Another (Very Belated) Anniversary: Two Years Smoke-Free

I keep missing this particular anniversary not only because I’m crap at remembering things like birthdays and anniversaries and such, but because Chantix made it such a non-event. But it occurs to me that I’ve now been an ex-smoker for two years.

Part of me will always be a smoker. [Read more…]

Come Join Me For Happy Good News Times!

So, updates. I haz good news! I went in for a nerve conduction study on Friday, and it turns out I have not totally destroyed my nerves. Yay! It appears that the ligaments and tendons are just waay overstressed. So a long rest and some physical therapy have been prescribed. There’s also been some talk of rheumatoid arthritis, which I hope turns out to be as likely as the nerve damage. Of course, with Dragon, even that diagnosis isn’t as scary as it might’ve been otherwise. I mean, it’s not like I’ll have to stop writing or anything, and writing is really the most important thing to me (outside of you, my cat and geology), so that’s a little bit of all right. If necessary, I can get all y’all to bang on the rocks for me. [Read more…]

Sunday Song: Out of the Dark

Now that I’ve gone and gotten treatment, I’ll tell you the story of the Dark.

I’ve always been subject to black moods. Getting raped at 18 didn’t help, I’m sure. But those moods were always transient, usually correlated to known issues like severe stress, and predictable. They didn’t affect my day-to-day functioning all that much, and I could always find my way out. I just joined up with the part of my brain that was laughing into the darkness and walked out on it. I’d change up my routine, do whatever altered my mood toward happy, and the Dark would go.

So I wasn’t overly concerned when I began to slide in January. Vaguely and pervasively sad in Seattle in the middle of winter, during a time of high stress at work and home? Whee, SAD! Yay, environmental triggers! Time to take a break, then, watch some Agatha Christie, do busy work, wait for the Dark to go away.

But it started getting darker. [Read more…]

Ode to a Caboose

My intrepid companion has a wee fascination for trains. This means that when we’re out adventuring, trains often factor in – even when we didn’t expect them to. I mean, honestly – last thing you expect to run in to high in the Cascades is a caboose. For one thing, trains don’t have ’em anymore. For another, we’re on the side of a mountain with no tracks in sight.

So of course, when you see something like that and you have a train nut in the car, you make an unscheduled stop. [Read more…]

Soon To Be A Quitter

I love smoking. I don’t love the expense, or the health risks, or the stench, or being driven out into the buttass freezing cold, but I bloody love smoking otherwise. It gets me outside at random times, whereupon I see things that people who aren’t driven onto the porch in the wee hours o’ the morning by the nicotine demons don’t see. Like the badger that one night. The badger was awesome.

[Read more…]

Rhodies and Realities

I’m wrecked. I’ve only just now recovered the use of both nostrils after a mild but annoying cold, and then a certain manufacturer of a certain famous cell phone announced a change that has led to my day job getting busier by a factor of 10. I should be researching and writing. Instead, I’ve been spending time trying to coddle my poor brain.

This is good news for those of you who either like a flower challenge, or who like to listen to me ramble. We’re having both.

Rhododendron bud

It’s about rhododendron season. I remember reading one of those little filler snippets in a Reader’s Digest once, where a woman was talking about sending her husband home to clean the place up while she went to the grocery store after they’d invited their pastor for dinner on short notice. When she got back, the house was still a mess, but her husband was busy ensuring the leaves of their potted rhododendron were sparkling clean.

Dunno why, but that left me with the impression that rhodies were just boring houseplants with nothing but thick green leaves. I’d never knowingly seen one in bloom before. When I moved up here, I discovered that they grew up into great big bushy bushes used in landscaping seemingly everywhere, but not until after blooming season, which meant I now thought of them as boring indoor/outdoor plants with nothing but thick green leaves.

Then they bloomed.

[Read more…]

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.

Volcanic Venerations: Elden

Mount Elden from Route 66 (San Francisco Peaks in background). May 20th, 2005

I’ve run out of sediments to get sentimental about.  So, let’s stand on the Kaibab and gaze at one of the mountains that loomed over my childhood, by way of transition.  That, my friends, is a volcano.  And it was considered middling size, where I grew up, although considering it’s smack-dab in the midst of Flagstaff, it seems enormous.  My elementary school was right at the base of it.  We probably sat on its deposits.  We could walk to it, and did, and walked right up it.

Funny how you can spend so much time staring out the window at something less than a quarter mile away, not to mention climb it, and have no real idea what the hell it is.

The teachers mostly didn’t mention Mount Elden.  It was just there, this great big brown lump, unremarkable in every way aside from the fact it was a volcano in the midst of a city.  Once a year or so, they’d herd us all into the gym and roll out the film projector, and Mount Elden would get its fifteen minutes of fame in an old video showing us what happens when runaway kiddies light campfires in canyons on a mountain in dry country.  The results were probably a bit reminiscent of when it erupted: lots of smoke and sparks and a terrifying orange glow that seemed like it would consume the world.  They thought they’d lose the city before they got the fire out, and the scars are still there.  Trees don’t grow back well on steep lava slopes in dry country.  Erosion undoes what our precious little water tries to do.  The mountain may not recover until the climate changes.  So, children, look upon Mount Elden and know why you should never, ever light a match.

Somehow, some way, we learned it was a volcano, which led to a few nervous moments until we were told it’s not merely dormant, but extinct.  Extinct was good.  Except, of course, on those days when it was sunny and brilliant outside and it might have been nice to have a merely dormant volcano fast becoming active outside so they’d have to evacuate us.

One of our teachers pointed to it as a prime example of a shield volcano, and for years, I thought that’s what it was.  Big lump of near-solid lava, what else could it be?

2,300 feet worth of dacite dome, is what.  Five or six hundred thousand years ago, thick, sticky magma that occupies that space on the continuum between andesite and rhyolite squeezed up through the old sedimentary layers, overturned them, and extruded itself out in globs and lobes until it built a mountain.  As it erupted, bits cooled, fractured in the process, and peppered the slopes with boulders.  Lava flows on those steep slopes sometimes lost their hold and became chaotic avalanches of hot gas and chunks of dacite that fanned out around the base of the volcano.  The rest of it piled into mounds and cliffs, incredibly steep, where a few rare resident bald eagles live.

Elden’s Cliffs, where the bald eagles dwell.  June 10, 2009

The result was a gigantic lump of a lava dome.  A lot of Arizona’s volcanoes are fairly symmetrical: even though different angles give you a different perspective, they’re recognizably themselves.  Not so Elden.  It looks compact and rather small from some directions.  Depending on where you are, you might see it as an actual dome, or a peak with a hump, as in the photo above.  Then travel round the compass a few degrees, and all of a sudden, it presents a very long, strange profile.

Mount Elden, seen from Sunset Crater.  June 10, 2009

There’s a trail that winds up it, right to the very top where all the radio antennae are.  It climbs gently at first, lulling you into a false sense of security before taking off through hairpin switchbacks that don’t do much to cut back on all the straight up.  The overwhelming impression is tan.  The old dacite is tan, and it gives rise to tan dirt, and even the trees that grow where they weren’t burnt down have a tan undertone to their green.  Occasionally, there are splashes of bright reddish-pink sloshed over the big tan boulders.  The massive amounts of flame retardant dumped on that mountain in the 1970s left some garish streaks behind.  It was still there in the late 80s, when my class climbed to the top.  It might still be there.

The mountain has human stories to tell.  About a little girl lost who nearly fried the city, and a little boy, whose family homesteaded on the flanks of the mountain over a hundred years ago.  There was a spring there, and water was precious.  There wasn’t much of it.  And when the homesteaders had to make the choice between watering their herds and family and watering a passing stranger’s mules, they chose to refuse the gift of water.  There was, after all, another spring not far away, with more water more easily spared.  The stranger, not happy with this reply, fired at the family, and killed their young son.  Being a little girl myself, standing in that meadow where water trickled through an old pipe, looking at the site where a home used to stand and a family had been forced to bury their child, I felt the tragedy of it acutely.

You can still see his grave.  And the mountain carries his family name, so it, too, stands as something of a memorial.

Mount Elden stands as a reminder of acts that cannot be undone.  With the strike of a match, the firing of a gun, something can be taken away that can never be replaced.

And that, combined with the fascination of its geology – I mean, a young dacite dome far from a plate boundary? – transforms it from an odd lump of lava into something truly beautiful.

Mount Elden from Route 66, photographed by my Intrepid Companion.  June 11th, 2009.  The chewed-up pile of cinders in front of it is the remnant of a cinder cone, now a quarry.

Methods and Materials of a Sometime Geoblogger: A Case Study

Ha!  Like this post will be anywhere near as scholarly as the title suggests.  It’s just that Karen got me thinking again:

I want to know how geobloggers (and for that matter, bloggers in general) find the time and material to blog frequently! I exhaust my blog-dedicated time just reading five or six of my favorites every morning! 

I wonder the same thing meself, actually.  So I’ll be asking that question during ye olde Summer Interview Series.  Let’s begin with a willing subject: me.

Hullo, me.  How do you find the time?

The answer’s simple, really.  I haven’t got a life.

I’m not in school.  Job that requires no serious thought or overtime.  No significant other.  Not many local friends, certainly not many I go out with often.  No teevee shows I dedicate my time to (aside from Doctor Who, o’course).  Here I am, on a Sunday afternoon, me day off, pounding away at the keyboard, with no one but the cat for company.

I don’t go to the movies.  Don’t go shopping until lack of food or other vital items forces me from the house, and then it’s just a commando raid, in-and-out at top speed, often with my poor intrepid companion in tow since we’re in town for lunch anyway.  It’s only in the summer that I get out and adventure, and then only on the weekends.  I’ve just chosen writing at the one thing that must always come first, and shunted everything else off into the corners.  Not everyone can do that, but they manage just fine anyway – I’ve no idea how.

Mind you, I haven’t got much time for blogging.  I’m writing books (yes, plural), and that means the vast majority of my time is devoted to non-blogging activities.  I’ve carved out a four-hour chunk of time on Sunday afternoons to write the week’s posts, and I spend that week when Aunty Flow’s visiting to fill in any gaps, considering I’m no good for fiction writing then.

I’ve learned over the years that trying to do this on a day-to-day basis doesn’t work for me.  I can’t carve the day up into such tiny chunks and give everything the time and attention it deserves.

As far as blog reading, I’ve got some time in between calls at work, usually, and an hour or so a night while I’m scarfing dinner to catch up on whatever else I’ve missed.  Multitasking is key, people.

So that’s how I find the time.  As for subjects… that’s usually the easy part.  There’s you, my dear readers: you so often say something that gets me going.  Sometimes I’ll riff off of something I’ve read on another blog, or there’s a meme going round, or something I’ve read in a book recently catches my fancy.  Things come up when I’m worldbuilding that demand to be shared.  Important anniversaries, certain holidays, and other assorted special days are always good possibilities.  When I get maudlin and nostalgic, I’ll turn that into a post or several.  I’ve learned to just go with whatever shiny thing is glittering away in front of me, because I can’t guess what my readers will like.  Some of the posts I’ve published only because I’m a raging narcissist or too busy to write better have been the posts you lot like best, so I’ve learned to just throw it out there.  If it flops, ’tis not the end of the world.  There’s always tomorrow.

This present exercise in narcissism has gone on long enough.  I’m turning the floor over to you: care to answer Karen’s question?


I spent four years on top of a type section, and I never knew it.

Moi avec Page Sandstone, many years ago

I lived on Manson Mesa, in Page, AZ, where the type section for the Page Sandstone is located (pdf).  I knew it was sandstone.  I thought it had been laid down in a sandy sea during the dinosaur years, and there my geologic awareness ceased.

My geological knowledge back then suffered from, let’s be generous and call them deficiencies.  I wish I’d known then what I know now, because then I would’ve taken about ten trillion photographs of the place and gotten a lot more out of living there.  Still.  That landscape did settle into my soul.  Slickrock country settled into my soul.

It’s stark, sand-scoured, barren but beautiful.  I’d walk up the road from our house and along a dirt track, topping a rise on the mesa, and then partially descend the other side.  That’s when it would hit: the most profound silence I’d ever heard.  I’d stand there looking out over Lake Powell and just soak in the silence.  It couldn’t have been all that much quieter back in the Jurassic, when the Page Sandstone was nothing but coastal dunes marching along for miles.  They rested atop even older dunes, which are now the Navajo Sandstone.  Sandy then and sandy now.  You go to Page, you’ll become intimately acquainted with sand, both lithified and windblown.

Stand here, with me, on the sandy side of the hill.  Look over the lake.  Do you see that arm of the Colorado, meandering through the side canyons it’s carved into the ancient dunes?

The Colorado River, or at least parts thereof

You can play games with it, here, shift your perspective and spell things out.  Just there, from that vantage, it’s a J.  Move a few yards, and it’s a T.  Walking back in time.  Jurassic-Triassic.  There may even be some Triassic rocks around here – I’ll find out next time I go, now that I know more, now that I can love it for what it was and not just what it is.

Back then, I’d just stand and stare at the sapphire-blue lake incongruous in the pale red desert, and wonder how the fuck anyone could possibly call a rock surrounded by nothing but rock “Lone Rock.”

View of Lake Powell from Manson Mesa.  Lone Rock is that rock in the middle ground on the right.

On the other side of Manson Mesa, the wind has swept the stone clean, and you understand why it’s called slickrock.  It’s smooth, almost slippery, although the grains of windblown sand locked in their matrix do a pretty good job providing traction, if you know how to work it.  And I worked it.  In slick-soled boots, on dunes turned rock that weathered into rounded tops and tiny ledges on steep slopes before becoming sheer drops.  I’d run, flat-out, on ledges no more than a few inches wide, with nothing more than a few hundred feet of air on one side and high, rounded stone on the other, and I never once feared I’d fall.  The slickrock wasn’t so slick for me.  It gripped me, assured me it wouldn’t let me go.  I could trust it implicitly, even the crumbly bits where erosion was returning the stone to its original sand.  We understood each other, this sandstone and me.  We knew each others’ limits.

There was a place on the edge of the mesa where flash-floods had carved a gully between rock walls, and those stood high above the desert floor like castle turrets.  They were my citadel.  When I was up there, I was queen in my castle.  I could stand at the top of a turret and gaze over my treeless domain.

And it was treeless.  Sagebrush, a few straggling junipers, and some unidentified bushes growing along the washes were about the limit.  This is a stark, startling place, to someone who’d left an alpine paradise behind.  No mountains, no ponderosa pines reaching for the sky.  Just rock and sand with a desperate bit of biology barely clinging on, far as the eye could seen.

There used to be trees up there, legend says.  This is a landscape for legends.  You can believe nearly any wild tale you’re told, up there.  You can believe the trailer park built to house the folks building Glen Canyon Dam exploded at midnight on Halloween night in 1959.  You can believe skinwalkers stalk the darkness.  Just listen to the way the coyotes’ howls echo off those stone walls, refract and reflect and become something supernatural.  You know where those legends arise, now.  You know why, when people tell this story, you can believe it:

Back in the 1800s, a cowboy was passing near Manson Mesa on his way to Lee’s Ferry with a Navajo guide.  No lake there, then, and precious few ways to cross the Colorado, which had been cutting its way down into the Plateau for millions of years.  But there was this mesa, and the cowboy wanted to go up there and have a look.  The Navajo guiding him refused to take him up.  The cowboy demanded, the Navajo steadfastly refused.  The cowboy finally demanded to know why.

“The top of that mesa used to be covered with trees,” the guide said.  “There used to be a forest.  But something evil came to the mesa.  It scared the trees to death.”

The cowboy scoffed, went up alone, and never came back down.

Something so evil it scares trees to death.  Yes, sometimes, that’s what you feel up there.  But only close to the city.  On the side of the mesa, where it’s still wild, you may keep a weather eye out for skinwalkers, and you may feel like a very tiny thing lost in the vastness of the desert, but lean back against the slickrock and absorb the silence and you’re suddenly more at peace than you ever thought you could be. 

Besides, if you’re a geologist, you’d probably like to find that evil thing and thank it profusely for getting rid of all that pesky biology in the way of the rocks.

There’s another place, and another way, to see the rocks round there.  Down by Glen Canyon Dam, you can hop in a raft and run the river.  I never did, but my mother did, and thanks to her, we have some views that only a few people ever see.

My mother, with Glen Canyon and Glen Canyon Dam as her backdrop

I believe that canyon is cut from the older, far more extensive Navajo Sandstone, but you’d be doing me an unkindness by holding me to it.

Still.  Go up on the bridge over the dam.  There’s a walkway for pedestrians, and you can look down down down into a chasm where the Colorado flows, through sandstone walls painted dark with desert varnish.  You’ll get deliciously dizzy, standing there with a vertical drop and vertical walls.  If you’re very lucky, you’ll be there on one of those days when clouds are scudding across the sky, and you can watch sun and shadows play spectacularly artistic games on the ancient stone.  You can watch them release water from Lake Powell, keeping the Colorado flowing and the power generating, and see how wild the river can be.

The Colorado roaring down Glen Canyon

There are some places you have to leave to love.  For me, Page is that place.  All I ever wanted or needed while I lived there was to get the hell away.  Now, I’m older and wiser and miss it quite a lot.  My beautiful, barren, bewildering slickrock country, I’ll come home soon.  Just for a while. 

And I’ll come away with a piece of you, just so I can waggle it at visitors and say, “Ha!  Look at this, bitches – a piece of the type section of the Page Sandstone!”  Because there are few things in this world that a geology buff could love doing more.