Caturday Geocat: Hand Sample Analysis

My poor beautiful hand samples from our Oregon trip are just sitting forlorn on the porch, waiting for me to come up with a permanent home for them. I’m afraid I may never get to properly house them, however. My cat has taken a definite interest.

We have this little ritual when I come home for lunch. She usually spends the time outside on the porch, hanging out on her carpet square whilst I scarf some food and catch up on Twitter. Then she greets me at the door as I head outside for a smoke. She follows me over to the lounge chair, where I sit and enjoy the last moments of freedom before heading back for another four hours of soul-sucking drudgery agonizing boredom work. She consents to a scratch behind the ears, and then ambles over and starts inspecting the rocks.

Here she’s analyzing one of the platy volcanic bits (which may or may not be basalt or basaltic andesite, but that’s a story for another day). It’s one of the ones with dendrites on it. Once she gets done with those, she’ll establish ownership over the rhyolite by rubbing her cheeks all over every piece she can reach. I have to watch her on that – they’ve got some glassy textures and sharp edges.

She’ll look up occasionally, stare off into the distance like she’s considering what she’s just learned from her latest inspection.

Then she’ll go back to her favorite sample, a frothy bit of basalt or basaltic andesite with quartz in.

She loves that rock the best. She curls up with it every time we’re out there together. I’m surprised it’s not coated in cat hair, considering how much she snuggles with it.

It’ll be winter soon, and both rocks and kitteh will have to come in from the cold and rain. But for now, I think I’ll leave her hand samples just as they are. This time we have together, me and her and the rocks, is precious.

I’m lucky to live with a cat who shares my love of geology and Doctor Who. I can forgive the occasional homicidal rages. We all have our little quirks, after all.

You’ve had your Caturday dose of cute. Time for something of substance. Both Lockwood and Cujo have written up bits of our recent trip. Cujo explains why geology is important, and Lockwood’s done a more in-depth look at his teaser tweeting, a sexy take on the Pinnacles, and a dedication to the teacher who introduced him to many of the wonders we saw. Enjoy!

Poor, Pathetic Paraceratherium: Who Killed the Kitsch?

Whilst I await Brian Switek’s Archaeopteryx post in order to round out our visit to OMSI, I figured I’d do you up an unexpected roadside attraction. If you drive Highway 97 from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake, you’ll stumble across this decaying beast near Chemult:

Ginormous Mystery Beastie

A few questions come to mind, all beginning with WTF: WTF is it? WTF is it doing here in front of a truck accessories store? And WTF is a truck accessories store doing in the middle of nowhere with a prehistoric beastie in its front yard?

We had some serious geology to do, but the impulse proved irresistible. We stopped for a photo op.

I’m afraid this IS his good side

As near as we can tell, this crumbling behemoth is a Paraceratherium. These ancient, hulking land mammals – so large they dwarfed mammoths – lived back in the Eocene and Oligocene. I haven’t found anything to tell me whether any roamed Oregon. They seem to have been mostly a Eurasian and Asian denizen. But Oregon had a healthy population of rhino relatives, so I suppose he’s not all that out of place.

Don’t get on his bad side

He looks imposing, I know, but he was a strict herbivore. At eighteen feet tall, thirty long, and in the mid-size sauropod weight class, I imagine that if vegetation could talk, it would whisper terrorized tales of the thunderous approach of the mighty masticator. Trees and shrubs would tell tales of the Paraceratherium who would come after misbehaving saplings and chomp them all up with its great big teeth. This thing was seriously hungry and huge – more than enough to inspire horror stories.

Verily, I am dwarfed by the might of the masticator

But it would seem to have nothing to do with truck accessory shops. A little Google-fu, however, and ye olde mystery is solved. We begin here, where a search for Paraceratherium and Oregon returns a question, answered in comments: what is this dude doing here? Turns out he was part of a roadside attraction called Thunderbeast Park, which closed back in the 90s. The truck shop people let the attractions go to seed, and apparently get very cross whenever people ask them about it. Bad business sense, if you ask me – not everyone driving by needs shiny new rims, but if they ran the theme park on the side, they could make a tidy sum on the side charging them a few bucks a pop to ogle old Oligocene oddities. Alas, they have chosen the way of guard dogs and grumpiness instead. But the Paraceratherium in the parking lot can be enjoyed quickly enough that irritated employees don’t have time to chase you off.

Brian Switek snagged photos of one of the missing beasts from readers who were there before the park closed – if anyone has more, send ’em his way.

A little further searching reveals the genius behind the giant – Ernie Nelson, who also created Oregon’s apparently extant Prehistoric Gardens. It seems Thunderbeast Park was star-crossed from its inception, but the Prehistoric Gardens, cared for by Ernie himself, thrived. Gotta go see that place next!

One last shot

I hope someone, somehow, rescues this poor pathetic Paraceratherium before he’s completely dead, restores him to his former glory, and sticks him in a friendlier roadside spot where kids can marvel and adults can amuse themselves. This grand old beast deserves better than he’s got.

GeoKitteh Contemplates Hand Samples

All of my lovely rocks from our El Norte adventure are still on a towel in the living room, awaiting their final home. This is normally where teh kitteh’s paper and cardboard are. I thought she might be angry, but she found Mommy washing rocks to be fascinating. Then she decided they’d been placed there for her own entertainment.

Looks like a queen with her court, doesn’t she just?

She’s been busy inspecting the bounty.

And then she thinks about them for a moment.

If she makes some sort of profound discovery no one’s ever made before with your basic subduction zone rocks, I hope she learns English and shares her wisdom.

Cantina Collage o’ the Week: Rhodies

I never much liked rhododendrons much, growing up.  All the ones I’d seen were just plants with big boring green leaves.  I didn’t know what all the fuss was about.

Then I moved up here, and the place seemed covered in plants with big boring green leaves.  But in mid-spring, the things exploded with blooms.  I’d never seen anything quite like them.  All of the northwest bursts with blossoms in huge, colorful clusters.  Some of the rhodies are the size of shrubs, and some of them are trees.  Trees, covered in ginormous flowers. 

The street that leads up to my complex becomes a corridor of color every spring, between the rhodies, the bulbs, and the fruit trees.  It’s one of the reasons I haven’t moved.  I love that street.

These are some of the rhodies that rioted there this spring:

And a bee for scale:

I’m okay with the big boring green leaves now.  I know what they’ll get up to for several weeks next spring.  In fact, I fully intend to hie me down to the Rhododendron Species Garden again so that my Sony Cyber-Shot can do it justice.  Did I mention ginormous trees with huge flowers on?

Cantina Collage o’ the Week: Juanita Bay Flowers

I haven’t restocked on quotes yet, so we’ll make do with collages.  Horrible torture, I know: I’m making you look at pretty things.

These are some of the many flowers I made friends with when my intrepid companion and I went to Juanita Bay in May, which adventure I meant to write up and completely forgot about.

You’ll notice Pacific Bleeding Heart in the bottom right, there.  I’d thought it was something they planted, so I’d forgotten all about it.  Funny how we get so much more excited when we know they’re wild.  At least, I do.

The purple ones against a blue sky in the bottom center were on a tree.  A huge tree.  A huge tree absolutely covered in purple flowers:

And from another angle in which you can see the flowers a bit better:

If anybody knows what it is, I’d count it a kindness if you let me know.

I’ll write up that adventure here eventually – just wait till you see the turtles!

How to Get Mistaken for a Geologist

One of the flattering (and alarming) things to have emerged from getting linked by Pharyngula was having a few folks mistake me for a really real geologist.  I’m not a real geologist (but I play one on the intertoobz).  It wasn’t quite the same shock as getting adopted by the geoblogosphere, but ran a close second.  This isn’t the second time I’ve been mistaken for an actual working geologist.  When I start babbling about subduction zones and plate tectonics in real life, people who haven’t met me yet automatically assume I’m a professional.

How does that happen?

This, combined with a friend asking how one goes about self-teaching, led me to pondering.  And then my tongue adhered to my cheek.  What results is the following Sooper Sekrit Manual, in which I explain how you, too, could Get Mistaken For a Geologist.  With minor adjustments, you can apply it to any branch of science.

1.  Read blogs.

Oh, hey, look, you are!  But I mean read blogs by actual geologists, too.  There’s one hell of an education awaiting you on the internet.  It’s like sitting in a field full of geologists, and they’re teaching you what they know.  They’ll show you wonders and introduce you to new concepts and get you conversant in the life and work of a geologist.  They’ll even answer questions!

2.  Read books.

Read deeply and widely, everything from pop sci to textbooks.  Yes, I read textbooks for fun.  I am one of Those People.  It can be rough going at first, but if you read absolutely everything reputable you can get your hands on, you’ll end up absorbing far more than you realize.  Next thing you know, you’ll be pontificating on things like thrust faults and metamorphism, throwing around $100 words like they’re pennies, and observers will believe you have an expensive education.  It’s a lot of fun, especially when you tell them all you’ve got is a GED and a handful of college credits.  Have a camera handy: the look on their faces is priceless.

3.  Read papers

Once those books which in the introduction explain that the average layperson may find it tough going because the author was writing for serious students and professionals no longer daunt you, head over to Google Scholar and seek out the actual scientific literature.  You’d be amazed how much is actually available for free.  You’d be even more amazed at how much of it you can actually comprehend.  It’s the best way to get in-depth information on a particular aspect of geology.  It’s also fascinating to see how science is done.  And then you’ll have a bag full of $1000 words to throw around like confetti.

4.  Learn the lingo

Oh, look, you already have.  Side effect of all that reading you’re doing.  I’m also writing a book on just that subject, so you’ll soon have a handy guide.

5.  Befriend geologists

Or let them befriend you.  They’re a lively, fascinating bunch, more than willing to let layfolk who have an interest and the willingness to learn hang about with them, and they’ll show you things like how to properly use a rock hammer and what a Brunton compass is for.  They will make you look upon this world with wonder and awe and appreciation.  And do they ever know how to party!

6.  Collect rocks

Be one of those people who loves rocks so much they’re willing to schlep ten thousand pounds’ worth out of the wilderness because they wanted just one more hand sample.  And I’m not talking about the really perfect mineral specimens and gemstones and all that other stuff that everybody in the universe likes.  I’m talking about mudstones and basalts and all of those kinds of rocks that are deadly-dull to the average human being. 

7.  Dress in geo gear

Not that there’s a standard uniform, but we’re talking clothes and shoes suitable for long, dirty hikes over outcrops in all sorts of weather.  If you want to be mistaken for a geologist, you can’t wander around in fancy shoes dressed like you’re about to meet with the CEO about a promotion to the corner office.

8.  Carry a rock hammer and hand lens

Not everywhere.  Just out in the field.  When you go on hikes, have a hammer with you specifically made for bashing rocks with.  Geologists know that a rock can look very different when broken open, due to the effects of weathering.  So they don safety goggles, pick up a hammer, and whammo.  Then they whip out a hand lens to study the fresh face exposed.  They may occasionally nibble on the rock in order to determine what it is, but this is optional if all you’re wanting to do is pass.  I don’t think it’s common knowledge among layfolk yet that geologists can discern a lot about a rock by consuming bits of it.

I think we should get jackets made with this logo – who’s with me?

9.  Beer

If you want to be mistaken for a geologist, you must understand beer.  You must be prepared to discuss, drink, and praise beer.  You will notice that beer comes up a lot.  Beer’s importance to geology cannot be emphasized enough.

There you go.  All you need to know in order to be mistaken for a really real geologist.  As for why you’d want to be mistaken for one, well, that is because geologists are teh awesome and geology is one of the most important, most interesting, and most beautiful sciences in existence.

And there’s beer.  Never, ever, forget the beer.