Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
|It doesn't look so big...yet|
Sipapu Bridge to me was stunning. I've been to Natural Bridges many times in the past, but we've always taken the shorter trail to the very scenic, but much smaller, Owachomo Bridge (span 180 feet /55 meters, with a height of 106 feet/32 meters). This bridge was something else entirely. So was the hike out, a climb of 600 feet in just over a half mile. It was worth every step!
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
The mountains in the picture are probably right about the latitude of Mt. Hoffman and and the Sierra Crest above Tuolumne Meadows. It's a strange and beautiful sight brought about by tragic fires. I'd rather have the homes and forests back. More than 450 square miles have burned in the Sierra and Coast Ranges in the last few weeks.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
|Mt. Konocti and Clear Lake, an archaeological treasure in Central California|
the Valley Fire), in the Mother Lode east of Jackson (the Butte Fire), and in Kings Canyon (the Rough Fire). More than 450 square miles have burned so far. Between them, the fires have killed five people, destroyed more than 1,000 homes, and we can now look forward to flooding and mudslides if the predicted El Nino weather pattern follows expectations.
The specific problem highlighted in the article is that fire scorched lands can expose archaeological sites. This can be a good thing if the land is protected and patrolled on a regular basis. In Mesa Verde National Park, fires burned something like three-quarters of the park in a decade's time, and several thousand new archaeological sites were discovered in the aftermath. In coming years, these discoveries will provide vast amounts of new information about the Ancestral Puebloan people. It's a treasure, but a protected treasure. Anyone trying to loot sites at Mesa Verde is likely to be apprehended in short order.
|California Quail at Clear Lake|
Archaeology in California can be far more difficult. The earliest humans in the state didn't make stone houses, so village sites are generally harder to find and assess. In the Coast Ranges and Great Valley where many early groups lived are under private ownership, and in many cases the sites have been deeply altered, for instance by agricultural and urban development.
Clear Lake, north of the Bay Area, is an interesting and little-known part of California. It is the largest natural lake in the state (Lake Tahoe is bigger, but extends into Nevada). It developed because of faulting that formed the lake basin, along with landslides and lava flows that blocked the outlet. Nearby Mt. Konocti (4,305 feet; 1,312 m) is a composite volcano composed primarily of dacite lava that erupted around 350,000 years ago, although the latest eruptions took place only 10,000 years before the present. And people might have been there to see it.
The lake is one of the more important regions for understanding the earliest inhabitants of California. There were a number of good reasons for this. The lava flows in the area provided obsidian for toolmaking. The lake was a secure source of water (and food) even in the most intense droughts. The oak woodlands provided a secure source of food, including the acorns and the animals that consumed the acorns. People have lived in the area for upwards of 11,000-12,000 years, from the end of the last major ice age when Mammoths and Sabertooth Cats still roamed the hills.
|Butterfly at Clear Lake|
The fires and drought have exposed archaeological sites along the lake shore and in the surrounding hills, and looters have been committing their crimes. It is a felony to plunder an archaeological site, but there is no budget to maintain patrols, and maybe no political will to deal with the underlying problems that lead people to plunder in the first place. I'm enraged that ISIS in the Middle East is systematically destroying the heritage of humanity in Syria and Iraq, but drug addicts and criminals are doing the same thing right here in my own backyard. The despoiled artifacts in the Middle East had at least been studied and documented. Here in California we'll never know what was lost. It's a crying shame.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
We have a drainage pond on our west campus at the edge of town. It's been a mostly neglected corner of the campus, used occasionally to graze sheep from our agricultural unit. I've been exploring it for the last two years looking to photograph birds (forty species and counting). It's not far from our Science Community Center and Great Valley Museum. The museum and science teaching facility are new, and have garnered a great deal of community interest, with a planetarium, observatory, Science on a Sphere, and all kinds of science-related exhibits. The final jewel in the crown, an outdoor education laboratory, was sort of a political football in the last year or two as the bond issue that paid for these incredible educational facilities started to run short.
Luckily, there is funding in place to build the outdoor lab, with plans in place to plant native vegetation and habitat for animals that could thrive there. The California Drought, about to enter a fifth year, put the kibosh on what was to be a central attraction, a pond. No new water features, they said.
We're going to let nature decide that issue for us. We will be designing an artificial vernal pool, a habitat almost unique to our valley. Such pools only hold water after storms in the winter and spring, and give rise to a number of endemic plants and animals. In the meantime, our attention shifted to the drainage pond. It's been there since World War II and has evolved into a natural habitat, sort of a mini-wilderness on the edge of our campus. Since we can't make new ponds, we are going to make improvements to the old one, putting in walkways, and adding a platform that students and visitors can use to take water samples and observe wildlife.
It's always a thrill to see a bit of wildness in the middle of an urban environment. That's what the picture above is about. I had my own thrill of discovery as I was taking an evening walk before class. If you look at the left side of the picture, you'll see a bit of nature staring back at me.
Postscript: As cute as they are, the Red Foxes are not native to California. There is a threatened subspecies, the Sierra Red Fox, that lives in the higher parts of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Range. All others across the state were introduced more than a century ago and have proved a problem in many ecosystems, as they eat just about anything and adapt easily to new environments at the expense of native species. I don't know what role they play in our area, or if they are a problem. My feeling is that they help control rodent populations on the campus, but I'm no biologist!
Monday, September 14, 2015
Exploring the Southern Cascade Range or Yosemite National Park for College Credit! Sept. 24-28 and Oct. 9-11
|Captain Jack's Stronghold, where the Modoc people held out for months against U.S. troops. The site is protected today as Lava Beds National Monument.|
|The opening of Skull Cave, the largest lava tube entrance in Lava Beds National Monument.|
|Valentine Cave in Lava Beds National Monument|
|McArthur-Burney Falls in the Cascade Range|
|Lassen Peak is the most recent volcano to erupt in California, in 1914-15.|
Sunday, September 13, 2015
On the Road in the Pacific Northwest: The introduction and overview of the new blog series.
Following the Cascadia Subduction Zone on Highway 101: This post provided the geological background for understanding the hazards of living in the lands influenced by the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
In This Land of the Sasquatch There are Ancient Giants: The first leg of our journey took us through the range of the California Redwoods and the land of black bears that look suspiciously like walking ape-people.
The End is Coming (of the Cascadia Subduction Zone): The end of Cascadia is a slow process, but the zone is disappearing slowly, being replaced by the San Andreas fault. It's also a look at one of the loneliest beaches in California.
A Geologist Walks Onto a Bar in Cascadia: Exploring the unique baymouth bars along the Humboldt county coast.
Northern California's Tsunami Central: Crescent City has a tragic history of tsunamis, especially the one in 1964 that took a dozen lives and destroyed the marina and downtown areas.
This "Dismal Forest Prison" and other problems exploring the Northwest: The Pacific Northwest was particularly difficult to explore and map, at least if you weren't part of the indigenous culture. Here are some accounts of the discovery of Humboldt Bay by land.
Into the Land of Sand, and Exploding Whales: Between Coos Bay and Florence, Oregon, is the longest stretch of sand beaches and dunes in the Pacific Northwest. Yeah, and the whale thing...
Into the Realm of the Devil (and Sea Lions): There are a lot of things named for the devil on the Oregon coast for some reason. And some incredible sea caves occupied by sea lions.
Putting on a Happy Face at Dismal Nitch and Cape Disappointment: We reach the mouth of the Columbia River, where Lewis and Clark reached their goal. It's undergone a great many changes over the years.
Into the Rainforest, Seeing Something Strange...Rain: We explore the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park for the first time, and encounter something strange, at least this year: rain. There was also a fire burning in the rainforest. That's not normal.
The Diverse Landscapes of Olympic National Park: Olympic is one of the most diverse of our national parks, with alpine glaciers, rainforests, and coastlines. It's spectacular.
The Salish Sea and the Strait of Juan de Fuca: Glaciers and tectonics combined to form a seaway east of Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula. It's a unique ecosystem quite distinct from the Pacific Ocean just a few miles away.
Stone Rings, Glaciers, and "Dinosaurs" on the Coast of the Salish Sea: Desecrated burial mounds, avian dinosaurs, and glacial landscapes. Victoria on Vancouver is both a beautiful city and a fascinating place to explore.
Exploring North America's Southernmost Fjord: We take the ferry to the mainland, making landfall inside of the southernmost glacial fjord in North America, Howe Sound in British Columbia (defined here as on the mainland, but connected to the ocean; opinions differ!).
Landing Place of the Thunderbird and the Grimy One, the Volcanoes of British Columbia: Black Tusk and Mt. Garibaldi two of the northernmost volcanoes in the Cascade Range. I missed them last year in the rain, but saw them this time.
Controversial Stone People, Fire and Ice, and an Olympic Legacy: We made it to Whistler and the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The stone people were controversial, but the scenery was not. It was spectacular.
Seeing Volcanoes from the Inside Out at Siám' Smánit (Stawamus Chief): Glaciers and granite! Stawamus Chief is a dramatic granitic dome rising high above the end of Howe Sound. It was once the magma chamber of a volcano.
Our Tour of the Greatest National Park I Never Once Set Foot In: North Cascades National Park is a true primeval wilderness. No roads penetrate the park boundaries. But what incredible scenery!
The Geology that Explains Why North Cascades is a Park Divided: The Skagit River may be the most altered water course in the Pacific Northwest, but it provides 20% of Seattle's electricity. It splits a national park in two.
What's East of North (Cascades), A Brief Explore: North Cascades doesn't have all the scenery; the lands to the east are rather spectacular too, and offer some great geology.
Playing Hide and Seek with a Sleeping Monster: Mt. Baker is not the most active volcano in the Cascade Range, but it is capable of great mayhem. It even looked for awhile like it might blow back in 1975.
Danger Follows Us Home (As it does all of us): A Mt. Shasta drive-by (photo) shooting, and a wrap-up of the series. Danger is always with us no matter where we are. It's not to be feared, but respected and prepared for.