Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pictures & Comments From Wyoming And South Dakota

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all the day

How often at night where the heavens are bright
With the light of the glittering stars
Have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours


By Dr. Brewster Higley (1873, since modified in modern versions), it is the State Song of Kansas.

It's actually a very pretty song...:

Every time I read those last two lines it brings a tear to my eyes (yes, I just read that crying by men has become unfashionable, but tough shit).  "Have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed, If their glory exceeds that of ours".  As a lifetime fan of astronomy and natural sciences, I can say in my case, yes, their glory does exceed that of ours...

I already knew before we went on our trip that I would have a wonderful time, as I had been to a tiny corner of Wyoming over 30 years ago when I worked in the oilfields.

I have already discussed Yellowstone, Noreen Firearms and our search for the K-T Boundary in my most recent articles.  This one finishes with pictures and comments that most other tourists will not write about.  Hey!  If you want to see pictures of Old Faithful and Mt. Rushmore, Google 'em!  Or become a "friend" of my wife on Facebook!


After landing in Jackson, WY we then went on for three nights in Yellowstone.  After those three nights we traveled NW to Bozeman, MT for our meeting with Noreen Firearms.  On the way, I got a hint that Montana was in many ways my kind of place: Speed Limit 75 mph on Interstate 90!

Personal freedom is taken very seriously in all of the places we visited.  Privacy; live and let live.  Private ranches everywhere (some owned by California / Hollywood celebrities, most of them loathed (hear me Ted Turner?  Jane Fonda?)...)

People were very friendly and kind to us in the places we visited.  They did not speak "with an accent", hah!, about as American as they come!

And the buffalo steak..., mmm...  Tough meat but flavorful.  Perhaps best in burgers though...  Same comment for elk steaks, tough but tasty.  Mmm...


Our trip to Cody, Wyoming went mostly through breathtakingly beautiful Montana (an old friend, Nick M, hi Nick!  I hope you get to see this!), into the Great Plains (hilly there) and then for an hour through Wyoming via rural two-lane roads (65 mph, yeah, have to love it!).  It interested me that you could tell almost immediately that Montana was a little different than Wyoming (no dis, just a little different looking).  I will never forget that stretch from our exit off I-90 to Cody...

Here is a pair of pictures of the small Cenex oil refinery in Laurel, Montana, just off of I-90 (hey, I told you these would be different pictures than those of other tourists):

I was only able to get these two pictures (above of the entrance and some storage tanks) before their security came by to run me off.  A refinery, especially a podunk one in the middle of nowhere, you might ask?  Yes, I studied a bit about oil refineries when working long ago...  Refineries are a part of infrastructure, which I have always admired since I was a  child.  Below is the distillation column as well as other equipment (to raise octane in gasoline, make heavy fuel oil, kerosene & diesel, etc.).  The little gray vehicle at the left was our Chevy Captiva, which we liked (!), we drove it over 1500 miles.

I will never forget the countryside between Laurel, Bridger and Belfry there in Montana.  A picture would insult the scenery, trust me...


We spent two nights in Cody, Wyoming (Cody, WY; Bozeman, MT; Sheridan, WY; and Denver are all located at  4000 - 6000 feet above sea level).  Cody is famous for being "Buffalo Bill's" main stomping grounds, he is almost worshiped there...  There was little of interest for me however in Cody.  Lots of tourists, it is perhaps the main way to drive to Yellowstone Nat'l Park.  (Al though I did get to do a round of Tai Chi at the elementary school playground).  From Cody, we crossed the northern end of the Bighorn Basin before we crossed the Bighorn Mountains themselves.  We saw a "workover rig" along the way.  A workover rig, like the name would imply, is used to maintain already drilled and producing oilwells.  They are not as big & impressive as real drilling rigs (we did not see any drilling rigs on our trip).  You can tell this is a workover rig because of all the guy wires holding it in place.  And of course the light-duty kind of "look" to it.

We also passed a bentonite plant.  Bentonite is a very fine type of shale (rock made from mud) that was used in drilling fluid (aka "mud") for oilrigs when I was younger.  Bentonite is added to the water to make it thicker, yet it flows well and is "well behaved" (no surprises, no corrosion, etc.).

For me, I was very much looking forward to crossing the Bighorn Mountains (we chose Highway 14A because it had a higher pass: 9400 feet).  I know NO ONE personally who has driven across the Bighorns.  The Bighorn Mountains, FYI, are an "almost" isolated range of the Rockies, they just barely connect up with the rest.  Here is a picture of our approach to the valley up into the Bighorns:

The gray-green bushes near the road and near the fences is the nearly ubiquitous sage brush found all over fairly arid Wyoming.

Up, up up.  This picture is pretty much the last view to the west (Bighorn Basin) prior to crossing the pass, I estimate that we were at some 8000 feet here:

The Absaroka Range is visible along the horizon.  It was the Absaroka Mountain Range that was broken up by the Yellowstone Supervolcano.  It was getting cold up there...

I did not know that there was an interesting site along the way up near (just west of) the pass.  The "Medicine Circle" was constructed by unknown Native Americans some 700 years ago.  Many of the tribes came.  Some believe that there is astronomical significance to the circle and spokes, but the stars' positions have changed, relative to the Earth, since it was built.  Native Americans still come, and put "fetishes" (items of religious significance to them that we know little about).

The only people allowed "inside" the posts are Native Americans with a permit...   There in the background is our little Captiva!  It was cold, our SUV's thermometer told us (35 degrees F).  Elevation: approx. 9000 feet.  Read more about it here:

After such an interesting ride up into the Bighorns, I was prepared for a less interesting descent (into the Powder River Basin).  Wrong!  The government (Wyoming?  USA?) kindly marked some rock formations along the way coming down.  This picture shows rocks lain down in the Ordovician Period (430 - 500 million years ago).  During the Ordovician, the only life on land that primitive green plants and fungi... (wikipedia has a great article on the geologic time scale here:

People interested in geology (like moi) like seeing things like faults (showing and earthquake happened long ago...), you can see the fault near the left edge of the photo (the brown rock bed). this from the same Big Horn Formation (Ordovician).

A few hundred meters down the road .gov was kind enough to label the Darby Formation (Devonian Period, younger than the Ordovician rocks, the Darby was laid down from about 360 - 400 million years ago (the figures from .gov and wikipedia differ slightly).  "Normal fishes", the first trees and the first insects (no wings) first appeared in the Devonian...

You can see the start of the Powder River Basin beyond the sign.  Physical geographers may differ on whether the "Great Plains" start here, or further east (just beyond the Black Hills of SD and WY).

[Sidebar: My last article was on the K-T Boundary, some 65 million years ago.  The above rocks are very much older.  After the Devonian Period came the Carboniferous (lots of coal beds all over the world), and then the Permian.  I wrote in my article that it is estimated that the K-T Event killed off some 25% - 50% of the species then living on the Earth.  Well, there was an earlier event even worse, the Permian Mass Extinction, which killed off an impressive 90% of all species then living.  It is not clear what happened...]

What a day!  That drive from Cody to Sheridan (near the base of the Bighorn Mts. to the east) was one of the most interesting drives ever for me...


The next part of our journey was two days later, crossing the energy-rich Powder River Basin (with HUGE coal reserves, and their coal is low in sulfur compared to coal from West Virginia, they also produce oil there).  Here is a small coal-fired electric power plant near Gillette, WY:

And how do coal-fired plants get their coal?  By trainz, bitchez!  We saw several "unit trains" hauling only coal during our trip.  At one point, with nothing better to do, my wife and I watched one go by (no camera...), she decided to count the cars: 123 of them all hauling coal...  This one (just two engines) was not as long, perhaps some 80 cars.

We arrived that same day in Custer, South Dakota, up there in the Black Hills near Mt. Rushmore).  I saw something that I had thought had gone extinct!  But, no, here is a picture of a Sinclair gas station in Custer, and we all thought (Jim) Sinclair was a dinosaur (smile,,,):

Now all I have to see to revive my youth would be a "Pure Oil" gas station...

The next day we went to see Mt. Rushmore, my wife (and every other decent photographer has that one covered better than I could).  I took this one in the other direction, towards the Great Plains that stretch from the Black Hills of South Dakota all the way east to Ohio...:

OK, my wife did take ONE touristy photo of me, this one in Badlands National Park (South Dakota):


After our two day visit to SD, we drove towards Denver, to catch our flight back.  We went looking (again) for the K-T Boundary in the SE Powder River Basin, but did not find it.  So, we passed through some tiny towns in Wyoming along the way.  Why I did not stop to take a photo of the sign of Lost Springs, Wyoming (population: 4) I do not know, I must have been crazy to pass on taking that one...


Our last day was in Denver.  My wife stayed in the downtown area to walk the pedestrian mall thingie now so common in cities, while I drove out the Colorado School of Mines, just to check it out.  Mostly various kinds of engineering majors, very difficult looking material...

Early in the evening as we were getting close to Denver, we passed an ominous looking FEMA vehicle, it looked like a big bus-thing ("like Conway Twitty uses" -- V. Mix) with few windows...

Weed / Herb fans!

I had the chance to interview two local informants about the marijuana situation there in Colorado.  My first local contact was a recently released convict while in the restroom of a Denver McDonalds.  (He was tatted up and missing his two incisors, so he looked real enough to me in that role)  He told me that in January that weed would be freely available from the "medical dispensaries" to anyone!  Holy Cow!  Party on, dudez!  

My second contact was the Budget rent-a-car shuttle bus driver there at Denver Int'l ("DIA").  He said the same re January, that they would limit out-of-staters to 1/4 oz per day (which "SWIM" (look it up!) says is more than ample, as it is far stronger than it was 35 years ago according to "SWIM"...

January 1 looks like it will be a big day in Colorado!  LOL!


By the length of this article, I hope I have demonstrated the wonders waiting for one and all in the northern Rockies and the northern Plains.  A "Five Star" trip, highly recommended to anyone who has not been out there.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hunting The Elusive K-T Boundary...

My wife and I are back from our great trip to Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Colorado.  Usually when we travel, I let her make most of the decisions on where to go and how long to stay at each stop along the way.   But, this time, it was my trip!  So with some compromises with her, we did many things that she would not normally choose to do.  What we had in my favor, however, was the gorgeous and interesting scenery and other sights of parts of the northern Rockies and the northern plains.

My last two articles (Noreen Firearms and the Yellowstone Supervolcano), while both of interest to me, were not the expected highlight of the trip for me.  What I really wanted to see was the somewhat famous "K-T Boundary", a seldom seen rock outcrop (complete with iridium-rich sediment) that marks the end of the Cretaceous Period (from about 145 to 65 million years ago).  The Cretaceous was the last period of the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth (including the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex, as well as the familiar Velociraptors (both the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptors were in the movie "Jurassic Park"), also living in the Cretaceous was the Triceratops, more information the Cretaceous period and its flora and fauna is here at wikipedia:

This article hereafter is divided into two parts, the first part just below (finishing with the map) is slightly technical and explains more about the K-T Boundary and includes snippets and a map from an important paper on the subject.  The second part (after) describes our details (and pictures) of hunting the elusive K-T Boundary in Wyoming and South Dakota.


It is pretty well accepted now that the Cretaceous ended with a mass extinction probably caused. at least in part, by the approximately 6 mile diameter meteorite/asteroid that hit the Yucatan Peninsula some 65 million years ago (the "Chicxulub Crater").  There is ample evidence of dust and ash that were blasted into the atmosphere and later to settle all over the world (or at least the Northern Hemisphere).  The most commonly cited evidence is the "K-T Boundary" (Cretacous - Tertiary), but the stratigraphers (geologists who specialize in layers of rocks) now use the term "K-Pg Boundary" (Cretaceous - Paleogene Boundary), but it is still better known as the K-T Boundary.  Here is wikipedia's discussion of the K-T Boundary:

The fossils before and after the K-T Boundary are completely different!  It is believed that some 25% - 50% of the species of land animals became extinct (different sources have different figures).

The K-T Boundary itself is typically seen (where the dust settled on land) as a this black and white layer (usually between 1 cm and 2.4 cm thick) all over the world where good outcrops exist.  Over 100 such sites have been located, some of which are under the ocean now (but were on land when the impact occurred, the K-T Boundary was found when analyzing offshore drilling cores).  What is special to me is the very high amounts of Iridium (a platinum group metal, second densest metal that exists).  There is between 60 and 1000 times more iridium in the K-T Boundary formation than in most other rocks in the Earth's crust.

Here are the Conclusions from an excellent paper (that states that the authors, among others, were preparing a worlwide database on the K-T Boundary, in 2002):, by Phillipe Claeys, Wolfgang Kiessling and Walter Alvarez (the last a geologist who is famous in this niche), these Conclusions are with a gray background:


1. There are 101 K-T boundary sites (some representing multiple outcrops), all over the world, that contain ejecta debris.  This represents nearly 30% of all the sites entered in KTbase.  Of the sites that contain latest Maastrichtian and earliest Danian biozones, 15% (i.e., more than 50 sites) have not been investigated for ejecta material.

2. K-T sites formed in shallow-water depositional environments are more commonly considered incomplete in terms of ejecta debris than deeper marine ones.

3. KTbase does not support a global regression at the K-T boundary. The hypothesis of a K-T regression stems in parts from the misinterpretation of impact-related coarse clastic or debris-flow units deposited in the Gulf of Mexico region. These coarse sandy units do not represent a transgressive sequence tract overlying a sequence boundary and are not related to a K-T boundary sea-level change.

4. The Chicxulub impact affected sedimentation within the Gulf of Mexico region and the Atlantic, probably all the way to offshore Portugal. This effect is reflected by the presence of coarse clastic units and/or breccia in deep-water settings and/or by the erosion of Upper Cretaceous sediments from depositional settings usually not prone to unconformities. The precise sedimentological mechanisms are not fully understood: for
example, it is not clear if debris flows are created by the seismic wave or ground shaking or by the tsunami waves generated by the impact. It is also possible that in some places, massive debris flows generated tsunami waves. Most likely all these processes acted together, leading to the chaotic sedimentation and
erosion occurring at or near the K-T boundary in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic.

5. The positive Ir anomaly has been recorded at 85 sites and appears to have been spread homogeneously all around the globe. Concentration does not vary systematically with distance from the crater. At proximal sites, the Ir concentration is diluted by the high amount of sediment put in suspension in the Gulf of Mexico’s water after the impact.

6. Shocked quartz grains appear more abundant and larger west of the Chicxulub crater, although the absolute size factor may strongly depend on the amount of material available for study. Nevertheless, as proposed by Alvarez et al. (1995) and Bostwick and Kyte (1996), the maximum grain size of quartz grains with planar deformation features seems larger in the Pacific than at sites located at equivalent distances from the crater in Europe.

7. KTbase demonstrates that a significant effort is needed to improve our knowledge of K-T boundary sites in South America, Africa, Australia, and the high latitudes ( 60 ). 

Preliminary examination of the K-T database in terms of the ejecta debris distribution and K-T boundary sedimentation shows that it is probably the most convenient and user-friendly method to compile and sort the huge amount of literature on the subject. Plotting the current data on paleogeographic maps indicates zones where further studies are required. The occurrence of impact debris must also be reported in a clear and quantitative manner (e.g., abundance per cm2 of sediments) before the distribution pattern of impact products can be understood.

The main advantage of the database is to point toward potential trends or characteristics in the data, which can then be investigated further. The information extracted from the database coupled with mathematical models will permit the documentation of the origin, transport, and deposition of ejecta material during cratering events. It is our goal to have the ejecta debris part of the database available through the internet in the near future.

Here is their map of sites that they examined for their database, note worldwide distribution of the ejecta.  The map is of the Earth as of 65 million years ago (note India), the "best" showings of the K-T Boundary are with the symbol of a circle with a dot in the middle:


There were three sites (two in Wyoming and one in South Dakota) that I thought we should try to find.  I was able to do a few hours of research (not that much, not enough as it turns out) to get a pretty good idea of locating one or more of these boundaries.  The two in Wyoming have the iridium-rich layer seen all over the world (above map), the one in South Dakota being a "marine" K-T Boundary, that is, a geologic record of a tsunami formed by the impact of the asteroid (65 million years ago, that part of S. Dakota was underwater).

The first one is in the SW Powder River Basin of central Wyoming (some 15 miles east of the Interstate 25 Exit at Kaycee).  I made an inquiry at the general store of Kaycee (a very tiny town) and was directed to see a rancher located near where the boundary is located.  So, I drove over to visit him, unannounced, and found him there at home.  The rancher knew all about it, he had several times hosted visits by geologists from one of the Colorado universities (but apparently not from the U. of Wyoming's unhelpful (to me) Geology Department however, LOL...).  He then told me that he had sold that particular parcel of his ranch to another couple, he gave me their phone numbers.  Ahh, rather than disrupt the lives of more people without having more information, I then asked him if the K-T Boundary was easy to get to (ideally by roadside or a short hike along the Powder River looking for an outcrop).  No, he told me, it was accessible only by a four-wheel-drive...  I thanked him for his time and told him I would not bother the new owners (and, of course, ask people I did not know to give me time and run their truck just for my curiosity...).  So, Strike One, but here is a picture of a bridge over the Powder River very near the actual outcrop of the boundary:

The type of outcrop to look for (Powder River), but not here!

Close, but no cigar...

Our next opportunity came up with a reported K-T Boundary at Badlands National Park, about an hour east of Rapid City, South Dakota.  The price I had to pay my wife was to visit Mt. Rushmore as well, but that was a small price to pay to see (and take a good picture of) the K-T Boundary.  Philip Stofer of the USGS published a paper (he mentioned upfront that it was tentative) on finding the boundary in Badlands.  He provided pictures and evidence in a convincing paper:

I took a few pictures that pretty closely match Stofer's, I was looking for his "Disturbed Zone", the evidence of a tsunami affecting the area.  I was quite hopeful as Stofer said that this K-T Boundary was the most easily accessible in the whole world!  Here is a picture, description below:

Stofer's "K-T Boundary" is the slightly pinkish-white set of formations under the two thin white layers and above the bottom yellow ones.

But, the Park's resident paleontologist (a geologist specializing in study of ancient life and their environments), Dr. Rachel Benton wrote me that the "K-T Boundary" at Badlands has been disproven (her email to me, her comments in gray background):

Dear Mr. Mix:

Thank you for your interest in the geology of Badlands National Park.  Unfortunately the existence of the K/T boundary at Badlands National Park has been disproved.  I have attached two abstracts to professional geological societies that provide evidence that the disturbed zone we have in the park is too old and we do not have the early Tertiary rocks in the park.  Phil Stoffer is an author on one of the abstracts.  The authors still believe that the sediments preserved in the park are from some type of impact event but not linked to the K Chixculub or Manson impact.  Please let me know if you have further questions.


Rachel Benton

Ouch!  Strike Two!  Three strikes and you're out!  (in baseball anyway)

We then went on to see if we could find the third boundary site, this one in the SE Powder River Basin (Wyoming), near Linch Creek and Doggie Creek.  Bruce Bohor wrote a few papers on the K-T Boundary in Wyoming, and found one at Doggie Creek:

Being zero for two so far, I was not hopeful that we would find a K-T Boundary at Doggie Creek.  The area is remote and as far as I can tell all the land is privately owned ranch land.  I did ask the postmaster at Linch Creek (another very small Wyoming town) for information about Doggie Creek and/or the K-T Boundary.  She did not know about the boundary, but did direct me up the gravel road (Wyoming 272) north of Linch Creek some 15 - 20 miles.  Bohor in one of his papers mentioned such features as a "prominent conical hill", an abandoned Post Office with gully nearby, and other clues.  But, they did not have ubiquitous GPS in those days, so I only had written text to go with, and some was incorrectly spelled, nor were the creeks marked along the remote small bridges.  Nonetheless, I believe that we did indeed find the "prominent conical hill" (the only one in the area that matched that description) as well as the apparently abandoned hamlet.  I went ahead and walked along a couple of creeks, one of which would likely be Doggie Creek.  This first picture shows the "prominent conical hill", so I felt fairly confident that we might find the boundary after all:

OK, so I got busy looking into the nearby gully:

The picture just above is typical of what I saw within some 250 meters of the road.  I did not want to go any further as this land IS privately owned.  The K-T Boundary in this area is supposed to be just above three thin lignite (low quality coal) beds, but I did not see (else, correctly identify) any lignite.  So, while it is very likely I was close again, "close, but no no cigar!"  Strike Three!

So, we were not able to find ANY of the elusive three K-T Boundaries supposedly in the scope of our trip.  I am consoled by three things:

1) the remarkable kindness of the people (scientists and local folks) from there

2) the absolutely beautiful parts of the countryside we went through, truly gorgeous, we saw this at Badlands:

3) the company of the best traveling companion I have ever had, here she is (the photo is a little dark because it was nearly sunset):


Soon I will write up the final article of this series of our trip, this one will have commentary and pictures of things that most tourists do NOT see, write about or take photos of.

Why don't you join us on the (mis)adventures of two tourists doing a trip like this...,  differently!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Visit To Noreen Firearms

On September 16, Mrs. Mix and I visited Noreen Firearms LLC (Belgrade, MT) a maker of precision long range big bore rifles.  This company owns the very interesting website, I had seen an ad in a gun magazine something over a year ago.  They happen to be so close by (what a coincidence thought my wife...) on our vacation to the northern Rockies and Great Plains...

Noreen makes a fairly broad range of these powerful guns, so I arranged a visit to their office and factory.  Alas, like so many manufacturers, they would not allow us to take pictures of their manufacturing (proprietary technology) nor even visit without a camera (the bearing companies allowed the visits, but no pictures on the factory floors).  Why?  Some of their weapons go to the US Armed Forces...  OK, understood!

Nonetheless, Nathan Pitcher (their national sales manager) gave me an overview of Noreen and answered all my questions (one thing both of us have noticed is that people here in Montana and Wyoming are very friendly and open).


The first thing about Noreen’s range of long range rifles that got my attention was their .338 Lapua (the history of the .338 Lapua is rather interesting, Wikipedia has a good discussion here:  This is their .338 Lapua in semi-automatic is pictured just below (photo courtesy of Noreen):

Noreen about a year ago started making a new line of semi-automatic big bore rifles based on the AR design, they are their BN36 line.  The design is very similar to the AR-15, but (obviously) the components are larger.  They make their new line in a variety of calibers, popular among civilians (hunters, etc.) is their BN36 in .30-06, pictured here:

Zero Hedge reader “SilverRhino” informed me that he owns one of their BN36 rifles (he did not mention which one).  Take a look at Noreen's line of semi-automatic rifles:

Nathan told us that Noreen is the only precision manufacturer of size that makes these larger rifles in a variety of calibers of long range rifles.  LOTS of other gun makers (smaller and larger) make bolt-action versions, but as of the moment, no one else has the hang of making precision long range guns in semi-auto (which perhaps explains, at least in part, why they did not want us back there poking around their manufacturing area and asking questions…).

Their largest rifles are their versions of the .50 caliber BMG (next two photos), note these are bolt actions, this weighs about 32 lbs:

Several things to note above.  At the end of the barrel you can see a muzzle brake, Noreen designs and builds their own muzzle brakes (a “muzzle brake” is a machined cylinder of steel with holes attached to the end of a barrel to reduce recoil).  The gun is positioned on a bipod, as it is heavy!  The butt is plastic and freely extends (extreme right).  Also notice the two cartridges (a "cartridge" is the bullet, the brass case and propellant), the left (larger) one is for the .50.  The other is a .30-06 round.

Here is another photo (courtesy of Noreen) of one of their .50 caliber rifles:

The above has one of their optional paint schemes.  Note the bolt action and the stock is extended.  Noreen’s .50 caliber rifles are the ones with the extra-large muzzle brakes.  Here is a good photo and discussion re muzzle brakes from Noreen:

Cartridge size comparisons... (photo courtesy of C. Mix):

At the bottom is a .30-06 round (familiar to most hunters and people who shoot rifles, this also known as the 7.62 mm * 63.  In the middle is just the bullet (smaller copper coated) and the whole cartridge for the .338 Lapua (the .338 Lapua was American sniper Chris Kyle's favorite gun when he did his time in Iraq, Noreen's .338 Lapua is a popular gun for them).  At the top is the .50 BMG caliber cartridge.  The .50 is a BIG & HEAVY round, the photo here really does not do it justice...  

But, the .338 Lapua is often favored by many long range aficionados (and snipers) because it shoots flatter over a longer range.  The .338 Lapua is the round that British sniper Craig Harrison used in 2009 in Afghanistan for the longest confirmed kill ever (2475 meters, about 8100 feet).  The .50 does have better armor higher kinetic energy on impact and is better for piercing armor...

I asked Nathan a number of semi-technical questions, in good part to educate myself (as is typical of me, when I encounter an expert in some field in which I am interested, I am merciless in asking for information…, smile). 

(My wording, edited and approximate)

Robert Mix:  What are the differences between a precision rifle like Noreen’s and other production rifles?

Nathan Pitcher:  Mostly the precision of the components, as in the uppers and lowers are more carefully made and matched.  The tolerances (Noreen uses) are tighter.  The materials Noreen uses are of higher quality.

Robert Mix:  Do you make every component yourselves?

Nathan Pitcher:  No, our barrels, for example, come from specialist barrel manufacturers, we buy from different ones, depending on what exactly what we need.

Robert Mix:  What are other differences between your rifles versus, say, and the Remington 700 models?

Nathan Pitcher:  We test every rifle we make.  We take more care in making every rifle as carefully as possible.  Remington makes fine rifles, but they make so many that they cannot  use the same precision in manufacturing and precision in materials that Noreen does.

Robert Mix:  What are some of the differences in your rifles, like the .50 caliber, between what you make and older ones (the Sharps .50 Buffalo Rifle is from the 1800s…).

Nathan Pitcher:  Well there have been many technology changes.  The precision is much higher in every component.  The powder is better, the bullets better made, the rifles themselves are of much better quality…

Robert Mix:  What do you recommend, or do your customers typically choose for scopes?  And what power?

Nathan Pitcher:  We mostly use NightForce scopes.  They are very tough and have reticles that our customers like.  The most popular scope is their 5.5 * 22 power.

Robert Mix:  Here in Montana some of the game you hunt up here is big (bears, moose and elk), and also at longer ranges than is normal in the Southeast.  What calibers are OK for using on big game as opposed to deer hunting in the Southeast USA where I am from?  The .308 is considered just fine by most deer hunters, the .30-06 may be considered overkill for deer (by my local gun store manager for example).

Nathan Pitcher:  It depends on what you like.  You do not need a big gun to hunt even for big game.  A .308 is fine for even large game.  A .270 or even smaller caliber will do.  [Ed. Note: I presume that Nathan was assuming a high-level of marksmanship if using a smaller caliber as he described, if it were ME out there shooting at a bear, I would want multiple rounds of a .338…].

Robert Mix:  What is your percentage of sales to civilians as opposed to the military?

Nathan Pitcher:  About 70% are to civilians, the rest to the military.

Robert Mix:  Do you sell to overseas customers?

Nathan Pitcher:  Yes.  [No further details for understandable reasons…]


Noreen appears to be the technology leader in making semi-automatic long range rifles.  Their pieces are apparently very popular among those who really want them or need them (their US military customers).  Their website is well done, with many pictures and lots of information for those interested.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Yellowstone Supervolcano, Yellowstone Animals

While in Yellowstone here on vacation with my wife, I picked up an interesting book: Super Volcano: The Ticking Time Bomb Beneath Yellowstone National Park (Greg Breining, 2007).  The supervolcano was an immense event, one of the largest volcanic blasts known in geological history.

I am not going to post pictures of The Old Faithful Geyser as you can find those easily enough elsewhere, those pictures would likely be better than mine anyway.  Yellowstone has some 300 geysers (as well as 10,000 fumaroles (steam vents from below) and hot springs.  All of these are due to the very hot rocks immediately below the Yellowstone Caldera.  Apparently the Earth's crust here is as thin as three miles, much thinner than almost anywhere else.

This sign shows Yellowstone with the rim of the caldera of the Supervolcano.  The rim is the oval-shaped purple dashed-line near the center (as always, *click* to see a better view of any image).  For orientation, the "You Are Here" annotation is some 20 miles north of Old Faithful.  Almost all of the geothermal activity at Yellowstone (with the major exception of Mammoth Hot Spring in the far NW) is within the caldera rim.

From Breining's book Super Volcano: "An even bigger explosion 640,000 years ago spewed 240 cubic miles of lava and ash...


...  The caldera created by this most recent super explosion measures 50 miles by 30 miles...  Nearly a third of the park's 2.2 million acres either blew sky high or collapsed into the earth.  The caldera is so filled with lava from subsequent smaller eruptions that most visitors never recognize they are standing on the remnants of an eruption so powerful it covered much of the continent with volcanic ash abd transformed the earth's climate for years, or perhaps decades."

A supervolcano is different from ordinary volcanoes in two ways: they are MUCH bigger and their origins are different.  Almost all ordinary volcanoes, even the deadly ones (Vesuvius, Krakatoa, Mt. St. Helens, Pinatubo, etc.) are products of two tectonic plates grinding against each other, in particular when one plate pushes below the other it is colliding with (the Nazca plate grinding down under the west coast of the South American plate and the Italian (sub-)plate going under the Eurasian plate are well known examples).  This is called "subduction", and the plate going underneath causes heat and magma to force its way up near the subduction zone.

Supervolcanoes have a different origin.  The mantle of the Earth (the very thick layer of semi-molten rock under the crust) appears to have vertical currents, hot material from near the core pushing up and the slightly cooler material flowing back down.  The process is not well understood (evidence comes from seismic studies of earthquake wave propagation through the Earth's deeper layers).  In the areas where the hotter materials get close to the crust, the crust typically becomes thinner and more vulnerable to BIG volcanoes.  These areas are called "hot spots", they believe there are about 30 hot spots around the world, and Breining writes that Yellowstone is the only hot spot found on a continent, lucky us...  Once there is enough movement from the mantle just beneath the crust, the crust weakens, magma from the deep comes closer to the surface, and every now and then the pressure builds up (dissolved gases) and BANG!

Mt. St. Helens blew up in 1980 and killed some 50 people.  It released about a cubic mile of debris and affected a fair area of the Northern Rockies and even the northern plains.  Yellowstone was some 240 times larger.

Yellowstone erupted some 2.1 million years ago (biggest of the recent eruptions), about 1.3 million years ago (smallest of the three) and most recently about 640,000 years ago.  Or about once every 700,000 years.  Hmm.  We are approximately due...  However, scientists believe that the same kinds of phenomena seen before regular volcanic eruptions (earthquake swarms, ground uplift, etc.) would likely happen before Yellowstone next blows.  And, yes, they are carefully studying Yellowstone...

This next photo is at the "Mud Volcano" stop in E. Yellowstone.  The "mud pots" here are like hot springs, only with less water and here in Yellowstone often with sulfurous gas. Here, sulfurous aroma blend in with mud, water and steam bubbling up.  (Yes, John R., it is H2S gas!  Poisonous gas for the rest of you)  Hard to see are bubbles (boiling water) in the middle of this small mud pot:

Here is a larger mud pot, mmm, I could almost feel brain cells dying from the gas...

Hot springs are similar to mud pots but are hot water that comes up typically at temperatures of 160 degrees or more.  A hot spring at Midway Geyser Basin:

Scientists for some time now have been studying the curious life forms ("extremophile" bacteria) that live around some of these hot springs.  Some of these are found nowhere else in the world.  They are often rather complicated colonies of different life forms.  Some use photosynthesis for their colonies, others down below the "mats" take minerals from the water.  Some scientists believe that this kind of life, not dependent on oxygen, could have been formed early on in Earth's history or even be similar to possible life found on other planets...

The yellow mat with black spots are all typical of these bacterial mat colonies.

Hot springs are not necessarily associated with active volcanoes (Yellowstone Supervolcano is, geologically speaking, active).  Mud pots are rarely seen, but are essentially hot springs with less water.  The next "step up" at Yellowstone in geothermal water activity are the "fumaroles", holes with steam coming out continuously.  The below picture shows some fumaroles further up-stream (in the far distance) on the Firehole River, the steam in the foreground is coming from hot water flowing down from a nearby hot spring:

The below photo is, I believe, Great Fountain Geyser.  This one runs all the time.  Old Faithful erupts every 92 minutes or so, for some 4 minutes each time.  The height of this geyser is about 3 - 4 feet.  A smaller geyser (one foot or so) is at the right:

This next picture shows Castle Geyser, which erupts every 10 hours or so, you can see faint staem from fumaroles behind and to the right.

While not evidence per se of the Supervolcano, the below are the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon, they fall some 100 feet.  Yellowstone is mostly a caldera (ancient large crater) that was pushed up some 1500 feet or so higher than the surrounding lowlands by the Earth's mantle (the plastic-like thick layer of semi-molten rock below the crust).  Here the Yellowstone River begins its descent towards Montana and the Missouri River.  The Upper Falls and the Lower Falls alone account for some 400 feet of the 1500 feet descent from the plateau to the valley at Gardiner, MT.

Visible above (and in some of the other photos) are examples of the lodgepole pine, a tree that can grow in the poor soils found withing the caldera.  Yellowstone National Park has the largest stands of lodge pole pine in the world.

The below picture shows what happened after Yellowstones last eruption.  After the eruption blasted away part of the mountain chain that linked the Tetons with the Absaroka range, a lot of material NOT blasted away fell into the caldera as it was basically just a big unsupported hole in the Earth.  That rock just tore right off the mountain...:

With such a clean break, those cliffs clearly show part of the caldera rim.

On a clear day it is possible to see all the way across the caldera from a vantage point near Dunraven Pass on Mt. Washburn (on the northern rim of the caldera).  Unfortunately it was raining when we stopped there (those of you who have spent time in mountain country will know how changeable the weather is).  Here is a picture taken from the Washburn Hot Springs Overlook just outside the northern rim of the caldera.  You can make out a sign explaining what they believe happened.  Note that you cannot see all the way across because of the clouds and rain (also note more lodgepole pine).

Just beyond the northern part of the park in Montana (between Gardiner and Livingstone), I took a photo of rock beds almost vertical...  Rock beds are laid down horizontally...  So, how did these beds get turned up?  Geologists will appreciate this picture:


Because of the size and status of Yellowstone, there are many wild animals that tourists come to see (hey who wouldn't stop to watch a bear?).  I now understand why wildlife photography is considered its own profession..., it is hard to take really excellent pictures of wild animals.

Bison ("American Buffalo"), there were over 100 in this herd:

We were lucky to see two wolves (one each on different days, WHAT is that second one (on the ridgeline) doing...?):

We briefly saw some elk in a village (Mammoth Hot Springs), but were unable to stop in time to get a decent picture, the below is a small herd some 200 - 300 meters away, if you look carefully you can make out five of them just to the left of the building there on the slope:

We were apparently lucky to get even a poor picture of a black bear through trees and brush.  We saw cars stopped (a sign there is something worth looking at), and someone told us there was a black bear with her cubs.  Some tourists left their cars to venture closer to the bear (not smart -- dangerous! -- and illegal, the Ranger came by and almost arrested them...).  This was the best picture I could get, the mamma black bear is just above center (above the rotted jagged tree stump):