Thursday, January 26, 2017

Have We Reached Peak Bowl?

Cross-posted at the Late Enlightenment.

This figure is from an earlier post about the bowl system. The reason for the expansion of the bowl system is easy: more money, for the teams and cities. As long as the fans keep coming, what's not to like?

But there must be a saturation point for any market, and maybe we've hit it for the bowl system. After 39.8% attendance this year, San Diego's Pointsettia Bowl is being discontinued - after being underperformed only by one other bowl, the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit at 29.4%.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Riding from the Bay Area to Sacramento

Reddit user Old_Gold_Mountain rode from the Bay to tha 916 and took some great pictures along the way. Below I've taken one but you really should see the rest.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Resources for People in California Who Like the Outdoors

This is a list for people who like having fun outside and by that I mean, running, hiking, camping, climbing in those places - and preserving all this stuff so we can keep doing it and pass it on to our descendants. (And don't forget good food and drink.) This list includes some older resources that I still found immensely useful (plate tectonics aren't THAT fast.) They also include resources which aren't for California specifically but have a lot of good CA stuff and will also help you plan road trips and vacations!

Of course, here are my own best-of lists for San Diego and SoCal generally



















Weird California





For urban trails, beer, and shenanigans, the Hash House Harriers

The Million Mile Man: Danny Chew

Wanted to give a shout out to this guy, who has documented his ongoing attempt to ride a million miles in his lifetime. I like the cut of this fellow's jib! It's also from his site that I learned about the Dirty Dozen ride up the worst 12 hills in Pittsburgh, including Canton Avenue, which can be seen near the end of my post here and which purports to be the steepest street in the United States.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Glen Onoko Falls and the Lehigh River Gorge

I went there a few days after Christmas, when the leaden skies kept threatening snow, and at first I wished I'd been there during summer. But the rhododendrons were green as ever and the falls were partly frozen, which made this about as good a day as any to go. For all the warnings about the dangers of the falls, if you're not a knucklehead and don't actually go out on the flat slippery rock platforms at the top of the falls, you can stay safe pretty easily. I was actually more worried about falling icicles (you can see piles in some of the pictures.) I was pressed for time so I didn't go far along the trail at the top of the ridge but honestly I think the view from within the gorge is at least as cool.

While we were there we also took in the Jim Thorpe Monument. Thorpe had nothing to do with the town that bears his name, but when he died, bottom line, his wife needed money, and the town was willing to rename itself from Mauch Chunk if they could rename themselves after a famous but down-on-his-luck recently passed athlete, and get tourists coming to see his monument. (Remember 15 years ago when people were offering to name their kids after dot coms? And one town did rename itself Half Dot Com? And for that matter Truth or Consequences, New Mexico renamed itself after a game show? Like that.) Pretty ridiculous that this all-around mega-athlete was stripped of his wins because he made a few dollars as a young man. It's some consolation that this story has kept him better known than he otherwise would have been.

The Jersey Pine Barrens and South Jersey

I'd been wanting to get to this area for some time. Though South Jersey seems like an unlikely tourist destination, it's one of several unique spots on the East Coast that are a little isolated from the megalopolis by virtue of being east of the main routes (much like the Delmarva Peninsula). The Barrens themselves struck me as a colder version of the coastal Carolina pine forests and indeed that's how biologists think of it. Even that far from the coast the tides still affect the river although I didn't see any crabs in the water that far inland. The soil was even sandier than I expected. I'm impressed at how well the most densely-populated state in the U.S. has preserved this area; I saw a couple trail markers that pointed to another state forest 25 miles away. Nice! While I didn't see any Jersey devils, I thought Batsto Village was both interesting and a bit Adams-Family (look at the pictures, you'll see what I mean.)

While I was driving through South Jersey I visited a number of other off-the-beaten track sites: the Matthew Henson statue in Camden commemorating the first human ever to stand at the geographic North Pole (forgotten maybe because he was black); the discovery site of the first relatively complete dinosaur (in Haddonfield) where the discoverer actually knew what it was; two robot gardens, one in Hammonton and one in Buena; the Palace of Depression (economic, not psychiatric); and a Futuro House on the Jersey side of Delaware Bay. If you're interested in any of these they're not particularly hard to find online.


[Added later: as sea levels rise, salt water is moving further inland and the trees in the barrens are dying off completely, changing to marshlands.]

BATSTO VILLAGE, which contains some of the creepiest buildings I've ever seen

See what I mean? Of the ones above and below, I'm sure at least one of them was built to cure human meat. In actuality, the one below is a corn crib.

Inexplicably, as if remembering something long forgotten, I was drawn into the house...



This guy reminds me of the Mechanical Hound from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, except he seemed a little friendlier. A little.

There were many unexpected things in rural South Jersey. (Near Buena. Photo taken from Mapio.)






Saturday, January 7, 2017

Volcanoes in Berks County, Pennsylvania

We are "Cop Rock" we are Screech
We are Z. Cavaricci
We are laser removed
Tasmanian devil tattoos

You are the heart dotting "i"
In the word "apologize"
Scribbled drunk on a postcard
Sent from somewhere volcanoes are

- Bloodhound Gang, "Pennsylvania"
The geology of Pennsylvania is fascinating and is undeservedly neglected in favor of the West's more striking volcanoes and active faults. A lot has happened in PA, but the land is old so it's worn-down so it's not as dramatic. And unlike the West there's plenty of water, so there are trees covering everything, which makes the geology even less obvious. For example, the volcanoes of Berks County.

Yes, you read that right. I would've expected Berks County (and all of PA for that matter) to be limited to sandstone, some limestone, maybe some granite. But read the rocks in some of the hills of southern Berks, and you reveal the capricious fire and violence of the planet and the universe. A year or so ago, I was looking at topographical maps of Berks, and this formation in Exeter Township jumped out at me. Here are some screenshots of topo maps to give you context (I'm sure there's a better way to display this but I haven't found it; if you know how, please leave a comment. Unless otherwise noted maps are from Google.)

(If you want to zoom in and play around click here.)

(There are also volcanoes, in fact more recent cenozoic ones, in Virginia - see this YouTube video.)

Comparing the bottom map to the one showing-the ridge-and-valley Appalachians at the top, can you appreciate how unlike the hills in the northern part of the county are, compared to the formation in the bottom map? Isolated, wedge-shaped, and surrounded by concentric rings of hills. Hills in Berks County, as in most of central and eastern PA, tend to be long, rounded off ridges (or at least pieces of rounded off ridges, sometimes dissected by old rivers), separated by flat valleys, like you can see on the top map there. Why is this? The Appalachians are old mountains formed during the Alleghanian Orogeny, a mountain building event that began over three hundred million years ago, well before the dinosaurs and the Atlantic Ocean, when North Africa ground against North America. This means, among other things, that part of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and Algeria used to be continuous with the Appalachians. (As a result of my trip several months after this post to Morocco, I am able to present some Pennsylvania Appalachian and Morocco Atlas rock samples side by side, long lost cousins united at last!) At one point, these mountains were probably the highest mountains on Earth, like the modern Himalayas, which should reinforce your impression of their age.

Above, the world 350 million years ago when the Appalachians began forming; Pennsylvania is somewhere in the red circle. Below, the world 200 million years ago when these weird hills appeared in Berks. From and respectively.

The individual ridges today still run for several states in length; as you can see in the first map above, the more southern and central Appalachians trend north, then turn eastward in central Pennsylvania. The most easterly/southerly ridge (i.e., the most seaward of these ridges) sort of peters out just west of the Susquehanna. In practical terms, that means that Appalachian Trail hikers (who have been following that ridge since Virginia all the way to Halfway Springs in Michaux State Forest just east of Shippensburg) have to cross from the now dying ridge through a flat valley of small farms and towns to Dillsburg, and then attain what Berks Countians think of as the Blue Ridge - the last ridge cut by the Susquehanna (one of the oldest rivers on Earth) just above Harrisburg (which is why they put the state capital there) and which is again cut by the Schuylkill River as it emerges into Berks at Hamburg.

The most seaward ridge doesn't completely die though - it continues as a set of lower, worn-down hills like the ones around Mt. Gretna, and South Mountain in western Berks, and finally Mt. Penn and Neversink which continue as the uranium- and therefore (practical point!) radon-laden Reading Prong all the way to Connecticut. Hike up to the top of the newly-added piece of Pennsylvania's State forests, Gibraltar Hill (near the border between Cumru, Exeter and Robeson Townships in Berks County) and the unexpected view it affords may convince you that these mountains were once much higher.

Is that hill from an asteroid-caused tsunami? Many reasons against this, not least of which that impact was just too far south and there would be more and more obvious such remains closer, like in Virginia. Image from Slashgear.

So now you have a better idea why someone might be offended by the very existence of this bizarre isolated wedge-shaped half-cone in Exeter Township, Pennsylvania. Hills in PA are not supposed to be sharp wedges that change direction like the ones you see above, with little concentric ridges around them. And yet, to paraphrase Galileo, there it was. The best I could come up with is that these are a result of a tsunami. What? Tsunamis often leave behind wedge-shaped formations like this; and there was in fact a massive mid-Atlantic tsunami about 35 million years ago, that actually made it over the first (then even higher) Appalachian ridge, when a large meteor smashed into what is now the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. (Practical point here: the ground is still sinking in Hampton Roads along the southeastern Virginia Coast, about 6 inches a century.) But really, that was hand-waving, and I didn't give any more thought to how I would test my theory. (If you can test your theory, better to test it and find out you were wrong but have a true answer, than let it dangle in uncertainty.)

When later I was looking at topo maps of PA again, I noticed this formation, around Green Lane Reservoir in northern Montgomery County, 25 miles from the first strange hill. It doesn't look like a tsunami remnant at all. But it is suspiciously circular, which makes it look much like something else. (Note: as of 2019 I have been to Green Lane Reservoir. While a perfectly nice body of water with charming villages around it, on the ground, the hills are not obviously crater-like - so I forgive upper Montgomery County residents for not making it a tourist attraction.)

Above: forested hills on the circular ridge around Green Lane Reservoir, northern Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Below: Diamondhead crater, Honolulu in background, from Hawaii Division of State Parks.

At this point I decided it was getting ridiculous, and I better just look at a soil map. Sure enough, those hills are made of igneous (volcanic) rock. Red is igneous. (When I looked at this map I actually pounded my desk and shouted "I knew it!" So I'm a geek, so sue me.) Arrows point to the Jacksonwald Hill and the one around Green Lane Reservoir. Map is from Rocks and Minerals of Pennsylvania, published by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

#1 is the weird hill I first noticed, hereafter called by its proper name, the Jacksonwald Outlier. #2 is the rim around Green Lane Reservoir (which may not actually reveal the shape of an actual crater, but is volcanic nonetheless.) #3 is Monocacy Hill, which I stumbled on while I was running the whole Schuylkill River Trail in Berks (it's a nice hike, you should check it out). Penn State has a map of Berks County specifically, where Gibraltar Hill is also marked as igneous. While it may seem from this list that every hill in these parts is volcanic, as soon as you get north of Reading, that's the last igneous rock you see, and the mountains become well-behaved Appalachians. To get hyperlocal for Cumru Township, there's also an arc of igneous rock running from about Fritz Island, through Nolde Forest and Gouglersville to Fritztown. The rock found on these hills is diabase, which is an igneous rock less macroscopically heterogeneous than gabbro, but more heterogeneous than basalt. Image of diabase below from Sand Atlas.

So I'm not the first person to figure out that there's something strange about those hills and that they're actually volcanic, but once you learn this, you immediately find out all kinds of interesting geological history of southeast Pennsylvania. The Jacksonwald and peri-Green Lane Reservoir formations are both part of an arc of scattered igneous rock ridges that extend to Newark, New Jersey, called the Wachtung Outliers.

Such was my obsession that when I was back in Berks for the holidays, I went to the Jacksonwald Outlier - although you really can't appreciate the strangeness of the shape while you're standing on it, even inside the back of the wedge, which in California we would call a box canyon if we were feeling generous (but again, Pennsylvania isn't supposed to have box canyons). I collected some samples from near the top, mostly eroded, loose rocks on the north half of Fabers Road, some of which I hammered off from a much bigger stone, to avoid embarrassing discussions with TSA as I flew back to the West Coast. (Thanks to Arch for loaning the hammer for this and Ringing Hill.) To my inexpert eye, these look like diabase as opposed to granite or some sedimentary stone.

Completely by accident, during this same visit I accidentally ended up on top of two other igneous intrusions on this visit - the first was Ringing Hill in Pottstown, which features diabase ringing rocks like the more famous ones in Bucks County, and I went there with a hammer to hear for myself. On the most zoomed-in rock type map above, you can see the red spur of igneous rock that extends southeast along the Perkiomen from the loop around Green Lane Reservoir, then west and northwest to the Berks County line, and passes the towns just north of Pottstown and north of the Schuylkill (Video below, but the audio doesn't do it justice. This phenomenon occurs when igneous rocks get glaciated for a while but we really don't understand why from a materials science standpoint.)

Below, Youtuber NJRE has a better video from the Upper Black Eddy Ringing Rocks field near the Delaware River, in Bucks County.

I already mentioned the second Pennsylvania volcano I accidentally visited, another newly-preserved park, Monocacy Hill. (Thank you for your commitment and hard work, Pennsylvania and Berks County conservationists!) When I got to the top, I noticed that the exposed rock looked exactly the same as what I found on the Jacksonwald Outlier - and indeed it's also diabase. And again, Monocacy Hill is another free-standing near-conical hill not part of an Appalachian Ridge. (When I found the diabase there in another free-standing, oddly-shaped hill, I thought to myself, "well duh.")

Above, diabase at the summit of Monocacy Hill. Below, Lake Manicouagan in Quebec.

So WHY is there volcanic rock in Southern Berks and northern Montgomery Counties? ("Trap rock", as geologists sometimes call it - visible on this nifty geological map of Pennsylvania.) Because there were a series of large eruptions two hundred million years ago, at the tail end of the Triassic (the first of three dinosaur ages that made up the Mesozoic). Two interesting things here involving the history of life on Earth: there was a mass extinction at the end of the Triassic. The jury is still out on the cause, but these volcanoes are the leading culprit. The competing suspect is the Manicouagan impactor 213 million years ago, another asteroid impact that produced was is now Manicouagan Reservoir in Quebec, and we know it affected far-flung locations because you can find microscopic spherules in contemporary strata in both New York and England (spherules are produced when a mist of molten rock is in free fall for significant time - yikes.)

But again, an asteroid impact cannot be the answer, because the timing is wrong - there's a thirteen million year gap. On the other hand, we're fairly sure that in other areas of the world, continent-wide volcanism has caused extinctions before, as in the Deccan or Siberian Traps in Asia, which would have made the Yellowstone supervolcano eruption look like a fourth-of-July sparkler. There have even been dinosaur footprints found in rocks of this age in the Passaic formation around this area, which is kind of cool. [Added later: there are dinosaur footprints from just before the Triassic-Jurassic boundary on paving stones in Valley Forge.]

Left, rhynchosauroides recreation from, and right, footprints in Montgomery County. From Spencer G. Lucas and Robert M. Sullivan. Tetrapod footprints from the upper triassic Passaic formation near Graterfor, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. From Harris et al., eds., 2006, The Triassic-Jurassic Terrestrial Transition. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin.

I used to think dinosaur traces could only be found out west like the ones below, but the very first mostly-intact dinosaur discovered (where the discoverer knew what it was, and didn't think it was dragons or giants or some other nonsense) was actually in the Philly suburb of Haddonfield, New Jersey.

Above: leg bone still embedded in rock wall, Capitol Reef N.P.. Below, dinosaur footprint in Canyonlands N.P. The ones in PA are much harder to spot but experts can still find them.

To summarize, I don't think anything could do better than this excerpt from Peter Martinson's Master's thesis, which he was kind enough to put online in easily-searachable form: "Morgantown Pluton is a layered mafic intrusion which lies at the southern corner of Berks County, PA. It is one part of a much larger complex of 200±4 Ma mafic intrusions (Marzoli et al. 1999; Blackburn et al. 2013) that spreads across the Atlantic coasts of North and South America, North Africa, and Europe, collectively called the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP). In Eastern North America, the CAMP is represented as a network of igneous sheets and dikes that crop out in basins of Triassic-aged sedimentary rock and conglomerate. These Mesozoic basins are roughly parallel to the Atlantic coast, and were formed during the initial rifting of Pangaea and the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. The intrusion of enormous masses of diabase into the basins coincides precisely with the end-Triassic mass turnover of marine fauna identified by Raup & Sepkoski (1982), one of the big five Phanerozoic mass extinctions (Blackburn et al. 2013)." (References are in the paper.)

As to the question of why these erupted then and there, there still isn't a clear answer. As you can see above, they're studied enough to have a name (the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province) and there is much more evidence of these same eruptions in Morocco than in Pennsylvania. Morocco was just a hundred miles away when this happened, and the Atlantic hadn't spread open yet.

Unanswered questions:

1) Are we sure about what caused the Triassic-Jurassic extinction? If it was the CAMP, was it a mantle plume, and more generally, what causes these terrifying mass eruptions?

2) Why do ringing rocks ring, and what is it about being under high pressures and freezing temperatures for long periods that makes igneous rocks into ringing rocks?

3) Should the Reading Prong be considered just the northeastern extension of the Southern Blue Ridge? Is there actually higher radon (secondary to higher uranium content) in the southern Blue Ridge, and if not why not? On this question, radon risk maps are inconsistent, some petering out with South Mountain, others continuing through the central Appalachians (see here and here)

Finally, here is a timeline of events, as of the time of writing, in what is now the Northeast/Mid-atlantic region of the United States. To keep there from being lots of empty space, I'm presenting it in a less-traditional and possibly even more useful logarithmic format.

References and resources:

1. Jacksonwald Syncline, with map

2. Szajna, M.J., and Hartline, B.W., 2003, A new vertebrate footprint localityfrom the Late Triassic Passaic Formation near Birdsboro, Pennsylva-nia, in LeTourneau, P.M., and Olsen, P.E., eds., The great rift valleys ofPangea in eastern North America, vol. 2: sedimentology, stratigraphy,and paleontology: New York, Columbia University Press, p. 264-272. Also see this paper for Triassic-Jurassic age dinosaur footprints found in Douglassville.

3. More information on the Jacksonwald syncline, with pictures of what the rock strata look like "on the ground". Good references if you want to read further.

4. Peter Martinson's Master's Thesis, "On the Magmatic Plumbing and Differentiation of a Shallow Mafic Intrusive System: Morgantown Pluton, its Birdsboro Dike, and the Nearby Jacksonwald Syncline, Newark Basin, Pennsylvania, U.S.A."

5. Billy P. Glass, Bruce M. Simonson. Distal Impact Ejecta Layers: A Record of Large Impacts in Sedimentary Deposits. (See the Olson et al 2002b figure - iridium from Manicougan impact is too early to be responsible for mass extinction, therefore more likely mass volcanism from CAMP.)

6. Spencer G. Lucas & Michael Morales, eds. The Nonmarine Triassic: Bulletin 3. (See p. 440, which is in agreement that the Triassic-Jurassic extinction boundary is much closer to the time of CAMP activity.)