Sunday, December 2, 2007

Badlands National Park

The Badlands of South Dakota were not so bad at all. Flat Stanley didn’t have a lot of time to explore all of it, but he did get to see many of the highlight views from the Highway 240 loop that traverses through the park.

The striped, serrated scenery was created due to a combination of plate tectonics, raising and cracking the Earth’s crust, and erosion, wind, rainwater and freeze and thaw cycles wearing away at the exposed surfaces through time. The layers themselves are made of relatively soft, sedimentary materials; sand, silt, clay, and volcanic ash. This soft substrate makes erosion a fairly rapid process. The erosion process is continuing today, meaning that the Badlands you see today may not be the Badlands you see in a decade. Scientists theorize that in about 500,000 years, it will just be another hilly prairie land.

The Badlands are known to be one of the world’s richest mammal fossil beds. It is speculated that the history of the Badlands included a time when much of the area was submerged, and it served as a watering hole for the large variety of mammals and retiles that left their boney remains behind. Unfortunately, Flat Stanley did not get a chance to explore the fossils due to time constraints.

In the mist of the morning…

Badlands Range

Cool, a rainbow of dirt!

Me, in the bad Badlands. :-)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wind Cave National Park

Just south of Mt. Rushmore is the world’s fourth longest known cave; the Wind Cave. Over 125 miles of passages have been mapped out in this cave. Actually, this could be the world’s longest cave, but it’s not known for sure. As opposed to having just one or two main passage ways with some smaller tributary routes like many other caves, this cave is a three-dimensional matrix of crisscrossing tunnels. There are so many of these passages that within a five minute spelunking trek off the well-beaten path, you could be exploring cave that has never been seen by man. To give you a perspective, all of the 125+ miles of passages are beneath a 1.1 by 1.3 mile rectangle of surface land above. Present expeditions involved in mapping out the larger undiscovered parts of the cave require about a two-day journey just to begin. And how do they measure cave length in this modern, digital age? Tape measures.

Flat Stanley was on the case to figure out why this cave was called Wind Cave. It turns out that the cave is so large and deep that it spans a significant amount of elevation, so significant that the barometric pressure difference between inside and outside the cave can often result in a strong wind at the cave entrance; up to 75 miles per hour! It was the sound of this howling wind that lead to the cave discovery.

Wind Cave is home to over 95% of the word’s known boxwork. Boxwork is a curious cave formation that requires some fairly special circumstances to occur. The base rock of the cave is limestone. Through plate earthquakes and other natural phenomenon, small cracks developed in the limestone. Then as the rain fell on the ground above, the mineral gypsum was leached into the cracks. As the gypsum crystallized, it expanded, in the same way that water expands when it is frozen. This expansion acted to enlarge existing cracks in the sandstone, and to create new cracks as well. Gypsum again was leached into the cracks, and the process was repeated. Calcite also leaked into these cracks over the base gypsum, providing an enhanced strength. At some point, the cave became flooded for a very long time; long enough that the limestone actually dissolved in a mix of water, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfuric acid. The gypsum and calcite, resistant to the acid bath, were left behind in delicate and intricate patterns. Today we see them as fossilized cracks, which is pretty amazing!

Random Hole Leading to ???

Cave Boxwork

Me with a Well Abused Boxwork Sample

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mt. Rushmore

Tucked away in the Black Hills of South Dakota is Mt. Rushmore. Flat Stanley stopped by for a photo with four of our most famous presidents:

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln

Washington was chosen due to his involvement in the birth of the country; Jefferson due to his expansion of the country through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803; Lincoln due to his acts to preserve the country through the civil war; and Roosevelt due to his development of the United States as a world power and influence, as seen in the building of the Panama Canal.

There is a very nice visitor center there, packed with information about the presidents and the carving of the monument. It’s amazing to think that dynamite and chisels could render such fine sculpture. Originally the monument had been planned to include about half of the upper bodies of the presidents as well. The project ran out of funding in 1941, and, due to World War II and the death of the project leader, was not further funded to complete the project. If you look closely, you can see where President Washington’s coat was going to be.

Believe it or not, it takes some effort to maintain these rock stars. They are exposed to the elements of nature all year long. Most of the year is not a problem. However, winter can be harsh. If there are any open cracks in the faces, water could seep in. Then when the water freezes, the expansion could enlarge the cracks. Over time, such a process could lead to cracking their noses off! To combat the threat of freeze damage, the original sculptors packed a pasty mixture of lead carbonate and linseed oil into the cracks. Nowadays, the cracks are treated with silicone sealant, to which some granite sand is sprinkled on top so that it blends in with the rest of the rock face.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Twin Sisters Summit Hike

In the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Flat Stanley bravely ascended Twin Sisters Mountain to the very peak. This required a hike of 7.4 miles, round trip. During the hike, Stanley changed in elevation from 9,154 feet to 11,451 feet. Not bad for a flat guy that lives pretty much at sea level! The summit afforded a fabulous 360 degree view, which was a wonderful reward well worth the journey. “I felt like I was standing on top of the world!,” said Flat Stanley.

It was a little windy up on top of the mountain, making the cool temperature even more brisk. But since he was well warmed from the hike, the cool air was refreshing.

During the hike, Flat Stanley saw elk, chipmunks, squirrels, marmots, and a host of birds. Wildlife was plentiful! The flora was nice too. There were both bright orange and almost neon-green lichen. Occasionally there would be pretty flowers along the path. And many of the pine trees grew in a twisted pattern to help provide strength during the fierce mountain weather.

A thunderstorm arrived while we were on the ascent. Given that the hike was going to take us above the tree line, the storm threatened to prohibit the journey to the peak. But fortunately, the storm passed by quickly. By the time we reached the peak, the sun was shining bright as could be.



The Peak


Orange Lichen