Thursday, November 26, 2020

Geology in Pop Culture - License Plate Geology #4

The next up on my License Plate Geology is "Stone"

1. A general term for rock that is used in construction, either crushed for use as aggregate or cut into shaped blocks as dimension stone.

2. One of the larger fragments in a variable matrix of a sedimentary rock.

3. A stony meteorite.

4. A cut and polished natural gemstone; a gem or precious stone.

(Definition courtesy of the Dictionary of Geological Terms, 3rd Ed.) 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Geology in Pop Culture - License Plate Geology #3

 Here is a throwback to a couple of posts I did a long time ago,  License Plate Geology. The next up on my License Plate Geology, is "Playa"

1. A term used in the southwestern U.S. for a dry, barren area in the lowest part of an undrained desert basin, underlain by clay, silt, or sand, and commonly by soluble salts. It may be marked by an ephemeral lake. 

2. Playa lake.

3. A small sandy land area at the mouth of a stream or along a bay shore.

(Definition courtesy of the Dictionary of Geological Terms, 3rd Ed.) 

Badwater Basin, a playa in Death Valley National Park. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Dinos of Disney - Primeval World on the Disneyland Railroad

And for my last Dinos of Disney post for Disneyland (for now at least), I am looking at something that I had heard about but for some reason never experienced except for this last trip to Disneyland.

The Dinos of the Disneyland Railroad

(AKA Primeval World)

Normally, when we rode on the railroad, we would take the Main Street, U.S.A. Station around to the various parts of the park we wanted to visit. The last stop we would get off would be at the Tomorrowland Station, because afterwards it just circles back to the beginning. So, we never felt the urge to ride from Tomorrowland to the Main Street, U.S.A. Station, however, this is where the dinosaur fun begins.   

Before even hopping on the train, they have these rotating billboards that have "advertisements" for each part of the park that the train stops at. They even have one for the dinosaur exhibit stating "Primeval World. Enter the World of the Dinosaur. Temporal Zone 200,000,000 BC".

The ride to the Primeval World begins with a trip along the Grand Canyon, specifically this Grand Canyon Diorama that was added to the railroad in 1958. The diorama is 306 feet in length and provides an exquisite view of the south rim of the Grand Canyon, which also includes some animals and trees along the way. After this you are then transported back into the Primeval World. 
"That was the Grand Canyon as we know it today, but it wasn't always that way. Quiet now, as we travel back in time, back to the fantastic Primeval World, land of the dinosaurs!"
The Primeval World was a series of Audio-Animatronics dinosaurs originally created for the Ford Magic Skyway at the 1964 New York World's Fair. The original ride was created as a time travel experience where people sat in Ford cars during the ride with the scenes narrated by Walt Disney himself. The scenes from the ride were taken from the Rite of Spring segment of 1940's Fantasia, which in and of itself had some paleontologically problematic scenes, as we will see below. Not all of that Magic Skyway experience had been transferred here, just the dinosaurs. 

The first animal we encounter is an Edaphosaurus, which unfortunately I did not get a good picture of. Edaphosaurus is a relative of the more common Dimetrodon, a synapsid from the Late Carboniferous and Early Permian time periods. Generally, this means that Edaphosaurus was not a dinosaur but closer related to mammals, and actually was completely extinct by the time any of the dinosaurs started to appear. 

The next series of animals we encounter is the group of Brontosaurus seen above. The posture of the body in these animatronics gives a sort of "loch ness" vibe to them with the curve of the neck, whereas in the real would stick out more and the tail would also be raised above the ground. The comment that their postures are incorrect is actually a general comment for all of the animals in this exhibit, as that it has been scientifically determined since these animals were created that they were able to keep their tails elevated off of the ground with their spines more or less straight. Side note: the three baby Brontosaurus were called Huey, Dewey, and Louie by Walt

The next animals on our prehistoric journey is the Pteranodon, pictured here with a group towards the back. Generally, it has been noted that their posture is not the best, especially if they are resting or walking. It has been shown that they do use all four limbs when walking, causing their wings to fold back behind them, instead of open like this. 

A up-close view of one of the Pteranodons, unfortunately the window lines tended to get in the middle of my pictures. 

The next up is a family of Triceratops watching their babies hatch. From what I can tell, scientifically, these are pretty good and the detail on them is quite amazing given when they were created. 

The next scene is a group of Struthiomimuses. The only dated aspect of these is that they likely had feathers. There are also several skeletons lying around on the ground. These skeletons are a bit difficult to view here but they include a Megalosaurus (seen here on the left) and a Plateosaurus, which is directly behind the Megalosaurus up on the hill a little bit. 

And we make it to the final shot of the train ride, which is also one of the climax shots of the Right of Spring. The most obvious complaint that we have here is that Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex lived in completely different time periods, so the possibility of this battle ever happening outside of a Jurassic Park cloning experiment is absurd. Stegosaurus lived during the Jurassic period (~150 million years ago), while the Tyrannosaurus live during the Late Cretaceous (~70 million years ago). That is more of a time difference than is between the T. rex and us now. 

Looking at the reconstructions of the dinosaurs, the T. rex could be considered to the the typical 1940's(ish) T. rex, complete with upright stance and a rather small head for the rest of its body. The shape of the skull is also completely off. They did fix the skull shape somewhat for the other T. rex in Disneyland on Big Thunder Mountain, although that one isn't perfect either. It also have 3 fingers, which most grade school kids would be able to tell you that the T. rex only has 2 fingers, while other large predators like Allosaurus typically have 3. The end of the Stegosaurus tail is also colored as if it is a spike as well, instead of just the end of its tail. This seems to indicate the creators of it gave it 5 spikes instead of the actual 4 it should have. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Paleo in Pop Culture - The Millennium Tree of Disney

Continuing the Geology and Paleontology thread at Disney Parks is the Millennium Tree located on the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in Disney's California Adventure.

The Millennium Tree is the cross section of a real redwood trunk that records over 1,000 years from the time it sprouted up through the 1930's. Paleontologists actually use tree rings and cross sections like this to do many things, not the least of which is discovering what our planet's climate was like over the past several thousand years. This is a study known as dendrochronology, where each ring on the tree represents one year of growth and that individual ring can tell us a lot about the climate and atmosphere at the time the tree formed. By comparing the thickness of the individual rings, scientists can tell us if the climate was warmer or cooler, or wetter vs dryer, that year compared to other years.  

The rings also preserve the prehistoric atmosphere in the form of isotope data. Isotopes are different weights of various elements based on the number of neutrons that each element has. Many isotopes are unstable (radioactive), but there are many isotopes that are stable. Carbon for instance has two stable isotopes, Carbon-12 and Carbon-13. It also has several unstable isotopes, with the most prevalent one being Carbon-14. But the percentage of the different carbon isotopes is affected by the climate and this difference is then preserved in the tree as the tree builds up the woody plant matter in its trunk as it grows. 

By comparing all that data for this tree to countless other trees across the globe, scientists are able to get a global view of the climate over time. They can also use the comparative thicknesses and isotope data in modern trees to line up older, already fallen trees, that they don't know when they were chopped down, such as in log cabins and other human settlements. The relative thicknesses of the rings forms a type of fingerprint that can be lined up with these older trees forming a continuous history of our climate that goes back much further in time than any tree living today is capable of. By understanding the isotopes and climate today, we can use that information to infer what the climate was in the past by the data preserved in these tree rings. 

The text for the tree:
The Millennium Tree
"Redwoods are ... ambassadors from another time"
                                                 - John Steinbeck
                                               Travels with Charley (c. John Steinbeck 1962)

Every tree has a tale to tell, and the tree's rings tell us its story. A California redwood grows by adding a new layer, or ring, of wood to its surface each year, so counting the rings reveals the tree's age. Written in the rings of this fallen tree are over 1,000 years of California history from 818 A.D., then it sprouted, to 1937 when it fell.

Below are some close up shots of the tree to better read what each of the labels said from the main image.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Dinos of Disney - Big Thunder Mountain

This is from a trip I took back in December of 2017 to Disneyland, during a spontaneous Christmastime trip. The first part we are going to look at is at Big Thunder Mountain.

The Dinosaur of Big Thunder Mountain

Big Thunder Mountain is one of the main roller coasters of Disneyland that has been replicated 3 other times in parks around the world (two of which also have the dinosaur). The theme of the ride is based on Monument Valley, a Navajo Tribal Park that straddles the border between Arizona and Utah. Here is the setup for the ride from Disney:

"Legend has it that after gold was discovered in the 1850s, eerie incidents took place in the mine. Trains would take off and race through tunnels… by themselves.

As you enter the cursed cavern, your train speeds up along the rickety track. Shoot under a booming waterfall and dodge a falling boulder from an unexpected landslide as you swoop around sharp turns and drop into desolate canyons.

On this rip-roaring adventure, you may learn that some legends turn out to be true..."

As you whip around the track, you eventually end up face-to-face with a dinosaur skeleton.

My view of the dinosaur skeleton while riding the ride at night.

 The skeleton is interesting because from my view at night, it is really hard to determine what kind of dinosaur it is. Getting some better shots from Disney we can definitely get a clearer view of the dinosaur.
Here is a full shot of the skeleton from the official Disneyland ride website.

The Walt Disney World version of the skull, apparently taken in 1981.

And looking closely at the skull you can tell that it is probably meant to resemble a Tyrannosaurus rex skull, but it's ... off. Let's compare it to arguable the most famous T. rex, the Field Museum's SUE.

SUE the T. rex from the Field Museum in Chicago

SUE the T. rex from the Field Museum in Chicago

And I think, after comparing the Big Thunder Mountain T. rex to SUE, the biggest problem with the skull is the teeth. It's as if the designers tried to cram as many teeth as they could into the mouth, and all of the teeth are the same size, whereas in the real skull the teeth are constantly coming to replace lost or worn teeth, so the size and spacing of the teeth differ widely within the actual T. rex's mouth. The overall dimensions of the fenestra (holes) are also smaller in the Disney skull than in the real animal, however I could attribute that to making the skull more durable with more surface area.

What I really wondered was where did the idea of this dinosaur come from. Was it meant to be a T. rex or something else. I find it really telling that the D23 post called "The Ultimate Dino-Tour of Disney Parks all Over the World" that goes over many of the dinosaurs in the Disney Parks just calls this "the bones of a dinosaur". No attempt was made at even naming the species, whereas they name the species of many of the other dinosaurs in the post.

Tony Baxter himself, designer of Big Thunder Mountain, stated that the dinosaur bones were meant as a tribute to the previous incarnation of the ride. Parts of the ride and theme were actually taken from the previous renditions of the ride called Rainbow Caverns Mine Train, which was then converted into the Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland. However, I haven't been able to find any pictures of any dinosaurs from those versions. The closest thing I could find, was that the second version mentioned dinosaurs during the ride, but that was about it. 

So although many Disney fans seem to have unanimously determined that this is a T. rex skeleton, Disney itself has shied away from denoting it as anything other than a "dinosaur".   

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Geology of the National Parks in Pictures - Capitol Reef National Park

My next post about the Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures is from a park that we had visited almost on a yearly basis for the last few years and is the park I had easily been to the most.  

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


My first visit to Capitol Reef was back in 2010 for a geology field trip, for which I had made a geological tour website that is still a fantastic geological resource over at the U of U geology page. A few years after that I had found out that you could pick apples within the park and we planned our family visit for when we could pick the apples. Since then we had made an almost yearly journey down to Capitol Reef in mid fall for the apple picking. 
Despite all these years of going to the park, I only just grabbed an entrance sign shot the last time we went in 2020. 

The most characteristic features of Capitol Reef is the way that the rocks have been folded across the park. With an axis running nearly 100 miles north to south, is a feature called the Waterpocket Fold. There are several different types of folds when we look at rocks. When rocks are folded in a "U" shape, this is called an syncline. When rocks are folded the opposite way, essentially an "A" shape, this is called an anticline. However, when you have a stair-step fold, where one side of the fold is generally horizonal, then its comes down to another horizonal layer, you have what is called a monocline, and that is what the Waterpocket Fold is. You can essentially see this fold in the way that the rocks dip towards the east through much of the park, such as in the image above looking towards the south.

Cross section of the Waterpocket Fold by Ron Blakey. Image courtesy of the NPS

Folded approximately 50 to 70 million years ago, the rocks within the park mainly range in age from the Early Permian age White Rim Sandstone (~280 million years old) to the Late Jurassic Age Morrison Formation (~150 million years old). Because of the Waterpocket Fold, the older rocks are easier to see in the western portion of the park and the younger rocks are more exposed in the eastern portion of the park. 

Along the western part of the park is the Goosenecks Overlook, where you can look down into the oldest rocks at the park. The canyon was created by the Sulphur Creek cutting down into the rock units as the rocks were being uplifted. At the base of the canyon can be found the Early Permian White Sandstone. The White Rim is a ~280 million year old coastal sand dune deposit that had been bleached white by hydrocarbons flowing through the rock picking up the iron oxide within the sandstone. On top of the White Rim within the canyon here, and taking up most of the middle of it, is the Early Permian Kaibab Limestone, a ~270 million year old shallow marine shelf deposit that preserves the ancient Kaibab Sea that once flooded most of Utah. 

On top of the Kaibab Limestone is the Lower Triassic age Moenkopi Formation (~245 million years old). The Moenkopi Formation is predominantly made up of the reddish-brown shale that is found throughout the western part of the park. This was deposited within an intertidal environment, with alternating sea levels producing thinly bedded layers of mud (shale) and sand (sandstone). 

Due to the low water levels within the Moenkopi, it preserves many shoreline features such as ripple marks and... 

...animal swimming traces. Here is where a small reptile was swimming along in fairly shallow water and its claws scraped the mud at the bottom. These features can be seen within the gully, just on the south side of the road near the Goosenecks  Overlook. 

On top of the Moenkopi is the Late Triassic Chinle Formation (~200 million years old). The Chinle Formation has a wide variety of rocks types including limestones, shales, sandstones, and conglomerates. Over the course that the Chinle was deposited the environment began shifting from a wetter environment dominated by streams, lakes, wetlands, and deltas, to a drier environment dominated by desert sand dunes. One of the most notable features of the Chinle is the presence of uranium, specifically within the yellow-grey river-deposited sandstone of the Shinarump Member of the Chinle Formation. 

These uranium deposits were often mined in the early 1900's for medicinal uses and the 1950's for its nuclear properties. Eventually, the amount of uranium within the mines wasn't worth the cost of extracting it and the mines were abandoned. 

On top of the Chinle Formation is the Wingate Sandstone. Like I mentioned, the primary reason that we headed to Capitol Reef was for the apple picking in the fall. The orchards are located mostly around the "town" of Fruita within the park. This is where the campground and the Visitor's Center are located. They can also be found extending east to west along the main highway, and the Fremont River, that cuts across the park. But from these you can get some gorgeous shots with the red rocks in the background. The rocks in the background are the Early Jurassic age Wingate Sandstone. The Wingate is a eolian sandstone, meaning that these rocks formed as part a desert ~200 million years ago.

Here is another orchard with the Wingate Sandstone in the background. The Wingate is characterized by those shear vertical cliffs and the red tint to the rock caused by the oxidation of iron coating the sand grains (rust). 

One of the notable geologic features within the Wingate is Cassidy Arch, seen here just above the dead tree in the foreground. 

Here is Cassidy Arch from the top, looking down into the arch. 

On top of the Wingate is the Early Jurassic age Kayenta Formation (~190 million years old). The Kayenta is a mix of reddish-brown sandstones, siltstones, and conglomerates that interbed with each other. The Castle seen here on the left side of the photo from the Visitor's Center, is the vertically jointed Wingate Sandstone, while the Kayenta Formation is more horizontally jointed directly above it to the right.

Like the Navajo Sandstone above it, the sandstone layers within the Kayenta Formation are notable by the eolian formed cross beds, which are angular deposits created as sand dunes move across the desert. Wind blows the sand up one side of the dune, up over the crest of the dune, and then the sand falls down the slipface. The crossbeds are then the preserved record of the slipface side of the dunes locked into place by cement, often calcite or silica.

The Kayenta Formation also contains the Hickman Bridge, a natural bridge carved out of one of the sandstone layers within the formation by the stream flowing beneath it through the softer layers below. 

View from underneath the bridge, hoping to get a good angle emphasizing the "bridge aspect of it.

View from the western side of the bridge. 

Looking west off the Cohab Canyon Overlook  you can see the dip of the beds towards the east as well as most of the rock units we talked about.

Turning around, here is the view to the east from the Cohab Canyon Overlook. On top of the Kayenta Formation is the Early Jurassic Navajo Sandstone (~180 million years old). The Navajo is a very thick (~1000 feet) eolian sandstone from an ancient sand sea known as an erg. The Navajo is notable by its whiter appearance than the reddish Wingate Sandstone and erodes more rounded features, unlike the Wingate which has more vertical jointing. The Navajo also has abundant cross beds throughout the formation. 

The Navajo also has a type of weathering called honeycomb weathering, where these pockmarked patterns occur along the surface of the rock. This is produced as water wicks into the porous rock and dissolves the calcite cement holding the grains together. 

Although the last major rock unit within the park, there are several rock units located above the Navajo Sandstone within the eastern parts of the main highway. These include rocks of the Jurassic age San Rafael Group and the Morrison Formation. 

Looking west from the Hickman Bridge overlook.