ever, you can bet I fondled it. It’s harder than you’d expect for something famously soft enough to absorb enormous balls of metal hurtling toward them at speeds meant to destroy. It feels quite solid. And very, very shelly.

Baleen whale fossils

Here we have vertebrae and ribs from a 20 million year old baleen whale, found in the Astoria Formation. Yes, some cool shit can be found in the Astoria Formation. Makes me want to go and play in it. I mean, bloody hell, this was found by a beach comber. Somebody bring me an extra-large comb, and let’s go comb some beaches!

After all that fossil madness, it was time to rejoin the others down in the non-earth science area, and enjoy a photo op with Glacial Till, one of the best geotweeps I’ve ever had.

When we met up with Michael Klaas of Uncovered Earth later that evening, we got so busy chatting we forgot the photo op. We won’t be so remiss again! Meeting the two of them was high on the list of highlights of this trip, and I can’t wait to drag them out into the field.

Then it was off to Park Lane Suites, which has some very nice gneiss in its lobby, and together with the fact it’s convenient and comfy, is among the reasons I recommend it for your Portland lodging needs.

First Rule of Great GeoTrips: Start at OMSI and Build II – Fossil Madness!

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

Poor, Pathetic Paraceratherium: Who Killed the Kitsch?

Whilst I await Brian Switek’s Archaeopteryx post in order to round out our visit to OMSI, I figured I’d do you up an unexpected roadside attraction. If you drive Highway 97 from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake, you’ll stumble across this decaying beast near Chemult:

Ginormous Mystery Beastie

A few questions come to mind, all beginning with WTF: WTF is it? WTF is it doing here in front of a truck accessories store? And WTF is a truck accessories store doing in the middle of nowhere with a prehistoric beastie in its front yard?

We had some serious geology to do, but the impulse proved irresistible. We stopped for a photo op.

I’m afraid this IS his good side

As near as we can tell, this crumbling behemoth is a Paraceratherium. These ancient, hulking land mammals – so large they dwarfed mammoths – lived back in the Eocene and Oligocene. I haven’t found anything to tell me whether any roamed Oregon. They seem to have been mostly a Eurasian and Asian denizen. But Oregon had a healthy population of rhino relatives, so I suppose he’s not all that out of place.

Don’t get on his bad side

He looks imposing, I know, but he was a strict herbivore. At eighteen feet tall, thirty long, and in the mid-size sauropod weight class, I imagine that if vegetation could talk, it would whisper terrorized tales of the thunderous approach of the mighty masticator. Trees and shrubs would tell tales of the Paraceratherium who would come after misbehaving saplings and chomp them all up with its great big teeth. This thing was seriously hungry and huge – more than enough to inspire horror stories.

Verily, I am dwarfed by the might of the masticator

But it would seem to have nothing to do with truck accessory shops. A little Google-fu, however, and ye olde mystery is solved. We begin here, where a search for Paraceratherium and Oregon returns a question, answered in comments: what is this dude doing here? Turns out he was part of a roadside attraction called Thunderbeast Park, which closed back in the 90s. The truck shop people let the attractions go to seed, and apparently get very cross whenever people ask them about it. Bad business sense, if you ask me – not everyone driving by needs shiny new rims, but if they ran the theme park on the side, they could make a tidy sum on the side charging them a few bucks a pop to ogle old Oligocene oddities. Alas, they have chosen the way of guard dogs and grumpiness instead. But the Paraceratherium in the parking lot can be enjoyed quickly enough that irritated employees don’t have time to chase you off.

Brian Switek snagged photos of one of the missing beasts from readers who were there before the park closed – if anyone has more, send ’em his way.

A little further searching reveals the genius behind the giant – Ernie Nelson, who also created Oregon’s apparently extant Prehistoric Gardens. It seems Thunderbeast Park was star-crossed from its inception, but the Prehistoric Gardens, cared for by Ernie himself, thrived. Gotta go see that place next!

One last shot

I hope someone, somehow, rescues this poor pathetic Paraceratherium before he’s completely dead, restores him to his former glory, and sticks him in a friendlier roadside spot where kids can marvel and adults can amuse themselves. This grand old beast deserves better than he’s got.

Poor, Pathetic Paraceratherium: Who Killed the Kitsch?

First Rule of Great GeoTrips: Start at OMSI and Build

When you have a gajillion friends in Portland and an intrepid companion who isn’t all that interested in geology but willing to suffer through a bunch of rock pounding so he can see some scenery, and you can get an extra day off work, it’s not a bad idea to start your geo adventures at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Especially when two of your friends have two rambunctious grandkids. OMSI is a scientific wonderland for kids – plenty of activities, interactive exhibits, and things to keep them entertained while the adults do boring stuff like… play with all the exhibits.

And I’m all for a museum that posts signs like this one on its perimeter fence:

Sign outside OMSI, Willamette River side

There’s tons of stuff to play with. There’s an earthquake house, which we all had immense fun with. The Van de Graff generator – a big hollow metal ball with a crank – intrigued pretty much everybody. Anything that can make pie tins fly, people’s hair stand on end, and create big blue sparks is a surefire win. The exhibit showing the development of a fetus from blastocyst to full-term baby is a must-see for those who can stomach it – we’re not talking replicas here, but actual human fetuses preserved by Gunther von Hagens, he of Body Worlds fame. All of the embryos and fetuses in the display didn’t survive due to natural causes or accidents. They’re fascinating, but disturbing, so steel yourself before taking a look.

There’s far more – machines and such, which my intrepid companion will likely blog about in a bit. Glacial Till and I, being geo-nerds, hightailed it to the Earth Science Hall. We were pressed for time and too busy meeting in meatspace for the first time to get really in-depth, but we saw some wonderful stuff.

Oreodont, John Day Fossil Beds

This is one of the first things you see on your way to the rocks. It’s the closest we got to the John Day Fossil Beds. I’m not sure which species this is, much less genus – there were ten genera in the Blue Basin. Oreodonts have got nothing to do with the famous cookie, despite the name – oreodont means “mountain teeth.” Nabisco’s snack food name also comes from the Greek, but from the word meaning “appetizing.” I’m not sure how appetizing oreodonts would have been. They were a bit like pigs or sheep with long tails, but are more closely related to camels.

A fossil makes a nice transition between the living stuff and the rocks. Moving on to the minerals, then, we find something a little ironic. I moved from Arizona to the Pacific Northwest, in part because of all of the wonderful young geology, and when I go on a geotrip to look at Oregon rocks, I find mostly rocks from Arizona. This amused me so much I’m a bit afraid for my sanity.

Azurite and Malachite

Here we have some lovely azurite and malachite specimens, overwhelmingly collected from Bisbee, Arizona. These are copper minerals, which are produced when copper ore deposits weather, so it should surprise no one when I tell you that Bisbee is an old copper mining town. Few things make me want to go back to Arizona, but the rocks surely do. Especially when I see rocks like these.

Aragonite from Queens Cave, Arizona

I couldn’t locate any info about Queens Cave on the intertoobz, but I’ll take a wild stab and say it’s probably in southern Arizona. There are a lot of limestone caves down that way. Aragonite, along with calcite, is one of the common crystal forms of calcium carbonate. You can find it in the shells of mollusks and the endoskeletons of corals, as well as in stalactites. And no, it wasn’t named by a Lord of the Rings fanatic with poor spelling skills, but for its type location, Molina de Aragón.

This next one might remind you of Michael Klaas’s Sunday Science series:

Garnet Mica Schist

We’ve discussed garnet mica schist in some detail previously, so I’ll spare you repetition. Just realize that the garnets in this specimen are enormous – easily the size of gumballs.


One doesn’t normally think of talc as a rock, not if they grew up with talcum powder. But a rock it is, and sometimes forms lovely little patterns like this. It’s also interesting, being a metamorphic mineral. This is what happens to serpentinite and related rocks when carbon dioxide and water are present.


Pretty neat stuff, goethite. It looks kinda gothic, doesn’t it? It’s basically iron hydroxide, formed from oxidized and weathered iron-rich deposits, and really was named for the famous author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Miami, AZ isn’t quite as awesome as the Florida version, but it’s got goethite, so that’s a little bit of all right, then.

Ye olde micaceous mineral habit

Glacial Till enjoyed this quite a lot – a nice example of the micaceous mineral habit. Micaceous is a fun word. And it’s entertaining to think of minerals having habits. If you ever played with mica in a science class in school, and got to peel away a layer, you’ve had direct experience with the micaceous mineral habit.


How awesome is it that Evelyn just did a post on lepidolite? Means someone wiser than I gets to tell you about it. That huge hunk of muscovite in the background is a bit of yum, too. And the chrysocolla there from (drumroll please) Miami, AZ is not only pretty, but interesting. Its name means “gold glue.” I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn it is yet another of the copper silicate minerals. If you’ve got the impression by now that Arizona has a fuck of a lot of copper minerals, you’re not wrong.


This photo didn’t turn out as well as it seemed on the camera screen, but this sample of neptunite really does look like dessert. It looks precisely like some chocolate and cream confection you’d have for a post-dinner delight. Of course, not many desserts are silicate minerals “found within natrolite veins in glaucophane schist within serpentinite in San Benito County, California, USA.” Still, yum.

There’s a whole room there for florescent minerals.

Esperite and Fluorite

The esperite is especially pretty under the blacklight. Take a deep breath and repeat after me: “complex calcium lead zinc silicate.” This mineral has a lot of stuff going on. And, of course, fluorite lent its name to fluorescence.


Calcite, that ubiquitous mineral that we encounter so often, is quite lovely under a blacklight. I shall have to get one, now I’ve got some calcite.


Here we have willemite – a lovely minor ore of zinc. It’s a rather eerie green, isn’t it? Wild.

That’s it for the minerals, alas. But I’ve got plenty o’ fossils for ye before we leave OMSI, and we’re soon to have a great many gorgeous rocks in the field. I just wish we could have kidnapped Glacial Till and Michael Klaas away from work and brought them with us – they’re both amazing people, enormous fun to wander about with, and there’s nothing I want more now than to get them and Helena out on a monster field trip with Lockwood. Maybe next summer, we can manage it. At the very least, we should invade OMSI in one big bunch and then go in search of beer.

Tremble, Portland. Tremble before our combined geoawesomeness!

First Rule of Great GeoTrips: Start at OMSI and Build

Dojo Summer Sessions: Connie Willis on Comedy, Tragedy, and Getting Married via LOTR

Comatose from traveling, I’m afraid. However, I have Connie Willis here to delight, surprise, and teach you. She’s one of the best SF authors in existence. Also, funny and surprising. Watch!

Don’t miss this next one for sheer geeky hilarity. Lord of the Rings has changed a lot of people’s lives, but I don’t think any of us knew quite how powerful it truly is.

Dojo Summer Sessions: Connie Willis on Comedy, Tragedy, and Getting Married via LOTR