(Repost) Adventures in ACE XI: Tommyrot About Topography

We are, at last, almost at the end of the breathtaking inanity that is ACE Science* PACE 1086. So far, we’ve seen a really inept drilling project, watched them mutilate Mount St. Helens and other volcanoes, suffered through their igneous ignorance, had to spend two posts on their sedimentary nonsense, and dealt with their metamorphic misconceptions. At times, it’s seemed like we’ll never get through debunking this unfathomable ignorance. But we’ve only eight pages and two topics to go! Racer and his dad are finally flying home! Stick with us and we’ll get there – if the Loyaltons’ plane doesn’t crash.

Before that potentially ill-fated flight takes off, let’s scan our vocabulary for this section on topography. (And I know you’re thinking, “Oh, thank FSM – at last, something even ACE can’t fuck up!” Oh, ye of little faith.) Keep in mind that these are folks whose first instinct when telling jokes about lions is to lament their lack of a gun.

Image is a three-panel cartoon strip, showing two boys talking. Reginald is waving his arms in the air with his back to our view, saying, "Pudge, did I ever tell you about the time I came face to face with a lion?" Pudge: "No. What happened?" In the next panel, we can see Reginald and Pudge's faces. Reg says, "There I stood, without a gun. The lion growled and crept closer... closer... closer..." Pudge, imagining a lion in the grass, says, "Really? What did you do?" Next panel shows Reg imagining a lion in a cage, as he says, "I moved to the next cage! Ha-ha." Pudge, almost off-panel, says, "Oh, Reginald."
Cartoon from page (twenty-four) 24. No, I don’t know what it has to do with earth science, either.

Knowing this cartoon is at the top of the page will help you understand why they define Anasazi as “the name given to a tribe of Indians once found in southwestern United States.” These are people who think lions should be shot or in cages, and that little boys should have guns. They can hardly be expected to use modern, newfangled and potentially pinko-commie terms such as “Native American.”

What an ancient Native American tribe has to do with topography, we shall see in a moment. That’s only if our intrepid creationists don’t crash into a mountain first.

As Mr. Loyalton and Racer were flying home, Racer noticed the different land formations below them. “Dad,” exclaimed Racer, “look at those mountains! Some of them are almost as high as our plane is flying!”

Dear oh dear… that isn’t good. You see, they’re flying over the Rockies here. Now, I grant you, mountain ranges do look impressive from the air, but hardly appear “almost as high as” a commercial airliner. Those typically cruise at around 35,000 – 39,000 feet. The highest Rocky Mountain peak (Mt. Elbert) tops out at 14,440 feet (4,401 m). So if the Rockies appear nearly as high as their plane, I’m afraid they’re flying far too low. I’ve got the plane crash sequence from MI:2 babbling “Terrain! Terrain! Pull up! Pull up!” in my skull. Gee, I wonder why?

Image shows the Cascade Range, some of them snow-capped, all deeply dissected, framed by the airplane's wing. They look quite small.
Here is a photo of the Cascade Mountains from a commercial airliner for comparison. These peaks are upwards of 10,000 feet high. They do not look as high as the plane. Mount Rainier, when I flew over it, looked like a little white ice cream scoop, and it’s only a few feet shorter than Mount Elbert. Methinks Racer’s writer is full of the brown and stinky.

Whilst counting death by flying too low, Mr. Loyalton lectures Racer on various really-tall-mountain elevations, and in the process, says something I can actually agree with: “What would be called a mountain in some places would be only a hill compared to the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Everest, and Chimborazo.” Indeed! I said so myself at the ripe old age of nine or so when, whilst the family was cartripping to visit relatives back east, I saw a sign saying “Ozark Mountains, Elev. 600 feet” and scoffed, “Those are hills.” My gosh. A creationist and I agree on something! Quick, people, bring out the Christian confetti, grab the defibrillator paddles, and check for Armageddon!

Thankfully, any end-of-the-world-horsemen-in-the-sky scenarios are averted within the same paragraph when he says, “Some scientists believe that mountain peaks were caused by the great temperature and pressure at work during the Flood.” No scientific evidence from these supposed scientists is presented. This is because they haven’t got any. No geoscientists say that. People who pretend they’re geoscientists do.

Next, they’re on to desert landscapes, and we’re told that buttes are not “pushed up from the crust.” Bravo! A true fact! Well done! “At one time, the ground level was up to the top of the butte, ” Mr. Loyalton says, and I am so astonished to see two true facts in a row that my heart does a little leap. Shame about the next sentence: “However, the Floodwaters, together with erosion since the Flood, have washed and worn away weaker sediment and left the butte standing.” Bzzt, wrongo. You get an F, Mr. Loyalton! Well, perhaps I’ll give you partial credit for at least getting the idea it’s erosion forms a butte, although it’s streams, not a Flood, and takes a very very long time. D-, then.

Normally, when writers have limited space and a ton of subject matter to relate, they get down to it. So it’s telling that ACE PACES, slender as they are, have so many irrelevant segues. They haven’t got enough Earth science to fill a thimble (or 31 (thirty-one) pages), so they go nattering on about this and that – but incredibly, even their filler is full of fail. Observe:

“Nearly a thousand years ago,” continued Mr. Loyalton, “The Anasazi Indians lived on top of Mesa Verde and farmed the land because the mesa top received more rain than the land below the mesa.”

We’ve already remarked on the stubborn white conservative Christian tendency to obstinately cling to outdated, incorrect, and offensive ways of referring to the native peoples their ancestors plundered, evicted and murdered. Their ignorance unsurprisingly goes deeper: mesa tops don’t get more rainfall. That’s ridiculous – if anything, you’re more likely to get more moisture down below, what with all that lovely runoff. No, it’s the soil up there: “deep aeolian loses deposits,” full of easily-burned trees that makes clearing land a breeze. You know what doesn’t burn off easily? Fucking sagebrush, which clings to the nice soils along washes and on the mesa flanks.**

Then, as if the sagebrush weren’t enough of a pain in the arse, you’ve got a bigger problem. Cold air. Cold-air drainage, specifically, “which reduces air and soil temperatures at lower elevations.” This is an issue in the high desert, folks. That shit will kill crops, because it can get remarkably cold, and one untimely frost will mutilate your corn.

So, yeah, even their fun facts aren’t factual. Yeesh.

Not to mention, not all Anasazi did their farming on mesa tops. They had a delightful variety of agricultural techniques depending on the nature of the land and conditions where they lived. Near Flagstaff, Arizona, farming in the broad lowland floors made the best sense. Here is the view of their fields from the Citadel, a remarkable butte-top housing complex, which you should absolutely visit when you do the Sunset Crater and Wupatki loop.

Image shows a few low, ruined walls of red sandstone in the foreground, peppered with chunks of black basalt. Beyond, rolling plains covered in thin green grass and dotted with sagebrush stretches away into the distance. On the horizon are the low mesas of the Painted Desert.
View from the Citadel. This is a magnificent ruin along the road that goes from Wupatki to Highway 89. Wait til I get back there and get you proper photos – the view of the San Francisco Peaks over a sinkhole is magnificent.

The plane still hasn’t crashed, unlike their “facts,” but give it time. The Loyaltons are about to go on about “Water Formations” next…

*Used under protest. They call it science, but it ain’t.

**Trust me on this: my friends and I have empirically tested sagebrush. We piled a few boards on it, lit it up, and discovered it don’t burn completely. It sparks and snaps for a few minutes, then the fire goes out, leaving you with no bonfire and a singed but still very large, woody plant. We spent an entire evening trying to get a bonfire going. In the end, we had not ignited more than the leaves and a few twigs, and the skeletons of the bushes were perfectly intact. Of course, those skeletons were full of glowing hotspots, in a nice, straight orange line – which didn’t seem like a problem, there being nothing else flammable around there. But then we realized we were near the airport. And we noticed those glowing bushes looked like the runway lights. And then we heard a small plane roaring in for a landing…. we fled before it could kill us all, but the pilot was apparently discerning enough to know where the actual runway was, because they didn’t. True story. Anyway, the point is, clearing off a bunch of sagebrush with fire isn’t nearly as easy as you might think.

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(Repost) Adventures in ACE XI: Tommyrot About Topography