Devils Tower is beautiful in autumn

October 25, 2013

Or any other time of year.

From the Department of Interior Twitter feeds:

 Devils Tower NM. pic.twitter.com/YRo1U8DSMQ

US Dept of Interior ‏@Interior 16h Is there any doubt fall is best enjoyed in America’s great outdoors? Here’s great example from Devils Tower NM. pic.twitter.com/YRo1U8DSMQ

What do you think Richard Dreyfus thinks when he sees that?  Stephen Spielberg?

Devils Tower NM” means “National Monument,” not New Mexico.  This volcano remnant stands in Wyoming.

Old friend, painter and photographer Nancy Christensen Littlefield offers a more close-up view.

Devil's Tower on a July morning.  Photo by Nancy Christensen LIttlefield.

Devil’s Tower on a July morning. Photo by Nancy Christensen LIttlefield.

And looking even closer, you spy Richard Dreyfus never-wanna-bes:

Climbers on Devil's Tower. Photographer Nancy Littlefield

Climbers on Devils Tower. Photographer Nancy Littlefield said: “There were Native American prayer bundles along the trail around the base. It really is awe inspiring. Early morning gives you the best light to photograph it by.”

Devils Tower is the plug of an old volcano.  What’s left is the magma that hardened, and what we see is left after the softer cone eroded away.

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Is your science class as smart as a U-Haul truck?

October 23, 2013

We had to fight to keep this stuff in Texas science books.

Then, out on the street, I see a U-Haul truck.

U-Haul truck features geographic information, and geology information

U-Haul truck features geographic information, and geology information, about Arkansas and its Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Detail:  U-Haul truck features a graphic description of the geology and information about Arkansas's Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Detail: U-Haul truck features a graphic description of the geology and information about Arkansas’s Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Well played, U-Haul.  Can Texas catch up?

Update, October 24, 2013:  Turns out U-Haul has a website that features all of the graphics they use on their trucks.  I sense a geography or state history assignment in here, somewhere, social studies teachers.  Reminds me of the animals that used to (still do?) grace the tails of Frontier Airlines airplanes, the Native American on the tails of Alaska Airlines, and other specific destination promoting tricks businesses have used over the years.  Wish more businesses would do that.

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What rocks Yosemite? Granite

July 7, 2013

Yosemite’s Nature Notes #20 (I’m behind):  A short film discussing the astonishing manifestations of granite in Yosemite National Park.

English: El Capitan in Yosemite National Park ...

El Capitan in Yosemite National Park viewed from the Valley Floor — one of the more famous granite formations in the Park. Wikipedia image

The film is simply named, “Granite.”  Steven Bumgardner produced the film.

Yosemite’s chief formations are granite, an igneous rock.  Much of the terrain was carved in the granite by glaciers and glaciation — so what Yosemite shows is how fire and ice combine to make rock, to make rock formations, and to make rocks of astonishing beauty.

(This is not a place to bolster creationist ideas.  This is real science, looking at God’s handiwork first hand.)

A North Carolina university makes field trips to Yosemite?  I’d love to take that class!

Watching this film, you get a sense of how important it can be to the education of our children to travel in the summers, to take vacations to our National Parks, and to places like Yosemite.

Where are you taking your kids this summer?  Kids, where are you going?

Enjoy it.  Geology lessons are often fun, and this one, on film, is more fun than most.

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Close-up of granite from Yosemite National Par...

Close-up of granite from Yosemite National Park, valley of the Merced River – Wikipedia image


Darwin’s death, April 19, 1882

April 20, 2013

We shouldn’t get out of April 19 — a day marked by significant historic events through the past couple hundred years — without remembering that it is also the anniversary of the death of Darwin.

Charles Darwin in 1881, by John Collier

Charles Darwin in 1881, portrait by John Collier; after a Collier painting hanging in the Royal Society

Immortality?  Regardless Darwin’s religious beliefs (I’ll argue he remained Christian, thank you, if you wish to argue), he achieved immortality solely on the strength of his brilliant work in science. Of course he’s best known for being the first to figure out that natural and sexual selection worked as tools to sculpt species over time, a theory whose announcement he shared with Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently arrived at almost exactly the same theory but without the deep evidentiary backup Darwin had amassed.

But had evolution turned out to be a bum theory, Darwin’s other works would have qualified him as one of the greatest scientists of all time, including:

Darwin's theory set out a sequence of coral re...

Darwin’s theory set out a sequence of coral reef formation around an extinct volcanic island, becoming an atoll as the island and ocean floor subsided. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US Geological Survey graphic demonstrating how coral atolls form on the sinking remains of old volcanic sea mounts, as Darwin described. Wikimedia commons image

  • World’s greatest collector of biological samples:  During his five years’ voyage on HMS Beagle, Darwin collected the largest collection of diverse plant and animal life ever by one person (I believe the record still stands); solely on the strength of his providing actual examples to the British Museum of so much life in so many different ecosystems worldwide, before he was 30 Darwin won election to the Royal Society.  (His election was engineered partly by friends who wanted to make sure he stayed in science, and didn’t follow through on his earlier plan to become a preacher.)
  • Geology puzzle solver:  Coral atolls remained a great geological mystery.  Sampling showed coral foundations well below 50 feet deep, a usual limit for coral growth.  In some cased old, dead coral were hundreds of feet deep.  In the South Pacific, Darwin looked at a number of coral atolls, marvelous “islands” that form almost perfectly circular lagoons.  Inspired partly by Lyell’s new encyclopedic review of  world geology, Darwin realized that the atolls he saw were the peaks of volcanic mounts.  Darwin hypothesized that the volcanoes grew from the ocean floor to the surface, and then the islands were colonized by corals.  The round shape of the volcano gave the atoll its shape.  Then the volcanic mounts eroded back, or sank down, and corals continued to grow on the old foundations.  It was a perfectly workable, natural explanation for a long-standing geologic puzzle.  (See Darwin’s monograph, Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs.)
  • Patient watcher of flowers:  Another great mystery, this time in biology, concerned how vines twined themselves onto other plants, rocks and structures.  Darwin’s genius in designing experiments shone here:  He put a vine in his study, and watched it.  Over several hours, he observed vine tendrils flailing around, until they latched on to something, and then the circular flailing motion wrapped the tendril around a stick or twig. Simple observation, but no one had ever attempted it before.  (See On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants.)
  • Champion of earthworms, and leaf mould:  Darwin suspected the high fertilizer value of “leaf mould” might be related to the action of earthworms.  Again, through well-designed experiments and simple observation, Darwin demonstrated that worms moved and aerated soil, and converted organic matter into even richer fertilizer. (See The Formation of Vegetable Moulds Through the Action of Worms.)
  • Creation of methodological science:  In all of this work, Darwin explained his processes for designing experiments, and controls, and made almost as many notes on how to observe things, as the observations themselves.  Probably more than any other single man, Darwin invented and demonstrated the use of a series of processes we now call “the scientific method.”  He invented modern science.

Any of those accomplishments would have been a career-capping work for a scientist.  Darwin’s mountains of work still form foundations of geology and biology, and are touchstones for genetics.

Born within a few hours of Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 1809, Darwin survived 17 years longer — 17 extremely productive years.  Ill through much of his life with mystery ailments, perhaps Chaga’s Disease, or perhaps some other odd parasite or virus he picked up on his world travels, Darwin succumbed to heart disease on April 19, 1882.

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Other side of the mountain: Timpanogos

February 26, 2013

East side of Timpanogos, by the Heber Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau:

Mt. Timpanogos, east side. Heber Valley CVB photo

Mt. Timpanogos, east side. Heber Valley CVB photo. Click image for larger view.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Susan Reeve Lewis.


Time machine! For Digital Learning Day

February 6, 2013

Screen shot from HHMI's iPad app, Earth Viewer -- the time machine function.

Screen shot from HHMI’s iPad app, Earth Viewer — the time machine function.

Stealing the entire post from P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula:

I’ve been playing with it for a while. It turns out that when you go back to Cretaceous Morris, you need to be able to swim really well, but Cambrian Morris is high and dry on a fairly small landmass (whoa, but oxygen is way down and carbon dioxide way up). You can have your own time machine, too — it’s the EarthViewer app for iPad, and it’s free from HHMI Here’s what it has:

• Data and continental reconstructions dating back billions of years

• Climate and carbon dioxide data for the last 100 years

• The ability to manipulate the globe and zoom to any location

• Track the location of modern cities back over 500 million years

• In depth features on major geological and biological events in Earth history

• Clickable details on geologic eons, eras, and periods

• Automated play modes

• An extensive reference list

• Suggestions for classroom use

• Tutorial videos

Did I mention that it’s free? This HHMI thing is pretty danged sweet.

There is no creationist/Noah’s Flood version.

No Windows version, yet, either.

Did we mention the Howard Hughes Medical Institute made this and related apps free?


Millard Canyon, Utah — not named for Millard Fillmore

January 14, 2013

Winter view of Millard Canyon, Canyonlands NP, Utah

Caption from the NPS crew at Canyonlands National Park: View from the Maze: Millard Canyon’s winter mood. We are looking north. Note how the heat from the east to southeast facing cliffs has melted the snow below – even in this ultra-frigid time. Taking a break under a southeast facing cliff is a good way to warm up while on a Canyonlands hike. (GC) (via Facebook)

In a state where they once named the proposed state capital “Fillmore,” and the county in which that town sat, “Millard,” to try to curry favor with President Millard Fillmore for the state’s petition to gain statehood, one might logically think that a spectacular desert canyon not far away called Millard Canyon might also be named in honor of our 13th president.

LocMap Canyonlands National Park

Location map, Canyonlands National Park, image from Wikipedia

Not so, in this case.  According to John W. van Cott’s Utah Place Names (University of Utah Press, 1990):

MILLARD CANYON (Garfield County) originates at French Springs southeast of Hans Flat. The canyon drains north northeast into the Green River at Queen Anne Bottom. According to Baker, “They learned later that they had misunderstood this name; instead of honoring a president, it was named for an undistinguished `Miller’ who did nothing more than leave this small, mistaken mark on the map” (Baker, Pearl. Robbers Roost Recollections. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1976, p. 33). The name was even misspelled Millard.

Millard Fillmore is off the hook on this one.

Garfield County, Utah, was named after President James Garfield.

So, who was this “Miller” guy?

(Post inspired by image from the Canyonlands NP Facebook site; temperature at the time of the photo was near 0°F.)

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