Is There Anything More Pathetic Than Flood Geologists at GSA Meetings?

Yup. Actually, there is. And this is why the announcement that Flood geologists, those poor dumb souls who are so besotted with a Bronze Age work of fiction, are once again coming to the GSA’s annual meeting should have you rubbing your hands with glee. Because, you see, the only thing more pathetic than Flood geologists is the fact that their own research has disproved their inane flood hypothesis.

Oh, yes, my darlings. That’s delicious, isn’t it? Tuck your napkin under your chin and go sink your teeth in to this bit of yum: “The defeat of Flood geology by Flood geology.” It’s eleven meaty pages of pure, savory, gourmet geo-goodness.

Really, all you need to do is grab Figure 1 and print it. Carry it with you. It’s got everything neatly laid out, with little icons showing what bit of evidence says that the whole entire earth couldn’t have been underwater at that time. And remember, this is evidence creationist geologists have found through their own research.

Here’s my own quick-and-dirty summary:

Subaerial deposits – raindrop impressions, dessication cracks, continental basalts, in-situ root beds, dinosaur eggs, glaciation, fossil charcoal, eolian dunes, paleosol, trackways.

Low- energy deposits and long pass ages of time: Cretaceous chalk, algal growths, various sea critter beds, reefs, lacrustine (lake) deposits, fluvial (stream or river) deposits.

Diversification of terrestrial animals: “Because such speciation cannot occur during a single year when the entire planet is underwater and during most of which the relevant animals are dead, [flood geologist S.J. Robinson] argued that the entire post-Carboniferous portion of the geologic column must be post-Flood.”

The Mountains of Ararat: can’t have Noah landing there if they don’t exist, and any flood deposits would have to be on top of them, so, uh, y’know, it was some other mountains of Ararat!

When you plot where examples of all of the above are found on a handy geologic timescale, you end up eliminating every bit of it, except for the Hadean Eon. It just doesn’t work. It can’t work.

And some of them know it:

In the words of Flood geologist Max Hunter (2009:88), “It is somewhat ironic…that, almost a half century after publication of The Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris in 1961, the geologic record attributed to the Genesis Flood is currently being assailed on all sides by diluvialists…[and] there remains not one square kilometer of rock at the earth’s surface that is indisputably Flood deposited.”

So what’s a Flood geologist to do?

The continued denial of the implications of their own findings is an example of what I call the gorilla mindset: the attitude that if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, but religious dogma says it is a gorilla, then it is a gorilla.

According to Flood geologists, this is a gorilla.

Yup. Pretty much. And these poor inane souls are going to be at GSA, shouting “Gorilla! It’s a gorilla!” every time you show them a duck.

Show them Figure 1, and they might just cry.

The Long Reach of Mount Mazama

A caldera eruption is a massively violent thing. We’re not talking the quiet calderas in shield volcanoes like Mauna Loa and Kilauea, which love erupting and frequently pour burning hot stuff all over the landscape, but generally stick to easygoing lava flows that allow people to get out of the way. We’re not even talking about Fernandina Island, which had a caldera collapse in 1968 and is too dangerous for Galapagos-goers to visit. No, we’re talking about the kinds of eruptions that happen fast, big and explosively.

We’re talking about the kinds of eruptions that hurl ash and pumice so high and so far that the landscape for hundreds or thousands of miles around is blanketed in thick, choking ash. We’re talking about eruptions that bury landscapes for hundreds of square miles in pumice fields tens of feet thick.

We’re talking about the kind of eruption whose traces are still fresh and clear more than seven thousand years later.

Road cut through Mount Mazama pumice, Route 58

It’s hard to wrap your mind around this, but here we are: over thirty miles from Mount Mazama as the crow flies. Only now have we come near the northern boundary of the pumice fields, and they are still between six and eight feet thick.

Perspective time. I’m standing in a place where, if I’d been able to stand still during the fallout from the eruption, I’d have been over my head in pumice. Over thirty miles away, not in the path of any lahars or pyroclastic flows or any such excitements, and if I’d had a one-story house, it would have been buried to the eaves. And, people, these aren’t itty-bitty bits of pumice. Stuff landing here reached up to nearly two inches long.

Mount Mazama Pumice, collected at the road cut on 58

Now, pumice is light, I grant you that. But it’s not exactly aerodynamic. Toss it up in the air, and it doesn’t take very long to come back down. So just imagine the force needed to hurl one and two inch chunks of it over thirty miles to land in blankets that would have buried even basketball players standing on their tip-toes.

It’s difficult to imagine. We just haven’t had many events like that in our living memory. In fact, when my intrepid companion and I got to talking about caldera eruptions the other day, I had to ask Erik Klemetti when the last one was. Mount Pinatubo fits the bill: maclargehuge eruption with worldwide consequences that left a caldera nearly two miles across. Note that Erik called that a “small” caldera collapse! It’s the closest to Mount Mazama we’ve come in the information age.

Then there was the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. Krakatau. Tambora. That last was the largest eruption in recorded history. I mention this because Pinatubo was a measly VEI 6. A piddly little colossal eruption. Mount Mazama, on the other hand, rated up there with Tambora: a VEI 7. Super-colossal.

And it has left its mark, so far away.

Pumice Flats

 In the background, there are mountains, yes. In the foreground, flat or gently-rolling land. When Mount Mazama spewed its guts all over the landscape, it filled in valleys and leveled things out. The pumice-filled ash doesn’t hold moisture well, so the scrappy Ponderosas, already in the rain shadow of the Cascades, are even more starved for water. This isn’t a land that supports riots of vegetation. The only things that survive here are those used to doing without.

Mount Mazama Pumice mixed with cinders. I should get a centimeter scale tattooed on my thumb, shouldn’t I?

Close to the road, you’ll notice all these lovely red and black bits mixed in with the yellow-white pumice. Those are cinders, trucked in and scattered on the road for traction on snowy winter days. I have to admit something to you: my heart did a little bound of joy, because that’s what the roadsides in Flagstaff look like (usually minus the large pieces of pumice, but not always – we’ve got a stratovolcano that liked coating the area in pyroclastics, too). Things weren’t so colorful before people came along and started spreading cinders on the roads. Just tough green plants, tan ash, and pale pumice as far as the eye could see.

Mount Mazama Pumice and cinders at top of cut

I scrambled to the top of the cut to try to get away from contaminating cinders. No such luck. But I got to see scenes that could have come from my childhood: Ponderosa pines doing their best to make a living, scrubby little bushes with water-miser leaves, and plenty of dead wood, all fighting to hold on to loose, ashy, easily-drained ground. It’s a smal
l hill, not much taller than I am, but a hell of a climb in all that loose stuff. Little clouds of ash puffed up and coated my shoes. Moisture seemed sucked instantly from my skin. It smelled of volcanic earth and pine resin, and if you’ve never smelled that before, you’re in for a treat. It’s one of the most beautiful scents on earth.

And as you stand there, you ponder the force it takes to create a landscape like this, and your poor brain boggles. Thing is, this is only the beginning. By journey’s end, you may just feel you’ve experienced a caldera eruption inside your own skull.

Ye olde indispensable references:

Roadside Geology of Oregon: Especially the marginalia, oddly enough.

Erik Klemetti: My go-to man for all things volcano, even on a Sunday, even on a holiday weekend.

Anne Jefferson: Who is not just a master of floods, it turns out, but knows some kick-ass volcanoes such as Fernandina.

Lockwood DeWitt: Tour guide of Oregon geology extraordinaire, and without whom I wouldn’t have known what the hell I was seeing.

Dojo Summer Sessions: The Writer’s Gut

My heart sister says important things about writing. And you may say to yourself, “Well, of course, Dana would think so – Nicole’s the sister she never had.” That’s true. Yes, I am partial. But there’s also another factor: Nicole writes for a living, so when she says things about writing, these important things, it behooves an aspiring author to listen for reasons beyond the fact Dana loves and trusts her.

She had this to say just recently:

I have to trust myself as I write these stories. I have feelings about which stories will work and which should probably be included only in my journal. And I have those feelings for a reason. My writer’s gut is telling me which direction to go. I just have to trust it.

As writers, it’s sometimes easy to trust other people’s opinions more than our own. After all, writers are seeking approval of fellow writers, agents and publishers and, ultimately, readers. We want to know that what we’re doing is going to be read and enjoyed by people.

But only you know the best way to do your characters justice. Only you know how to write your stories. You have to trust yourself.

She’s right. She’s right about all of it. And those last lines, particularly, are ones that are now burned into my writer’s soul and will not let go, because they are true, and I sometimes need to hear them stated that starkly so that I am reminded of the truth.

But what did I get hung up on? The “writer’s gut.” What is that? What is this “writer’s gut”? Why should I trust it?

I’m not one much for talk of instinct and intuition anymore. I used to be. Then I started hanging round with scientists, who subject their “gut instinct” to rigorous testing. They’re so often wrong, these intuitions, these leaps. The writer’s gut, you see, is an instinct. It’s an intuition. Why should we trust it?

Because those instincts and intuitions are hard-won, my friends. They only happen after we’ve worked ourselves bloody, after we’ve been writing for a long time. The writer’s gut is different from that first flush of creativity, that alluring idea, that wild self-confidence you feel before you’ve actually picked up a pen and run up against harsh reality. The writer’s gut is developed only after years, perhaps decades, of hard, lonely work.

It’s your subconscious writer’s mind, the one you acquired after a billion failed drafts and some writing classes and/or workshops and reading countless books on writing and blogs on writing, the one that listened to and absorbed what the experts (i.e., successful authors you worshipped) told you about how to write, watching the story unfold and clearing its throat meaningfully on occasion.

It plugs you in to a high-voltage current and gives you the buzz of your life when you’re on to something, when you’re working with an idea that will lead to a fantastic story. It takes your brain and gives it a good hard wrench when you’ve hared off in the wrong damned direction. It can’t always articulate what’s wrong and what’s right. But if you listen just right, you can tell what it means. And when you’ve learnt to listen to it, it can keep you on a path that everybody says you shouldn’t take but turns out to be the right one in the end. It can steer you round stumbling blocks. It can tell you when you’ve gone badly astray and must backtrack rather than stumble stubbornly ahead.

Is it wrong? I’m sure it sometimes is. But if you’ve honed it, you can trust it most of the time.

I don’t actually think of it as my “writer’s gut.” I think of it as the story. The story knows better than I do. It always does. It knows what it wants and needs. It knows if I’m the right writer for it. I’ve got a hard drive full of story ideas, amazing ideas, wonderful ideas that would make fabulous stories, but I know I can’t write them. My writer’s gut tells me they’re not my stories. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to give them free to a good home. They should have adoption centers for abandoned story ideas. But there are ideas that look up at me with those big, soulful eyes, and wriggle just a little, and I know they’re mine. I know, even if they look ridiculous to other people at first, that I can help them grow into something sleek and beautiful and enchanting. There are stories that are mine to tell, and I recognize them now. They make it easier to regretfully pass the other stories by, leave them for another.

My writer’s gut also knows when I’ve gotten ahead of myself. It knows when a story idea is mine, but I’m not ready for it yet. Then it slows me down to a gentle halt, directs me to do some more work before coming back to that story. I’m manifestly not ready now for some of the ideas I have got. There are plenty of others to work with in the mean time. My writer’s gut tells me that this is fine. All of my stories will be better served in the end by writing the ones I’m prepared for first. There are stories I told ten years ago I couldn’t tell now, and stories I’m telling now I couldn’t have told ten years ago. And eventually, with work and care, they’ll be drawn together into a body of work, whole and complete, and ready to make their own way in the world.

You may wonder why I haven’t tried publishing those stories. My writer’s gut again. It tells me to wait, just now. I write out of order. After long consultation with my writer’s gut, it’s been determined that this is the proper way for me to write, but not to publish. That’s fine. Stories are patient. These stories will be just fine waiting a few more years until their siblings are ready to join them in that grand adventure that is finding an audience.

I can hear the publish-or-perish crowd howling in protest just now, but they shan’t overrule my writer’s gut. Theirs tells them to push their work out in the world, and they are right – for those works. Not these. I used to beat myself up over not being like them. No more. No, I’ve learned to listen to that instinct that’s telling me it’s all right to wait until the stories are ready. Not forever. Not until they’re perfect, because nothing ever is, but until they are as right as they need to be.

The thing about this writer’s gut is, you know your stories better than anyone else possibly can. You live them. They are inside you. And that’s what gives you the instincts you have got. Instinct is just a word for something you know so well you can’t articulate it. But it’s not that silly intuition that’s no better than tossing divining sticks or a pair of gaming dice. It’s that intuition that comes from knowing something very, very well.

So, yes, when you’ve lived with your stories long enough to know them more intimately than you’ve ever known a lover, emblazon these words upon your wall, so that you will never forget them:

But only you know the best way to do your characters justice. Only you know how to write your stories. You have to trust yourself.

And then, write.

New Post on ASRI

For my Wise Readers: Leaping Into the Saddle of the Horse I’d Put Out to Pasture. In which I explain why I’ve been so horribly out of touch with so many people, and announce the short story I’m working on.

I’ll be posting that story to ye olde writing blog, which is invitation only. I know at least one of you wanted an invite a bit ago. I got the email at a time when I didn’t have time to log on and send you said invite, promptly forgot to flag the email, and it got buried under a mountain of other stuff. I have no idea where it is. So please, ask again! And for anyone else who wants to become a Wise Reader, email me. Yahoo knows me as dhunterauthor.

I’ll be setting aside an hour or so to do such housekeeping, and maybe even correspond with a few friends who must think my email is broken or that I’m not willing to think of them anymore. Neither is true! I can’t wait for the day when we can email people with our thoughts no matter where we are. I’ll be better at this whole communication thing then.

Right. Off to continue slaving for my Muse get some writing done. Labor Day indeed…

Los Links 9/2

Another week, another passel o’ links. Funny. Somehow, I’d felt that I hadn’t done much reading this past week. Apparently I was wrong…


Grist: Global warming will make future hurricanes worse, full stop and U.S. Navy’s wave-power buoy plays chicken with Irene, wins.

The New Yorker: Vermont Floods: A Bad Day for Baal.

ThinkProgress: Eric Cantor Won’t Support Any Hurricane Disaster Funding Without Massive Cuts To First Responders.

Mike the Mad Biologist: GOP Response to Hurricane Irene: Take More Hostages.

Guardian: Hurricane Irene or Britain adopting misogynistic attitudes: I know which I find scarier.

Kate Messner: After Irene: A small-town Adirondack library needs your help.

Slobber and Spittle: Call it a PSA and Are You Afraid Yet? 

Virginia Earthquake

Mountain Beltway: Damage to the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Washington Post: Five myths about earthquakes.


Glacial Till: One Year Blogiversray of Glacial Till and Meteorite Monday: Shergottites.

The Dynamic Earth: Backup Amazon (in case the other one breaks?).

Scientific American: Diamond World Discovered By Astronomers.

Professor Astronomy: A diamond planet? I dunno..

Dinosaur Tracking: An Ode to Archaeopteryx.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: The lost plague – London graveyards suggest that Black Death strain may be extinct and Bacteria: resisting antibiotics since at least 30,000 BC.

ABQJournal: Study: American Indians May Be More Affected by Climate Change.

Research Digest: The woman misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and how we can all be affected by the suggestion that we have psychological problems.

National Groundwater Association: Protect Your Groundwater Day.

DC’s Improbable Science: A thoroughly dangerous charity: YesToLife promotes nonsense cancer treatments.

Gary Schwitzer’s HealthNewsReview Blog: NBC urges women >40 to ask about CRP test – something not supported by evidence.

Georneys: Geology Word of the Week: M is for Migmatite.

Highly Allochthonous: Scenic Saturday: Ropy pahoehoe on a biogenic beach.

NASA Earth Observatory: Why I love Geologists.

Science Sushi: Observations: Tuna and Mythbusting 101: Sharks will cure cancer.

Grist: Fox News viewers ‘confused’ by Bill Nye, science in general.

Scientific American: Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: Perspective Is Everything, Details Alone Are Nothing.

Superbug: Borders are Irrelevant: Polio Returns to China and Antibiotic Prescribing to Kids — Down, But Still Too Much.

Scientific American: The Bearable Closeness of Being: Why Cities Create Community.

The Scicurious Brain: Muscle fatigue may be all in your head.

The Dynamic Earth: Drilling for Oil…in the Everglades?

Forbes: Can Our Pruney Fingers Help Us Build Better Rain Treads?

Myrmecos: A mural on moth wings.

Cosmic Variance: Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Time.

Gizmodo: First Quantum Computer Simulator Operates at the Speed of Light.

Bad Astronomy: No, a new study does not show cosmic-rays are connected to global warming.

Andrew Alden: Higher Profile for Geoforensics.

Think Progress: Scientist: “The Murdoch Media Empire Has Cost Humanity Perhaps One or Two Decades in Battle Against Climate Change.”

Respectful Insolence: The ultimate homeopathic remedy.


My Own Brand of Madness: Going Indie – Is it worth it?

The Book Designer: Independent Publishing: That’s Evolution!

Confessions of a Science Librarian: On the evilness of the emerging ebook app ecosystem.

The Writing Bomb: Letter to the Beginning Indie Author.

The Passive Voice: Ebook Formatting Red Flags, Writers who oppose agency pricing aren’t acting in their own self-interest, and How to Misunderstand a Contract.

Compound Eye: Creative Commons Is Not Public Domain.

Barry Hutchinson: Meeting Neil Gaiman.

Melissa Walker: Cover Stories: Wintering Well.

Almost Diamonds: The Love of Problematic Literature.

Nieman Journalism Lab: Amazon’s new @author feature launches, and changes (just a bit) what a book is all about.

Patricia C. Wrede: Telling details vs. clutter.

The Book Designer: 5 Great Fonts for Book Covers.

Nathan Bransford: On the Internet There Is No Such Thing as a Brand. There Is Only You.

Atheism and Religion

Alternet: Are Michele Bachmann’s Views About ‘Christian Submission’ Even More Extreme Than She’s Letting On?

Why Evolution is True: An atheist who almost believes in God.

Almost Diamonds: The Accommodationism Challenges.

Open Parachute: Martydom of the priveliged.

mlkshk: Norse Crisis flowchart (source link at bottom).

Pharyngula: As an American Atheist, I am disgusted by the 9/11 coloring book.

The Spirited Atheist: College too late, too little for secular studies in America.

Life on the Hill: I’m Coming Out.

Women’s Issues

Guardian: It isn’t girls who need to watch their words.

Alternet: How I Escaped the “Biblical Family Values” Nightmare That Drives Perry, Bachmann, and Tea Party Politics.

Skepchick: Too Pretty To Do Homework.

XX Factor: Some Good News for Pro-Choicers.

Guardian: Rick Perry’s demeaning abortion doctrine.

The Smart Set: Old Boys Club.

Laurie Hale Anderson: District that tried to ban SPEAK accused of covering up rapes.

Rethinking Vision Forum: Why I Wish I Went to College.


A Leaf Warbler’s Gleanings: Science and Democracy in the Arab Spring and American Fall.

Paul Krugman: Republicans Against Science.

Mother Jones: The Right, Anti-bacterials, and the “Nanny State”.

Margaret and Helen: Who has the better bouffant?

Rolling Stone: The GOP War on Voting.

Butterflies and Wheels: The history of dissident thought.

Culture of Science: On The Privilege To Serve This Country.

Scientific American: Can Politicians be Trusted with Science?


GigaOm: It’s official: Google wants to own your online identity.

Lauren Weinstein’s Blog: Real Names, Guilt, Self-Censorship, and the Identity War.

Guardian: Google Plus forces us to discuss identity.

Society and Culture

Loudoun Times: Potomac Falls woman removed from son’s Boy Scout troop.

Almost Diamonds: Male Rape Victims: Let’s Talk About the Men.

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub: Quote of the moment: Diane Ravitch, history won’t be kind to those who attacked teachers.

On Liberty: “Racial Profiling First Hand”.

BBC: After the sludge: Rebuilding Hungary’s towns.

Salon: Confessions of a bad teacher.

NeuroTribes: Dear United Airlines: I Want My Kindle, and My Dignity, Back.

New York Times: How to Fix Our Math Education.

Teddy Partridge: Jury Unable to Reach Verdict in Gay Student’s Killing — UPDATE: Mistrial.

CNN: West Virginia learns Finland’s ‘most honorable profession’: Teacher.

On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess: Unclench Your Butthole Before You Talk About Bias.

Hudson Valley Geologist: Good quote on education.

The New Civil Rights Movement: Student Of Anti-Gay Florida Teacher Jerry Buell Speaks Out – Exclusive!

I Can’t Show You This Picture, But You Must See It

I have this weird respect for copyright, so I didn’t want to embed this, but you really have to see it. Then come back and we’ll talk about it.

Yeah, that’s some kind of delicious, isn’t it just? More where that came from, at David Rankin’s website. So many sights there that reminded me of the not-so-halcyon days when I lived in Page. The only thing good about Page was the scenery. No complaints there, my friends – it’s truly dramatic. And David managed to capture an extra dollop of drama there. Fantastic.

I thought I recognized that old local icon, the Navajo Generating Station, but I wrote to him about it just to be sure. He advised, “The photo was taken with a telephoto lens from southern Utah just across the UT/AZ border looking at the Navajo Generating Station and LeChee Rock.” Four years I lived there, and I never knew that was LeChee Rock. We callow kids didn’t know the names of most of the mesas. We just kind of pointed at them and said “That one” when discussing them. I think the only reason we knew Page is built on Manson Mesa is because, hey, it’s Manson.

I used to go out at night up to the place on the edge of the mesa where it was rumored a whole settlement had blown sky-high one Halloween night back in the ’50s, and I’d stand there looking beyond the barely-lit airstrip out to the Navajo Generating Station. You wouldn’t normally think of a coal-fired plant as beautiful, but it was. Standing out there alone in the bare desert, the only light beyond Page for miles aside from the moon and stars, it looked like a ship in a sandy sea, sailing serenely among rocky icebergs. I mean, seriously. Go look at it again. Take your eyes off the lightning and really look at the plant. Doesn’t that look just like a grand old steamship, floating out there against the mesas? David captured it just as I remember it. Only he managed to capture so much more: the stark, dark cliffs standing against storm-torn skies.

This is what I was talking about when I told you about slickrock. Those mesas rose up from the desert floor, stark and still. The storms rolling in over them are bloody amazing to watch. Only you’ll want to do it from high ground. David’s shot what I’m talking about. It may not even be raining within a hundred miles of where you are, but suddenly, a sound, a roar, and water, swift and deep and treacherous. You can’t outrun it, and if you’re in a slot canyon, you can’t out-climb it, either. People have died because they didn’t understand this about the desert: even here, you can drown.

But to stand in a high place, to watch the lightning strike and the rain arrow down, to hear the wind roar through the barren rock – that you won’t trade for anything. To see the storm-light on the red rock, watch colors and hues change, dappled over ten or fifty or a hundred miles around you, painting an already painted desert – that’s a vision that will imprint itself indelibly. It stays.

I want to go back. I want to sit in the high places, and watch the sun explore ancient rocks. I want to hear a silence so profound it’s like a physical force. I want to lie back against that smooth, bare slickrock and stare into an endless sky. And I want to see the storms again, smell a petrichor so intense it tangles up and overwhelms the more prosaic scent of sand, feel that shock of chill air from a thunderstorm that washes over the skin like a mist and leaves you with goosebumps in a hundred degrees. I love and miss those things.

I’m glad I have such images to remind me.

Caturday Geocat: Hand Sample Analysis

My poor beautiful hand samples from our Oregon trip are just sitting forlorn on the porch, waiting for me to come up with a permanent home for them. I’m afraid I may never get to properly house them, however. My cat has taken a definite interest.

We have this little ritual when I come home for lunch. She usually spends the time outside on the porch, hanging out on her carpet square whilst I scarf some food and catch up on Twitter. Then she greets me at the door as I head outside for a smoke. She follows me over to the lounge chair, where I sit and enjoy the last moments of freedom before heading back for another four hours of soul-sucking drudgery agonizing boredom work. She consents to a scratch behind the ears, and then ambles over and starts inspecting the rocks.

Here she’s analyzing one of the platy volcanic bits (which may or may not be basalt or basaltic andesite, but that’s a story for another day). It’s one of the ones with dendrites on it. Once she gets done with those, she’ll establish ownership over the rhyolite by rubbing her cheeks all over every piece she can reach. I have to watch her on that – they’ve got some glassy textures and sharp edges.

She’ll look up occasionally, stare off into the distance like she’s considering what she’s just learned from her latest inspection.

Then she’ll go back to her favorite sample, a frothy bit of basalt or basaltic andesite with quartz in.

She loves that rock the best. She curls up with it every time we’re out there together. I’m surprised it’s not coated in cat hair, considering how much she snuggles with it.

It’ll be winter soon, and both rocks and kitteh will have to come in from the cold and rain. But for now, I think I’ll leave her hand samples just as they are. This time we have together, me and her and the rocks, is precious.

I’m lucky to live with a cat who shares my love of geology and Doctor Who. I can forgive the occasional homicidal rages. We all have our little quirks, after all.

You’ve had your Caturday dose of cute. Time for something of substance. Both Lockwood and Cujo have written up bits of our recent trip. Cujo explains why geology is important, and Lockwood’s done a more in-depth look at his teaser tweeting, a sexy take on the Pinnacles, and a dedication to the teacher who introduced him to many of the wonders we saw. Enjoy!

Interlude With Dragonfly

I wish I could promise you drama. However, aside from some very nice scenery, Highway 58’s about the least-dramatic road through the Cascades. When you reach Willamette Pass and stop by Odell Lake, you don’t really feel as though you’ve just reached the mid-point through some of the most dramatic mountains in the United States. Sure, they explode occasionally, but they haven’t exploded round here just lately. You haven’t even climbed very much – you’re at a mere 5,000 feet. There’s some nice pointy peaks surrounding you, but it’s not like you’ve been on a steep climb with hairpin turns through them. You don’t feel like you’ve really worked for it.

Which is fine, because that’s left you nice and relaxed and in a mood to amble round photographing pretty things. There’s even a helpful sign that tells you what you’re photographing:

Hard to be sure, but that could be Diamond Peak there in the distance

Rather not what one expects in a shield volcano, is it? But that’s what it is – a great big shield volcano composed of fifteen cubic kilometers worth of basaltic andesite. That’s lots. And it’s thought to be fairly young – around 100,000 years or so, which in geologic terms means it’s barely out of diapers.

I know, I know. You’re looking at its jaggedy profile and saying, “Dana, my dear, that looks more like a stratovolcano.” Well, yes, of course it does. It stopped erupting before the last ice age ended, and the ice did a number on it. Ice is quite the artist (not Vanilla Ice, but actual ice, mind). It sculpted and carved and removed bits until this nice, sharp diamond shape was left.

And it left a rather nice lake, as well.

A bit of Odell Lake

The glacier that covered this area carved out a nice basin, then closed it off with a terminal moraine, and left the lake behind. The Cascades are riddled with these high mountain lakes, and they’re all quite lovely. Not warm. But pretty.

I’d have quite a few more pictures of mountains and so forth, only I came across this wonderful wee beastie as I was pottering about:

An unexpected dragonfly

Well, you know I’m mad for these things. And this poor bloke was dying. When I saw him, he was a bit pathetically crumpled up, on his back, and just looking miserable lying there on the bare shoulder pavement. I didn’t want him to finish the last moments of his life by being squished under a tire, so I scooped him up. He spent a comfortable few moments on my knee:

A fine fellow

And he didn’t seem much fussed by the whole thing. He just rested there calmly, and I thought, I’ll never have a better opportunity to photograph a dragonfly’s eyes. Only I’m a softhearted silly person who won’t reposition a dying dragonfly for her own gain, so I bunged the camera in front of him and hoped for the best, although I couldn’t see where we were aiming:

Dragonfly eyes

Looks a bit insouciant, doesn’t he just? Rather like he’s bellying up with an elbow on a bar, about to order a cold one. I liked him very much, and wished there was some reasonable way to prevent nature taking its course, but of course there’s not. You can’t rush an elderly dragonfly to the hospital and demand emergency resuscitation. So after a bit, I just eased him off into the weeds, where nature could finish taking its course without intervention from half a ton of passenger vehicle. I took one last photo, with my hand for scale, so you can have an idea of how very large he was:

Goodbye, dragonfly

My index finger is about 3 1/2 inches from knuckle to tip, for those who like precision. That translates into a seriously large dragonfly. I’m very nearly sure he’s one of the darners, but they all look so similar I’m not sure exactly which he might be.

Strangely, these skinny creatures with their transparent wings don’t feel delicate. Their little legs are sturdy, and their bodies hard and smooth. Even though this one had one pair of feet over the Styx, he seemed quite tough. They’re even quite tough after hitting the hood of a Honda Civic at 60 miles per hour – we ended up with one plastered to the front during the trip, and while everything else had spattered, it was still a whole, recognizable dragonfly, although a bit crispy and very, very deceased. I have even more respect for these guys after seeing that. They’re certainly not as dainty as they look.

After savoring my closest encounter with a dragonfly yet, we drove on. Hang on, my darlings, because it’s about to get a wee bit explosive.

Is There a Word for a First World Nation Becoming a Third World Country?

Even when I was a kid, I knew I was lucky. I had a middle-class family in a prosperous country. Sally Fields used to come on the teevee soliciting funds for all those poor, starving kids in other countries where families were lucky if they had a bit of cloth to throw over a stick for a house, and I’d be quite grateful my country wasn’t like that. Poorest kids I knew still had roofs over their heads and got a few good meals a week. And we knew America was the greatest country on earth. Almost everybody wanted to be like us.

I used to feel sorry for those folks who lived in countries that weren’t number one in everything.

Rome used to be great, too, the greatest on earth, and it fell. When I learned about it, I couldn’t imagine it. What would it have been like, to live in a nation that was sliding down to oblivion? Weren’t the people sad, maybe even despairing? Did they know? Did they realize what was happening to them? I didn’t think it would happen to America, not very soon anyway, but I knew it could happen, and I just hoped it wouldn’t happen in my lifetime. I loved my country. I wanted the best for it. Selfish reasons, too: I’d never wanted to live in a decayed civilization, amongst the ruins of greatness, without a chance to become anything amazing. It’s really hard to write works of enduring literature when you haven’t got any paper and everybody in your country’s so poor they couldn’t afford to buy your book even if you managed to write it.

Those were my silly childish thoughts. Then I grew up, and for a little while, in the heyday of the ’90s, it looked like America, despite some occasional stumbles, didn’t really have to worry about falling from its perch. We were great, and we’d continue being great. We could certainly be greater. I’d learned about homelessness and grinding poverty, and some of our cities were falling apart, and the Republicans were getting awfully weird, and we spent a fuck of a lot of money on the military while screwing the poor and the public schools, but still. We weren’t doing all that badly.

Then it got worse. And worse. We voted a jackass into office (never mind Florida, it never should’ve been so close anyway). Terrorists slipped through our defenses, and the jackass and his merry band of fuckwits used that as carte blanche to invade the wrong damned country and basically bomb all the brown people they could. They turned this from a nation of laws that didn’t always live up to its rhetoric but at least acted ashamed when it didn’t into a nation that proudly tortured people. And the middle class melted away, and the infrastructure crumbled, and even crazier fuckwits started getting bold enough to dazzle a bunch of flaming morons into voting for them, and here we are today, rubbing shoulders with third-world nationhood.

Seriously. We are.

Take air travel: The United States, the report notes, now has the worst air-traffic congestion on the planet, with one-quarter of flights arriving more than 15 minutes late. One reason is that U.S. air-traffic control still relies on 1950s-era ground radar technology, even as the rest of the world has been shifting to satellite tracking (the FAA has begun the transition to a satellite-based system, though it’s moving slowly and future funding is a big question). According to recent World Economic Forum rankings, even Malaysia and Panama now boast better air infrastructure.

For fuck’s sake.

And check out what came across my Twitter feed only yesterday: we are the only industrialized nation to have a World Heritage Site we can’t be bothered to preserve. Every other country on the list has probably got a plausible excuse: tiny and poor, tiny and war-torn, tiny and trying too hard to deal with extreme natural disasters and religious fuckery and trying to build themselves up to a reasonable standard of living to be much fussed with things like World Heritage Sites. What’s our excuse? We have Republicans who think preserving things like the Everglades takes too much money out of super-rich pockets. We still have gobs and oodles of money, more than enough to pay for things like preserving priceless treasures and repairing that aged infrastructure and ensuring people get an education and health care and have decent jobs, but we’ve elected absolute idiots and let them give all the money to a disgustingly bloated military and greedy asshats who sit on millions and billions of dollars and scream like two year-olds denied a toy when someone tries to extract so much as a penny from their tight fists for the common good.

We’re 37th in the world in health care, or at least we were in 2000 – I shudder to think where we are now, after eight years of Bush and before our inadequate but good-as-we’re-gonna-get-at-this-point new health care law fully kicks in. Square between Costa Rica and Slovenia, we are. Best in the world? Which world? Certainly not the second world – maybe best in the third world, I think we can comfortably claim that, but we’d best not get too comfortable with that idea, because Cuba’s only two rungs below us on that particular ladder.

Oh, and here’s a nifty little fact: the United States of America gets its ass kicked in income equality by the likes of Iran and Nigeria. Oh, yes, we are so great and glorious, we are kicking Haiti’s ass! Eat it, the exactly two developed nations who do worse than we do! USA! USA!

And while we slide down into the scrap-heap of has-been empires, we’ve got Republicans running around beating their chests and screaming we’re the absolute best at everything there ever was. Best at what, exactly? Burning ignorance? Failed leadership? Shitting on science after sending men to the moon? Yeah. Sure. I’ll grant you that. We’re certainly top contenders in those categories.

What pisses me off is that I know we’re better than this. Yes, this country is full of willfully ignorant fucktards intent on launching us back into the dark ages, but we used to keep them on the hopeless fringes of our political system. We didn’t give them the power and authority they needed to run this country into the ground. We made a mistake. And we’re going to have to rectify that, remove the dangerous halfwits from office and never ever let them have power again, if we don’t want to end up on the bottom of the heap.

I don’t want to live in a former first world country, people. Neither do you. And neither does that greedy little shithead on Wall Street, but he could give a rat’s ass considering he’s got the money to move. So it’s up to us.

America deserves better. We’re gonna have to vote smarter and work harder to ensure she climbs back towards the top. And then, once we’ve stopped falling down, we’ve got to help the rest of the world up.

We were a beacon once. We can be that again.

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.