Monday, May 22, 2017

Fun with the Short Line’s Push Cars

By
Steven Wade Veatch and Peter Doolittle

The narrow-gauge Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railroad, or Short Line, was built along what is now the Gold Camp Road. By 1901, the train ran all the way from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek. This was the shortest route from the goldfields to Colorado Springs. Train cars, filled with gold ore, rumbled along the rails behind powerful steam locomotives to mills on the west side of Colorado Springs. The route also operated two daily passenger trains that provided service each way.

Figure 1 is an antique postcard that shows what is known as a "gravity car" that was popular with tourists, photographers, and other interested people from the Pikes Peak region who took a trip on these gravity cars that rolled down the grade at fast speeds from a point known as the “Summit” eastward to Colorado Springs.

Figure 1. This photo shows two tourists riding down a grade of the 
Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek Railroad on a gravity car. 
This photo is on a postcard.  From the S. W. Veatch collection.

These gravity cars could reach speeds of 40 MPH! What a thrill that must have been in these early days. This car appears to a lever operated handbrake. The location depicted in the postcard is Point Sublime on the Short Line. The lake in the distance is at the Broadmoor Casino, now the Broadmoor Hotel.

The white post in this picture is most likely a warning for a crew operating a flanger, or snow plow, that there is a bridge or tunnel ahead. There is probably some structure or obstruction out of view to the left in the postcard. Note the guard rails between the two outer rails going to the left. Those are usually present on a bridge or trestle, possibly a tunnel, to keep derailed equipment from falling off into the abyss or causing damage to the structure being protected. 

This so-called gravity car was known as a push or hand car and was used by section men or "gandy dancers" who were responsible for inspecting and maintaining a section of the railroad track. The gandy dancers used the push cars to get to and from the section they were working on that day. Push cars were a more primitive version of the pump handle handcar depicted in old movies. Someone, standing on the deck of these cars, would push them along on flat or level track by using a pole they pushed against the ground. In the case of mountain railroads, such as the Cripple Creek railroads, the push cars would be lashed onto the back of a train going upgrade and then allowed to coast down from the top of the pass or grade, carrying a gandy dancer along his section of track.


Friday, May 12, 2017

A Small White Dot

Steven Wade Veatch
Vishwam Sankaran


“There’s nothing new under the sun” goes a famous saying, and these words are very apt when trying to understand Earth’s climate trends. Thanks to numerous discoveries made about Earth’s ancient past, we now know that our climate has never been static. According to geological and paleontological records, climate change has affected the Earth throughout geologic time.

To understand climate change, researchers study past climates and events that affect climates such as volcanic activity, solar radiation, sunspot activity, astronomical changes, and other factors that influence climate. Once we understand the dominoes that have fallen during the past climate change events, we can understand and predict—to some degree—the kind of patterns that may follow current trends. To do this, scientists piece together clues from past climates provided by rock formations. Scientists likewise examine fossil records that yield climate signals from the past. These fossils range from prehistoric pollen to dinosaurs. Putting both geological and fossil records together reconstructs ancient climates and environments. More recent climate change is studied through climate records held in polar ice caps and ice sheets, ice cores, glaciers, isotopes of elements (like oxygen, carbon, and sulfur), soil sediments, and tree rings.

When we think of the term “ice age,” the picture that immediately comes to mind is early Neanderthals or Homo sapiens wrapped in animal fur, hiking endlessly through snow and ice-covered plains, striking fire, hunting mammoths, and surviving in nomadic camps. This image stems from the most recent ice age (Pleistocene Epoch), and evidence reveals more severe ice ages before the last one. Scientists know of at least five major glaciation events (see table 1). And it is speculated that some of the ice ages covered the whole Earth in snow and ice.

Table 1: Five Major Continental Glaciations. There have been five episodes of extensive continental glaciation through geologic time. The Cryogenian Glaciation lasted the longest, producing a “Snowball Earth” (Levin, 2013).
Glaciation
Time Period
Huronian Glaciation (Paleoproterozoic Era)
2.4-2.1 billion years ago
Cryogenian Glaciation (Neoproterozoic Era)
850-635 million years ago
Andean-Saharan Glaciation (Ordovician-Silurian Period)
460-430 million years ago
Karoo Glaciation (Carboniferous-Permian Period)
360-260 million years ago
Pleistocene Glaciation (Pleistocene Epoch)
2.6 million years ago to the present

Broadly speaking, a number of scientists believe Earth’s climate, throughout geologic time, can be characterized by three climate conditions. First, that of “Earth as a Greenhouse” when warm temperatures extend to the poles, eliminating the polar icecaps and all other ice sheets. The climate, in some parts of the planet, was like hell in a box. Secondly, that of “Earth as an Icehouse” which includes some permanent ice whose extent varies as glaciers periodically advance and retreat. And lastly, by what is termed as “Snowball Earth” where the planet’s entire surface is frozen up to hundreds of millions of years (Walker, 2003).

There is credible speculation that there is a fourth state: “Slush House Earth,” where there is an ice-free zone along the equator (Cowen, 2013). Today’s climate, marked by polar ice caps, is characterized by the second condition, an “Icehouse.” Since primordial times, it has been speculated that the Earth has been cycling between these phases.

The Earth froze completely in defiance to the warmth of the sun between 2.45 and 2.22 billion years ago (BYA), resulting in Earth’s first Ice Age, known as the Huronian Glaciation (named after Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada). This deep freeze may not have happened once, but perhaps several times, during the Huronian Glaciation (Levin, 2013).

The cause of this first Snowball Earth event is not known, however several theories have been proposed, including a decrease in solar output, the Earth passing through so-called space clouds, or an extreme cooling caused by a reduction in greenhouse gases ("Oceans of Ice: The Snowball Earth Theory of Global Glaciation," n.d.). Some scientists view a combination of these events could be a reason the Earth became frozen in ice. It seems likely that a sharp drop in carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, caused temperatures to plummet. An unimaginably thick, white ice sheet crept down from the poles. Snow, whipped by winds, danced on the crenelated surface of the ice while the bottom of the ice sheet plucked and ground the rock surface beneath as it crept forward.

During these frigid times sunlight, instead of warming the planet, bounced off the ever-spreading ice, in what scientists call the albedo effect, causing temperatures to fall—which created more ice—which bounced more sunlight back into the cold reaches of outer space (Melehzik, 2006). This process repeated in a positive feedback loop until the cooling became unstoppable: the ice marched on, temperatures plunged, and the blue planet became a small white dot—a snowball, surrounded by a riot of stars, orbiting the sun.

Of interest to scientists is that life came to a near biological standstill in the first Snowball Earth event, yet life survived this hyper-freeze phase. Even in an Earth almost entirely covered by ice, volcanoes punched through the ice by melting it. Against these odds and brutal mass extinctions, a handful of tiny organisms, living near volcanic vents on the sea floor, thrived. These organisms were anaerobic bacteria and called methanogens by scientists. The methanogens fed on mineral nutrients like sulfur, iron, and manganese from underwater volcanic vents and merrily expelled methane, a greenhouse gas. Oxygen was not present in the Earth’s atmosphere. The methanogens spread and continued to help gas-up an atmosphere that contained methane, nitrogen, and few other gasses in trace quantities. The microscopic methanogen’s methane trapped some of the sun’s energy and warmed the planet.

Following the Huronian Glaciation, the frozen planet thawed, marking one of the greatest periods of transition in our world’s history—The Great Oxygenation Event, one that would change forever the destiny of this planet we call home. Here is what happened.

Soon after Snowball Earth melted a new kind of bacteria evolved—cyanobacteria, the planet’s first photosynthesizing organisms that made oxygen (Canfield, 2016). There was a slow and episodic enrichment of gaseous oxygen in the atmosphere that continued over millions of years, possibly due to an exponential bloom of the cyanobacteria as mats that rolled and pitched with the waves of the sea.  Near the shore, cyanobacteria grew in layered structures known as stromatolites. Stromatolites were also present in some lakes and in any other shallow aquatic setting where the conditions were favorable.

FIGURE 1.  A photomicrograph of Cyanobacteria, Tolypothrix sp. Cyanobacteria produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, and it is thought this process converted Earth’s early, oxygen-poor, reducing atmosphere, into an oxidizing one, causing two major events: 1) the " Great Oxygenation Event” and 2) the so-called rusting of the Earth. Both events dramatically changed the nature of life forms on Earth and almost led to the extinction of anaerobic organisms. Image by Matthew Parker, used by permission under Community Commons Licence 3.0.

The rising oxygen levels brought the Great Oxygenation Event—a significant shift in the content of oxygen in the atmosphere (Crowell, 1999). As the cyanobacteria churned out more and more oxygen that bubbled through the water column, the methanogens almost went extinct—oxygen is toxic to them, those that survived lived in deep ocean water near hydrothermal vents and other places that protected them. In the meantime, due to the higher levels of oxygen resulting from photosynthesis, iron—previously dissolved in the oceans—could no longer stay in solution, leading to an intricate alchemy that brought the “Great Oxidation Event.”

This so-called “rusting” event formed rocks known as banded iron formations (BIFs). BIFs are white bands of chemically precipitated quartz, or chert, with alternating darker red bands of the iron oxide minerals hematite and magnetite. From this oxidation of iron and the formation of BIFs, we infer that oxygen began to appear in Earth’s atmosphere.

FIGURE 2. An exposure of banded iron formations (BIFs) at the Fortescue Falls, Dales Gorge, Karijini National Park, Western Australia. Cyanobacteria contributed oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere. This oxygen, combined with iron in the ocean’s water, caused chemical precipitation of iron oxides, and formed dark red bands that alternated with white bands of chert that produced the banded iron formations. Photo by Graeme Churchard, used by permission under Community Commons Licence 2.0.
Scientists continue to speculate on the source of the iron that was dissolved in the oceans prior to the Great Oxygenation Event. One source of the iron likely weathered from iron-bearing rocks on land masses. Another, much larger source of iron spewed out in dark clouds from more active submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. 

The BIFs were deposited in a relatively brief geologic time between 2600 and 1800 million years ago, and occurred in great bodies that exceeded hundreds of meters in thickness and extended thousands of meters laterally (Macdougall, 2004). BIFs are an essential part of our modern industrial complex as they yield most of the rich iron ore mined today from the massive iron ore deposits of Minnesota, Michigan, Ukraine, Brazil, Labrador, and Australia (Levin, 2013).

Despite the frozen conditions of the first Snowball Earth, the period following it was an evolutionary triumph when oxygen became part of Earth’s atmosphere and early life flourished.  Oxygen formed the extensive iron ore deposits that are the foundation of modern society.  Although we are building a compendium of knowledge about past and present climate change, unanswered questions about Snowball Earth remain while certain aspects of climate change remain unknown. 
An army of scientists, with intellectual fire, continue their work in their search for answers. Even if we do not find some of these unknown factors affecting climate change, those factors will perhaps find us. 


References Cited

Canfield, D. (2016). Oxygen: A four billion year history. Princeton: Princeton                   Univ. Press.

Cowen, R. (2013). History of Life. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Crowell, J. C. (1999). Pre-Mesozoic Ice Ages: Their Bearing on Understanding the Climate System. Boulder: Geological Society of America.

Levin, R. (2013). The Earth Through Time. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons.

Macdougal, D. (2004). Frozen Earth: The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Melezhik, V. A. (2006). Multiple causes of Earth's earliest global glaciation. Terra Nova18(2), 130-137.

Oceans of Ice: The Snowball Earth Theory of Global Glaciation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/2010/05/oceans-of-ice-the-snowball-earth-theory-of-global-glaciation/

Walker, G. (2003). Snowball Earth: The Story of the Great Global Catastrophe that Spawned Life as We Know It. New York: Crown Publishers.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Notes on the Geology of Colorado Fishing

By
Steven Wade Veatch

A stream, as a geological agent, is one of the most powerful forces on Earth.  Many of Colorado's magnificent landscapes are the products of what streams do best—moving sediments sporadically downstream in regular cycles of erosion and deposition.  In Colorado, the Continental Divide splits streams that flow west to the Pacific Ocean from those that flow eastward to the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. The sparkling streams of Colorado not only shape the landscape but also provide great fishing.  A deeper understanding of the riparian environment and geologic processes will enhance every fishing trip.

Snowmelt gives rise to Colorado's four major river systems:  the Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande, and the Colorado.  Here is a quick review of those rivers.

The South Platte begins in the high country of South Park, but when it reaches the Cheesman Canyon, south of Deckers, local geology creates some remarkable places to fish.  Granite formed in the canyon under enormous pressure several kilometers below the surface and was later exposed by regional uplift.  With the erosion of the overlying rock, the granite expanded and cracked due to the release of pressure.  Gravity now causes the rock between the cracks in the granite to break loose in concentric slabs from the underlying granite body.  This process, exfoliation, results in the rounded nature of the granite outcrops in the canyon.

Granite boulders, slabs, and gravel form bars across the South Platte that dissipate the energy of the flow, producing areas of calm water and deep pools in Cheesman Canyon.  Willows grow along the banks while aspens and spruce trees grow tall, providing shade for brown trout.  Because browns are very selective in what they eat, they are hard to catch and grow to a large size.  Anglers on this river frequently use small flies, especially the pheasant-tail fly.

The Arkansas River starts in the mountains near Leadville and Tennessee Pass and flows south and east to merge with the Mississippi in the state of Arkansas.  After spring runoff has reworked sand and gravel bars, fresh gold placers can be panned on the upper reaches of the Arkansas.  As the Arkansas River flows by the Texas Creek recreation area on its way to the Royal Gorge, brown trout can be caught with caddis flies.  The Texas Creek area is also noted for deposits of rose quartz associated with pegmatite (coarsely crystalline) granite that intruded into metamorphic rocks.

The Rio Grande River has its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains and flows through New Mexico on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Near Creede, at Wagon Wheel Gap, the Rio Grande offers excellent fishing for browns, brooks, rainbows, and cutthroats using a prince nymph.  Cutthroat trout like slow pools that are just opposite large granite boulders.  There are several geothermal springs in the area, and excellent specimens of fluorite occur nearby.

The Colorado River drains the western slope of the Continental Divide and empties into the Gulf of California.  The major tributaries of the Colorado River are the San Juan, White, Yampa, and Gunnison Rivers.

The Gunnison River began downcutting into the Earth after a period of regional uplift 28 million years ago.  Today steep Precambrian gneiss (metamorphic rock) walls, with pink pegmatite dikes filling cracks and fissures, rise thousands of feet above the Gunnison River in the Black Canyon.  Geological processes here have produced the best fishing spot in the state.  It is the only place in Colorado where browns and rainbows grow to 16 inches in just four years.  Anglers in this area commonly use big nymphs.

A view of the Gunnison River running through 
the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo used 
by permission under a Creative Commons License. 

Geologic processes have created 1,800 lakes above 9,000 feet in elevation in Colorado.  Many of these high-country lakes, called tarns, occupy the bottoms of amphitheater-shaped cirques where glaciers eroded into the mountain.  If there are enough insects to eat and the lake is deep enough for the fish to winter, there will be a population of trout.


Maroon Lake, at the foot of snow-striped Maroon Bells, 
is one of many Colorado lakes where great fishing awaits.  
Photo © S. W. Veatch.

Trout are not always easy to catch in high lakes as they feed along the edges and can be easily spooked.  Brook trout—commonly found in high country lakes, beaver ponds, and small creeks—tend to be small because they reproduce rapidly and surpass their food supply.

Trout like to cruise most of the 11,300 miles of streams in Colorado, and if anglers consider the rock and understand the role that geology plays in fishing, they have an advantage for catching trout. It is “gneiss” to know that fishing and geology can't be taken for “granite.”







Saturday, November 19, 2016

Stegosaurus: Colorado’s State Fossil


By Destin Bogart, guest blogger

As the state dinosaur of Colorado and one of the most iconic members of Dinosauria, Stegosaurus has earned this spot due to its fascinating history and its large number of fossil remains that allow paleontologists to understand more about Stegosaurus than other dinosaur genera that have a more fragmentary fossil record.

The first remains of Stegosaurus were uncovered during a period in the late 1870s known as, “The Bone Wars,” which intensified the collection efforts between two rival paleontologists—Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. Marsh initially discovered Stegosaurus in 1877 near Morrison, Colorado. Marsh first thought those remains belonged to a turtle-like animal, but soon revised this finding as more Stegosaurus fossils were unearthed.

O.C. Marsh's 1891 illustration of Stegosaurus ungulatus
Paleontologists now place the arrangement of the back 
plates in two alternating rows and oriented vertically. 
Copyright: public domain.
The largest Stegosaurus could stand four meters (12 feet) high at the tallest back plate and could reach lengths of up to nine meters (~30 feet). But the size alone is not what sets Stegosaurus apart from the other animals it shared its ecosystem with; rather the plates that line the spine of Stegosaurus make this dinosaur recognizable to everyone. Yet the plates remain an enigma; paleontologists have put forth many theories regarding how the plates are positioned. When Othniel Marsh first found the remains, he thought the plates lay flat against the body like the armor of a Pangolin (looks like a scaly anteater).

Through the years, paleontologists have refined the theory regarding the exact configuration of these plates, which went from two lines of identical plates on the back, to one row of plates that alternate. Scientists now place the arrangement of the back plates in two alternating rows and oriented vertically.

Stegosaurus stenops from the Late Jurassic of North America, 
pencil drawing by Nobu Tamura. Copywrite: Image license through the 
courtesy of Creative Commons.
What these plates were used for is still up for debate and has remained so since the animal’s discovery. Robert Bakker, a world-renowned paleontologist and curator of the Houston Museum of Nature and Science, speculates the plates of Stegosaurus were the inside, or core, of a bigger plate made of keratinous material. Bakker also suggests these plates were semi-movable and the animal used them as a defense, splaying them out to the sides to deter predators from coming too close. Other scientists have claimed the back plates were used to attract a mate or to control body temperature.

Even if the plates of Stegosaurus were not used for defense, Stegosaurus carried with it four spike-like osteoderms (bone embedded in the skin) on the end of its tail. These spikes (informally called thagomizers) bent out to the sides and backward and were likely an incredible defense against many large predators of the Morrison Formation. 

In 2014, Robert Bakker found a large open hole in the lower-front portion of the pelvis of a mounted Allosaurus skeleton at the Glenrock Paleontological Museum. The hole fits the tail spike of a Stegosaurus. This is evidence of just how formidable the tail of a Stegosaurus was as a defensive weapon when it struck the crotch of an Allosaurus. Evidence suggests bacteria, broken bone, and other debris remained in the wound, causing an infection that eventually killed the animal. According to Robert Bakker, “A massive infection ate away a baseball-sized sector of the bone, probably this infection spread upwards into the soft tissue attached here, the thigh muscles and adjacent intestines and reproductive organs.” 

The brain of Stegosaurus, although not quite walnut-sized, was unusually small compared to its body mass. So far, Stegosaurs claims the smallest brain size to body mass of any other dinosaur. This small brain presented a problem—how could it survive without more intelligence? It seems the large plates on its back and the spikes of its thagomizer were keys to its survival against predators. Also, Stegosaurs behavior played a role. Paleontologist Matthew Mossbrucker discovered in 2007, footprints of adult, juvenile, and hatchling specimens in the Morrison Formation that suggest Stegosaurs stayed together in small groups, most likely for protection against predators. 

Stegosaurus is the rhinoceros of the Late Jurassic as it was both an herbivore and highly dangerous to anything it perceived as a threat. Stegosaurus died out near the end of the Jurassic, leaving only fossils and footprints as a reminder of its existence. However, paleontologists can, using fossils and a little bit of educated guesswork, begin to understand how this animal behaved, how it lived, and how it died.

Author’s Bio: Destin Bogart is 16 years old and ever since he can remember he has had a passion for paleontology. He is an Earth Science Scholar with the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society and is a junior IB World Student at Pueblo West High School. Destin is planning a career in vertebrate paleobiology.







References:

Castro, Joseph. "Stegosaurus: Bony Plates & Tiny Brain." LiveScience. Purch, 08 Dec. 2014. Web. 18 June 2015.

Holtz, Thomas R. Jr. (2012) Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages, Winter 2011 Appendix.

Lambert, D (1993). The Ultimate Dinosaur Book. Dorling Kindersley, New York. pp. 110–29. ISBN 1-56458-304-X.

Carpenter, K (1998). "Armor of Stegosaurus stenops, and the taphonomic history of a new specimen from Garden Park Colorado". The Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation: An Interdisciplinary Study. Part 1. Modern Geol. 22. pp. 127–44.

Carpenter, K and Galton PM (2001). "Othniel Charles Marsh and the Eight-Spiked Stegosaurus". in Carpenter, Kenneth. The Armored Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press. pp. 76–102. ISBN 0-253-33964-

Pastino, Blake De. "Allosaurus Died from Stegosaur Spike to the Crotch, Wyoming Fossil Shows." Western Digs. Western Digs, 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 June 2015.
"Stegosaurus; Colorado State Fossil." State Symbols USA. STATE SYMBOLS USA, n.d. Web. 21 June 2015.

Jacobson, Rebecca. "First Steps of a Baby Stegosaurus, Captured in 3-D." PBS. PBS, 16 July 2014. Web. 22 June 2015.



Monday, December 14, 2015

The Shadowgee

By Steven Wade Veatch
     
During the school-free months of summer my mother, brother, and grandfather stayed at our cabins in the mountains north of Divide, Colorado.  Mother’s cabin was next to my grandfather’s cabin. These were simple times where we passed the summer days with pleasant recreations. This was a time where relationships and memories were made—a time when my life was shaped. The two cabins marked some of the most memorable scenes of my boyhood.
     
Sunrise in the mountains. Watercolor © by S. W. Veatch

There were no malls or shopping centers, only a simple country grocery store six miles away. There were no toney, high-end country clubs; instead we went to the Divide Community club, which was built during the Great Depression, for a weekly diversion of bingo or a dance that alternated each Saturday with the bingo game. The mountain folks referred to the dance as “goin’ to the fights” as some of the rowdy cowboys liked to throw down and mix it up out back during the dances.
     
At our cabin I would stay up late and read. Before turning in for the night I would go out on the porch and look at my grandfather’s window to see if his bedroom light was on. It always was on—he would read into the dark and quiet hours of the night.  He liked to read, he liked words and working with words. I got that from him.
***
On this particular summer morning I got up at daybreak and looked out the window of our cabin to see welcoming smoke coming out of my grandfather’s chimney. I ran down the porch steps to start a morning with my grandfather—my mother and my brother would soon follow.
     
While my grandfather made breakfast I watched the meadow, forest, marsh, and granite rocks through his kitchen window. The July meadow grass waved rhythmically from wind while the wildflowers painted a splash of purple along the edge of the meadow. A chipmunk sat on a weathered stump and worried a seed.
     
After our breakfast of pancakes with Mickey Mouse ears, Log Cabin syrup poured from a tin, bacon, and orange Tang we eased into the main cabin room. The burning pine crackled, popped, and hissed in the Ben Franklin fireplace.  Angry red embers warmed the room. The calming aroma of the burning wood filled the cabin while the morning sunlight streamed through the windows where light, skipping off little specs of dust, created pinpoints of reflected light.
     
I curled into the couch and my grandfather relaxed next to me in an easy chair. He put a mug of black coffee on an old wooden barrel with a round top painted a deep red. Old liquor bottle labels, covered with clear shellac, decorated the top. He filled his pipe with Half and Half pipe tobacco, stuck a wooden match and lighted the bowl of his pipe. Soon a tendril of smoke climbed from his pipe. It was time for stories to be tossed around. I can still hear the deep, articulate, and measured sound of his voice—certain, knowing. He fired my imagination by telling erudite tales of mining days all the way back to territorial Colorado. His grandfather and father were pioneers in the windswept mining camp of Caribou in Boulder County.
***
Following our morning round of tales my grandfather took an old, gallon-sized Half and Half pipe tobacco can and reworked it into a lantern. He attached a wire at either end with the loop on the outside of the can. The wire stretched from end-to-end.  This made a handle and held the can on its side. Next he punched an inch-round hole on the underside of the can. Finally, he shoved a candle in the hole. The candle flame would reflect off the shiny, inside bottom of the can and shine out through the open top, creating a beam of light. Now the empty tobacco can was a makeshift candle lantern. I sat upright, engrossed. I waited with held breath and hoped that he would hand me whatever he was making. What could it be?
     
I said, “What the heck is that?”
     
Grandfather said, “It’s called a shadowgee, this is what the miners used in mining camps before flashlights. Would you like one?”
   
 “Heck ya!”
   
My grandfather reached over with the Shadowgee and handed it to me. I carefully took it from him and held it in my hands. I slowly looked it over. It felt so cool and seemed like the best thing ever made.
     
The shadowgee my grandfather made for me. Note how the handle is offset from the top. This way, when the lantern was carried, the candle would tilt away from the wire handle and not burn the miner’s fingers. Photo © S. W. Veatch.


View of the shadowgee in operation.  Photo © S. W. Veatch.
     
The empty can kept the mountain winds from blowing out the candle flame. The burning candle provided a steady light so the miner carrying it could check his corral in the dark or to see his way on a late-night trip to the outhouse. Grandfather used his shadowgee to find our two-holer outhouse at night.
     
The shadowgee speaks about mining life: miners were careful in spending their money; lamps and kerosene were costly; and miners were resourceful and had to improvise and use discarded tin cans as a resource, repurposing them into shadowgees or other useful artifacts.

***
That night, I waited to test my shadowgee. The wind quieted down so it could hear the alluring sounds of the forest. Shadows whispered across the meadows. The evening became a lingering twilight of layered crimson in the clouds. The night turned eggplant dark and the countryside calm. When the summer stars were bright it was time for me to test my shadowgee and follow the worn path to the outhouse. Out I went, into the night, shadowgee in hand. What I learned was that spending time with my grandfather was the best part of those summer days so long ago. He always had something new to show me or teach me. What I didn’t appreciate then was that his stories of living in a mining camp and the shadowgee sparked the beginning of what turned into a lifelong fascination with mining.

*** 
Today my grandfather is gone. My mother is gone too. The other day I was going through some of my mother’s boxes. I opened a cardboard box and saw a real treasure, a shadowgee—a battered tin can that was an affectionate throwback to the world of my grandfather. It brought me back, forty-nine years ago, to that moment when I first learned about the shadowgee, now a symbol of my grandfather and an intensity of life, a time of stories and where I could really relate to someone, a time before distractions of smart phones and other technology.
   
I know the time my grandfather spent with me enfolded me into something larger than myself. I emerged changed—nearer the person I longed to be. In this way he reshaped and repurposed my life, just like the tobacco can being made into lanterns—something better. I carefully put the shadowgee back in the box, and smiled.



Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Regale of France: Henry VIII’s Lost Ruby

By Steven Wade Veatch

Glittering jewels, precious metals, and religious relics—ranging from a spine from the Crown of Thorns to a twig from the Burning Bush, and sundry relics of saints—were important to all medieval monarchs as physical symbols of power, pomp, and religious expression (BBC). King Henry VIII (1491-1547) of England had one of these venerable objects— a ruby.
Figure 1. Henry VIII, The king can be seen sporting several jewels in this 1531 painting. Henry prized the French Regale, a ruby fashioned into a cabochon. It remained in Henry’s private collection until he died at the age of 55 in 1547. Image public domain.
A ruby (Al2O3) is a gemstone and a variety of the mineral corundum (aluminum oxide). It’s one of the hardest minerals on Earth (9.0 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale of 10) and ranges in color from pink to blood-red. Traces of the element chromium cause the red color to bloom in rubies. The Latin word for red, ruber is the basis for its name. The other variety of gem-quality corundum is sapphire. The ruby is extremely rare and considered the king of the gemstones with its magnificent color and exceptional brilliance.

Figure 2. View of a ruby in its natural state. Note  the crystal habit of terminated tabular hexagonal prisms. Used with permission, Wilensky Fine Minerals.  
Louis VII (1120-1180) became the first King of France to visit England when he made a pilgrimage in 1179 to St. Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. He spent the night there, and made several offerings, including the “Regale,” considered the finest gem in Europe, for St. Thomas’s intercession and help in the recovery of his son from illness. Period clerics said its blood-red color commemorated the blood of Thomas Beckett, the martyr, whose shrine held the stone. A Bohemian ambassador in 1446 described the ruby as “a carbuncle [ruby] that shines at night, half the size of a hen’s egg.” A traveling Venetian wrote about the gem in 1500, that the “ruby, not larger than a thumbnail . . . is fixed at the right of the altar. The church is somewhat dark, and particularly in the spot where the shrine is placed, and when we went to see it the sun was near setting and the weather cloudy; nevertheless I saw the ruby as if I had it in my hand. They say it was given by a king of France (State Papers).” While descriptions of the size of the ruby do not match, there is no question this gem was exceptional in size and beauty.

By the time Henry VIII dissolved monasteries in England (between 1536 and 1541), he became aware of the gemstone and longed to possess its radiant beauty. In 1540, Henry VIII ordered the shrine demolished. From that rubble, the ruby mysteriously appeared in the king’s Royal Treasury. A rare document describes the event, the “Royal Commission for the destruction of shrines, under Dr. John Layton and a strong military guard, arrived at Canterbury to carry out the work of sacrilege. The spoil of jewels and gold of the shrine were carried off in two coffers on the shoulders of eight men, while twenty-six carts were employed to remove the accumulated offerings to God and St. Thomas, and the noted Regale of France was mounted in Henry’s thumb ring (Wall, 1905).”

At Henry VIII’s death in 1547, an inventory of his property was taken, and the Regale doesn’t appear in that document. Edward VI, just like his father, was very fond of jewels and would likely inherit it, but there are no records of it during his reign. The precious ruby quietly disappears from history, forever. Today its whereabouts are unknown.

Figure 3. Formal portrait Edward VI (1537-1553) in his early teens. Edward was King of England from 1547 until his death at the age of 15. He is the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Image public domain.
Many questions surround the Regale: Did it end up back in France? Was it the size of a thumb or as big as a hen's egg? Did King Henry order the jewel placed in his royal coffin, or was it secreted away by an attendant? Some thought that the gem was buried with Henry, especially George IV (1762-1830).  Notes and Queries (1863) reports that “With respect to the large carbuncle of diamond [ruby] given by Louis VII, which is said to have been worn by King Henry VIII in his thumb-ring, it was probably buried with him . . . . George IV, when Prince Regent, having ordered the tomb of Henry [VIII] to be opened, and the coffin searched for some ring, which he supposed were still to be found therein . . . Nothing however, was found expect some large bones.”

Since the Regale became widely known in 1179, it has been coveted by many people. It was last seen being worn by the Henry VIII of England. Since then the march of time has continued on and years have become centuries—cloaking the ruby with the dark veil of the past. The ultimate fate of Henry’s favorite gem remains unknown.

References Cited:

BBC - A History of the World - About: Transcripts - Episode 66 - Holy Thorn Reliquary. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/transcripts/episode66/

Notes and Queries, Jul-Dec 1863. Mocavo, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

State Papers (ed. 1830), Part II, p. 583. Polydore Vergil, Relation (Camden Society, 30).

Wall, J. Charles, 1905.Chapter Four: Prelates and Priests, Shrines of British Saints, Metheun & Co., London. 



PIKES PEAK REGION’S ICONIC ROCKS

By Steven Wade Veatch

Steamboat Rock and Balanced Rock are well-known tourist attractions in the heart of the Garden of the Gods. These iconic rocks were once privately owned, but today they are part of Colorado Springs’ famous city park.

Steamboat Rock once had steps carved into the rock that went to its top. Tourists eagerly climbed up to the observatory to view the beautiful geological wonders. Balanced Rock, the 700-ton attraction has—for millions years—withstood the inexorable forces of nature, including wind, cycles of freezing and thawing, earthquakes, and relentless erosion. Both scenic rocks are eroded sections of the Fountain Formation, a sandstone composed of unsorted sand and pebbles of many sizes that were washed down from the Ancestral Rocky Mountains.
     
Figure 1. Early photograph of tourists visiting Balanced Rock (R) and Steamboat Rock (L). In this undated photo a man is enjoying the natural beauty of the area with three female companions in a horse-drawn buggy. Curt Goerke, a 14-year-old entrepreneur, began taking photos of tourists in front of the rocks in the 1890s, selling them each for 25 cents. Photo from the collection of S.W. Veatch.




Figure 2. This view of Steamboat Rock, on a postcard, was taken  about 40 years later than the image in figure 1. Few changes are noted in the physical condition of Steamboat rock. A sign read, “Steamboat Rock Observatory. Use of the telescopes free to visitors. All welcome.” Photo from the collection of S.W. Veatch.
The Fountain Formation began to form long before the dinosaurs roamed Colorado.  A rapid mountain uplift, known as the Colorado Orogeny, began 300 million years ago that produced an ancestral range of Rocky Mountains.  Rain and intense thunderstorms produced torrents of water with enough energy to move rock, ranging in size from tiny grains to large clasts.  These eroded sediments—from the Ancestral Rockies nearby to the west—piled up at the base of these ancient mountains as gravels and formed the Fountain Formation.  This rock unit, up to 4,500 feet thick, has a deep red color from the chemical alteration of iron minerals.  The rock fragments in the Fountain Formation are angular indicating the fragments were not deposited far from their sour

A number of the Garden of the God’s landmarks, including Steamboat Rock and Balanced Rock, were shaped by erosion.  Erosion continues today.
     
About the author: Steven Veatch is a writer and geoscientist. His family came to the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining District in the early 1890s where they mined for almost more than three decades. The other side of his family mined in the Caribou District in Boulder County, Colorado. Veatch lives next to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.