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…

Map of Lituya Bay, showing extent of damage from tsunami (USGS)

The Other Great Alaskan Earthquake


Sixty years ago this month, on the quiet evening of July 9, 1958, the Fairweather Fault in Southeastern Alaska shifted 21 feet laterally and three feet vertically, a ML 7.8 earthquake. The violent shaking caused a massive landslide at the head of the Lituya Bay, on the northeasterly wall of Gilbert Inlet. From as high…

Now THIS is a time suck!

Geology 101: WC’s New Internet Toy


WC can report a new and entertaining way to waste time assiduously study on the internet. Sometime in 2016, the United States Geological Survey created an on-line, interactive geological map of Alaska. If you are a geologist, professional or amateur, it’s about as cool a toy as the Series of Tubes™ has to offer. WC…