Red Hill from the Loop Trail, Painted Hills Unit, John Day Fossil Beds Nat'l Monument, Oregon

Notes on Geologic Time


Geologic time can be beyond human comprehension. Sure, geologists have broken it into units: periods, epochs and stages, but it is still mind-numbingly vast. And at the same time, just a bit facile. Let’s use the Oligocene Epoch as an example. On the one hand, in terns of the history of the planet, the period…

Large Daphoenine skull, a "bear dog" skull, about 18 mya

Really a Fossil


WC has written a couple of times recently about the John Day Fossil Beds but, as a reader pointed out, hasn’t shown his readers any fossils. Partly that’s because the unwashed masses like WC aren’t permitted to see very many fossils in the wild. Partly that’s because paleontology isn’t really one of WC’s interest areas.…

Painted Hills, Painted Hills Unit, John Day Fossil Beds Nat'l Monument

Geology 101: Northeastern Oregon


To paraphrase the great John McPhee in Assembling California, most of Oregon, like most Oregonians, originally came from somewhere else. Specifically, the Wallowa, Baker, Izee and Olds Ferry Terranes originated out in the Pacific Ocean and over the course of millions of years and the inexorable forces of plate tectonics they collided with the North American…

Thomas Condon, undated photo believed to be from the 1870s

Thomas Condon and Oregon Geology


WC’s fascination with geology began with classes at the University of Oregon. Most of those classes – all of them, except for Introduction to Geology (“Rocks for Jocks”) – were held in Condon Hall. WC honestly never gave a moment’s thought to the building’s name. There were sophomoric jokes about it, but there were jokes…

Machete Ridge, one of the Pinnacles in Pinnacles National Park, California

Yes, Mountains Do Move


Old jokes about Muhammad and the mountain aside, mountains do move. WC was quite recently a visitor to a mountain that has moved some 190 miles. True, the mountain has taken some 22-23 million years to move that far. It’s also true that only about two-thirds of the mountain made the trip; the other third,…

Steens Mountain: Good News and Bad News


Steens Mountain, in southeast Oregon, is the largest fault block mountain in North America. 30 miles across on the rim side, and 25 miles long on the gentler westerly slope, it reaches an altitude of just under 10,000 feet, 6,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. Steens Mountain is like a giant 30 mile-wide trap door,…

A geological map of Valley County, Idaho

Geology and Payette Lake


Geologists tend to have a strange time sense. Mostly, they live in the present, year-to-year, decade to decade, like the rest of us. But their profession also requires them to live in geologic time, in epochs spanning millions of years. A geologist would look at Payette Lake in both ways: a beautiful, blue and blessedly…