Welcome to Mordor!


Since Mordor was opened to tourism in February 2020 – the arrival of COVID-19 was likely but not certainly a coincidence – it’s become a popular destination for those folks wanting to escape from the pandemic and yet be reasonably safe from infection by the virus. Mordor, of course, is all about social distancing. WC…

Blast It


WC has written before about the July 3 major rockslide that closed U.S. 95 in Idaho between New Meadows and Riggins. U.S. 95 is the only paved road running north-south the length of Idaho, so it was a big deal. The rock that came down was a mix of Idaho Batholith granodiorite and the metamorphosed…

Zircon crystalline structure (via USGS)

Zircons: Nature’s Tiny Time Capsules


Do you remember Contac Cold Medicine’s advertisement claiming “Over 600 tiny time pills in one Contac capsule relieve head cold congestion all day long”? Well, Zircons are nearly indestructible, natural tiny time pills that pack an amazing amount of information into even tinier grains, preserving it for billions of years. They are worth knowing a…

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Plate Tectonics: What Makes It Go?


WC had a question from a reader, noting that WC writes about plate tectonics “all the time” but has never explained what makes the various plates move. Oddly enough, plate tectonics as a geological theory was well developed before the mechanism that causes the movement was understood. If the evidence for plate tectonics was not…

Upper Lick Creek Valley, Idaho

Lick Creek Notebook: July 2020


WC has written before about Lick Creek, most recently in September 2019. In that last post, WC promised he’d be back. That happened this week, in a roundabout way. WC and Mrs. WC escaped Boise’s mid-summer heat with a visit to the family cabin in McCall. But for the drive up we left Idaho 55…

Lincoln Sparrow, Bull Trout Lake, Idaho

Field Notes: Bull Trout Lake


Bull Trout Lake is a natural lake, not a reservoir, located near the divide between the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and the South Fork of the Payette River.1 It’s almost certainly glacier carved. At 7,300 feet, it’s easily high enough to have been glaciated during the Laurentide Glaciation, and the surrounding pot hole…

View of Okmok's ash plume emitting from multiple vents near intracaldera Cone D, taken at about 1:30 pm on August 3, 2008 by Jessica Larsen, Alaska Volcano Observatory, Geophysical Institute

Oh, Sure, Blame Alaska


Now Alaska is being blamed for the fall of the Roman Republic. Sheesh. WC doesn’t remember that being discussed at all Edward Gibbon’s classic Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. . An environmental researcher named Joe McConnell and his colleagues examining ice cores from northern Greenland found volcanic ash and sulfuric acid in ice layers laid…

Hell's Canyon from the Oregon Side. The Seven Devils Mountains are in the background. The gorge is visible just to the right of trees, but not the Snake River

Geology 101: The Columbia River Basalt Group


WC’s Geomorphology instructor, a visiting professor from Columbia University, told WC’s Geomorphology class on the first day, “There is some really intereting geology in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, it’s all buried under thousands of feet of basalt.” That’s a slight exaggeration, but when you stand at the Hell’s Canyon Overlook, above the Snake River Gorge,…

Little Salmon River Valley at Pollock, Idaho

Geology Is Messy: The Little Salmon River


The Little Salmon River – and it really is little in comparison to Idaho’s Salmon River – run mostly north from New Meadows to Riggins, at the confluence of the Little Salmon and the Salmon, about 45 river miles. It follows a fault that marks part of the suture created when the Seven Devils Terrane…

November 2002 Quake Fault Trace Crossing Richardson Highway

Now This Was an Earthquake


On November 3, 2002, just a little after noon, WC was upstairs at his home in Fairbanks, working on his email. Mrs. WC was downstairs doing chores. The whole house gave a very strong, sudden and sharp jerk. There was a pause. And then continuously, for two minutes and 18 seconds, the house thrashed around…

Source: 5/14/20 Barry Arm Landslide Working Group Letter

The Barry Arm Problem


WC has written before about this summer working on the R/V Acona for the University of Alaska’s Institute of Marine Science. One of the research projects involved a trip to Lituya Bay, in the northwestern part of of Southeast Alaska. In 1958, an earthquake and consequent landslide created what was then the largest tsunami –…

Buried and then partially exposed gravel bar, Salmon River Canyon, Idaho

Geology 101: How Conglomerates Happen


A lot of sedimentary rocks are composed of other sedimentary rocks. But no rock is more obviously composed of other rocks than conglomerate.1 Geology’s technical language is both an annoyance and sometimes lovely. The language can be a barrier to understanding. WC’s geology text described conglomerate as A coarse-grained clastic sedimentary rock that is composed…

Kilauea lava flow entering the ocean, January 2003

Nawww


Growing up in Fairbanks, WC’s friend Donnie Ensinger had the annoying habit of listening to you attentively, then scrunching up his face and saying, “Nawww” in a tone that conveyed both skepticism and smart-ass.1 It could be infuriating, but it could also be pretty funny. Memes didn’t exist at the time, but if they had,…

Exotic Terranes of Eastern South-central Alaska; the arriviste is green-colored. A lot of geologists would extend the Yakutat Terrane west to the Ragged Mountain Fault. (Based on NPS Wrangell-St. Elias – A Collage of Terranes)

The Yakutat Terrane: A Geologic Arriviste


Arriviste — someone who is just beginning to arrive, esp. an ambitious or ruthlessly self-seeking person, who has recently acquired wealth or social status. You may think that “arriviste” is a strange term to apply to a geologic terrane, but stay with WC on this and he will explain himself. An exotic terrane is a piece of…

Waimea Canyon from the lower lookout, Kauai, Hawai'i

Erosion Always Wins: Kauai


In WC’s Geomorphology class, on the first day, the professor (whose name WC has forgotten) told us, “If you only take one thing away for this course, it should be this: Erosion always wins.” If you need proof of that claim, you should visit Kauai, the oldest of the principle islands of the Hawai’ian Islands.…

Upper Hulls Gulch Trail, looking east, Autumn 2019

Boise Front Notebook: Geology is Messy


The Boise Front is the local name for the foothills that rise steeply up behind Boise to the southwest side of the Idaho Batholith. It’s a dramatic setting; a wall of steep mountains that appear to go straight up, immediately behind the city. The reality is much more complex.  Boise lies on the northern edge…