Make the time to explore your own backyard

Too many people, to my mind, get jealous when I talk about some of the “other” places I’ve visited and lived: Scotland, Mexico, Peru, Germany, and more. I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to explore a nice chunk of the planet.

But there’s always so much in your own backyard worth exploring. Just because it’s right next to you doesn’t mean it’s not amazing. You don’t have to go see something “other” to explore. No where else have I found that more true than Wyoming. Where, quite literally, every square mile is a historical or geological treasure. I love Wyoming. In the Southeast of Wyoming is Devils Tower, with Mount Rushmore only being a couple hours further. In the north, YELLOWSTONE. Amiright? In the Southwest, it’s the Oregon Trail, The Green River Formation, Fossil Butte, and the Red Desert. And there’s so much more.

The Green River
THE FOSSILS!

A great way to start exploring what’s right next to you is to google your state travel/tourism website. These websites are designed to explain to someone from out of state what’s so exciting about coming to visit. Sometimes, you might not even have heard what’s interesting about your local area, simply because there’s no one giving talks or designing web sites geared to locals. Wyoming has a fantastic site, at Travel Wyoming. Heck, the Continental Divide, or the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming, is something that’s in every science textbook. And in Wyoming, you cross it twice driving on I-80!

If it’s cultural sites that interest you, there’s so much to see. It’s always good to stop at the historical markers in your area, and they’ve even made it easy for you to find them with an app (there’s an app for everything). Just search for “historical markers” in your app store on your smartphone. Sometimes, just ask your neighbors for suggestions. Every area has a “special town” that’s decided to do things differently. Near me, there’s Heber City. It’s just across the boarder in Utah, but it includes the Zermatt Resort, modeled after a “Swiss Village”, which is pretty funny, as I lived in Switzerland for several years.

From Utah.com
Okay, not everything around me is super fascinating. But you get the idea.

Start driving. Take the bus. Carpool with friends. Walk. Try as hard as you can to make time in our incredibly busy lives to see something new. Someone asked me recently how I find time to do “all the things I do.” It always comes off as flippant, but my only answer is “You only live once.” If you don’t make the time now, there’s no do-over. No one will feel bad for you that you didn’t get the chance to experience the world we’re so lucky to be born into. Make the time.

-dlp

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1898591

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.

-dlp