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

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Little Bit of History Goes a Long, Long Way

So, I regularly speak with young people, ages 16-25. And what they don't know shocks me. I know, I know, we've been complaining about the next generation since Socrates had to drink hemlock for "corrupting the youth."

But that's the point. So few of those young adults that I speak to have even heard of Socrates, much less that his was executed by being forced to drink hemlock. Point of fact, the entirety of the history of Western Civilization (not that WC is more important than others, but one should be familiar with the history of the culture you live in, yes?) seems to have passed them by in schools.

I feel like Professor Diggory - "What are young people learning in schools these days?" (If you don't recognize this quote, you seriously need to read more children's fiction.)

Knowing history is important. You can't make comparisons if you don't know what's happened before. You can't decide that you want something better if you don't know how bad things can go, or how good they were. If you can't make any valid analysis, if you can't make any comparisons about what's happening now to what might happen in the future, then....Living in a vacuum of information in the present should literally TERRIFY people. Why doesn't it?

Not sure how to fix that, if I can do anything at all. But thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Identifying Igenous Rocks

So, I made a short video explaining a simple way to identify igneous rocks (explained in a previous post). You can you this method even in the field, by just picking up a rock. Of course, you need to be able to recognize if the rock is igneous, or else it might be sedimentary or metamorphic, in which case this method won't work. :) Enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Wind River Range

The Wind River Range is in the western portion of Wyoming, and is typically considered part of the Rock Mountains, though that's technically incorrect (watch this blog for more on the formation of the mountain ranges that make up the "Rock Mountains"). 

It has granitic plutons (large plugs of granitic rock welling up from the mantle), indicating an Archean subduction zone. That means the core of the Wind River Range is nearly 4 billion years old! Whoo!

The range runs roughly NW-SE for over 100 miles. The Continental Divide is parallel to the range, making this one of the most unique mountain ranges in the US.

With the exception of the Grand Teton in the Teton Range, the next 19 highest peaks in Wyoming are also in the Wind Rivers. 

Ice Ages beginning 500,000 years ago carved the granite into their present shapes (geomorphology). Lakes were formed by the glaciers and numerous cirques (circular valleys made by glacial ice), were carved out of the rocks, the most well known being the Cirque of the Towers (if you've ever seen a postcard of Wyoming with a glacier and a jagged peak, its probably of the Towers). Several of these are some of the largest glaciers in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. Gannett Glacier, which flows down the north slope of Gannett Peak, is the largest single glacier in the Rocky Mountains. 

The Wind River Range is in pink (picture from Wikipedia Commons).

We'll talk about Plate Tectonics another time. :)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Petroglyphs of Wyoming

Wyoming Petroglyphs. They are absolutely stunning. And we have so many! Paleoindians (peoples inhabiting Wyoming around 8000 years ago), Fremont, Shoshone, Comanche, Apache, and Arapaho have all called Wyoming home.

Mostly Southwest Wyoming, though there are amazing sites in Northwest Wyoming as well, just as the Dinwoody and Medicine Wheel sites.

People ask me all the time: What do they mean? Short answer: We don't know. There are a variety of reasons people make pictures. For decoration, to make the place special, to make the area holy, or because the area is holy. Special places are made or recognized by Native Americans then are used as "libraries", or a place to store cultural and historical knowledge (All other cultures do this, to. Churches are a good example).

Some of the petroglyphs in Wyoming do have known meaning, as they are made relatively recently by cultures are still intact today. But many groups, having been mistreated by government actors in the past (and unfortunately still today), are not willing to discuss the meaning of their historical petroglyphs with anthropologists. This is akin to many religious groups not being willing to discuss certain details of their beliefs with outsiders.

So, when you visit these sites, be respectful. Obey all federal and state regulations. DON'T TOUCH. Don't assume you can take pictures, check first. Try to engage with the local culture, especially if there is an interpretive center nearby. Consider the oppression these peoples had to go through, and be grateful that some of these cultures are still around today.

Check out Wyoming State Historical Society – and Sacred Destinations – for more information on how to access these amazing sites.

Where have you been? What have you seen?