Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Answer to Sunday's Mystery Quiz...And Where I'm Headed Tomorrow

The answer is: Death Valley National Park!

I admit that I was trying to be a bit deceptive with my pictures. Many people have a stereotypical image of Death Valley that includes salt flats, sand dunes, and miners with their burros tramping over barren desert mountains. Those things are part of what Death Valley is, but there is so much more.

I mentioned in Sunday's post that Death Valley is possibly the most geological park in the entire National Park System. The reasons for saying this include what I pointed out before: "the park contains rocks from every major era, ranging in age from as much as 2.3 billion years ago, including perhaps the most complete Paleozoic sequence of rocks found anywhere (something like 20,000 feet of Paleozoic rocks, including formations from each period), rocks from the Mesozoic (including plutonic granitic rocks), and a sequence of early Cenozoic sediments known for their mammalian fossils. The youngest rocks in the park may be only a few hundred years old."
There are other superlatives that can be added: the lowest point in the western hemisphere, the hottest temperature ever recorded on planet Earth, the driest place in North America, and features like the mysterious sliding stones of Racetrack Playa, the strange "turtleback" faults and metamorphic core complexes, Lake Manly (the freshwater lake that filled Death Valley 600 feet deep during the ice ages), and four species of fish (!!) including possibly the most endangered vertebrate species on Earth, the Devils Hole Pupfish.

There's more: the Ubehebe Craters, classic maar volcanoes that may have exploded only a few centuries ago, the badlands topography of Zabriskie Point, the Badwater salt pan, evidence of previous Death Valley type grabens that formed 15-20 million years ago, Neogene tuff deposits recording a wave of rhyolite eruptions across the American West, and the iconic sand dune fields.
As I said before, the park is so extensive and intricate, one could explore it for years and always find new treasures. If you are curious, the top picture is a view towards northern Death Valley from the lower end of Titus Canyon. The road through Titus is an epic adventure where one drives not over, but through a mountain range. The second picture is from the deepest part of the canyon, where the walls rise 3,000 feet, providing a Grand Canyon kind of feeling.

The third picture is one of the unexpected pleasures of exploring Death Valley. In the newer part of the park on the western side of Panamint Valley there is a permanent spring system and a 20 foot high waterfall. Darwin Falls is only a mile of hiking, and is a pleasant contrast to the barren desert.
The last picture is Mosaic Canyon, a better known part of the park, but a place with strange secrets. The mosaics are breccias and conglomerates that have been plastered to the sides of the canyon, but structural geologists seek out the exquisite structures revealed in the yellowish Noonday Dolomite of latest Proterozoic age. Callan Bentley of Mountain Beltway recently posted some neat shots of the folds in the lower canyon.

So that's where I'm taking 25 or so students tomorrow. It's hard for me to think of another single park or region that offers so much geologic diversity in one place.

Of course, you may have a different opinion...is there a place in the world that has more geologic diversity than Death Valley? I would love to know what you think!
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