Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Saturday, July 24, 2021
When I was a kid in Ontario, California in the 1960s, we possessed one of those wonderful things that kids don't have enough of today: a big backyard. There was room enough for a big lawn for ball games, large hedges and trees, and climbable walls around the lot. And enough bare ground that a kid could dig nice deep holes, looking for fossils or buried treasures. But what I found when digging those holes was a lot of rocks. Big rocks, cobbles really, of granite and gneiss and schist, although I didn't know those terms at the time. But I did wonder where the rocks came from.
Earth science wasn't much of a thing in my primary education in the 1960s, but I knew enough to think the somewhat rounded rocks came from a river. But there were no rivers to speak of in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles. I got an education about that in 1969 when the biggest floods in nearly two generations hit the valley. Streets turned into rivers, and numerous houses and buildings were destroyed by mudflows coming out of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. Nearby Day Canyon recorded an outflow corresponding to 33 inches of precipitation across its small drainage basin in 24 hours on February 25, a state record.
|The perspective of this photo may deceptive; all the road you see here is sloping downhill for the entire 14 miles|
And then, in the 1970s, it was high school and the cross-country team. A favorite training route was to run up Euclid Avenue in Ontario and Upland (AKA State Route 83). It still is one of the prettiest city roads in the state, with a wide median planted in Pepper Trees and numerous architecturally distinctive homes dating from the early 1900s. It runs for 14 miles in a straight line from San Antonio Heights to the Chino Hills.
On the easy days we needed only to run a four-mile out-and-back practice to Foothill Avenue, but when the coaches were bearing down, we needed to run all the way up to Baseline or further (6-8 miles). The thing is, the farther one ran up the hill, the steeper it got. Thus was my introduction to the geometry of alluvial fans. During the mudflows and flashfloods that produce the fans, the coarser debris drops out first, and finer-grained materials get carried further out into the plains below. A fan has a concave profile, becoming steepest at the top.
Some days, the coaches would drive us up into the barrens at the top of the fan, and our runs included a series of breathtaking terraces (and I mean this in the literal sense, as we were breathless by the time we climbed them). I had no idea at the time why they were there. It seemed like alluvial fans should have a smooth profile, not a terraced one.
|Artesian wells near San Bernardino in the early years of settlement. Source unknown, but found at you have water mail: artesian wells in San Bernardino, California|
Alluvial fans are a vast sponge that could hardly be designed better to capture water and store it underground, safe from evaporation. The Inland Empire became an agricultural powerhouse in the last century on the basis of the citrus fruit industry. It was a desert climate that very rarely froze, and yet had a wealth of water underground. Sometimes at the distal end of fans, artesian springs produced fountains of water that could be easily utilized in the vineyards and orchards (artesian springs and wells are those that flow due to underlying pressure and don't have to be pumped to bring water to the surface).
|The south slope of Cucamonga Peak, Can anyone see a viable climbing route? I don't think chocks and pitons would work in the rotten rock, but I suppose you could anchor to the trees. That's how I climbed a similar (but shorter) canyon in my youth.|
Alluvial fans are a buffer from huge mass wasting events. The mountains above the Inland Empire are, as pointed out previously, among the steepest mountains on the planet. In addition, the rocks that make up the steep cliffs are badly fractured and jointed from the intense faulting and pressure resulting from their uplift. I can't find many records of people climbing the mountain from the south other than up a ridge after a wildfire had cleared the brush. These slopes are exceedingly unstable, and landslides and slope failures are a constant hazard.
|The Blackhawk Slide on the north side of the San Bernardino Mountains. Credit: Kerry Sieh of the U.S. Geological Survey|
|Mudflow that followed wildfires in the San Bernardino Mountains in 2004. Courtesy: U.S. Geological Survey|
|Satellite image of the alluvial fans north of Interstate 210 at Upland and Rancho Cucamonga. The blue marker shows the location of the North Etiwanda Preserve|
The San Bernardino County Museum (sbcounty.gov).
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
|(published by Scope Enterprises, Inc)|
Geologists divide California into eleven geomorphic provinces, areas that share unique geologic histories, rock types and topography that are distinct from the surrounding areas. I generally refer to the province when I am describing a particular feature or place. I am categorizing the posts that exist thus far in the same way:
Say Hello to California's New State Dinosaur, Augustynolophus morrisi: The first dinosaur discovered in California was found in our county, Stanislaus.
The Prairie Lands: California has its own version of savannahs, both present and past.
Sharktooth Hill: That's about it...thousands and thousands of shark teeth and a great many other species.
The Day of the Fiddlenecks (A Trip Through the Mother Lode): A brief foray for wildflowers on Highway 132 in California's Mother Lode
There's an Endemic in those Red Hills! Life and evolution on one of California's unique environments, the serpentine soils. Exploring the Red Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern
The California State Mineral Exhibit-This is art, darnit! One of the best ways to see the incredible mineral wealth of California is to explore the state mineral exhibit in Mariposa at the south end of the Mother Lode. Because of the morons in the state legislature, it is about to shutter its doors
It's a Real Grind...Chaw'se State Historical Park: A look at more grinding mortars than you'll ever see anywhere else, the Miwok culture, and some interesting metamorphic rocks
The Other California Goes Underground: Hella Hot Helictites at Black Chasm Cave: Never heard of helictites? That's because they are the first cave features to be destroyed. But we have a world class collection of them in the Sierra foothills
What do you do with a Used Forest?: The Sierra Nevada between Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks is terra incognita for most Sierra travelers. The region has been logged, mined, and grazed...and is still spectacular. We take an excursion on the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
Why Worry About Yellowstone? We've got our own "supervolcanoes" in California. Some are active. Some have been extinct for tens of millions of years. At the Minarets we can explore one from the inside out
I've seen these mountains before! The Big Ripoff: Viewed on a geologic map, the Klamath Mountains look like a continuation of the Sierra Nevada, but lie sixty miles farther west.
I Need This Like I Need a Hole in the Head: Scenic Bodega Head at Bodega Bay was the nearly the site of one of the most mind-bogglingly stupid energy developments ever conceived by the minds of engineers
Baymouth Bars - It's Five O'Clock Somewhere? Along the incredibly rugged north coast amid the violent surf there are long, perfectly straight sand bars that seem to defy explanation. They're explained here Humboldt Lagoons State Park
A Mystery Photo For a Saturday: A look at San Francisco from a unique angle, Monte del Diablo
The Thicket of the Devil (the mystery photo revealed): An introduction to a place with an incredible view, Mt. Diablo. How it got its name and why every landowner in Central California should care
Limekiln State Park Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3: Limekiln is a beautiful gem of a state park on the Big Sur Coastline. Unfortunately we have morons in the state legislature and this park is closing. See what is being taken from us (PS: It was eventually saved)
The Calico Mountains: An exploration of a unique mountain range, well beyond the confines of the tourist trap ghost town.
A Monday Mystery Photo: A quick introduction to the Cajon Pass country where the San Andreas fault splits the San Gabriel Mountains from the San Bernardino Mountains
Cajon Pass and No Strange Sci-Fi Creatures: Cajon Pass, the major freeway access route into the Los Angeles basin, is filled with strange looking sedimentary rocks tilted this way and that. But it's not where Captain Kirk fought the Gorn...
The Mountains of My Youth: The eastern San Gabriel Mountains aren't all that familiar to people from outside the state, but they are spectacular and they were the mountains where I grew up. We explore an extraordinary gorge, San Antonio Canyon
Hemming and Hawing on the Hogback: The San Gabriel Mountains are the steepest mountains in the world. Often the only flat spots are on dangerous stream floodplains and on top of landslides. Several examples from San Antonio Canyon include the Hogback and Cow Canyon Saddle
A Canyon as Deep as the Grand, and a Road For No Reason: The Glendora Ridge Road offers some of the greatest panoramas of any road in southern California, and there doesn't seem to be a reason for it being there. I suspect I know what the reason is
The Forbidden Valley: An introduction to the San Dimas Experimental Forest
A Minor Challenge: A quiz to introduce the unusual geology of the Santa Clarita Valley
Dreams of Avarice and the First Gold Rush: You thought the gold rush started in the Sierra Mother Lode? There was a rush six years earlier, but the Mexican miners kept their secrets better (and there wasn't very much gold, either)
The Oldest Rocks (Well, maybe...): The San Gabriel Mountains have very old rocks, maybe the oldest in the state. But it depends on how you define "oldest". A short introduction to radiometric (isotopic) age dating
The Other California: Another Friday Fun Foto: A brief introduction to San Jacinto Peak, the highest mountain in the Peninsular Ranges, and one of the most prominent mountains in the state, with a 10,000 foot slope in one area.
A Mystery Photo for the Day: A view of a rock that looks like it belongs somewhere in the Sierra Nevada, but that is not where it is...
When is a Peninsular Range Not a Peninsula? Baja California is a peninsula, but the rocks continue into Alta California. This post explores the village of Idylwild next to the highest part of the province at San Jacinto Peak.
I clearly have lots of ground to cover, and will update this page as necessary.
Thursday, July 8, 2021
The next picture is from the hill behind Walker looking north. The break in slope on the left is where one would look for evidence of recent earthquakes, but slopewash has covered the fault terraces (scarps) in most places except for the streams and alluvial fans that cross the fault trace. That was what I was searching for when I was doing my masters thesis many years ago in this valley. I was very pleased when I found some.
The person who did the original mapping in the 1950's was working primarily on the rock exposures, and wasn't really looking for recently active faults. By the 1980's a number of people were looking a lot harder, trying to determine the seismic hazard for the region. Fresh alluvial fans provide a possibility of dating the occurrence and size of the last earthquake to cause ground rupture in an area.
The picture below is the Mill Creek fan, at the extreme south end of Antelope Valley. Under normal circumstances, an alluvial fan should be a smooth, gently sloping surface. Here at Mill Creek, the surface steps down to the left, forming a terrace. Immediately after the earthquake this terrace may have been essentially vertical (examples of scarps are shown on this post - Slinkard Valley lies immediately west of Antelope, and the post has a nice cut-away showing the arrangement of the fault blocks).
Scarps like these show that the last major earthquake took place in the recent geologic past, very likely less than 10,000 years ago, and maybe as recently as 3,000 years ago . The length of the fault and the size of the scarps are characteristic of quakes in the range of magnitude 6.5-7.0. A magnitude 5.8 event, the Double Springs Flat earthquake, shook the extreme north end of the Antelope Valley fault system in 1994. Today's quake one-upped that event, but do not be surprised if the magnitude is revised upward or downward (NOTE: the quake was revised upward to 6.0). It takes awhile to fully analyze the seismometer records. It is not inconceivable that some small cracks may appear along some of these older scarps.
I'm listening to reports of a rockfall off the cliffs above Meadowcliff Lodge. That would be very close to the epicenter.
I will revise this post as more information comes in.
Postscript: I finally got to my office at Modesto Junior College to download the seismogram of the quake, and here it is. The shaking was off-scale for nearly two minutes.
The second shows a compressed version of the quake, along with some of the larger aftershocks.
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
|The first moment of the greatest adventure of my life|
I've been thinking about that this week, as we possibly, hopefully, approach the end of the pandemic that has caused so much tragedy and heartbreak. I'm teaching a "summer" class that actually ends four days before the official first day of summer, and in the new world of remote teaching, I've had my students submit an occasional online response to geology-related questions. Sometimes my questions deviate a bit from geology though, and this week I asked them what "adventure" means to them, and to recount the greatest adventure they've ever had. And realizing that some may not have had any identifiable adventures, I ask what adventure they would like to have someday.
|Redwall Cavern, deep in the Grand Canyon. It is said that 5,000 people could fit in here.|
I get lots of interesting answers, because a community college class roster is filled with people of many diverse ages and background. Sometimes they describe a hike in the local mountains, or a walk along the coast. Others describe some harrowing and dangerous life experiences related to the Peace Corps or military service. Because it is an online discussion, the give and take makes for fascinating reading.
Much of my motive in asking such questions is to help them realize that geology, in a way unlike many other disciplines, is an adventure in and of itself. The experience of finding a gemstone in the rough, uncovering a dinosaur bone, feeling an earthquake, encountering a flash flood, or witnessing a volcanic eruption are unforgettable adventures, even if there are negative consequences and dangers. That, after all, is part of what makes an experience into a true adventure.
|Standing waves at Hermit Creek Rapids|
Some people are content to live lives without 'adventure'. They are happy enough to find a career that satisfies, and prefer to spend their free time at home reading and gardening and the like. Who needs the stress and high blood pressure after all? I understand that perfectly well, but it sure didn't feel very good to have that life imposed on us by a global pandemic. It's the season when I would normally be preparing to take my students on some real adventures, across the southwestern states and the Colorado Plateau, or up north to the Cascades, Glacier and Yellowstone. Some years we explore Hawaii or Canada, or Australia. Instead, I am giving zoom presentations and grading online submissions, and dreaming of being outside.
I got a message from a friend that unleashed a flood of memories of the greatest adventure I ever had. It was innocuous enough: she asked if I had a recording of a community lecture I gave a few years ago about rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I didn't actually remember if a recording existed, but I found it online and had a look. In a short moment I was transported back to the time eight years ago when my brother and his family invited me to join them on the 17-day adventure. I was 56 years old at the time, and was at one of those middle-age moments when one begins to wonder if the big adventures are coming to an end. It turned out that the answer was a firm 'no'.
|Scouting Lava Falls, the worst or second-worst rapid on the river depending on the flow. Yes, I capsized and rode it all in the water. Check my blog series below for the You-Tube of the moment.|
I wrote an extensive blog series about the trip called "Into the Great Unknown" that will give you a sense of what it is like to explore one of the largest remaining wilderness lands left on our continent, and what it is like to face your own mortality and fears (there were indeed a few terrifying moments in an otherwise glorious time). But if you want a short and quick visual exploration, you can see my community lecture at this link: https://share.yosemite.edu/go=1EVB. I recall it was the most fun I've had giving a public lecture.
And just for the fun of it, here is the video of the final musical moments of our 17-day journey. We had to delay our landing at Diamond Creek because other rafters were getting on the river and space was limited.
So, as the pandemic begins to fade (if people don't get stupid when we are so close), what adventures will you seek? What are the places you want to see? What do you want to experience? What's on your bucket list, and what are doing to make it happen? And what was the greatest adventure you ever had? There is lots of room in the comments section to share your memories or dreams for the future.
Sunday, May 23, 2021
California's Rarest Ecosystems: The Serpentine Soils of the Red Hills (Part Two of a Two-part Miniseries)
Imagine a world turned upside down and inside out. A place where the underworld realm is exposed to view, where all is out of equilibrium. It sounds like the introduction to a dystopian horror movie, but in this case, it is a description of one of the truly rare and unique ecosystems in California: the serpentine soils.
|At the west end of Red Hills the oak woodland gives way to a gray pine-ceanothus scrubland|
|California Goldfields (Lasthenia californica)|
|Blue Dicks (Brodiaea) and Poppies|
|Monkeyflower (Erythranthe sp.)|
|Bitter root (Lewisia rediviva)|
|Fort Miller Clarkia (?) (Clarkia williamsonii)|