GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Books accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

Dynamic Earth: Yellowstone geology doesn’t stay the same

Dynamic Earth: Yellowstone geology doesn’t stay the same

Yellowstone Treasures‘s geology writing strives to keep up—

If you were to contemplate nature’s many facets and how quickly things change over the seasons and the years, you might think that you can at least count on the rocks and the mountains to stay the same. Wrong! Geoscientists will tell you that even mountains have their own dynamics. But their rate of change is much slower than humans can easily grasp in their relatively short lifetimes. Nature shapes the land we live on over centuries and millennia, but the rate at which geoscientists learn about it using new methods, ideas, and equipment is constantly accelerating.

Wanting to keep track of all this activity as it pertains to Yellowstone Park for the updated fourth edition of my guidebook, I was delighted when my old friend Dr. Jo-Ann Sherwin offered to bring us up to date about Yellowstone’s geology. I’ve known Jo-Ann ever since she was an outstanding student, whose advisor during her Brown University PhD research was my first husband Bill Chapple. She was the first woman to earn a PhD in their geology department and has gone on to a long career in research and teaching. She also lives in Idaho Falls, convenient to the west side of Yellowstone.

Jo-Ann reviewed the entire book and made numerous suggestions. She also rewrote large portions of our geological history essay, “The Stories in Yellowstone’s Rocks.” Our goal is to make our explanations accurate but concise and as clear as possible without any technical writing. Here’s a short sample from our essay that draws upon recent research into the source and age of the water for the park’s thousands of geysers and hot springs (hydrothermal features):

What makes the different hydrothermal features do what they do? Basically, the great volume of groundwater is heated by very hot rocks quite near the surface at Yellowstone.
There is a very large amount of old groundwater, at least 60 but perhaps greater than 10,000 years old, just above the magma below Yellowstone. The source of this water may have been the glaciers that covered the area or rain and snow in the surrounding mountains, 12 to 45 miles (20 to 70 km) distant. Present-day rain and snowmelt seep down and mix with this old water, become warmed to the boiling point, boil into steam, expand greatly, and find a way to escape upward. Most of the features occur where faults are common, making it easy for the heated groundwater and steam to return to the surface.

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Dead Indian Pass

Yellowstone Treasures tells you a lot about the history of the Yellowstone area. If you ever travel to the Northeast Entrance via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, you’ll drive over Dead Indian Pass. You may wonder,

Why Was This Route Named Dead Indian Pass?

The marker at the summit of the Chief Joseph Highway attributes the name Dead Indian Pass to an incident in 1877 involving the Nez Perce tribe and the U.S. Army. Chief Joseph led his people that year from their home in Idaho, across Yellowstone and the Absaroka Range, then down through Clarks Fork Canyon, a route considered impassable by the pursuing army. One Nez Perce was killed in the area, but about seven hundred members of the tribe successfully evaded the troops. The group attempted to flee to Canada but was eventually forced to surrender to the army not far short of the Montana-Canada border. Where their route is known, an occasional marker now points out the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

The Nez Perce story is commonly accepted as the source of the old name for this pass, but another conflict occurred near here the following year. Col. Nelson A. Miles surprised a camp of Bannock Indians, killing and capturing many of them. Also, one of the Bannocks was killed and buried here by Crow scouts. 1878 was the last year of troubles between Native American Indians and the U.S. government in and around the national park.

—from Yellowstone Treasures, updated fourth edition, pages 195–96

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An unlikely place for an article: “An Unlikely Look at Yellowstone’s Geysers”—and Fall Closure begins soon

The website Weather.com just came up with this beautiful collection of close-ups of the amazing variety of colors found around Yellowstone’s hot springs:

http://www.weather.com/news/science/unlikely-look-yellowstones-geysers-photos-20131030

Just now you have only through this coming Sunday, November 3, to take in all the treasures of the park, since all but the Gardiner to Northeast Entrance road will be closed as of Monday for the annual fall-into-winter break. This is when the park’s natural features and the animals, including two-legged ones who work there, get a break from the pressures of visitors.

Reopening to snowcoaches, snowmobiles, and skiers begins on December 15 this year (snow accumulation permitting), except for the East Entrance Road, which will open on December 22. The winter season continues until mid March. Then there’s another break for road plowing until late April 2014.

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Yellowstone reopens

In case anyone is looking for assurance that s/he can now visit Yellowstone for the tail end of its summer and fall season, I will pass on the official URL with details of what is and what is not open. Today all the national parks are allowed to restore their usual welcome to all visitors. Hooray!

http://www.nps.gov/yell/parknews/13091.htm

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Saddest shut-down story yet

Megan Wenk had planned her wedding for this month at beautiful Artist Point overlooking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone Park. The rehearsal dinner was to be at Mammoth Hotel.

With the national parks all closed, she has had to change the venues where her guests from far and wide will stay and be entertained to sites north of the park.

Who is Megan Wenk? The daughter of Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk, who said, “It wasn’t appropriate for us to do it in the park. We’re no different from anybody else.”

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Welcoming Yellowstone, Land of Wonders to the BLC

Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West greets The Land of Wonders

A very responsive audience, essentially all of whom indicated they had visited Yellowstone some time in their lives, listened to Suzanne Cane and me this past Monday at the Bill Lane Center. We read them some of our translations of Jules Leclercq’s well-crafted paragraphs and showed engravings from his 1886 book, La Terre des Merveilles, and contemporary photos of Yellowstone scenes.

Created and endowed by long-time publisher of Sunset magazine Bill Lane, the BLC’s goal is to advance “scholarly and public understanding of the past, present, and future of western North America.” With Yellowstone and all 400 of the other National Park Service units temporarily closed due to the government shutdown, everyone there enjoyed reminiscing about visits to the park and hearing Leclercq’s words, such as these that show his sensitivity to preservation of the wonders of the park:

The crater of Old Faithful is already covered with hundreds of names carved by visitors on the smooth surface of the rock. In a few hours the inscriptions are covered with a siliceous coating, which preserves the most insignificant names.

The crude hand of vandals does not stop there; it is truly revolting to see them taking the brutal ax to the fragile and delicate concretions under the pretext of searching for specimens of geyserite.

In building these admirable monuments, in artistically fashioning them, in sculpting and ornamenting them, nature has employed a slowness, a meticulousness, a patience of which men would not be capable, and it takes but one minute for irreverent hands to disfigure the work of thousands of years. There are few craters that have not been damaged by ax and spade, and, if care is not taken, they will gradually crumble to pieces under the attacks of these ruthless destroyers.

It is the duty of the American government to halt these devastations, to prevent the criminal profanations of a sanctuary wherein no mortal should enter without a religious feeling of respect.

I got a hearty laugh here when I interspersed, “And it is the duty of the American government to reopen the parks!”

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Understanding the science of Yellowstone

My first mission in recent years has been to create a guidebook to Yellowstone that will stimulate others to visit and stay longer, helping them see, enjoy, and begin to understand all the amazing treasures the park has to offer. But exploring Yellowstone science is my second mission.

We can only become interested in subjects or activities after something or someone stimulates our curiosity. Think of your own elementary and middle school teachers or family members who have taken you out fishing or on long walks in the countryside, where they pointed things out to you. Several such teachers stimulated my curiosity and then encouraged me and helped me look further into aspects of the natural world. I remember particularly a teacher who was also a family friend. She introduced me to the variety of trees in our town by picking up leaves with me and teaching me their names and then pressing them. One year around the second week of August, she also taught me about the Perseid meteor shower, which fell so brilliantly in our clear Montana skies.

Many years later—concentrating often on the geology of Yellowstone—I’ve taken numerous summer courses offered by the Yellowstone Institute. I highly recommend those courses (http://issuu.com/yellowstoneya/docs/ya_summer_2013_catalog). I also audited a couple of Brown University geology classes, listened to and picked the brains of geologists, and most recently took in some sessions of the 2012 annual conference of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. 

Resources

A readily available source of recent Yellowstone scientific information is the journal Yellowstone Science, now available online (http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/yellsciweb.htm).

Any of the above are good ways to begin to understand some of the basics of Yellowstone’s science. And the new fourth edition of Yellowstone Treasures is a good source too, because we have brought the scientific information as up to date with recent research as we can make it without technical language.

Three books I’d like to recommend that deal in different ways with Yellowstone geology are Roadside Geology of Yellowstone Country by William J. Fritz and Robert C. Thomas, Geology Underfoot in Yellowstone Country by Marc S. Hendrix, and Windows into the Earth by Robert B. Smith and Lee J. Siegel.

I’m planning to blog this fall about two other geological subjects: Why geology is not taught in our high schools nearly as often as are chemistry, physics, and biology, and the very big subject of what mankind is doing to our earth.

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Here’s your chance to learn what Yellowstone was like in 1883

Excellent travel writer Jules Leclercq traveled across the U.S. by train and throughout the then-new Yellowstone National Park on horseback and wrote an engaging account of his experiences. Co-translators/editors Janet Chapple (author of Yellowstone Treasures) and Suzanne Cane (French teacher and librarian) will read some of his revelations and show engravings from his book, La Terre des Merveilles, and contemporary photographs in a series of programs this coming winter and spring: Yellowstone, Land of Wonders. Previous presentations have been enjoyed in Rhode Island, the Bay Area of California, and at Mammoth and Old Faithful in Yellowstone.

— Thursday, February 6 at 7pm: Barrington Public Library, 281 County Rd., Barrington, RI. (Suzanne alone).

— Tuesday, April 8 at lunch time: The Atheneaum, Benefit Street, Providence, RI. (Suzanne alone).

Other dates to follow.

[edited 10/10/13]

Learn more at Suzanne’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/YellowstoneLandOfWonders?ref=stream&filter=1

Leclercq_profilepicture

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Head count for lovers of Yellowstone’s charismatic megafauna

In case the expression “charismatic megafauna” is not in your everyday vocabulary—it refers to the big wild animals that attract many people to Yellowstone.

Late summer is a good time to take stock of what lives in the park, so I’ve dug around a bit and found some recent head counts for the biggest and most interesting wild animals.

Curiously, the bison—that iconic beast that was nearly wiped out by hide-hunters by the beginning of the 1900s and again slaughtered by the hundreds in recent years for different reasons—in late 2013 probably has more hooves-on-the-ground than the elk. This in spite of elk numbers being up around the high 30,000s when I began paying attention (in 1995). This year’s count of bison is around 4,600, while elk are estimated at about 4,000.

Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone area are estimated at 718 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while in the same area wolves may number about 500, but with only about 80 in the park proper. A large factor in the present small number of wolves has been their delisting and subsequent hunting in 2012-13: 203 killed in Idaho, 179 in Montana, and 73 in Wyoming (which had a shorter hunting season).

You’ll find related posts about elk and wolves in my June 7 and June 13 posts this past summer.

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The underground mechanism of geysers

In Earth Magazine for August 2013, I was fascinated to read about two recent studies that have shown convincingly that the very oldest theory explaining geyser activity may be close to the truth, although knowledge is still incomplete and may not apply to all geysers.

Sir George Steuart Mackenzie postulated after visiting Iceland’s geysers in 1810 that a geyser’s plumbing needs to include a horizontal cavity serving as a bubble chamber. There, after an eruption, more and more steam can accumulate between the surface of the water and the roof of the cavity, gradually building up pressure. When the pressure grows too high, the steam and water escape through the geyser’s vertical shaft.

Iceland’s geysers were not part of the studies reported by modern Russian and French researchers. They studied (respectively) the Kamchatka Geyser Valley and Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. Volcanologist Alexander Belousov concluded, by lowering video cameras into their shafts, that four geysers in the Kamchatka field have similar configurations that fit Mackenzie’s bubble trap model.

Geophysicist Jean Vandemeulebrouck meanwhile has been revisiting 1992 data from geophones located around Old Faithful Geyser by seismologist Sharon Kedar. By digitizing and analyzing her data, the French team were able to obtain an acoustic picture of OFG’s inner workings. They found that pressure builds up in a bubble trap there between geyser eruptions, just as in the Russian study.

Belousov suggests that the similarity of internal structures could be attributed to landslides in the case of the Kamchatka geysers and to glacial moraine deposits in Yellowstone and El Tatio, Chile (the third of the world’s primary geyser fields). Both types of terrain form conduits and cavities underground, as well as being located over sources of water and geothermal heat.

Besides reading Earth Magazine this month, I gleaned some information for this post from my newly published travelogue by Jules Leclercq, Yellowstone, Land of Wonders, page 117.

Cliff Geyser on Iron Spring Creek

DSCN1762

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