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Tag Archives: Geology

Slope Mtn

The title of this post can refer either to the experience of gazing upon a massive mountain top…or the fact that said mountain was once at the bottom of the sea!

The sedimentary layers that make up this mountain were layed down millions of years ago, possible from the erosion of an even more ancient mountain, and then the entire formation rose at an intriguing angle, much faster on one side than the other…

Today, this mountain is eroding as well, and creeks and rivers carry its sediment into the nearby ocean.

Someday in the distant future, millions of years from now, this mountain will form new sedimentary layers at the bottom of the sea, and eventually those will sink and then rise into yet another mountain…

It’s recycling on a grand scale!



The Vinales valley in Cuba is filled with mogotes.  “Filled with WHAT?” you ask.  Mogotes are basically lumps of harder rock (in this case, limestone) that remain after the softer rock surrounding them has eroded away, leaving them exposed.

These huge, rounded formations are found throughout the valley, plunging almost vertically out of the earth, sometimes several hundred feet up.  The mogotes loom over the otherwise flat farmland dotted with a few scraggly bushes and the occasional palm tree, and giving the region a somewhat surreal look.

mogotes 4

See what I mean?  The palms in the image above are actually growing on top of smaller mogotes in the foreground, but the ground fog is obscuring those mogotes and making it look like the palms are floating in mid-air…trippy, man!

Same effect in the image below.  It reminds me of a long exposure of water flowing around rocks.  Actually, since fog IS water vapor, I guess that’s a pretty accurate description, isn’t it?

mogotes 5

The image below shows how large the mogotes can be, and how dramatically these monoliths rise out of the soil.  Again, these are right in the middle of the valley.  You can see the hills on the far side of the valley behind them.

mogotes 3-2

I just love how the ground fog made an unusual landscape even more intriguing.  This was by far the most beautiful area I visited in Cuba.  I only wish I had had more than only two days to spend in this fascinating region.

mogotes 2

One way to add depth and interest to landscape images is to include a strong foreground.  Having something of interest in the bottom (usually) of the image that draws the viewer into it is more compelling than having everything at a distance.

I had one photography instructor suggest simply finding a nice landscape and then tipping the camera down to include the foreground.  Assuming you’re using a normal- to wide-angle lens, which are usually used for landscape photography anyway, you wind up with plenty of foreground.

Of course, you can also wind up with things in your image that you don’t want, such as a parking lot or beer cans or (if you’re using a REALLY wide-angle lens) your own feet!

Of course, there is a simple solution to this foreground problem, and it involves using those feet:  move!  Sometimes it only takes a few steps, and other times a short walk, or even a drive, but if you are diligent and determined, you can often find something neat to put in the foreground of your landscape image.

I took the above image at Lake Kirkwood in the Sierra Nevada.  Specifically, I was on the north side of the lake, looking south across the lake and at the rock formations on the far ridge known as Two Sentinels.  I make an (almost) annual pilgrimage to this area, and have been doing so for many years.  My sister went to Girl Scout camp here when she was a teen, and she introduced me to this beautiful area a long time ago.  I’ve brought a number of friends and other family members here, and we always take a hike around the lake, which can be done in under an hour.

So this is an area I’ve visited many times over the years, and I’ve taken hundreds of photographs here as well, at different times of day and during different seasons.  And sorting through my images, I can attest that the best shots of the Two Sentinels also have something of interest in the foreground, be it a tree, a canoe, or in this case, a boulder.

Geology buffs will recognize the term “erratic.”  For those of you who snoozed through Geology 101, an erratic is a boulder that originated in one location, but was moved to another location, sometimes many miles away, by a glacier.

The boulder in the foreground of this image is a classic erratic, and I’m very happy it’s there.  It actually does double-duty because not only is it interesting on its own due to its size and shape and texture,  but it also does a great job of leading the viewer into the image.

So the next time you go to take a landscape photograph and realize that you don’t have a good foreground, take a step forward, or two steps backs.  Climb up on a rock or picnic table to get a better perspective.  Or lie down in the grass!

Take a couple more steps, or 10, or 50.  Walk left, then walk right.  This is the “right place” of the “Right Place, Right Time” formula.  Find an interesting log for your foreground.  Take a few shots.  Then find a rock you like better.  Shoot a few more.

Go ahead, behave erratically.  You’ll be glad you did.

One thing I love about the desert is that the geology is front and center.  It’s not hidden by a bunch of grass or trees or water.  It’s out in plain sight for anyone to see and interpret.

Most of the desert is sedimentary rock, and most of that is sandstone and shale.  Sandstone is pretty much made out of sand (and sometimes gravel), and shale is made out of mud and clay.  It’s pretty basic.

What shapes the sandstone and shale into such interesting formations is wind and water.  Primarily water, which I find ironic in this arid environment.  While wind will pick up loose sand and “sandblast” the sandstone rock, the sand is usually not picked up very high.  A geology teacher I once had told us that 6′ is usually the limit.

But rain and rivers can do amazing things, as the Grand Canyon proves.

This formation looks a bit like The Sphinx.  Okay, maybe a cat wearing a fez.  Perhaps I was in the sun a bit too long without a hat….

This one looks to me like a massive Frostie cone, or perhaps as if a giant had been playing with Silly Sand.  Anyone remember that?  Whoops, I may be dating myself again here….

The variety of shapes, colors and textures is almost endless, and if the light is good I feel like a kid in a candy store.  Sidelighting brings out the texture of the rock, and long shadows can add drama.  Some afternoon clouds are good too.

Recipe to create a pleasing desert rock formation:  Take a lot of sand and mud.  Bury with more sand and mud.  Compress for a few millions years, give or take.  Return sand and mud (now called sandstone and shale, respectively) to surface of earth.  Tilt if desired.  Add liberal doses of water and wind.  Erode for a few million more years.  And…voila!