. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Four Corners Monument

Four Corners Monument
To complete our southwestern spring break we took the back way home so that we could visit the Four Corners Monument. Of course, Four Corners is the only place where the four states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet. The monument is on the Navajo Nation and is in the middle of absolute nowhere.

The original marker was erected in 1912 and was a simple cement pad, but now it is a whole circle of granite rock and brass. State flags surround the monument as well as four descriptions on when state lines were surveyed. It really is a nice monument and was a lot of fun to photograph ourselves on it.

Now you may have heard in recent years that the Monument is incorrectly placed by about 2.5 miles. That turned out not to be the case and was just an issue of interpreting survey lines of latitude and longitude from back in the days of drawing them (1860s). It turns out that the Monument is placed where it is supposed to be so no worries. 

Since the monument is on the Navajo Nation, vendors occupy all four “sides” of the monument in small cubbies with their beautiful jewelry and souvenirs. Be polite and browse--maybe even buy something.

On the way home we passed Shiprock, NM. Shiprock is a volcanic plug that has been exposed by the erosion of sedimentary layers to expose the hard volcanic rock. The highway was about 20 miles north of the formation that stood out in the middle of nowhere. The sacred formation figures prominently in Navajo Nation mythology as a giant bird that carried the Navajo from the cold northlands to the warm Four Corners region. 

Canyonlands National Park: The Needles

View Across the Way with Wooden Shoe Arch on the Right

Wooden Shoe Arch
A second district within the Canyonlands National Park is the Needles that forms the southeast corner. It is named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area. 
View of the Needles from Afar

We only had time to walk the Pothole Point Trail, unable to hike the longer trails to view the Needles close up (a disappointment). Those trails are at least 5 miles round trip and since we stopped on the way home from Moab, just didn’t have the time (or inkling) to hike to the Needles. But the Pothole Point Trail was a nice short hike among some really great sandstone layers that formed 250 million years ago.


Me Among the Sandstone Layers
Along the trail (and also at Island in the Sky and Arches) We saw a lot of biological soil crust. Cairns mark the walking trails so that you stay off of this delicate life form. This crust consists of cyanobacteria (the most basic of life forms) but also lichens, mosses, green algae, fungi, and bacteria. It forms the foundation of high desert plant life.
Biological Soil Crust
Maybe next time we visit we will stay at the quiet campground and go on some of the long hikes to see the Needles up close.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky

Shafer Canyon Overlook
Canyonlands National Park near Moab, UT is divided into different districts. The first district that we visited was Island in the Sky. The whole park is an example of the effects of millions of years of erosion on rock layers deposited nearly 300 million years ago. This area of southeast Utah was flooded by tropical oceans, criscrossed by rivers, covered by mudflats, and buried by desert sand. Layer upon layer of sedimentary rock were deposited.

About 15 million years ago the sea level sedimentary layers were flat. Movements in the earth’s crust caused the whole area to rise; today the average elevation is over 5,000 feet above sea level. This uplifted area is part of the Colorado Plateau and has been eroded from the Colorado and Green Rivers that cut into the plateau and formed the 2,000 feet deep canyons seen today.
Mesa Arch

The Island in the Sky mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding land. There are pullouts with spectacular views along the scenic drive through the district including overlooks at Shafer Canyon Overlook, Grand View Point, and Buck Canyon Overlook. There are several trails that criss cross the park but we only walked on the shorter ones: Mesa Arch Trail and the Upheaval Dome Overlook Trails, and only hiking 2.5 miles today.

Upheaval Dome Second Overlook

Grand View Point

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Moab and the Arches

I’ve lived in the southwest for 14 years and finally got the opportunity to visit the area around Moab, Utah. We spent a few days camping in Moab and first visited Arches National Park. Arches has the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches, over 2,000. The park also contains other geologic formations such as sandstone fins, balanced rocks, pinnacles, and spires. Millions of years of deposition, erosion, and other geologic events shaped the layers of rock. 

How Arches Form from Erosion
Arches lies near the heart of a high desert called the Colorado Plateau at an elevation an average of 3,000 feet above sea level with peaks over 12,000 feet above sea level. Roughly 65 million years ago the area was a dry seabed. The red rock formations seen currently in the park were buried beneath the seabed at that time. Geologic forces wrinkled and folded the buried sandstone to form anticlines (kind of like a carpet that has been pushed inward to form lumps across the middle). As the sandstone warped, fractures tore through it.

Skyline Arch
Next, the entire region began to rise, climbing from sea level to thousands of feet in elevation. The forces of erosion carved layer after layer of rock away and exposed deeply buried sandstone layers that expanded and fractured enough to allow water to seep into the rock and further break it down. Water continues to shape the environment through freezing and thawing cycles that break off chunks of sandstone and rain eroding the rock and carrying sediment down washes and canyons. Little by little fractured rock layers turn into fins and then the fins turn into arches.
Broken Arch

Most of the exposed arches are of the Navajo Sandstone, Carmel Formation, and the Entrada Sandstone Slick Rock Member that was laid down during the Triassic period, roughly 150 million years ago. The Carmel layer is a mix of sand and clay and form a rock more dense and less porous than the Entrada Sandstone, which was once a massive desert of fine-grained sand that turned into a very porous sandstone. Underneath these sandstones lie a thick layer of salts that flowed and bulged upward into long domes that forced the sandstones above to crack. As water soaked into the porous Entrada sandstone, it puddled above the more dense Carmel Formation where it eroded the sandstone into a cavity, and in time, an arch.
Tunnel Arch

Turret Arch
There are many types of arches: cliff wall arches such as Park Avenue Arch, Biceps Arch, and Visitor Center Arch; free standing arches such as North Window Arch, Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and Double Arch; natural bridges (which required a hike too far to see this time); and pothole arches such as Pothole Arches and Bean Pot Arch.

As we drove the scenic drive through the park, we stopped to hike easy trails to various arches and rock formations. We hiked a total of 7 miles today, enjoying Double Arch, the Windows Arches and Turret Arch, Balanced Rock, Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, Skyline Arch, Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, and lastly, Landscape Arch. There were great overlooks as well including the Firey Furnance, Delicate Arch, Courthouse Towers, and Park Avenue. We stood on the hill overlooking the Moab Fault valley and saw a 40 million year difference between the Entrada Sandstone we were standing on and the Wingate Sandtone exposed across the valley. All in all, a fantastic day--no higher than 70 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze.
Landscape Arch

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ground Zero: Trinity Site

Ground Zero Monument
Trinity Site is where the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945. According to the pamphlet given to visitors on the one day a year that they open the site to visitors (first Saturday in April), “The 19-kiloton explosion not only led to a quick end to the war in the Pacific but also ushered the world into the atomic age.”

The story of the Trinity Site begins with the formation of the Manhattan Project in 1942. “The project was given overall responsibility for designing and building an atomic bomb. At the time it was a race to beat the Germans who, according to intelligence reports, were building their own atomic bomb.” Along with sites at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington, Los Alamos, New Mexico was established as the place that the bomb was designed and built. Many of the greatest scientific minds of the day studied nuclear theory and labored over the actual construction of the bomb.

Two bombs were designed at Los Alamos: one using uranium 235 and another using plutonium. The uranium bomb was simple enough that scientists did not think it needed testing but the plutonium bomb was more complex and worked by compressing the plutonium to a critical point that would set off a chain reaction that split atoms in the explosion. The test of the plutonium bomb occurred the early morning of July 16th just before dawn at the Trinity Site. The shock wave broke windows 120 miles away and was felt by many at least 160 miles away. There was not much of a crater left, but the desert sand was scooped up into the fireball and melted into a new rock called “Trinitite” that covered the ground.

After visiting Trinity Site, I have come to the conclusion that every New Mexican (and even every American) should visit this historic monument. It is a sobering experience when thinking about the power that was unleashed there 69 years ago--the power that led to such destruction and loss of life that ended World War II.
Mushroom Cloud After 15 Seconds at 10 Miles Away
“The effects could well be called unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous, and terrifying. No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power had ever occurred before. The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun.”--Brig. Gen. Thomas Farrell