Quicksand

Since Dana asked so nicely (and persistently), I suppose I oughta break my blogging silence and contribute to Accretionary Wedge #34.
Danger Keep Out: Quicksand
I refuse to find much “weird” about geology – the scientist in me cringes a bit every time someone describes a natural phenomenon as “crazy” – but there is one geologic phenomenon that does come to mind when the term “weird” is in play: quicksand. My first introduction to the phenomena came in my early childhood watching reruns of the Lone Ranger (the episode is “Quicksand”, Season 5, Episode 8). Sadly, I can’t find even a decent episode summary online, but the power of the phenomena was visual anyhow. It appears the studios haven’t gotten around to making this particular episode available, so I can’t relive my horror. Let me assure you, it was a traumatic introduction to discover that not all terra is firma, and it made a lasting impression.

Since then my encounters with quicksand have been few and far between. I recall a picture in the great 1960’s editions “America’s National Parks” from National Geographic of a hiker knee deep in quicksand in Zion National Park, being pulled out by his companions. That proved to me that this wasn’t just some movie/TV plot device, but a real geologic phenomenon. (Evidently hikers still do encounter quicksand hiking at Zion.) After that, I encountered Henri Charrière’s description (probably exaggerated) of killer quicksand on the South American coast in his novel Papillon. And there’s the moment in Lawrence of Arabia where Daud cashes it in. Of course, over the years I’ve learned plenty about how to save yourself if you ever do encounter real quicksand (movie quicksand being all but inescapable), but I’ve never had the opportunity to put it into action.

I understand the basic physics of thixotropy, and have certainly experienced the related phenomena of beach sands and certain muds that liquify when shaken, but none of these strike me as being genuine quicksand in the traditional sense of the phenomena. I suppose this is just one of those weird geologic phenomena that I’ll have to keep exploring to discover firsthand.