Field Camp Cubic QTVR Panorama

My last cubic QTVR was of my office in Tomanek Hall – today I bring you my office in Dinosaur National Monument during field camp this past summer.

Green River Campground, Dinosaur National Monument, June 5, 2005

The patch of grass that hides my tripod definately needs some work. Also a little blurry/ghosty on some seams. Otherwise it’s not too shabby. The cottonwoods came out great! I definately need more practice, though.

The End of New Orleans?

Do not panic – but be very afraid. Hurricane Katrina is now a category 5 made landfall as a category 4 storm. It’s current track is expected to take it directly over New Orleans, LA. What’s the link to geology? New Orleans is sinking due to the subsidence of the Mississippi delta; large sections of the city are 10 or more feet below sea level. The levees that keep many floods of the Mississippi River out may seal the city’s fate if they are breached and subsequently trap the storm surge of a major hurricane in. How bad could that be? Potentially very, very bad. In a worst case scenario we could be looking at thousands to tens of thousands of deaths and the end of New Orleans as a habitable city.

Fill your gas tanks today. Oil may well has already exceeded $70/barrel this week. And that might be just the beginning of it.

Pray for the best.

Google Earth Domination

I normally take a rather dim view of conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, I loved the premise of the movie Conspiracy Theory that once in a blue moon they just might hit the nail on the head.

With last week’s news of Google’s move to sell $4 billion worth of shares and today’s NY Times article about Google as the new corporate bad guy I figure it’s time to put forth my own conspiracy theory about Google’s plans for world domination. Who knows – I might hit the jackpot.

To my mind, the most amazing product Google produces is Google Earth. Their search engine is great, mind you, but there’s competition out there and Google’s edge in that field is not what it once was. Microsoft was late to the game with Virtual Earth, which may provide competition for Google Maps, but is not even in the same league with Google Earth. Nobody has an answer for Google Earth (yet).

Why do I find Google Earth so amazing? Well, to begin with, its interface is so throughly intuitive that users of all ages get it. Maybe not since the Apollo Program sent back pictures of the Earth in space has it been possible to feel so connected to the rest of the planet. Google Earth stimulates human curiosity. As an educator and a geologist I can’t think of a better way to bring the whole Earth into the classroom (especially for large scale concepts). Play with it yourself – you’ll see.

But even beyond the “gee, wow” aspects of playing with the planet, there’s so much more power under the hood. Google Earth brings geospatial relevance and functionality to the web browser, the search engine, and even the RSS aggregator (as KML/KMZ networked links – I’d be interested to hear Dave Winer’s take on this – I think Google may grok XML and RSS more than many imagine). As users and developers party together the question soon becomes, “what can’t you do with Google Earth?”

So think about it… Google has a phenomenally innovative product that is going to be useful in all sorts of ways and they are way ahead of their competition. And on top of that, recall that “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” I think that ultimately, and for many applications, Google Earth will replace the modern web browser as a vehicle for delivering on this mission.

So what does Google Earth lack? Well, for me one of the most disappointing things is that I can’t get high resolution satellite data coverage uniformly over the entire globe. And it’s not that the satellite data don’t exist, but rather that it’ll never be in the interests of the companies that own it to license it all to Google. One obvious thing Google might do with $4 billion is to buy out a couple of satellite imaging companies. That’d be great, but I bet they could do better. Why not go all out and launch an earth observing satellite program of their own? Think about it… GoogleSat! Not only would they achieve far better coverage, but it could also be far more timely. Could this be done for $4 billion? I have no idea, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

SW Kansas Teachers Workshop

On Monday and Tuesday (7/11-7/12) I led a workshop for SW Kansas Middle School Teachers on Earthquakes and Volcanoes. It was held in the computer lab of the Kenneth Henderson Middle School in Garden City, KS.

The workshop was a lot of fun. I covered mainly Plate Tectonics concepts on Monday and then Earthquakes Tuesday morning and Volcanoes on Tuesday afternoon. The teachers were enthralled by Google Earth. In hindsight, I wish I’d had a third day to expand on the volcano stuff in particular… oh well, maybe next year.

Funding for the workshop was provided through the No Child Left Behind Act. Much of the press I’ve heard about the act has been negative or emphasizing the controversial aspects of the Act, but I’ve got to go on record that my experience with this aspect of it was overwhelmingly positive.


Western Trip Wrap-up

I arrived home from the big western trip late on Saturday (7/2) after a long day of driving that began in Albequerque, NM. I was surprised that the Rocky Mountain front is a lot less pronounced on I-40 than in Denver, CO on I-70. So, in fact, most of the day was spent driving the High Plains. Cheapest gas all trip was back in Hays, KS where the price was $2.13/gal.

The last leg of the trip was distinctly hotter than the earlier part of the trip. Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs were wonderful and cool, because of the higher elevations. Descending into Bakersfield, CA was a bit like a descent into hell (in a thermal sense anyhow). Remarkably though, Lake Kaweah was historically high, flooding some of the shoreline campgrounds and boat launches. After getting gas and an oil change in Bakersfield I made the decision to forgo camping in the Southern Sierras and I forged on for Barstow, CA. Spent the following morning discovering Rainbow Basin State Park – lovely structures! I then powered eastward through Vegas and on to St. George, UT (closing my California loop). What a difference a week and a half can make – the clear skies that I had left on the way west were now obscured by a pall of thick smoke from wildfires in the area – a real bummer for photography. Fortunately in the canyon of the Virgin River in Zion NP the grey horizon was replaced by towering sandstone cliffs and the sky overhead was not overly smoky. Zion, like most of the big parks out west, was wall to wall people – or at least that’s the way it felt when trying to get a parking space at the visitor center. The shuttle system there works very well, though, so once you are parked seeing the rest of the park is quite pleasant. After Zion it was on to a new (to me) stretch of parks. After camping at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, west of Kanab, UT, I proceeded to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. A beautiful drive in along the Kaibab Plateau led to letdown at the canyon rim – fires in the vicinity created a haze so thick it was hard to make out even the South Rim. Bummer. A brief side trip to Page, AZ was a beautiful drive, but the Glen Canyon Dam was a sad reminder of the security situation in our times. I was really hoping to do a cubic QTVR at its base, but the idea was quickly abandoned upon discovering airport style security at the visitor center – no way I was even going to think about asking for special access. After Page, I made my way south to the San Francisco volcanic field. The final geologic stop of the trip was a foray to SP Crater. Climbing the cinder cone during the midday heat proved to be too daunting, but I was able to get some nice photos from the saddle on its west side and some nice fresh samples of the andesite from the east edge of its lava flow. After that, it was eastward ho!

Grand total of photos for the trip: 9303, or roughly 300/day. Might’ve broken 10K if the weather had been clearer on the last leg. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Update from Fresno, CA

Just a real brief update to remind you all that I’m still alive. Tioga Pass opened this morning and that means I spent the day in Yosemite. The High Sierra was great, but the valley was very crowded. Filled the gigabyte memory card on the camera – gotta download the images tonight.

Most of the last week was spent in Death Valley – had a great time there too. Owens Valley, Long Valley, and Mono Lake for the last two days. Spectacular panoramas in the tufa on Mono Lake – can’t wait to stitch them together.

This is probably the farpoint of this journey – tomorrow I head to Sequoia to get a spherical panorama in one of the groves of big trees. Then the journey home begins…

Hasta luego,

Update from Escalante, UT

Greetings from Escalante, UT!!! The weather is beautiful, wish you were here!

Since my last update I traveled with the FHSU field camp to Dead Horse Point, UT and Arches, NP. Unfortunately the sky was pretty cloudy for those two stops, so the pictures were not as spectacular as I had hoped, and I opted out of the hike up to Delicate Arch. On Friday (I had to think about that – it’s pleasently hard to keep track of what day it is) we went to the potash mines just outside Moab. UT – wild salt stalactites and stalagmites just below the evaporation ponds – the operation is using solution mining and natural solar evaporation to derive salt and potash from the Paradox Formation. They didn’t get much evaporation done while we were there, though, as the skies opened up as we headed back to the vans – the western drought appears to be definitely broken. After the mines I parted ways with field camp. As they headed on to Cortez, CO and their next mapping project in Durango, CO I went back up the road to Dead Horse Point, but continued on to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands NP and, lo and behold, the weather began to clear up! Got some nice pictures of Upheaval Dome and Grand View (and of course, lots of others along the road on the way to these points – aah the joys of digital photography!). In the evening I drove back down to Arches NP just in time to get a spectaular evening light on the arches and rock pillars on the way to the Windows section. Finally I rounded out the evening with dinner at the Moab Brewpub down in town. A spectacular day.

Saturday morning I hoped to catch good light on the eastern exposures in Arches, but unfortunately it had clouded up overnight. I got just a few pictures then opted to head south toward Monument Valley. I found a hole in the clouds for picutes of the Goosenecks of the San Juan and the monocline near Mexican Hat, UT. By the time I got to Monument Valley, though, the weather had turned to rather dramatic thunderstorms. Some nice pictures with the clouds, but I’m not sure how good the classic Mittens pictures will look. Drove on to Canyon de Chelly NM and camped there. I made the mistake of trying to sleep “under the stars” without a tent and got drenched for my laziness.

Sunday awoke to clearing skies and nice views from both the north and south canyon rim drives at Canyon de Chelly. Departed about mid-afternoon for the north. Sadly disappointing to be happy to be off the Navajo reservation – lovely place and some nice people, but I was twice approached by panhandlers (“Kemosabe, can you spare a dollar?”) – a sad comment on the poverty that affects the area. Just north of Mexican Hat, UT (again) I mad a brief call home to say all was well. (Hope that message got through, as the connection was very weak.) Proceeded west up Cedar Mesa – now that’s some drive!!! Got a spectacular set of photos that I hope to stitch together (at a later date) into a spherical panorama from one of the hairpin turns! Had to hold the tripod and brace myself to keep from blowing over the edge during the occasional 30 mph gusts! Finally I camped at Hall’s Crossing on the east shore of Lake Powell.

Monday morning I was up early (and happy to shower again) in order to catch the 8:00am ferry to Bullfrog. Got there 15 minutes earlier than I needed to figuring I’d beat the rush and make sure I didn’t get bumped to the 10 am ferry. No worries – I ended up being the first in line and only two other vehicles made my ferry (one of them an NPS vehicle). Drove north into the Henry Mts. – nice pictures and two samples for petrology of the famed laccoliths. Drove onward to Hanksville, UT and thence westward toward Capitol Reef NP. Very disappointed that the Luna Mesa Cantina was not opened when I passed though Caineville. Don’t know if it was just too early in the day (about 11:30am) or whether they’ve gone out of business – the place was still there, but there was no sign of life. The afternoon was consumed with photos in and around Capitol Reef NP. Spectacular weather – not a cloud in the sky but still not overly hot. Lots of photos including a number that will later be stitched into spherical panoramas. Hard to leave, but I pried myself away. Drove over Boulder Mountain headed toward Escalante – had my dinner with a spectacular view of the Henry’s and Capitol Reef to the east. On reaching the summit area on Hwy 12 I pulled over to snap a few pictures and noticed a couple of “hikers” approaching the road up one of the dirt trails. Turns out they were no mere hikers, but geologists from the Utah Geological Survey – the elder of the two none other than Hellmut Doelling (author of the Geologic Map of Arches NP!). Their vehicle got stuck in one of the mudholes on the “roads” between the mountain and the Waterpocket Fold. Although I don’t really have any passenger room the way I’ve packed the Jeep, I made some room in the front seat and was able to enjoy a delightful and educational ride back down the mountain to Torrey, UT where Dr. Doelling got their other vehicle and continued the “rescue” mission. I “camped” at one of the viewpoints on Boulder Mtn. – spectacular solitude and a heaven full of stars!

And what a sunrise! More pictures on the way through Calf Creek/Escalante Canyon through the Navajo sandstone sea – now a centerpiece of Grand Staircase-Escalante NM. Had lunch (and internet) at Escalante Outfitters – headed for Bryce NP tonight and Zion NP tomorrow.

No time or connectioin speed to upload lots of photos (I downloaded over 1000 yesterday – about two days worth, with good weather), but I’ll try to add a few to supplement this post.

Hasta luego,

P.S. No luck uploading photos – connection here is just too slow. I’ll try again with my next posting.

P.P.S. Pictures (a few) added in Beaver, UT on Thursday (6/16) morning.

Update from Price, UT

Not much time to write as we’re going to be departing Price, UT for Arches NP in about a half an hour. The weather has improved a good deal from the first two days. It remains unseasonably cool (highs in the 70’s) for this area, but it’s been sunny and breezy (less bugs) for the last week or so – good field work conditions. Dinosaur NM project went well – lots of photos in the gallery. Ketobe Knob was great too. I’m looking forward to Dead Horse Point (lunchtime today) and Arches NP (this afternoon). We’re planning a hike to Delicate Arch for sunset. Check back for more pictures in a couple of days.