So many Wyoming mountains!

Wyoming, being hard to access for a lot of scientists, doesn’t get a lot of attention when it comes to studying how Earth formed and what that might teach us about the future of our planet, or even from tourists, who think Yellowstone is in Montana (okay, like 4 minutes of it is).

But it should. Because there’s a LOT going on here. For starters, the Uinta mountain range is right at the border of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. And it’s amazing. One of the few mountain ranges originally from sedimentary rocks (rocks that have been weathered and transported to be redeposited, as opposed to rocks that form from volcanoes or in the mantel and then exposed to the surface), the range is also one of the few that runs East-West instead of North-South. The flanks of the east-west trending Uinta Mountains contain a sequence of Palozoic and Mezozoic strata (really-old and somewhat-old) ranging from the Cambrian (super-duper old) Lodore Formation to the Cretaceous (dinosaurs!) Mancos Shale, all of which have been spectacularly tilted during the uplift of the mountain range.

The amount of crunching and twisting seen here is outrageous. Photo by Dana Pertermann

The Wind Rivers are another amazing natural feature in Wyoming. Typically considered part of the Rock Mountains, though that’s technically incorrect as they have different formation events regardless of their proximity to one another, the range 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.

By User:G. Thomas – from the English Wikipedia, where the original uploader has released it to the public domain[1], CC BY-SA 3.0,

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 Leucite Hills

Or more formally known as the Leucite Hills Volcanic Province, this unique geological setting encompasses a huge area in Southwest Wyoming, including Table Mountain, Pilot Butte, Cross Mesa, Matthews Hill, Boar’s Tusk, and more.

Geologically, it’s made of some weird stuff. And that’s saying something, for a geologist. Active around 3.4-1.4 million years ago, these rocks have been classified as Diopside-Leucite-Phlogopite Lamporites. The name is so long mostly because no one really understands how they formed, so geologists have kinda named it “The everything rock (or why is this stuff even here)”.

A lamporite is an rock rich in potassium and magnesium and other elements that shouldn’t naturally like to bond together. It forms from the melting of the mantle deeper than 100 miles down. It’s close cousins to kimberlites, which are magma pipes of mantle rock that can contain diamonds. But while kimberlites are much more common and therefore better studied, lamporites only sometimes have diamonds. And therefore don’t get much love from industry or science, because who wants to spend a bunch on money studying some old rocks that probably won’t turn up a profit? Right?

Boar’s Tusk is thought to be the remains of a magma chamber that includes lamporite. There are then a number of lava flows around this area that are from this ancient volcanic activity that brought up more of these unusual rocks.

Boar’s Tusk. Photo by Dana Pertermann

I’ll save Yellowstone and Devils Tower for their own posts. We just got back from Devils Tower (the first National Monument), and we’re planning at trip back to Yellowstone soon (the first National Park). Pretty cool place, Wyoming.


What food is… is actually controversial

A group of us recently went to visit a local farmer who is interested in “family farming”, or farming in a sustainable way to provide a modern life to their family and grow good food for their local farmer’s market. The couple are more concerned about growing food in a healthy way rather than the end product of profit, though of course they need to make a living. We talked about soil health, labor and water needs, and how to create a system of “from farm to table” that allows them to have a more personal connection to the people they are selling their produce to, and for the consumer to have more of a connection to the food that they eat. They have a website and are documenting their experiences, if your interested, at

I told the group a story that my old neighbor had told me when I was a little girl, about her childhood in the city. When she was about 15, her parents sent her to live for the summer with a cousin who had a farm. It was common for this family to eat outside every day, with the food buffet-style for anyone to come and get during mealtimes. My neighbor, Helen, feeling very grown-up, asked for some cream to add to her morning coffee. The cousin pointed to a large bowl on the table and said, “Sure, help yourself.” Helen cringed. Eeww. The milk was just out in a bowl???? She had never seen milk not be in a carton before. Helen was mortified, as it hit her all at once – milk came from cows, not from cartons. She was in her 70s when I was a girl. And she said she had never drank milk again since that day.

Michael Pollan, a professor of writing, is one at the forefront of this movement, having written several books on the history of food in the U.S. and our relationship to food. I found my self talking to the farmer about Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, that I had read many years ago and have never forgotten. The disconnect we currently have to our food might not create just a dramatic and visceral reaction as it did for my friend Helen, but many people find themselves completely unaware today of how food is grown (or raised), and how it gets to your refrigerator.

In his book, Pollan explains why he defines food as not just stuff that we put in our mouth and chew, but stuff that 1) Has only about 5 ingredients, and 2) You can pronounce and you basically know what those ingredients are. Going through the laws behind food, he explains how in the 1970s there was a major shift in what people and the government thought of as food. Instead of maintaining the integrity of food as things made from what can be grown naturally, we changed the laws to allow anything to be called something as long as it had all the “components” of that something. So, for example, you could now sell bread (and call it bread) just by putting together all of the chemicals an nutrients of wheat together, without having to actually use wheat. Welcome, white bread lovers! (I love white bread).

This was a HUGE shift in out laws and in public opinion. I mean, when margarine first came to the grocery stores, lawmakers considered forcing manufacturers to put food dye in it like green or blue so that the customer could not be fooled into thinking that was real butter.

Since that change in the laws, the U.S. has had a strange relationship with food, as we now have the mentality that if we can be just as healthy eating all of the vitamins and components of a tomato as actually eating a whole, ripened on the vine tomato. Anyone who has tasted the difference knows that’s not true. But our government doesn’t have any taste. Ba dum chhh. Thank you, I’ll be here all night. 😀

But Europe is having the same issue right now, with European Union law trying to reconcile with national laws. Germany’s Beer Purity law, for example. Known as the Reinheitsgebot and introduced in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria, the decree allowed for only hops, barley, water and, later, yeast to be labeled “beer”. If you put anything else in it, you couldn’t call it beer, you had to call it “alcohol beverage” or something. Recently, that’s been open to change in Germany, as NPR explains better than I can here:

The idea, explains Pollan, is that we are now finding that overly processed “food” has a whole bunch of side effect no one foresaw, including free radicals (more chemistry than I really want to go into here), and the gestalt of the tomato being a tomato instead of a bunch of nutrients in a container. Those nutrients combining in the ground to grow a tomato does something to all of the nutrients that is beneficial. And that we can’t yet duplicate.

I recently saw a definition of food that I’ve come to appreciate best:
Food makes your body work, grow and repair itself. And the kind of food you eat can affect the efficiency of these processes. If you want to know more about the chemistry of food, I’d suggest an open-source book written by a PhD in food chemistry available here:

I like to grow my own food when I can. Or get it from my neighbors. Even in the city, my neighbor manages to grow so many tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and onions she can’t use or give them all away. It’s honestly not hard, and I think we’ve forgotten that. I worry about things like an economy free fall in which cities would run out of food in a hurry. And I wonder: do we still have the cultural knoweldge to grow our own food in a large enough portion of our society to sustain ourselves?

I’d be interested in anyone’s thoughts on farming and growing your own food.


“I must have books”

Last week, Dana shared with you her essential reading list. Of course, I couldn’t resist doing likewise! Before I do, maybe I should tell you a little about my obsession!

Image result for Thomas Jefferson meme "I must have books"

I confess it openly: I am a bibliophile! I love books. I don’t just love reading them. I love collecting them, too! I love the feel of them in my hand–the weight of knowledge and authority. I love the creases that form in the spine of a paperback–the trophy of accomplishment that you get when you’ve read every page. I love the smell of a used bookstore, where every volume–like a hungry orphan–reaches with outstretched arms for you to pick it up, take it home, and love it once more!

In short, books to me are more than just paper, glue, and ink. They are gateways to other worlds, or times. Perhaps this accounts for why I spend most of my “mad money” on purchasing them. My personal library–acquired over many years of higher education and personal study–now runs to somewhere around two-thousand volumes!

Some people buy fancy cars, or stylish clothes….I buy books.

How did this obsession begin? Some of you may remember the late 1980s and early 1990s television show Reading Rainbow. You know, the one hosted by Gordy LaForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation? Well, the opening song began with the lyrics, “butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high…”

Related image

And you know what? I really believed that with a book, I could do that!

I started in the early 1990s by reading children’s books on the Titanic that my Uncle Joe rented from the local library just for me! As you know from a previous post, this subject became a sort of obsession for me…especially when the James Cameron film hit theaters in 1997.

Related image

Then in grade school it was R. L. Stein’s Goosebumps. A new one came out every month, and the scholastic book orders would always highlight it on the first page of their monthly order form! My favorite was Night of the Living Dummy.

Then when Stephen Spielberg’s adaptation of Jurassic Park came out, it was on to Michael Creighton’s novels–my favorite is Sphere. Similarly, when Interview with the Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula were shown on HBO (I wasn’t old enough to go to an R-rated movie in the theater), I had my mother rush me to the local used bookstore to pick up copies!

Today, I mainly spend my money on non-fiction, but I still occasionally dabble in a little fiction. For instance, in the last year I finished reading all of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. My favorite was The Vampire Lestat.

Image result for Shakespeare Meme

I like to consider myself a professional student. I loved learning in grade school, high school, and especially college, and I expect that I will continue to have an insatiable appetite for learning until the day I “shuffle off this mortal coil”….that’s a Shakespeare reference…I’ll let you look up which play it’s from.

In that vein, I suppose I resemble Thomas Jefferson, our third president, who once wrote in a letter to a friend that he could do without most luxuries of life, but he could not “live without books.”

Image result for Thomas Jefferson quote books

Yes, it true–I just put myself in the same group as Gordy LaForge, William Shakespeare, and Thomas Jefferson. No, I don’t have delusions of grandeur. I do, however, believe that reading can make you as great as these men.

Image result for Han Solo Meme delusions of grandeur

By now, if you are still with me, you probably get my appreciation for reading. So, without further ado, I can get to my reading list!

Being a historian, it should come as no surprise that I will have a lot of nonfiction on it. Every one of them I have personally read. Every one of them I highly recommend. Some are more enjoyable than others, but all are important!

Dr. Neels’ Reading List:


Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

Image result for Confederates in the Attic

George Washington by Ron Chernow

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel


Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S.

Grant in War and Peace by H. W. Brands

With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by

Stephen Oates

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by

Image result for A Night to Remember

Stephen Greenblatt

A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush

Desperate Hours: The Epic Rescue of the Andrea Doria by

Richard Goldstein

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of

Matthew Shepard by Stephen Jimenez

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward

Image result for John Adams David McCullough

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon


John Adams by David McCullough

Lincoln and the First Shot by Richard


A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn


The Once and Future King by T. H. White

Image result for Les Miserables book

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Image result for Lamb by Christopher Moore

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff,

Christ’s Childhood Pal

by Christopher Moore

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rawling

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Image result for The Haunting of Hill House book cover

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

1984 by George Orwell

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

So there you have it! A reading list fit for a bibliophile! Of course there are hundreds more that I could have added! Happy Reading!

— m.a.n.

The cultural connection to books

Today I read about a terrible decision Spokane, WA public schools made: to lay off all of their school librarians. In order to try to balance their budget, they are removing the unseen hand guiding young students through the wealth (and litter) of information modern society has made available to them.

As Americans, we also don’t read enough outside of our job or career any more. Scholarly book sales are on the decline. Heck, even popular books sales are on the decline, and that includes e-books. Whether or not the problem might be that we are all so busy trying to make a living, the issue is there. We no longer have a cultural connection to books, or even to the acquisition of knowledge in general.

These two facts connect so much of what has been happening in our society for the last 30 years or so: the disinterest in knowledge, and the inability to gauge the usefulness of information presented to us. I truly don’t believe that social media created our short attention spans, but the other way around: that social media was created as a response to our demand for just the bits of information that we need, outside of the context that takes too long for us to understand.

I consciously noticed this trend myself my first year teaching, over a decade ago. I’m a complete nerd, I’ll admit, but when none of my students have read anything I reference? (I make a lot of pop culture jokes based on books and movies). I started making lists of books I’ve read that I can remember the titles to. And then I asked my students (at the time, I wasn’t much more that 10 years older than the traditional undergraduate) to make their own lists. When I had over 400 books I can recall the titles to on my list, and they could barely come up with 20? I knew there was a problem. But how to address it?

Ted Striphas, Professor of Communication at the University of Colorado, has been blogging about the cultural connection to books for some time ( It’s fascinating how other cultures looks at books and reading. Did you know that the UK has the highest sales of non-fiction books per capita (in countries where we have stats available)? And in Iceland, it’s the tradition that on Christmas Eve, everyone gives each other a book, and your family spends the evening reading.

I think I must be Icelandic.

So I started passing out lists of books I think my college students should read. Not those lists of “Books everyone should read before graduating college”, but books that I think are interesting and important. Books that can change your mind. Students responded well, though as it wasn’t an assignment, I have really no idea if they ever took up the list to actually read through. But, ever the optimist, I then started a hashtag on Facebook, #Pertermannbooklist, where I listed 50 of my favorite/important/mygodyouneedtoreadthisbook books.

Now it’s your turn. No, I don’t think this will “fix” the world. But, like Kris Kristofferson, I can’t believe that no one wants to know.

(In no precise order)

  1. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
  2. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  3. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  4. How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (It’s my favorite book of all time. Fight me.)
  6. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  7. The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov
  8. Alpha Beta by John Man
  9. Maphead by Ken Jennings
  10. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  11. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  12. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  13. To Reign in Hell by Steve Brust
  14. The Choose Your Own Adventure series by Vermont Crossroads Press
  15. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
  16. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  17. Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen
  18. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  19. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  20. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  21. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  22. The Seven Daughters of Eve by Brian Sykes
  23. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  24. The Tunnel by Russell Edson (poetry that will blow your mind)
  25. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

If you’re still with me, I hope you read some of these. 😀

I’ll probably post another list later, maybe with a theme. Happy reading!


The Titanic’s First Near Collision!

For those who don’t know, I am by training a Civil War historian and an Abraham Lincoln scholar. But, my first passion has always been the maiden voyage and sinking of the RMS Titanic. Coincidentally, I might add, the subjects of Lincoln and the Titanic share a common bond–the dates April 14 and 15 are not only the anniversary of the ship’s sinking, but also the President’s assassination!

Related image
The Titanic and President Lincoln share an important date! They both met their ends on the night of April 14-15! The Titanic sank exactly forty-seven years after Lincoln’s assassination.
Image result for Lincoln

But I digress…

Today, April 10, marks the beginning of the 107th commemoration of the Titanic‘s maiden voyage. As such, I thought making it the topic of this week’s blog post might be a fitting way to remember the event.

Specifically, though, I’m going to talk about a little known fact about the maiden voyage. Did you know that the Titanic’s voyage almost didn’t happen? 107 years ago today, as the RMS Titanic departed Southampton, England on its way to it’s first port of call in Cherbourg, France, the massive liner nearly collided with another ship, keeping it from departing at all!

As it passed alongside two smaller vessels tethered to the pier–the White Star Line’s Oceanic and the American Line’s New York–the suction from the Titanic‘s propellers drew the New York away from the Oceanic until its tethers snapped like gunshots. In an instant, the New York was free from it’s moorings, and it’s stern was swinging directly toward the Titanic‘s port side.

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water
The stern of the New York swings perilously toward the Titanic‘s port side. This photograph was taken from the Southampton pier.

Onboard the Titanic, while passengers congregated along the rails to witness the impending collision, on the bridge Captain Edward J. Smith and Southampton pilot George Bowyer made a quick decision to increase speed to the Titanic‘s port propeller. The sudden rush of water was just enough to push the smaller New York away from the Titanic‘s side. Smith then ordered the engines stopped. At the same time, the crew of the tug Vulcan secured a line to the New York, and pull it forward and clear of the Titanic‘s stationary bow. The New York was then rejoined to the pier, and the Titanic continued on her way.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water
The New York is pulled by the tug Vulcan away from the Titanic’s stationary bow. This photograph was taken by a passenger on the Titanic’s deck. The passenger later disembarked at Queenstown, Ireland (the Titanic’s last port of call) and developed his film after the sinking.

The incident happened in only a matter of minutes, and almost no one took it as anything more than a passing moment of excitement in an otherwise easy send off. One second class passenger, however, was later remembered by his daughter as turning to his wife and saying “that’s a bad omen for a start.” Four days later, he died when the Titanic sank after failing to avoid a second collision…this time with the fateful iceberg.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, outdoor and water
The Titanic continues on it’s fateful voyage. This photograph was taken from the deck of the New York as the Titanic passed by.

I have been fascinated by this ship, and her story, since I was a boy of six years old. I was born a few years before Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the wreck in 1985 laying in 2.5 miles of water some four-hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland. I remember my Uncle Joe showing me a National Geographic Magazine with photos from Dr. Ballard’s 1986 expedition, and from there I was hooked!

Image result for National Geographic Titanic 1985
National Geographic Magazine had exclusive rights to publish Dr. Ballard’s first images of the Titanic on the bottom of the Atlantic. This is the cover of the 1985 issue.

Today, my personal library spans some two-thousand volumes. A sizable portion of that library–about one-hundred books–cover the Titanic and her story. In my office at Western Wyoming Community College, however, are my most prized items related to the Titanic. Along with a first edition of Walter Lord’s classic 1952 account of the disaster, A Night to Remember, is a first edition of his follow up volume The Night Lives On–written after the discovery of the wreck. Between them is an original 1912 printing of the Sinking of the Titanic–written by a reporter as a means of cashing in on the frenzy of interest surrounding the event. And in front of these volumes is my favorite item: a piece of anthracite coal retrieved from the wreck of the Titanic in the early 1990s and purchased for me as a birthday present by my father.

No photo description available.
On Dr. Neels’ desk at Western Wyoming Community College are first editions of three influential books on the story of the Titanic, one from 1952 (left), one from the 1980s (right), and one written right after the sinking in 1912 (center). But his most prized possession is a piece of anthracite coal from the wreck itself (bottom).

If it weren’t for the Titanic, I might not be a historian today! So, this Sunday, April 14, I will raise a glass in memory of the event that made me the scholar I am today!

— m.a.n.