Looking at Texas’ Bones

A few weeks ago I went to Muenster. Not Germany, since that would entail . . . Heck, I’m not sure what the requirements are at the moment, past two-weeks quarantine at a hotel at the Frankfurt airport at my expense, and then? No, Muenster, Texas, a Catholic German enclave east of Wichita Falls. It’s a part of the state I had not seen much of, and I stared out the vehicle windows, watching the landscape.

Green. This part of the state is east of the twenty-inch rainfall line, and gets enough rainfall in an average year to raise crops without needing much if any irrigation. Now, granted, average is that mystical thing that one rarely sees, a bit like the proverbial purple cow (before Photoshop™ or spray-on, water-soluble dye). However, this year has been good as far as moisture if you are east of the Panhandle and South Plains, so lush grass and good looking pastures covered everything. The trees were just starting to leaf out, and what mesquite I could see remained reticent. It’s a smart tree. Rains had fallen recently, washing the dust off of everything and making the geology stand out that much more, where it was visible.

If gypsum, anhydrite, and thousands of feet of ancient river sediment form the skeleton of the High Plains and Llano Estacado, then sandstone and limestone are the skeleton of the Low Rolling Plains. It has weathered into north-south running ridges and cuestas, and slopes toward the east and south, from a high of 3000′ near the edge of the Caprock to the edge of the Cross Timbers/”black waxy” lowland that drops into the Trinity River basin and the metroplex. Live-oak stands can be found in the east, but fade away, yielding their place to mesquite. This is still shortgrass prairie on the uplands, but mixed-grass and tall-grass in the river valleys and bottom-land prairies. It’s a very good place to farm, if you don’t mind occasionally shallow soil with rocks. And the usual unpredictable Texas weather.

What rocks showed through on the drive to and from Muenster were pale, rounded, and “soft,” in the sense that they eroded without jagged edges. Lots of rainfall will do that, as compared with freeze-thaw and erosion from below. The tan and cream and pale red stood out from the green around them. Some of the cuestas and ridges bore little caps of pale stone above the grass and brush, too steep for growing and hard enough to protect what lay below. You could see the bones showing through the grass and soil, hard but not as hard as some places. This is Wolfcampian, a Permian era formation that has lots of oil and gas farther west. Here, erosion has stripped most of that away already, or it is close enough to the surface that earlier exploration and development got it. Several places along the highway sported very fancy pipe-fences, a sign that oil royalties had been used for improvements. Walking dogs (aka pumpjacks) stood here and there in fields and pastures.

From Texas Parks and Wildlife: https://tpwd.texas.gov/education/hunter-education/online-course/images-conservation/RollingPlains_9574.png/image_preview

This was once seacoast, then where the Rocky Mountains dumped their finer silts and sand. The gravel fell out of the rivers earlier and formed the Llano Estacado and the Ogallala Aquifer to the west and north. Here, fine sediments alternated with the limy skeletons of sea creatures in the Cretacious Interior Seaway, rose and disappeared under desert sands and beach sands during the Permian, and rose again to form the continental lowland slope that slides into the Gulf of Mexico (literally in some cases.) Erosion never rests, and the combination of salty layers underground and higher rainfall made larger rivers and more weathering of the land. Without the protective cap found farther west, water wore the plains until they became low and rolling. There’s still a distinct drop, as anyone who has driven US 287 from Wichita Falls to the Metroplex knows very well. All at once the Trinity River valley opens up ahead of you, low and inviting (if you like green, well-watered and lush landscapes.)

Oh, the town? Very nice, with an excellent grocery store/meat-market/German specialty store, Fischer’s. The summer sausage is excellent, and their jerky is fantastic! So are their beef-sticks. The weather was cool but not unpleasantly so, and people were out and about. It was as normal as I’d seen in a very long time, and a blessed relief from all the foolishness and folly of the past . . . while.

Geology is refreshing. So are small towns in good farming and ranching areas. Presidents come and go, the scandal of the week unfolds and fades, but rocks don’t move much, and thunderstorms are still thunderstorms. Bull sales, cattle auctions, and complaints about grain prices and poor-quality grocery store tomatoes last forever.


5 thoughts on “Looking at Texas’ Bones

  1. Yep, the ‘bones’ tell the story! And your perspective is always interesting. Thanks for that!

  2. Interesting. I can understand the fascination with the geology. My dad was just visiting and we spent Sunday afternoon hiking around a few fascinating bits of sandstone amidst the Pottsville Escarpment.

  3. I just drove (again) through the roughly ten thousand square miles of territory in Southern Utah-Northern Arizona that looks like it would wash away in the next good rain. Except that it never gets a good enough rain for much of anything to grow there. A geologist’s paradise, if I had more than a nodding acquaintance with geology. It might be a more interesting drive if I could put names and ages to the various exposed strata.

    • I don’t know if they have been updated, but the Roadside Geology Of [state] and [state] Underfoot books from Mountain Press were/are great, because they are by road and mile. CA gets a special one, “Finding Faults in California,” pun intended.

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