Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Hi all! A new adventure awaits, as I transition from this site to a new collaboration with a fellow colleague! Come and check us out at, where I'll be posting much more frequently! Thanks for following me here!


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Old Faithful

Old Faithful about to blow sky high. My photo.

There really isn't an option of talking about Wyoming without talking about Yellowstone and Old Faithful, especially because most people think Yellowstone is in Montana. Yeah, like 5 minutes of it (it's a sore spot for Wyomingites).

Members of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition spotted Old Faithful on September 18, 1870 (of course, Native Americans in the area had long been aware of Old Faithful).

Nathaniel P. Langford wrote an account of the expedition:

In another part of Langford's diary, he described the complete lack of understanding by white folks of the delicate ecosystem of geysers. Old Faithful was sometimes used as a laundry in the early days:

Monday, March 5, 2018

Freezing Water

Sorry for the hiatus everyone! We added an addition to the family! Lil' Dude will join Sweetie and the hubby in our discussion of culture and science! 
This morning, for example, we were all having fun in the car as it was warming up....

The phenomenon is called "supercooled water." It only happens when water is cooled very slowly, such as in your car overnight. By cooling the water slowly, the water remains liquid below its freezing point. When you disturb the bottle, the water then has enough energy to start growing ice crystals. This process is called nucleation, because it encourages the molecules in the liquid to form a crystal-like nucleus onto which others can then latch. The kick-start can be given by a piece of dust, a rough spot on the surface of a container, or the shock wave generated when you hit a bottle sitting quietly in your drink holder.

Wyoming. Where science nerds have fun in the freezing weather....

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hot spots and Yellowstone.

We're gearing up for a trip to Yellowstone. We haven't been back in a few years, so I'm excited to see what's changed, as well as taking Sweetie there for the first time!

Yellowstone is so unique because of the mixture of magma and water, from a tectonic "hot spot" that's been in this mantle location for around 20 million years, a the water that is naturally in the crust at this location.

Everyone kinda understands Plate Tectonics, yeah? The idea is that the top crust of the planet is made up of rigid plates that are sort of floating on the upper mantle, so they move around, like a Slip n Slide. This movement causes most of the geological activity on the planet, like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Most, but not all.

Mantle activity known as "hot spots" are thought to be the result of plates being subducted under each other millions of years ago. See, when one plate is forced under another, it starts to loose water as the water in the crust heats up, being surrounded by molten magma. That water then "irritates" the mantle, to say it simply. And even once the plate has long been completed subducted and melted away, the irritation remains, causing the hot spot.

So a new plate moves over this area of the mantle, and magma wells up from the old irritation. Essentially, hot spots are thought to be evidence of much, much older plate movement. Currently, the hot spot is over a good chunk of Wyoming (remember, the hot spot doesn't move, the plate does!).

However, that explanation isn't universally accepted by all geologists. The other hypothesis is that lithospheric extension permits the passive rising of melted magma from shallow depths. This isn't a really great hypothesis, as it can't really be tested, even in models, as we have no idea *how* exactly crustal extension would allow magma to bubble through it. Hopefully, we'll have an answer either way someday.

There are lots of other hot spots around the globe, Iceland and Hawaii being the more famous. But the crust in Northern Wyoming is very different than the crust over other hot spots, because it's got so much water inside it. There's an entire network of caves and underground lakes in this region, as well as a lot of natural gas. That's the reason for the numerous geysers and other thermal features in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area.

Along WY state highway 150

Hello! Sorry it's been more than a few days since my last post. This summer was super busy. We took a road trip down to Texas (in the middle of the summer!) and then drove up to Spokane, WA for a quick visit. I also spent about a week camping near Evanston, doing some archaeological work.I'll post more about those trips later.

We drove south to Heber City, Utah (which a great "Swiss village" if you're looking for something different), but we took a slight detour. State highway 150 is an *amazing* road which winds through the mountains and a huge aspen grove. Yes, it is a little windy - the mountains didn't leave road builders a lot of options. But it's well worth it, with plenty of pull outs to enjoy the views or to settle your stomach. :)

I wouldn't suggest this road once the weather changes, as there are no services between Evanston and Heber City.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

From South to North

We just got back from a quick two-day trip to Spokane, WA, and we took "the scenic route" back, along US 30. Just taking the little bit of extra time to drive these amazing historic roads instead of whizzing by on the Interstate is worth it. There were all sorts of road cuts and rivers (the Bear River!) that we wouldn't have seen otherwise.

We decided to start our scenic journey in Cokeville, WY, which is a wonderful old railroad town. Though it was pretty funny to see a sign for "Museum" off the main road. We'll have to go back and see what kind of museum that could be!

US highway 30, picture from Wikipedia Commons.

Sweetie was exhausted once we got home, but she loves traveling. And hotels. Remember though, it's important for kids to stay hydrated during long road trips, even if that means extra bathroom breaks. :) Keep water in the car at all times!

Here are a few pictures:
Ok, not everything is super-exciting....

A little slice of Wyoming heaven....
After an event-filled day, the driver needs a break!

 It was hard not to stop at Fossil Butte National Monument as we passed. But as we usually go there several times a year  anyway.....

Side note: Dillon, MT is *awesome*. A small town that has been really thoughtful about how they want their town to look in the future. They've clearly worked with local businesses to help them thrive without gentrification. Would totally move there if I wanted to open a business. 

Friday, January 6, 2017


So, a student brought in her china that she got from her grandparents. Apparently they bought this set in England in the 40s. It's beautiful, but I'd never seen that type of brown alpha-numeric marking before. It didn't strike me as something the grandparents would write on their set, it looked to me like a catalogue number from the manufacturer.

So I did a simple Google search. Sure enough, I found other people asking about the brown cataloging symbols for this manufacturer.  And the date seemed off - they didn't seem to be making this set in the 40s.

I'll update here when I find out more. I'm a member of a listserv that deals in Historical Archaeology, so it was easier to put the pictures here and let other member look at them. Plus, I thought y'all would want to see them. Not microwavable!

Coming soon: The History of Pottery!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Minerals, Rocks, and the Periodic Table

Minerals make up rocks. Rocks are composed of minerals. Minerals are made from the bonding of elements. Elements consist of atoms all of the same type.

These statement tend to confuse the average beginning geology student. That's the consequence of not having enough science in public schools, which directly correlates to the amount of testing done in public schools. I might write about testing in schools at some other time, but for now, let's science. :)

The periodic table always fascinated me when I was younger (I started college as a physics major). There's so much information available in such a small graphic. For those that don't know too much about it, the periodic table is a tabular arrangement of elements, ordered by their atomic number (number of protons), electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. This ordering shows trends of the different elements, such as elements with similar behavior, in the same column. It also shows four rectangular blocks (colored) with some approximately similar chemical properties. In general, within one row (period) the elements are metals on the left, and non-metals on the right.

 The first 94 elements exist naturally, with Hydrogen through Iron being made in the fusion of a star's reaction while it is alive, and Cobalt through Plutonium being made during the process of a Supernova. Elements with atomic numbers from 95 to 118 have only been synthesized in laboratories or nuclear reactors.

 Under an international naming convention, the groups are numbered numerically from 1 to 18 from the leftmost column (the alkali metals) to the rightmost column (the noble gases). Previously, they were known by roman numerals. In the U.S., the roman numerals were followed by either an "A" if the group was in the s- or p-block, or a "B" if the group was in the d-block. The roman numerals used correspond to the last digit of today's naming convention.

 The table relates all sorts of other characteristics, including crystal structure, melting temperature, and how likely the element is to be found bonded with other elements. This helps scientists understand how matter relates to each other, and the nature of chemical bonding. Chemists and astrophysicists essentially have the same question: WHY do certain elements like to bond with each other over other elements?

But that's a question for a different post. Or another degree. :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My kid LOVES the outdoors

My daughter, at almost two years old, LOVES the outdoors. Well, actually, she's loved it since about three months old, when I would take her outside and sit in the waning days of our Wyoming summer. 

I think children are naturally attracted to the outdoors, and to nature, but unfortunately we as a society have a nasty habit of crushing their love and curiosity by the time they're teenagers.

I hope that doesn't happen to Sweetie. She seems to genuinely enjoy picking up leaves and rocks and bringing them into the house (and, no, I'm not exaggerating, even though she has geologists for parents. :D)

I think a lot about how we are encouraging her interests, and even to have interests. How does a parent do it? And for those children that have lost interest, what happened? What did we do wrong?

I honestly think part of the answer is to allow ourselves to have interests, and to share them with our children. I read her books that I like, we take her to places that we enjoy. That seems to be rubbing off on her. Heck, I even watch the TV shows I like with her (Doctor Who is her favorite).

The Natural Wildlife Federation has a great website with links and activities for getting kids more interested in the outdoors. Connect Kids and Nature

The key seems to be to start early. Which is why we'll take Sweetie out again tomorrow.

Here's a picture of Sweetie having fun that doesn't make me feel too bad about putting her picture on the Internet. If you do see us outside, say hello!


Monday, October 24, 2016

The Continental Divide and the Making of Wyoming

 The Continental Divide, or the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming, is something everyone asks me to explain. Especially in Wyoming, where you cross it twice on I-80.

In general, a continental divide is the dividing line on a continent where the water on one side of the divide drains into the ocean on that side of the continent, and the water on the other side of the line drains into the sea on the other side of the continent.

Sometimes, though, the water drains into a basin that is too low for the water to then go anywhere else. This is called an endoheic basin. Essentially, that basin is considered the "base level" of that region, and the water isn't ever going to make it to the far-away ocean. Where a continental divide meets an endorheic basin, such as Wyoming's Great Divide Basin, the continental divide splits and encircles the basin, making a bowl.

For an absolutely fascinating look at our water system, check out this article!
 River Basins of the US