Book Review: When the Sahara Was Green

Williams, Martin. When the Sahara was Green: How Our Greatest Desert Came to Be. (Princeton U.P. 2021) Kindle Edition.

Once upon a time, millions of years, tens of thousands of years ago, the region called teh Sahara was green. Sometimes it held enormous rivers. Volcanoes erupted, were crowned with glaciers, and fell silent. Huge fish swam in the giant lakes and rivers. Lush vegetation of varying kinds grew on the land.

Then something happened. Actually, a very large number of somethings, including the entire continent moving in such a way that tucked the Sahara into a dry swath of climate, and Europe (the landmass) cutting the moisture supply to the northern regions. All long before humans ever wandered the landscape. So, as Dr. Williams points out, you can’t blame humans for the desert. Which may be the most useful point in the book.

Martin Williams is a geologist who specializes in deserts and how they got that way. His first introduction to the Sahara came in 1970, when the group he was with couldn’t go to Libya because of a coup in progress, so they went to an even drier region instead. As he and the group leader went ahead of the others (on camel, as the others got the Land Rovers and other vehicles repaired), Williams noticed evidence of human presence, and of a river, in a place where no water could be seen. That made him curious, and the rest is this book.

Half geology and half travel, the book is a very readable account of the Sahara’s deep history, going back to the Cambrian. It has nice maps and diagrams, although more would be useful, especially in the e-book version. The illustrations are hot-linked, as are the end-notes, so you can go back and forth, but that gets tiresome so I just studied the major diagrams and memorized what was where. Williams has a knack for translating from geology into good prose, and blends the deep past with more recent explorations and observations. He works roughly chronologically after the introduction, going back to the Cambrian and moving toward the present climate regime.

Contrary to popular understanding (and most nature shows I’ve seen), the Sahara is not an endless sea of tan dunes. About a quarter at most of the land is sandy. This is in part because sand is needed to make sand, and large swaths of the area don’t have the right rocks. More common are huge rocky “pavements”, and clumps of hard, black or red hills. Some are volcanic, some are tougher sedimentary remnants (think Ayers Rock/Uluru in Australia). Volcanoes in East Africa played a role in drying the region, blocking flow from what is now the Indian Ocean. Africa moving north to collide with Europe, closing the Tethys Sea, didn’t help, since what is now the Med has gone completely dry, most recently during the last phase of the Ice Age. Then things improved until the Younger Dryas, before returning to the current arid phase.

The edges of the desert move. This is not, as Williams points out, because of overgrazing, slash-and-burn farming, or air chemistry. It is because of changing rainfall patterns linked to the North Atlantic Oscillation and the El Niño/Southern Oscillation and Indian Ocean monsoon. How are they connected? No one knows yet, but there are a lot of guesses. In wetter phases, the North African grasslands and brush move south, or the sahel region moves north. When things dry out, the Sahara grows once more.

Humans didn’t cause this, but modern governments can make things worse for the people of the desert. Ordering Bedouin and others to stop moving, even when drought moves in for a decade or two, causes misery for the nomads and for the farmers around them. Killing off livestock “to stop overgrazing” isn’t the best answer, per Williams. Understanding the actual reason for the drought, and making space for people to respond in ways that work, is the better solution.

Williams is concerned about human effects on the environment, but he’s not pounding the “two legs bad, four legs good” drum that so many do. I suspect his background being in geology makes the difference – he’s used to looking at the looooooooong term. He talks about the humans who lived in what is now the desert, how they coped with the gradual changes and shifts, and what we know and don’t know.

I highly recommend this book. You don’t have an earth-science background to enjoy it, but it does make for faster reading. The illustrations and charts are good, and there are lots and lots of endnotes for those who want more.

FTC Notice: I purchased this book for my own use and received no remuneration or consideration from the author or publisher for this review.

Advertisement

Book Review: The Last Day of the Dinosaurs

Black, Riley. The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of our World. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2022) Kindle Edition.

I freely admit I grabbed this because it was on sale and I wanted something completely unrelated to anything else I am working on (Scottish history, Vlad III, academic histories of various kinds). I enjoyed the heck out of all but part of one chapter. The book is a celebration of life, and of what survived the worst single-event extinction in planetary history.

Black does a fantastic job balancing hard science with very plausible might-have-been-likes. The introduction explains why Hell Creek is the main lens through which the dinosaurs’ world is studied, and gives a bit of background on paleontology, including why the K-T event is now supposed to be the K-Pg event*. Black writes very well and puts you into the places and times being discussed.

The book starts in the late Cretaceous, with a Triceratops and a Tyrannosaur. It’s hard to go wrong with that combo, at least for those of us who went through a dino-mad phase as kids. Black discusses the ecology of Hell Creek, the world of the dinosaurs, and what happens when they die. Then the camera pulls back a bit to take in the boloid aimed for Earth.

The impact and the following hours and days are described very well. You might want to read this with some ice water at hand, because trying to imagine a world that gets turned up to “broil” for 24 hours is pretty miserable. Black handles the gore, and the chemistry, quite well. The story moves around the world, considering what effect the erupting Deccan Traps had (an important one, actually), and the effects of the impact event on the seas. The author then jumps to one week, one month, one year, and so on.

This brings up what I considered a strength but others found as a weak point: the book jumps around from the main narrative to look at other places around the world at the same time. So Hell Creek is the main story, but Black will cut over to Antarctica, the Indian Subcontinent, the Atlantic (once it opened up enough), and so on. Also, Black dramatizes events, using data available through scientific papers and sources. Some people don’t like this approach. I found it useful, BUT I’m also well read on paleoenvironments and so on, so it wasn’t entirely new to me.

Black hammers one point pretty hard: nothing was predetermined. The non-avian dinosaurs went extinct because they were perfectly adapted to their world. When the world went to hell, literally, that was that. But nothing said that the meteorite would hit at that angle in that place. Nothing said that the Daccan Traps would ease the global cooling. No special gift led primitive primates to develop so quickly compared to other mammals, or that monotremes and marsupials would fade out compared to true mammals. Black’s other oft repeated point is that life didn’t stop. That’s one of the author’s pet peeves, or so it appears. Existence did not cease with the dinosaurs. That world ended, but ferns and cycads hung in there, fish, reptiles, things that could hide underground or under water all made it. Perhaps not for long, but the story didn’t end with Chixulub.

Black takes the story up to a million years after the impact, then offers a last chapter meditation on change, extinction, and the resilience of both dinosaurs and life on Earth. I admit, I skimmed this, because it brings in the author’s personal life and I’m not really interested.

However, the appendices are fantastic. Here Black explains what we do know, how we know it, what is still being argued over (99% of everything), and the sources used for each chapter. This is an excellent way to document the material while keeping the bulk of the book fun for non-experts, without resorting to long footnotes. I like chatty footnotes in academic books, but they don’t suit a semi-narrative like this one.

I’d recommend the book to people who want to know more about the death of the non-avian dinosaurs and what came after. A bit of background knowledge in science is helpful but not really needed, since the author does a good job explaining terms and concepts. Some of the authors hypotheses have already been challenged, which I’d expect. After all, paleontologists seem to love nothing more than a good argument. OK, finding an intact member of a new species probably comes first, but a good argument’s not far behind.

*Sorry, to me K-Pg is either KP&G, the power company, or the initials of what is now KPMG before they added the M. It’s the K-T line to me.

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book with my own funds for my own use, and received no remuneration from the author or the publisher for this review.

Scots and the Rocks: Geology and Scotland

England [and the rest of the island of Britain, including Scotland and Wales] has a lot of geology. Happily, many of the exciting bits (aside from the “maybe giant ice dam broke and carved the English Channel all at once”) can be seen or visited in Scotland.

James Hutton’s grave is on the right, down toward the end. He’s the Father of Scottish Geology.
Geologic Map used under Creative Commons. Original Source: https://www.scottishgeology.com/geology-of-scotland-map/

Western Scotland is made of a bunch of terranes, all pushed together. Bits and pieces of islands and micro-continents got mushed into a lumpy jumble. Sorting all that out kept geologists busy. However, the highlights of Scotland’s geology are the volcanoes and the huge rift, the Great Glen fault.

Inside a squished caldera: Glen Coe.

Most of the Precambrian rocks are only visible on the western islands, unless you want to dig. The area was under water, above water, underwater, and so on. Volcanoes also gushed lava over the layers of limestone and sandstone. Some of the Highland peaks tell that story, if you know what to look for. However, things don’t get really exciting, for geological versions of exciting, until around 450,000,000 years ago.

The Caledonian Orogony is the period of mountain building that took place during the Ordovician (age of fishes.) The core of what would become Scotland was growing, tacking on England as spreading and plate collisions drove Scotland into England and closed the Iepetius Sea. Eventually, the mountains ranged from what is today Norway, Scotland, and formed the ancestral Appalachians. They were part of the continent of Baltica. Oh, and the southern hemisphere got coated in ice and there was a mass extinction event. This period was a large puzzle for early geologists, because older rocks in the area along the western coast were shoved inland in an overthurst fault, riding up and covering younger rocks. (Thus the Geopark for the Moine Thrust feature).

Glen Coe Caldera when it was forming: https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC2HPYA_glencoe

(The above site has a great description of the geology, very well written and clear.)

Ben Nevis, on the north side of Glen Coe. Another volcano, and cloudy 370 days out of the year. (OK, only 355, on average.)
Wave at Nessie! Loch Ness, on the Great Glen Fault. It is a strike-slip, like the San Andreas, and is currently dormant.

The Silurian Period (more fishes) saw the final cementing of Scotland to England, and the start of the Great Glen fault series, along with the formation of the famous Old Red Sandstone. This formation is one of the key geologic time-markers in Britain, sort of like Navajo Sandstone in the American Southwest. It has useful index fossils, as well as being easy to identify. Volcanic activity continued, adding more to the Highlands and building the southern uplands, the Cheviot Hills, Pentland Hills, and others.

The Carboniferous (359-299 Million Years Ago) is probably one of the most important eras for the economy and politics of later Scotland. This was the age of coal formation, when swamps and tropical forests throve in the area, leaving miles and miles of dead plant and animal material that became the Coal Measures. The volcanic activity produced the crags at Sterling and Edinburgh, including Arthur’s Seat.

The Wallace Monument on a classic Crag-and-Tail left by volcanic activity and later ice. Sterling. The hills behind are igneous, the remains of harder volcanic intrusions.

Things got dry and dull during the Age of Dinosaurs, at least if you are a geologist. The rocks deposited from the Permian to the Cretacious pretty much eroded away. Scotland is lacking in dinosaurs, at least in terms of the fossil record. It was a desert, which didn’t do much for encouraging a species-rich environment. Chalk layers were deposited in the latter part of the age, down in the Lowlands, and the enormous glops of algae and sea-plants in the shallow coastal waters eventually became the North Sea gas and oil fields.

Between 63-52 Million Years Ago, the last volcanism in Scotland took place as Ireland and North America went their separate way. St. Kilda and a few other islands are testimony of this. Things rocked along, plants and animals moved in, erosion happened, and then WHAP! The Pleistocene struck. Ice covered all of Scotland at least twice, and kept things chilly until 12,000 years ago. Humans only appear relatively late compared to mainland Europe, during the Mesolithic and Neolithic.

What makes Scotland so rich for geologists is that 1) things are low. You don’t need hard-core climbing gear to see the rocks, unlike the Rockies, Alps, and Himalaya, for example. Scotland is compact, so it is easy to go from site to site. And it is not overgrown, so the rocks are visible. James Hutton first realized what “unconformaties” meant while studying one at Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, and a pilgrimage to see the unconformity there is for Scots and English geologists sort of like going to see the K-T line at the park in [Raton. Sorry], NM for US geologists. Not exactly a pilgrimage, but something one tries to do if you are in the area.

The Fangs of the Alps . . .

The year was 2014, and the day was in mid-June, closer to the summer Solstice than not. My traveling group had visited a small, relatively un-publicized but very nice Roman site in Kempten not too far from the sprawl that is Munich, down in the Algäu. From that area, if you look south, you can see the northern edge of the Alps.

The Alps, like most high mountain ranges in humid climates, collect clouds, and storms are not uncommon in spring and summer. The storms tend to be milder than those in the Rockies, if my limited experience with Alpine thunderstorms is valid. You still don’t mess around when you start seeing black clouds and sensing rumbles, trust me. There are few things spookier than being on an Alpine mountain slope and hearing thunder echo as black swallows the sky and the land. However, these were your typical summer puffies, which might or might not eventually form storms, or might just fade away with evening. Since the summer had been unusually* cool, fade away seemed more likely.

A jagged blue and white wall rose from the land around me as I looked to the south. Spears of sunlight and shadow revealed snow on pointed, vertical peaks. These weren’t the friendly, flower-dotted Alpine heights of Heimat stories and Heidi. No, these mountains tolerated no trespass, blocking the way and warning any who ventured south that danger and cold lay waiting. A rampart with fangs stood before me, and I had no desire to challenge it. I understood in a visceral way why it was the 1800s before people “domesticated” the high peaks, turning the Alps into an asset rather than a terror.

We moderns look at mountains as places of recreation, cool places in summer, ski and winter-sport destinations, or just scenic obstructions to drive through on our way from here to there. Or to fly over, weather permitting. Yes, the highest peaks are reserved for those with skills, equipment, stamina, and perhaps a touch of insanity – the Eiger, Jungfrau, Mt. Ranier, Mt. McKinley, others. But we are new. Hiking for fun, climbing peaks for fun is very new. Skiing down mountains, as opposed to skiing to get cross country over snow, only started in the late 1800s, when travel became cheap and supplying mountain towns became easy (easier). Going up into the highlands to look at the cute lambs and visit shepherds’ huts or hiking from hut to hut, we enjoy wildflowers and cool air and lovely views. We’ve domesticated the heights. Or so we like to think. It has not always been so.

Eiger means “ogre.” A nightmare in German is an “Alptraum,” an Alp-dream or isolated-pasture-dream. The Romans seem to have stayed away from the mountains, although they poked their edges and identified passes and invasion routes. Mountains were places to go through, or to hide in to get away from the World as well as other people. The great Alpine monasteries were often built to provide refuge for travelers and pilgrims trapped by storms, as well as spiritual retreats. Even today, on the southern side of the Alps, truckers form convoys for safety because of bandits and others. Yes, the Swiss lived in the Alps, and miners in Austria went into the Alps, but they were always a little suspect. Mountaineers and proper, lowland dwellers have had fraught relationships for centuries, if not longer. The mountains were uncanny, and so were the people who lived there.

That day, near Kempten, the Alps reclaimed their old reputation. My modern brain knew of motor routes through those peaks, and of the great passes, now well paved with lots of rest-stops and other amenities. I’ve hiked and visited small, very remote towns on the Austrian side of that wall, and dodged storms, and watched snow come down a valley toward me. But that day? No. A forbidding, ferocious, truly sublime mass loomed in by path, warning causal visitors away. The old, old Alps had returned, if only for a moment. I retreated to Munich.

*Unusual, if you believe all the breathless reportage about the warming climate and the death of the Alpine glaciers. I’ve been going to northern Europe almost every year since 1992, and only twice can I remember being what in the US we’d call “hot.” Once in 1994, and June of 2019. Otherwise, I’ve packed more wool and heavy cotton than chambray and summer-weight slacks. OK, one day in 2015, near Potsdam, it got to 95 F in Berlin. A cold front galloped through that night, prompting severe storm warning for . . . up to pea sized hail. Those of us from the Great Plains giggled. Quietly, but we giggled.

Book Review: Super Volcanoes

Andrews, Robin George. Super Volcanoes: What they Reveal about Earth and the Worlds Beyond. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2022) Kindle Edition

I’d hoped that this might be a book about supervolcanoes, the giganormous ones like Yellowstone and Toba. No, it is about how cool volcanoes can be, and about volcanic activity on Earth, the moon, Mars, Venus, and some of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. It’s a very well-written, intriguing book, and you get the sense that the author is sort of geeking-out over all the cool rocks and ice and really strange things that volcanoes get up to.

Andrews is a PhD in geology who works as a science reporter. The book is a little breezy at times, as I’ve come to expect from “reporter does science.” However, the geology is sound, and once you get past the “oh my gosh, I love rocks!!!!!”, it’s a fascinating work of popular volcanology.

He begins with Yellowstone, and why the hype is just that. He does indulge in a bit of “OK, so if this does blow, how badly will it effect North America.” As badly as you’d think, even if the eruption is weaker than previous (as seems to be the pattern when continental crust moves over a hotspot). Then he considers other well-known mountains before moving to some truly outré mountains in Africa. I suspect African volcanoes are pretty much mysteries for most people, aside perhaps from Kilimanjaro, and perhaps those in Rwanda that have erupted within the past five years. East Africa has a marge number of active peaks, some of which possess the oddest chemistry terrestrial volcanoes this far are known to have. Part of the story is “how can volcanologists and locals work together?” and part is “crazy things people will do to get samples.” Ingenuity, desperation, and a low budget can work wonders. Lava that’s not exactly lava, lava that’s too cool to be lava (but that will still kill you), chemical stews that make even bacteria think twice . . . These mountains and rifts are not always friendly.

From Africa and then Hawaii, our intrepid reporter turns to undersea volcanoes and the black-smoker thermal vents. I felt a bit of a warped grin forming when he described how rarely eruptions undersea are recorded and observed by geologists in real time. This was, oh, three days after Tonga went dark under volcanic ash.

Lunar volcanoes, Martian mounts, Venusian vents, and things hanging out around Saturn, Jupiter, and parts beyond wrap up the book. No, this isn’t your usual geology book.

The end-notes are quite good, and the “climate change delenda est!” passages are generally short and skip-able. Something about how much CO2 volcanoes burp into the air compared to everything that humans do, and so on. No, we won’t become Venus because of burning coal and oil.

I recommend this book for people interested in more than just “This is a volcano. Volcanoes are mountains that make lava” and want a general, wide-ranging look at the topic. Andrews assumes that you have a basic understanding of geology, which I suspect most if not all of my readers do. He doesn’t write down, but he doesn’t go sailing over your head, either.* It’s a fun read for the rock buff, or people like Game Masters looking for evil new things to throw at their players (carbonate volcano!)

*Unlike a lecture on the chemical crystallography of the magmas of Kilauea and Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea that I lost track during and never caught back up. The conclusions were fascinating, but oooooh, then chemistry to get there!

FTC Note: I purchased this book with my own money for my own use, and received no compensation from either the author or the publisher for this review.

“And the crooked straight, and the rough places plains . . .”

At least, that’s how I always understood it.* I mean, growing up on the Great Plains and High Plains, flatness is just part of life. Land tends to be flat, with a few lumpy exceptions, and those lumps are trying to become flat. So it’s easy for a child to look around and thing, “Yes, yes He did, and plains they are indeed.” Being in Hungary felt like being home, aside from the Bronze-Age burial mounds. Ditto northern Germany and Poland. They are flat, and green, and windswept. That’s a landform after my own heart (because I like to see weather before it hits me.)

Land erodes and tries to become one with sea-level, or to become a peneplain. One common understanding of a peneplain is that the peneplain is the lowest elevation and form that a basic surface can erode to at any given time. It is “at rest” and stable, at least until something changes (geologic uplift in the neighborhood, or sea-level change that leads to increased erosion by streams, which leads to surface erosion.) In theory, should tectonic processes ever end (the Earth cool enough that the plates stop moving and circulation in the mantle and Moho stop), everything will erode down into basic flatness. Unless someone repeals the Law of Gravity, that is. However, that’s a very, very long way in the future, so we are stuck with uplift and erosion for the time being.

Fair use from Fastwindtoaim.blogspot.com.

Geologists and rock-buffs generally don’t geek-out over plains. Giant plateaux, maybe, depending on your specialty. The Tibetan plateau is high and pretty cool (and getting higher in places). The Llano Estacado sprawls and is not as dramatic, unless you are in a four-cylinder car with a headwind trying to climb the escarpment from the west. Plains are, well, plain. Unrelieved topography, they may roll gently like a mild sea, up and down and up and down for miles and miles. Or they may look as flat as a pancake. Kansas, however, is flatter than a pancake, assuming an Ihop™ basic pancake scaled up to match the east-west width of Kansas. {Journal of Improbable Research, however for a rebuttal see also: Kansas Geologic Survey as cited here] The High Plains of Texas makes Nebraska and parts of the Dakotas seem positively lumpy, although the peneplain in Illinois is still used as the textbook example.

Plains tend to be places to farm, graze, or travel over en route to more interesting or sheltered locations. When Texas advertises for tourists, the Texas Plains Trail is well down the list of attractions compared to the mountains in the Trans-Pecos, the fishing in East Texas, the Gulf Coast beaches, or cultural stuff, or the Hill Country. Nebraska doesn’t brag about being mostly flat (or about being seen as being mostly flat. The Sandhills are not flat, I assure you.) Flat is boring, flat is dull, flat is easy. Anyone can build a road across flat terrain, unless it is a swamp full of pothole lakes like the eastern Dakotas, western Iowa, and parts of Minnesota and other states were. Flat does not drain, so you get bogs, sloughs/slews, seasonal marshes, or enormous swamps like the Great Dismal or the Pripet Marshes. Plains can be dry or moist, or seasonally moist. Water tends to puddle unless there is a well-developed drainage (see Illinois) in place.

Due to gravity, prominent landforms such as mountains erode, wearing away until the sediments reach a state of rest. That resting state can’t fall or roll any farther, and becomes a plain. The Great Plains of North America are full of sediment from the mountains east and west. So while Isaiah was a little off about “every valley will be exalted,” he was correct that “and every mountain be made low.” It just takes time, water and wind and gravity, and sometimes a little help from explosive eruptions.

*Isaiah 40: 4-5

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (KJV)

Enchanted Rock

Huff, puff, it’s warm out!

Enchanted Rock is one of those things that you don’t want to climb at mid-day in summer. Ask me how I know . . . It also requires reservations, one of a few state parks that are so popular that overcrowding and overuse is a serious concern.

Waaaaaaaaaay back before the dinosaurs, a batholith, an enormous buried intrusion of granite formed. The visible parts of the rock are a tiny fraction of the actual mass. Over time, erosion removed the overburden on the rock, revealing parts of it. The reduced pressure and exposure to the elements also caused spalling and cracking. Technically, the visible part of the rock is an “exfoliation dome,” meaning a lump with pieces cracking off due to freeze-thaw and to pressure release. The large boulders in the photo above are some of the pieces that have flaked off the visible rock.

As you can see, once you get above a certain point, the rock gets steep and very bare. It tends to have a breeze that increases as the air heats up, but the rock is warm, the sun is warm, and the day was humid. Mom and Dad Red, and Sib, took a slow, thoughtful approach to the rock. This is only in part because of concerns about knees, hips, and balance. Sib-in-law, yours truly, and Red 2.0 scrambled ahead. The younger ones went straight up. I made switchbacks, because I didn’t have a walking stick for once, and falling was not on my to-do list for the day.

As you climb, the views are quite impressive. So is looking up-slope and realizing that that’s a thunderhead lurking in the distance. Perhaps loitering on the summit isn’t such a good plan.

The name Enchanted Rock comes from stories about the location being a place of medicine power for various Indian peoples, and because it makes sounds at night. Some people have reported odd lights and glows from the mass. The sounds are plausible, especially when the rock is sum-warmed on a cold, clear night. I didn’t sense anything odd, but I was only there by daylight.

There are a number of hiking and nature trails of differing lengths and difficulties. Going up and down the dome is not technically challenging in terms of finding a route or dealing with obstructions and scree. However, it is steep, bare granite, hot as the blazes in summer, and you need a lot more water than you think you do. If there’s a storm in the area I would not go up past the camel shown in the pictures above. I made it 2/3 of the way, and decided that since I was already feeling a little strain, I’d better stop. Down is always harder for me than up is, and required much more care in terms of footing and balance. The heat also wore me out. I’m not built for sticky heat, and certainly had not adapted to it (we’d been down there for less than a week.) Red 2.0 got a little farther before parental intervention.

A different little stream had a cute water snake in it. He was faster than I was, and disappeared into the grass.

Enchanted Rock, when we visited, had no running water aside from a bottle-filling station drawing filtered well-water. The storms of Snowvid 21 had taken out their water and sewer along with the power, and they hoped to have everything back by July 1. The port-a-lets got changed every other day, and weren’t bad, but it was dry camping, and they strongly encouraged you to bring your own water. Because so many people from Austin and San Antonio flood the region for hiking and the like, reservations are required. The on-line system is . . . not intuitive, but it works. I’d like to go back in fall or winter, or in spring before the heat really cranks up. Mornings are better because of both heat and storms. I suspect some personal speed records have been set getting off the top of the dome as a storm approached.

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. Continue reading