Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ghost Town Tuesday! Watson, Dragon and Rainbow!

Tuesday! Oh glorious day! It is today that we get to look into the very soul of a new ghost town! Where will we be today? The vast, desert-y regions of western Utah? The vast, desert-y regions of southern Utah? Perhaps we will travel all the way to the vast, desert-y regions of northern Utah? All will be revealed in time, gentle reader!

Ha! I have poor writing skills! Actually it will be revealed right now! The answer is that we will actually be headed to the vast desert-y regions of eastern Utah. A land where the sagebrush is king, and beetles roam free and un-harassed by the human foot! A land parched by sun, frozen by winter, and a little of both of those things in spring and fall! And land rich with potential, but even richer with un-potential. You know that story about the magical monkey paw that could grant wishes, but all the wishes had some sort of cruel side-effect that were all evil and stuff? That monkey paw is Eastern Utah.

Anyway, our story today begins in a little patch of nothing approximately 17 miles east of the Utah-Colorado boarder. The place is very desolate today, and I can only imagine it was even more so around the turn of the century. So one has to wonder why anyone would want to live out there. The answer, my friends, is this little guy.

That unassuming little blob is a rock named Gilsonite. Technically it isn’t even a rock, nor is it a mineral. It is one of those unfortunate few earthy creatures that lives in the endless abyss that exists between rock and mineral. Like how the Nissan Cube exists between crap and extra crap. But unlike the Nissan Cube, Gilsonite is useful to us. Simply put, it is a solid chunk of oil (kinda). And humanity loves oil, even if it is solid. The real kicker is that Gilsonite only forms in commercial quantities in one place in the world, a little patch of nothing located approximately 17 miles east of the Utah-Colorado boarder. And so began the life of the town of Watson.

In 1880, while the rest of the state was rushing to the gold and silver mines of central Utah, a brave individual named Samuel H. Gilson decided to throw his hat in the Gilsonite ring. Now, you may have noticed that Mr. Gilson’s last name is Gilson, and the not-mineral they were interested in mining is named Gilsonite. Is this a coincidence? Nope. Mr. Gilson was honored with having natures asphalt named after him. I guess I can't make fun of him for it because it's more than has ever been named after me. Before Mr. Gilson showed up the stuff was called Uintahite, which I think has a better ring to it than Gilsonite but sometimes geology is like that. Here's a picture of Mr. Gilson. I don't know why they gave it that fancy frame.

Anyway, cars were few and far between in 1880, and horses have very little need for hydrocarbons of any sort, so the question arises of why someone would want to move all the way out there to mine Gilsonite. Well, it turns out that Gilsonite can also be used for a number of other things that you and I never even thought of. It can be used for ink, paints, paper (somehow), and caulking for beer barrels. I’m guessing that prior to the discovery of Gilsonite transporting beer was a much larger ordeal than it is nowadays, and as a result it was far more difficult for groups of attractive singles to have parties on the beach or water fights at a BBQ.

The town of Watson was created in 1911 as a result of the mining activities. It was never very big, as most of the people involved in the mining lived at the nearby towns of Rainbow and Dragon (which is a cool name for a town). It served as a railroad terminus for all the ore trails headed out to the mines or over to Colorado, where the conversion to beer caulking would take place. The name Watson actually comes from the name of the dude who laid out this nifty (and notoriously dangerous) rail line, one Mr. Wallace G. Watson. For a while, things were really looking up for this forgotten corner of Utah. The place had a post office, a hotel, a couple of general stores, and several dugout houses. Here’s the only picture I can find of the place at its peak.

Look! Here's a picture of a really old guy that came up when I googled "Watson"! Maybe he used to live there. I don't know.

But the dark hand of ghost town-ness is ever present, waiting to consume the unwary village, town or hamlet into the swirling abyss of obscurity (which is different than the swirling abyss between rock and mineral).

In 1938, the mining operations were moved to a better (and still not quite abandoned) town named Bonanza, located a good 15 miles north of Rainbow and Watson. While this was great for the Gilsonite lovers, it was bad news for the towns that were no longer needed. Within a year the population of Watson dropped to 10 brave souls. This fact would be more impressive had I been able to figure out how many people lived there at its peak, but I couldn’t. So we just have to assume that it was more than 10 people. The town of Rainbow was abandoned, and Dragon hung on with 72 people. As some point between 1939 and 2010, the remaining 10 people took off or died. The place now looks like this.

Most of these used to be houses I think. I’m not sure. In theory you can still find the basement to the hotel, but I sure didn’t. But then again I wasn’t really trying all that hard.

The town of Rainbow is even more ghosty. All that really remains are the Gilsonite mines. The veins were completely vertical, and were around 5 feet wide where I saw them. They are also wicked deep (up to 2000 feet!), and I couldn’t see the bottom anywhere along the mined out area.

You could see this mined out crack in the earth stretching for miles over the hills. I don’t know how they got down there to mine this stuff out, but next time you ink up your quill or crack open a barrel of your finest hops and barley you had better be glad that they did. You can even see the mine from space. Here is a google earth photo of it.

The town of Dragon would have been a great place to visit, but it is a good 12 miles further down a creepy dirt road and I couldn’t be bothered. Apparently a good-sized fire started in the Gilsonite vein there in 1908 and burned for over 2 years. Then in 1910 the warehouse burned down and took out a bunch of Gilsonite that people had already dug out. It appears that the town of Dragon had a fire problem, which seems fitting.

And so we leave the towns of Watson, Rainbow and Dragon (although we never really went to Dragon). You can go all the way out there if you REALLY want to see some log huts and a big hole in the ground, but it seems like you could probably just see all the huts and holes you want on the internet without leaving the comfort of your own home. For those of you who are interested, (which is all of you), Gilsonite is still mined at Bonanza, although I suspect that the main use of the stuff has changed. Or maybe it is still used to caulk up beer barrels. Just doesn’t seem like there is enough of a market for that sort of thing. It appears that people like to grind it up and spray it onto driveways as a pavement substitute.

Apparently we also can spray it on mailboxes. Neat!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ghost Town Tuesday! Well, the ghost part anyway.

I'm too tired to post about a ghost town. Or anything else. So leave me alone. But I do feel bad about leaving my twos of readers out in the cold. So here's a little tale of this one time I saw a ghost/was sleepy.

Twas late in my room, and naught but the steady bubbling of my fishtank was to be heard. I sat awake, as was the style at the time. I was getting tired, and soon found myself in that nearly asleep mode where you might be snoring, but you also would hear someone come into the room. Before I had fallen almost asleep I had decided to read a passage or two from "Where the Wild Things Are"as for some reason I felt like it had been far too long since I had read a relatively creepy book about monsters and crazy preteens that live in rooms that morph into jungles. I read what I needed, and then placed the book on the head-board above my head. Falling asleep, I remember feeling oddly uneasy, but I dismissed the feeling as a "Wild Things" hang-over.

Heh, let me interject here, if I may, with a joke that I just thought up...

Q: What kind movies to do mosters watch at Spring Break?

A: Wild things gone wild! or perhaps Wild things gone wilderer. Gene Wilderer....I dunno. This joke sucks.

Anyway, I entered the half-asleep world and there I stayed for a time. Suddenly, my leg jerked without permission, as is aught to happen sometimes when one is in half-sleep. Down came the Wild Things and bonked me on the head. I awoke with a start from my drooling state, and instantly my eyes met something altogether not-entertaining. A figure of a person was standing at the foot of my bed. It wasn't towering over me, nor did it have tenticle for arms or snakes for hair or plaid socks. Just a person, standing and watching. I sat up, more confused than anything. What was going on? Why was there a copy of "Where the wild things are" smacking me on the head? Why was I drooling despite the fact that I was partially awake? Why was there a shadow person at the foot of my bed? Mostly that last one. I stared for a second at the figure who stood out distinctly from the rest of the moonlit room. It did not more, make a noise or anything. I freaked out, as one is aught to do when dealing with shadowy-folk, but before I could run the thing just disappeared. Faded, really. Like a hologram onboard a starship running on failing back-up generators. Within a second it was gone, but the unease and stark terror remained. And so I ran out the room and into the hallway, which was no better because it is well known to me that the hallway is the most terrifying part of the house. Long and forbidding, the hallway featured many mirrors at all ends, as well a number of objects that cast strange shapes all over the walls in the light of the nightlight. So I ran down to the living room and slept behind the couch. There I was safe. Far away from where the wild things are. Er, were. So anyway, yeah, ghosts are spooky.

There. I will post something better later. But tired now. Sleepy time. Leave lone.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


We've been talking a lot about rocks the last couple of posts, which is a subject that is interesting to very few people. So, in an effort to include a wider range of interesting things, here is a post about Star Trek.

Star Trek the Next Generation was missing one character. A deep southern gentleman who wasn't really part of the crew and wore old bib-overalls and would climb in the rafters and play his futuristic banjo and would teach Data some of the less pleasant human characteristics. He wouldn't be in every episode, in fact he would proabably be in just a few. But if you looked close enough you would see signs of him in the background. Like maybe an old log raft leaning against Worf's console, or perhaps a crude figure of Dianna Troi sitting on the captain's chair that the character had carved from a solid piece of plastic torn from a wall somewhere in the ship. And anytime the crew would meet up with an enemy who was too strong and negoitations were tense, he would show up and listen in. Then, just when things seem their darkest and when there is a pause in the arguing, he could say something funny like "Welllll....Pig shit!". And then everyone would laugh. Also, he can grant wishes, but no one knows that yet.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pyrite, The gold of fools!

I wanted to write about some crazy mineral that no one has ever heard of, but then I realized that no one really cares about minerals they have never heard of. Truth be told, I'm guessing that most people don’t care much about minerals they HAVE heard of. As we sit and think on this little catch-22, let’s take a moment and look at the shiny little blob known as Pyrite.

(That's the scientific picture of pyrite. I think. Or possibly some sort of virus.)

Pyrite is everywhere. Well, nearly everywhere. It’s likely to be anywhere you can find sulfur and iron, which is most places if you spend a lot of time underground or at some sort of sulfur and iron factory. Which to my knowledge don't exist. If you looked really REALLY close at pyrite, you would see a single atom of iron that has totally hooked up with a pair of hot atoms of sulfur, resulting in a steamy, HBO-style chemical formula of FeS2. You would think that this would mean that pyrite is 33% iron and 66% sulfur, but it isn’t. It’s actually 46.6% iron and 53.4% sulfur. I’m not here to explain why this is. You will just have to trust me.


Minerals that contain sulfur are known as sulfides! Neat! All your favorites are here! Pyrite, Galena, Realgar, and others. you don't really care.


Let’s take a look at the little guy in question.

As you can see, it is very shiny. But in geology we don’t call rocks shiny because that would imply that you are having fun with science. In geology anything that looks like pyrite is referred to as having a “metallic” luster. For some reason the term “metallic” reminds me of Robocop, a movie that I saw for the first time the other day. Anyway, you can think on the subject for yourselves and decide what “metallic” reminds you of. But don't tell me what you come up with because I don't care. Here’s a picture of Robocop holding some pyrite.

As the above pictures also show (the pictures above the Robocop one), pyrite comes in a variety of shapes. You’ve got a bunch of little squares, a neat little Frisbee shaped thing, and a blob. But most commonly pyrite likes to show up as the first one. Pyrite likes to show up as a cube.

That’s a picture of what a cube looks like. Drawing 3-D things is fun. Spain is famous for its perfect cubic pyrite cubes. And why not? Look at these things!

Pyrite also likes to show up as something called a pyritohedron. It’s like a cube, but wayyyy harder to draw. Let’s give it a go.

That’s actually pretty close. Anyway, who needs drawings when you have real-life stuff? Here’s what a pyritohedron looks like in the real (internet) world.

Now, some of you may notice that piece isn’t really “metallic” anymore. Like all of us, pyrite is not long for this world. Too quickly the ravages of life take their toll upon the pyrite cube and work to turn it into something else. In this case the pyrite has weathered into a mineral called Limonite. In short, it has simply rusted. Like my Honda.

A fun little note about weathering pyrite is that it often forms a weak acid, which likes to find its way into the groundwater. Here's something special for the nerds! A chemical explination of how pyrite is actively trying to kill you!

4) FeS2 + 15/4 O2 + 7/2 H2O --> 2H2SO4 + Fe(OH)3 4

Ahh, the beautiful simplicity of chemistry! The problem is with that nasty little H2SO4 guy. This guy is known as sulfuric acid, and it's an environmental pain in the butt. Anyway, it gets into the water and makes all sorts of problems.

Finally, pyrite also likes to show up as an octahedron.

Here is what it would look like if it was under attack by a tank and two army guys.

And here’s what it would look like if it were a super villain.

Anyway, those are the three most common forms of pyrite. Sometimes pyrite shows up in a mixture of these forms, and sometimes as none of the above. But I’m not going to draw anymore.

So, now that we know what it looks like, let’s list some facts about it that I’ve found in a book here. It appears that pyrite is pretty hard, clocking in with a hardness of 6! That means that it can scratch glass if you really work at it for a while. Also that means that you can’t scratch it with a knife. These are good things to know if you ever fall into some sort of pyrite-based ninja clan.

Pyrite is perhaps better known as “Fools Gold” because it looks like gold to fools. I think it looks a lot like gold, but I wouldn’t ever admit it because I don’t need people thinking I’m a fool. I hate everyone so much. Anyway, if you ever find yourself with a block of shiny, gold-colored mineral and need to figure out if it is gold or if you are a fool, then here’s what you do.

If at the end of step #3 you have nothing but a pile of gold colored chunks that stink like rotten eggs, then you were likely dealing with pyrite and are, in fact, a fool. If the gold deforms but doesn’t shatter under the blow of the hammer, then you are looking at the good stuff and probably should go try to find more of it.

So, why did pyrite get two names? "Fools Gold" seems scientific enough for me. But, as usual, insults have no place in science. “Pyrite” means “Fire” in greekish, a name earned by the fact that pyrite will send out a neat shower of sparks if you hit it with a hammer. I should have probably mentioned that in the “how to tell gold from pyrite” section of this post. Ah well, everyone loves surprises.

So what is it good for? Other than starting fires when people hit it with hammers and contaminating groundwater when it weathers, the answer may shock and amaze you. Pyrite isn’t really good for anything. Well, other than as a test to see if you are in the presence of fools I guess. Some countries use it as an iron ore, but it stuff produces so much sulfur it isn’t really a preferred source. So I suppose it falls under the large list of rocks that are best used as paperweights, doorstops, crude weapons, and the like.

As I said at the beginning of this post, pyrite is all over the place. Above us, below us, and all around us. Well, probably not so much above us. And only slightly less rarely around us. Mostly it's below us. It most often forms in pre-existing rocks that have been metamorphosed by magmatic intrusion, but it can really show up just about anywhere. Quite often it shows up with minerals that ARE useful to us, such as gold, silver, copper, and whatever else you could ever want. So this guy...

will keep his eyes open for the stuff. Because I strive to only bring you the most accurate and crudely drawn information, let's take a look at these easy to understand stick-figure drawings of how pyrite forms as a result of magmatic intrusion thingies.

The general idea behind those pictures are that lava squishes into the rocks and sends boiling hot earth-waters into the surrounding areas. This water usually contains a ton of crazy minerals that form all sorts of things, including pyrite.

And that is Pyrite. Kinda. Well more or less.