Darwin’s Geologic Sense of Humor

Looking for a sophisticated way to call someone’s grasp of geology rudimentary or primitive? Want to tell them they’re backward without coming right out and saying so? Charles Darwin has you covered:

His Geology also is rather eocene…

You can adapt this phrase to any creationist of any background or gender, as well as use it on people who think they know a lot about geology but actually don’t. If they get what you’re saying, it’s just possible they’ll be able to extract their head from whatever orifice they’ve got it stuffed in and reconsider their understanding.

Something tells me I would have enjoyed spending time with Darwin.

Here is the phrase in context, in a letter to Joseph Hooker:

…I have been very deeply interested by Wollaston’s book (‘The Variation of Species,’ 1856.), though I differ GREATLY from many of his doctrines. Did you ever read anything so rich, considering how very far he goes, as his denunciations against those who go further: “Most mischievous,” “absurd,” “unsound.” Theology is at the bottom of some of this. I told him he was like Calvin burning a heretic. It is a very valuable and clever book in my opinion. He has evidently read very little out of his own line. I urged him to read the New Zealand essay. His Geology also is rather eocene, as I told him. In fact I wrote most frankly; he says he is sure that ultra-honesty is my characteristic: I do not know whether he meant it as a sneer; I hope not. Talking of eocene geology, I got so wrath about the Atlantic continent, more especially from a note from Woodward (who has published a capital book on shells), who does not seem to doubt that every island in the Pacific and Atlantic are the remains of continents, submerged within period of existing species, that I fairly exploded, and wrote to Lyell to protest, and summed up all the continents created of late years by Forbes (the head sinner!) YOURSELF, Wollaston, and Woodward, and a pretty nice little extension of land they make altogether! I am fairly rabid on the question and therefore, if not wrong already, am pretty sure to become so…

I have enjoyed your note much. Adios, C. DARWIN.

P.S. [June] 18th. Lyell has written me a CAPITAL letter on your side, which ought to upset me entirely, but I cannot say it does quite.

Though I must try and cease being rabid and try to feel humble, and allow you all to make continents, as easily as a cook does pancakes.

See? He even closes his letter with Spanish! Someone call the Doctor and get the TARDIS over here so we can go visit this man.

Charles Darwin, circa 1881. Photograph by Messers. Elliot and Fry. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Darwin, circa 1881. Photograph by Messers. Elliot and Fry. Via Wikimedia Commons.

(h/t Glenn Branch)

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Odd Behavior

A mysterious birdie goes swimming and diving for foodstuffs in the McKenzie River valley’s Clear Lake, Oregon. This isn’t going to seem like particularly odd behavior for a water bird, but it is if it’s what we think this UFD is. I won’t say much so as not to give anything away. You can judge yourselves from the pictures and video.

Image shows a dark gray water bird swimming with its wings slightly raised. It has a rather short, thin beak, so we know it's not a duck.


It was just a wee silhouette on the shadier side of the lake at first, and we watched it do the typical water birdy things without knowing what it might be, other than it definitely wasn’t a duck.

Image shows the dark silhouette of the water bird. It has jumped up on a log that crosses the lake there, and it walking about amongst the vegetation growing on the old wood.


Now we could see its shape a bit better, but keep in mind, it was pretty far off and we didn’t have the same zoomed-in view this photo has.

The water bird, still in silhouette, has a foot up and is plucking a bit of something from it.


It seems to be plucking a bit of plant from between its toes, there.

The water bird is now walking along the log.


In the above photo, we can now clearly see it hasn’t got webbed feet, but looks to have distinct, narrow little toeses. Rather odd for a paddling bird, innit? Yet when you watch the video, you’ll see it swimming and diving like a pro.

The bird is perched on one end of the log, looking in to the gap where the log has rotted away and water is flowing.


Finally, it’s moved to a sunnier area, and we can see it’s a charcoal gray, not black. Not the most colorful bird ever, but if it’s what Lockwood and I think it is, this is a pretty exciting sighting.

The bird is leaning over the side of the log, getting ready to pluck something from the water.


You can see the feet pretty well in this shot, and it definitely looks like there’s no webbing.

I don’t really have an excuse for including this next photo. I just think it’s cute.

The bird seems to be scratching its chest with its beak.


And here you can see some faint markings on the wings, like little white stripes, possibly, but very subtle.

The water bird is in partial profile and looks like it's gazing toward the camera.


I know what this little delight looks like, and when you watch the video, it’s behavior may have you exclaiming, “Is that a -?!” much like Lockwood did. Truth is, I dunno. So it’s down to you, my darlings. Watch its feeding behavior in the video, check out the photos, and decide if it’s acting just a smidge out of character for what it is, or if we mistook it for something else that’s acting perfectly normal.


New at Rosetta Stones: A Very Sweet Rip-Up Clast and a Happy Stone

Look, I’m regaining my ability to think geology! Woo-hoo! I’ve given ye a very happy stone within a turbidite sequence, plus my wonderful rip-up clast, which I love dearly. I was so excited to find this thing!

Here’s a view of it you won’t see at Rosetta Stones:

Image shows a hunk of light-gray sandstone with an oval of dark gray mudstone within it. The hammer is lying on the guard rail post beside it.

Mah rip-up clast, with rock hammer for scale.


Fundamentals of Fungi: Fly Agaric Spectacular

This fall has been very, very kind to fungi. It’s been warmer on average most days this last October, but also good and damp. I’ve seen lots of very nice shrooms during our walks, but the fly agaric seems really enthusiastic. I don’t remember seeing ones this big in the past.

Image shows a round red fly agaric cap, with a few pale ones beginning to push through the dead oak leaves. My black-sneakered foot is in the photo for scale.

Look at the size of these things!

For reference, my feet are kinda huge. I wear a women’s size 10. Dat one big shroom.

Image shows a side view of the same fly agaric mushroom. There's a Blistex tube leaning against it, and a baby fly agaric shroom beside it.

Big shroom plus bebbe shroom.

The Blistex® tube is just under 2¾ inches. Ja. Big shroom.

Most fly agaric seem to come in red round there, but there are a few blondies. Here’s a little blonde baby shroom:

Image shows a small fly agaric mushroom with a couple of holes chewed into the cap and stem.

Young blonde fly agaric.

Those little holes something’s eaten into them makes me think of gnome homes. These are the best mushrooms for gnomic living. I think this is the formosa variation, which seem rather common around here.

Here’s a pretty awesome grown-up specimen of the classic variety, which looks like a jaunty tilted sombrero or sedge hat.

Image shows a red-orange fly agaric whose flaring conical cap is tilted on its stem. The Blistex tube is leaning against the stem for scale.

A jaunty shroom.

When you look at it from above, it kinda looks like a big pizza.

View of previous shroom from above. The peak isn't visible. There's a slash in the cap, looking like something either damaged it or that it split as it was growing.

Big shroom cap.

They’re really adorable when they’re little. They’re sorta like golfballs on thick tees, pushing up through the ground and leaf litter.

Image shows a very young shroom. The white warts are very close together, with just narrow streaks of red filling in where they're pulling apart.

Wee baby red fly agaric.

If I’m understanding the article on fly agaric correctly, these little white warts are remnants of something called a “universal veil,” which the fetal shroom is wrapped up in before it bursts out and morphs into a mushroom.

Image is a cropped version of the previous, focusing on the warts. They look sort of like little popcorn polygons, with a white fibrous fuzz clinging to the red parts around their edges.

Closeup of the warts, for your detail-viewing pleasure.

Don’t ask me why I find all these textures fascinating. I just do.

One of them had been pulled out of the ground, so I was able to have a close-up look.

Image shows me holding a fly agaric by the stem. The cap is a sphere; it hasn't opened up yet.

Cut off in the prime of its youth. Sigh.

This is what it might have become, had it not been so very rudely removed from the ground, and as long as the lawn mowers don’t come through soon.

Image shows two maturing fly agaric. They're still rounded, not having opened all the way yet.

Yes, they look like lollipops. No, you shouldn’t lick them.

And here’s a lovely little family.

Image shows one fully opened fly agaric to the right, with many others in various phases of growth in the center and left of the photo.

A sweet family of fly agaric.

Further down the way, someone else had decided to pull up a few shrooms, which gives us a great chance to see the gills.

Image shows a fully-opened fly agaric shroom lying on its cap, showing the underside with its lovely white gills. Beside it is a younger, not-opened fly agaric, showing the rounded bottom of the stem that would have been underground.

Looks like it was staged for curious folk like us, don’t it just?

I’m kind of a horrible scientist, because I can’t bear to rip them up like this. I’ve seen other people stop by to enjoy them, and don’t want to ruin their fun. Unlike the people who destroyed these. But even though a few are pulled up every year, a lot stay standing, which means that the people around here are actually considerate about their wanton destruction. Odd, that.

That’ll probably be about it for fly agaric this year. Weren’t they magnificent?

Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide II: Castle Lake Viewpoint

Brace yourselves. Look, I know Stop 1 wound you up. You just got done with a reasonably delicious lunch, you’ve caught a glimpse of the volcano and loved it, and now you’re all about getting up close and personal with Mount St. Helens. But you need to take a deep breath and have a bit of Zen. What you’re about to see might tip you over the edge, and from this viewpoint, it’s kind of a long way down.

Stop 2. Castle Lake Viewpoint

So very much to see here. This overlook gives you an outstanding overview of the results of the May 18th, 1980 eruption, and some of the recovery since.

Mount St Helens from Castle Lake Viewpoint.

Mount St Helens from Castle Lake Viewpoint. You will definitely want to click to embiggen this.

First, the destruction: the first thing that will strike anyone who’s traveled the western side of the Cascades is the distinct lack of forest. Granted, a few trees are sprouting up like a teenager’s attempt at a first beard, but there’s an overall absence of treeness. It turns out that volcanic eruptions, especially lateral blasts, are not kind to trees. If you look to your right at the near ridge, you’ll see the remains of some of the former forest. For details on what happened to it, see the posts here, here and here.

Panning left, you’ll notice a little sapphire gem of a lake set in a bowl-shaped valley. This is Castle Lake, and it just turned 33 last May. The gargantuan landslide triggered by an earthquake at 8:32 am on May 18th poured into the North Fork Toutle River valley as a massive debris avalanche. Over the course of ten minutes, that churning mass of ice, rock, dirt, and everything in its path roared 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) down-valley, filling it to an average depth of 150 feet (46 meters); in the most piled-up parts, it reached up to 600 feet (183 meters). Marginal levees from the avalanche piled up along the valley walls and choked off tributary valleys. Castle Lake backed up behind one such levee. Lakes like that can be dangerous: their debris dams could fail catastrophically, sending a flood roaring down the North Fork Toutle River valley toward populated areas downstream. In an attempt to prevent Castle Lake from breaching its levee, the US Army Corps of Engineers dug an outlet that keeps the water at a safe level, and drilled wells into the debris avalanche deposit to watch for changes that could alert them if the dam could become unstable.

Continue panning left. In the center of the valley, you’ll see the North Fork Toutle River threading its way through the bumpy terrain of the debris avalanche. Those of you who know your river geomorphology will be able to pick out some of the terrace the river’s left as it’s meandered across the valley and cut down through the deposit. Nice of it to show us all the lovely layers! In some places, you can see not only the interior of the debris avalanche, but also lahar and fluvial (river) deposits.The north bank of the river is rather prone to landslides in many places; between a high water table and the movement of groundwater through the avalanche deposit, it’s very easy for that bank to collapse.

Looking upriver, contemplate this: as of 8:42 am on cataclysm day, the upper North Fork Toutle River didn’t exist. It had been entombed beneath .67 cubic miles (2.79 km³) of collapsed volcano. Imagine an entire river being decapitated in the space of ten minutes!

At first, after the debris avalanche came to rest, all the valley contained was the lumpy surface of the landslide. But it didn’t take long for the river to begin rebuilding itself. The first section of its new channel was cut when ice melting in the debris avalanche formed the North Fork lahar that same afternoon. Phreatic (steam) explosions caused by the blazing-hot chunks of cryptodome heating the buried streams and river until they flashed to steam left a line of depressions, most 16-330 feet (5-100m) in diameter and 3-66 feet (1-20m) deep. Other hollows formed by the settling and subsidence of the debris.

This being the Pacific Northwest, it didn’t take long for many of those depressions to fill up with water. And when they were full to the brim, water spilled over and carved another section of channel. All through summer and into the fall, the channel grew from this fill-n-spill, plus some volumes of water released from larger lakes, including Castle Lake, by concerned engineers. Flowing water began behaving like a stream, widening its nascent channel, abandoning some portions in order to carve new. And then Carbonate Lake, born on May 18th, overtopped and breached its debris dam on November 7th, releasing a huge surge of water that sliced through a string of depressions. Almost two miles (3 km) later, a through-flowing channel had finally been completed. The upper North Fork Toutle River was reborn.

Not all depressions hooked up to become the river. Ponds still dot the debris avalanche. You can see a little blue gem of one gleaming just to the left of the river, there.

A small pond in the hummocky terrain of the debris avalanche deposit.

A small pond in the hummocky terrain of the debris avalanche deposit.

When you lift your eyes from the valley, you’ll notice the scene is dominated by Mount St. Helens. And you might expect me to discuss all of the exciting features left by the lateral blast, like that ginormous breach. And what’s up with that rather smooth ramp emerging therefrom? Why, if the the volcano isn’t currently erupting, is the snow on it so ashy? Patience, my dear geoadventurers! We shall come to that shortly. But first, let’s pay an up-close visit to one of the lakes born on May 18th.


Previous: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide I: Hoffstadt or Bust

Next: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide III: Coldwater Lake

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.


Decker, Barbara and Robert (2002): Road Guide to Mount St. Helens (Updated Edition). Double Decker Press.

Doukas, Michael P. (1990): Road Guide to Volcanic Deposits of Mount St. Helens and Vicinity, Washington. USGS Bulletin 1859.

Evarts, Russell C and Ashley, Roger P. (1992): Preliminary Geologic Map of the Elk Mountain Quadrangle, Cowlitz County, Washington. USGS Open-File Report 92-362.

Pringle, Patrick T. (2002): Roadside Geology of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Vicinity. Washington DNR Information Circular 88.

Simon, Andrew (1999): Channel and Drainage-Basin Response of the Toutle River System in the Aftermath of the 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington. USGS Open-File Report 96-633.

Fall Fishies in a Lost and Found Spring

Just down the road a bit from Proxy Falls, there’s a meadow where people can pull in to camp. Behind that meadow is a spring, which Anne Jefferson showed us in July of 2013. Anne knows all of the best places in the McKenzie River watershed! Lockwood, B, and I went back on our last visit to the area. This time, we found more than serene and lovely water – we found fishies!

Image shows a bit of blue-green water with a log fallen over it. Fishes are swimming in the clear, shallow, still water.

Fishies in the spring I

Many many fishies!

Same view, with a few more fishies in it.

Fishies in the spring II

Are they trout? I wanna say trout. But I know very little about fish. We used to go fishing at Lake Powell, but the only fish I ever caught were the wee little sunfish that would flock to the boat, knowing I’d give them a salmon egg feast if they’d just bite the hook and tolerate me hauling them up and releasing them. I’m told fish don’t feel a lot of pain. I certainly hope that’s true. Regardless, the little dudes were never deterred, and they’d flock around me for as long as the salmon eggs held out. I think I might have caught a perch or two once, out by Glen Canyon Dam, and maybe something else as a wee youngster, but I’m obviously not an inveterate lover of all things fish and fishing. I can’t identify them for carp. But I do enjoy encountering them, especially when I don’t have to fish for them.

The same scene. Many fish have gathered in the center of the shot.

Fishies in the spring III

You have no idea how long I stood there squeeing and filming. I tried several photos, which as you can see are not the bestest. We always manage to get there near sundown, and the trees block a lot of the light. I decided to try a video instead. I think it turned out rather well, all things considered.

Alas, it’s a bit unstable, but it got a bit blurred when I tried to stabilize, so I suppose we can live with shaky-cam. Hopefully, all of the above are adequate for identification purposes. What kind of fishies do you think our fall fishes in the spring are?

One Courageous Cormorant

There’s a cormorant in this picture. I swear to you. Yes, I know there are very violent waves going on, but there’s a little seabird floating in the midst of all that chaos. Can you see it?

Image shows a portion of Devils Churn. There are steep, black basalt walls, with waves pounding against them. In the center of the photo, against the far wall, there's a cormorant swimming serenely in water that looks rather murderous.

Cormorants have no fear of fishing in the Devils Churn.

Here, this may help. The cormorant was where the big wave is now:

Image was taken a second or two after the previous. There is a rather hefty wave where the cormorant was.

The cormorant has dived below.

No? Well, let’s zoom in:

Image is cropped from the first image to show the tiny head of the cormorant floating in the churning sea.

Can you see the cormorant now?

This is something I hadn’t experienced at Devils Churn before: a seabird unconcernedly fishing in surf roiling in and slamming off the stone walls of a narrow chasm. I mean, imagine trying to grab dinner in a ginormous washing machine on the agitation cycle. With a bull ramming it every few seconds. And sharp, unforgiving rocks plastered on the sides. If a human fell into the Churn, it would go very hard for them. But this little bird fished as happily as if it had been on the serenest of seas.

I have a gif for you, showing the little bugger riding the waves:

Image is a serious of photos showing the cormorant floating atop churning waves.

Our enterprising little cormorant doesn’t appear to suffer seasickness.

Both the original photos and the cropped images are here, if you want to take a more leisurely look. They’ll give you an idea of just how wild the waves were. Of course, you can also watch the video:

I love the fact that nature has supplied remarkable creatures to go with the astounding geology. I hope to discuss all of that soon, but for the moment, I must away to scream thoroughly into a pillow regarding the continuing idiocy in atheism, followed by a nice calming session of rock magnet production with B later this afternoon. B is getting your newest Christianist miseducation post typed up, so you have that to look forward to. Right?

Six Snubbed Women in Science

Someone (if only I could remember who!) recently linked this 2013 NatGeo article: 6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism. Rosalind Franklin is there, of course, but there are also women I’d never heard of: Esther Lederberg, Chien-Shiung Wu, and Nettie Stevens. The list hasn’t got any geologists, alas, but physics and biology are well-represented with one shout-out to astronomy.

Image shows Chinese scentist Chien-Shiung Wu smiling at the camera in an old black-and-white photo.

Chien-Shiung Wu. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m happy to be living in a time when women are finally beginning to get the recognition they deserve, but there’s a long way to go. I’ll be bringing back our Pioneering Women in the Geosciences series soon, now that summer field season is over. We won’t let their contributions be forgotten.


Originally published at Rosetta Stones.

Yet Moar Greetings from Oregon

Home now. Very tired. Gonna go take the rest of the evening off after I post this, which will probably involve chocolate, kitty cuddles, a warm bath, nearly-mindless reading, and SO MUCH SLEEP. But I couldn’t do those things without grabbing you all some pretty photos from the last day of the trip.

We stopped along the Siuslaw River a bit outside of Florence, OR. There’s a wee little park where, during the first trip we ever took, Lockwood took us for a view of the river and the turbedites that are such a huge component of the Coast Range there. I couldn’t resist the tug of nostalgia. And the calm river reflecting the autumn colors was magic. I’ll show you all that when I put together the autumn extravaganza posts I plan. For now, have some (probable) turbedite chunks reflecting in the river.

Image shows the far river bank, where a pyramid-shaped gray boulder and a smaller dark-gray one shaped a bit like a helmet are reflected in the river.

Rocks reflect.

We’ll be talking lots about turbedites one of these days. Hopefully, you’ll end up loving them as much as I do.

After lunch at a little tea room in Florence, we dropped by the Darlingtonia Wayside to show B carnivorous plants, and then decided to splurge on Sea Lion Caves. We’d never done that before, because you have to buy tickets for everyone, and the expense for a few minutes of seeing lots of sea lions plastered all over a sea cave just never seemed attractive compared to all of the other things we could be doing, many of which are free if you have a Northwest Forest Pass or go to a county park. But Lockwood’s been talking about it for a long time, and decided that we’re doing it this time. This turned out to be an awesome deal, because the sea lions are currently out to sea feeding up for the winter. This means the cave’s sans sea lions, the tickets are discounted, and you can use the same ticket to come back for free when the sea lions return. If you’re local, it’s a bargain. And the cave really is bloody amazing. I was able to shoot it without sea lions all in the way of the geology, which thrilled me to bits. We’ll be doing a post on that someday, hopefully soonish, but here’s a taste:

Image shows waves rolling in through a cleft in the basalt, with a diffuse glow from the sunlight at the far end of the cave.

Waves slipping through the tunnel.

This cave is huge, and there are channels to other bits of it, and the open sea beyond, and it’s enchanting. Especially when it isn’t obscured by biological entities. Don’t despair, seal fans! I will go back when the sea lions are there, and get you plenty of those, too. I’m just glad I got to see it without first.

That’s looking roughly south. On the other side, you basically walk up a set of stairs with a wooden canopy over them that keeps you from getting soaked by the water drip-dripping from the roof, and get this magnificent view at the end:

Image shows Heceta Head lighthouse and a swath of rocky shoreline. Foreground is framed by the dark walls of the cave.

Heceta Head Lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves.

How lovely is that?

After we got done admiring great coastal cave geology, we headed on up to Devils Churn, which I haven’t been to since our first trip. The whole Cape Perpetua area is incredible, and one I could happily spend many days at, but we only had a few hours. It was enough, at least, to shoot a great old tree:

Image shows the thick trunk and a huge lower branch of a spruce. The ocean is visible, framed by the curving tree limb.

Gnarly old tree.

We didn’t get a chance to play in the tide pools, because although this trip was meant to take advantage of low tides, we never did get to the coast when the tide was low. Silly us. I didn’t care a bit. There was a storm out to sea, which meant great waves.

Image shows rugged basalt, with a pool of water in the foreground, and the sea in the background. On the left, a wave has hit the basalt, looking like an eruption of water.

Wave breaking against the basalt.

And all I could do was stand there and stare in awe at everything.

Image shows me standing on the basalt, looking out to sea, with the mouth of the Churn in front of me. Waves are breaking against the rocks.

Moi at Devils Churn

It’s nice to be back home, with my kitty sleeping peacefully beside me, but I do wish I could be back on that coast, watching the waves break. Twas glorious.

Thanks, as always, to Lockwood, for making sure we get to see all the awesome things!