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Geology at Torrey Pines, San Onofre and Del Mar Formation

Photos and footnotes on fossil shells in the West Coast Monterey Shale, San Onofre, Torrey Pines State Beach.

Geology at Torrey Pines and San Onofre
Contributed by Dave E. Matson, Oak Hill Free Press

Featured below are a few of the fossil shells that I came across earlier this year.

About 45 to 50 million years ago the West Coast resembled the East Coast in that there were barrier islands with quiet, mud-filled lagoons. The climate was such that large beds of oysters flourished along with other creatures, such as small, coiled sea snails. Eons later, that mud later got converted into somewhat greenish-gray shale--the Del Mar Formation.

The first shell photo shows a nice, whole oyster fossil resting on the Del Mar Formation. The second shell photo shows the underside of an oyster fossil along with some embedded, coiled snail shells. The 4th shell photo is a closer view of another coiled snail shell. These three fossil photos were taken at the Torrey Pines State Beach, just north of San Diego.

San Onofre
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Photo Courtesy Dave E. Matson

The 3rd photo is from San Onofre Beach, a short walk south of the nuclear reactors. These fossils are "only" about 20 million year old and are found in the Monterey shale.

Torrey Pines
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Photo Courtesy Dave E. Matson

Geology Photo #1: Torrey Pines. At the very top, not much in evidence here, is the Bay Point Formation (~120,000 years) which consists of loosely consolidated, brown sediments washed down from the hills. The thick, sculpted strata is the Torrey Pines sandstone (~45 million years). It is probably the remains of sand from off shore, barrier islands. The Del Mar Formation (45-50 million years) which consists of layers of mudstone, shale and white/gray sandstone lying on a greenish shale, came from lagoonal muds occasionally flooded with sand from the barrier islands. The scene is similar to the coast of Texas today, which is flat and has barrier islands and lagoons.

Geology Photo #2: San Onofre. A secondary fault may be seen as a thin diagonal in the San Mateo sandstone (4-5 million years) truncated by a later layer of marine boulders of about 125,000 years of age. The brown strata on top is less than 120,000 years old, being washed down from the hills. The white, San Mateo sandstone is underlain by Monterey shale (15-20 million years). To the right, (out of sight) of the secondary fault is the main fault, the Christianitos Fault, which has been inactive for at least 125,000 years as indicated by the undisturbed layer of marine boulders above it.

Fossil Shells
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Shell Photos #1 - Whole oyster fossil resting on the Del Mar Formation.
Photo Courtesy Dave E. Matson

Fossil Shells
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Shell Photo #2 - Underside of an oyster fossil along with some embedded, coiled snail shells
Photo Courtesy Dave E. Matson

Fossil Shells
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Photo Courtesy Dave E. Matson

Fossil Shells
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Photo Courtesy Dave E. Matson

Del Mar Formation

Del Mar Formation
Contributed by Dave E. Matson

August 8, 2006

I'm including 7 new photos from my March 25, 2006 stop at Torrey Pines. Torrey Pines State Beach is just north of La Jolla, which is the northern coastal extreme of San Diego. The famous cove there is where I went snorkeling for years.

The following photo shows a minor unconformity, where angled strata meet level strata. The angled strata is the slow fill-in of our scour channel. Some of the layers lasted long enough to have developed their own community of shelled creatures. Later, the top of the angled strata was leveled by erosion, probably during a temporary retreat of the sea. The more strata was deposited.

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

These fossils in a pebble from the Del Mar Formation at Torrey Pines, California, are 45-50 million years old. I thought the pebble was kind of artsy.

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

Bean clams on the beach make up the lower-right photo on this page. In San Diego, years ago, I saw a dense patch of them, each clamping on to a bit of seaweed. It looked like that patch of beach was growing something!

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

Here, we see the green shale portion of the Del Mar Formation (45-50 million years), which was once the mud of a lagoon between a low shoreline and offshore barrier islands of sand.

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

Artsy pebble on sand.

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

Just south of the scour-channel strata are these spectacularly-colored strata. A dense layer of fossil shells is found in the strata at about the ankle level of the two visitors.

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

At the Torrey Pines Nature Center overlooking Soledad Valley, which is the northern boundary of the Torrey Pines area.

Barnacles and Bay Mussels on Flat Rock at Flat Rock Point. Torrey Pines State Beach, California. The beach is part of the Torrey Pines State Reserve, a Pines State Beach, California. The beach is part of the Torrey Pines State Reserve, a wildlife preserve. There, the rare, stately Torrey pines grow naturally. Their needles are gray-green and in bundles of five.

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

Lemonade Berry, a hearty bush, is usually found near the coastal areas. (Rhus integrifolia of the family Anacardiaceae). The fruit exudes a sticky, sour substance that can make a lemonade-like drink!

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

On the side of Flat Rock at Flat Rock Point, Torrey Pines State Beach, sea anemones (or some other soft creatures on the side of this rock) collect shells for protection.

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
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Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

At the Torrey Pines Nature Center, overlooking Soledad Valley, which is the northern boundary of the Torrey Pines area.

Del Mar Formation
Del Mar Formation
Enlarge Image, 83 k - del_mar_formation_11.jpg
Photo courtesy of Dave E. Matson

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A general introduction to the history of fossil studies, religious apprehentions, how the fossil record and the field of paleontology were established.

17th century ammonoid fossils
Figure 1.1 Seventeenth century illustration of ammonoid fossils (Cornua ammonis, or "snake stones") drawn by Robert Hooke, father of microscopy and paleontology in Britain, 1703).

"In the mountains of Parma and Piacenza multitudes of rotten shells and corals are to be seen, still attached to the rocks... And if you were to say that such shells were created, and continued to be created in similar places by the nature of the site and of the heavens, which had some influence there --such an opinion is impossible for the brain capable of thinking, because the years of their growth can be counted on the shells, and both smaller and larger shells may be seen, which could not have grown without food, and could not have fed without motion, but there they could not move.
And if you wish to say that it was the Deluge which carried these shells hundreds of miles from the sea, that cannot have happened, since the Deluge was caused by rain, and rain naturally urges rivers on towards the sea, together with everything carried by them, and does not bear dead objects from sea shores toward the mountains. And if you would say that the waters of the Deluge afterwards rose above the mountains, the movement of the sea against the course of the rivers must have been so slow that it could not have floated up anything heavier than itself."
- Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1500

What is a Fossil?

We have been conditioned to connect fossils to extinct organisms, and difficult to imagine any other explanation. One definition that seems satisfactory, is "any evidence of prehistoric life". We are not only limited to direct evidence, but all indirect evidence. The state of preservation has little to do with determining whether an object is a true fossil. Dinosaur bones are direct evidence, however, many times indirect evidence are considered, such as preserved footprints in mud, fecal material (coprolites) and gastrolliths (pebbles which presumably aided in digestion), worm borings and chemical substances from prehistoric algae and bacteria, such chemicals fossils are products of metabolism and evidence of such nature, are all defined as fossils.

For understanding methods of natural fossilization, visit "How A Living Organism Becomes a Fossil".

The ancient Greeks believed giant mammoth remains to be remains of mythological giants while mystified by seashells found hundreds of feet above sea level. They wondered if the ocean once covered the land, or did these fossils form within rock like crystal. In the sixth century B.C. Xenophanes of Colophon discovered shells in a high cliff on the island of Malta, concluding perhaps the sea once covered land. The oldest known record of such belief, was by Xanthos of Sardis around 500 B.C. who believed fossils were remains from extinct animals entombed in rock. For 2000 years, the belief expressed by Aristotle (384 B.C.) remained influential, suggesting fish fossils were remains of sea animals that had swam into cracks of rocks and stranded.

From latter days of the Roman Empire, people believed in the literal six day creation and the worldwide flood of Genesis, casting confusion on the proper interpretation of fossils and rocks. Most individuals who lived during those times had limited knowledge about what lie at the bottom of the ocean. Many fossils share no resemblance to species familiar to Europeans. The living chambered nautilus was discovered in 1829, - Europeans could scarcely imagine coiled objects known as Cornua ammonis ("Horns of Ammon") (Figure 1.1), "serpent stones" -- and bullet shaped belemnites (Fig. 1.2.), were relatives of squid and octupus.

Figure 1.2 Illustration by Conrad Gesner from 1565 of bullet-shaped belemnites and crinoid columnals. These organisms resembled no known species to Renaissance Europe, Gesner included. They were presumed to be a product of falling stars due to the starlike pattern in some of the crinoids.

Even today, people who chance to pick up one, often fail to recognize these cylindrical crinoid columnals as relatives to of the sea urchin. Few people have seen the rare crinoids which still dwell on the ocean floor. Scholars once referred to them as "star stones" (Lapis stellaris or Astroites stellis) believing the star-shaped pattern in the columnal and the radial pattern in fossilized coral to be a product of thunderbolts or falling stars.

The word fossil comes from the latin, fossilis meaning "dug up". Educated men during the Middle Ages and Renaissance began to make speculative interpretations of fossils. At first the word fossil was applied to any formation found in a rock, remains of organisms as well as non-organic crystals and concretions. Some believed those formations resembling living creatures were caused by animals who had been stranded in the rock and turned to stone. Others believed they were grown from seeds or washed in during Noah's flood. Other scholars believed they might be pranks of the Devil, for the purpose of destroying faith, while others presumed supernatural origin, (lusus naturae) or "figured stones" produced by mystical "plastic forces". These assumptions may seem strange today, but during the time they were sensible for people who held the widely shared belief in a literal Genesis and a 6,000 year old earth.

Around 1500, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) acknowledged fossil shells in the Apennine Mountains of northern Italy, located far away from any coastline, represented ancient aquatic life. Unlike his colleagues, da Vinci knew it was unlikely they were washed there during Noah's flood, many of the shells being too fragile for such a journey, and impossible to have washed there by the Flood in forty days. Many of the shells were intact, and in a position which was not dissimilar to extant species living near the seashore, simply, they did not appear to be the product of transported organisms. Some of the shells beds were divided by layers of unfossiliferous strata, it did not appear to be a formation produced by a single devastating flood. Most of da Vinci's ideas remained unpublished, for they would not have been accepted at the time.

In 1565, the Swiss physician Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) authored "On the nature of fossils", De rerum fossilium. It was the first work that illustrated fossils. This, along with brief descriptions by earlier authors could be made more accurate. (Fig. 1.2). Gesner's publication were based on his own fossil collection, and those of colleagues which began the modern tradition of exchange, analysis and comparison. Correct in his comparisons of most fossils with living relatives, but Gesner concluded some items such as the crinoid columnals and belemnites were formed by mineral precipitation. Just as many of his contemporaries, Gesner interpreted from a supernatural perspective, Neoplatonic "ideal forms" and failed to explore the implications that are obvious to most of us today.
Through his publication, four main questions were raised:

  1. Are fossils organic remains?
  2. How did they get into rock?
  3. When did they get there, -when it was formed, or afterward?
  4. How was it the creature became petrified?

Answers to these questions were first offered by Niels Stensen, also known as Nicholaus Steno (1638-1686), a Dane physician. Living near the Apennine Mountains, Steno had the opportunity for a closeup firsthand look at the shells. In 1666, he dissected a large shark caught near Livorno. Upon inspection of the mouth of the shark, he saw that its teeth closely resembled fossils known as "tongue stones", latin glossopetrae which were previously considered petrified snake or dragon tongues. (Fig. 1.3) Steno now realized tongue stones were actually petrified remains of ancient shark teeth, and that fossils were a product of once-living organisms.

tongue stones
Figure 1.3 Illustration by Nicholaus Steno from 1669, showing "tongue stones" and their similarities with modern shark teeth.

Steno published De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus in 1669, "Forerunner to a dissertation on a solid naturally contained within a solid". Steno's publication focused on how solid objects got inside solid objects. Steno theorized the enclosing sandstone must once have been loose sand, which was later petrified into sandstone, an idea which overturned the idea that rocks had been created during the first days of Creation and remained so, as we see them today. Steno's observations extended into further understanding of relative age of geological features, in other words Fossils encased in rock must be older than the rock which formed around them. However, crystals grow within the fabric of the rock, after the rock formed. Steno generalized the principles of superposition, original horizontality and continuity, fundamental principles in historical geology and stratigraphy. Just as the Prodromus was being published, Steno made a conversion to Catholicism forfeiting his interests in science, so the promised disseration never followed. Later, he returned to Denmark, where he lived until his death.

Around the same time of Steno's publication a British scientist, Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was coming to similar conclusions. Hooke was responsible for one of the first microscopes and the first sketches of microscopic organisms, including cellular structure, thus he became known as "the father of Microscopy". In 1665, Hooke made several observations, suggesting fossils might be a useful means to make chronological comparison of age in rocks [similar to coins aiding in accurately dating records in Rome], including the first accurate fossil drawings published posthumously in 1705 (Fig. 1.1). Hooke made the observation that many of the fossils had no living counterparts, therefore he speculated that species may have a fixed "life span". At the time, it was commonly believed the earth and all species had been created a mere 6,000 years before and all species still alive. What Hooke proposed was the first hint at the extinction of species.

Most of the ideas put forth by Steno and Hooke were rejected, until around a century later. Throughout the early 1700's, beliefs about fossils were still influenced heavily by Biblical tradition. In 1726, Swiss naturalist Johann Scheuchzer (1672-1733) described one particularly large fossil, "the bony skeleton of one of those infamous men whose sins brought upon the world the dire misfortune of the Deluge." Scheuchzer named it Homo diluvii testis, or "Man, a witness of the Flood". This early on, comparative anatomy was not advanced enough to make a clear distinction, and the fossil was later discovered to be a giant fossilized salamander. (Fig. 1.4).

Homo Diluvii Testis
Figure 1.4 Homo diluvii testis "Man, a witness of the flood", as Scheuchzer so named the fossil. Donald R. Prothero, "Bringing Fossils to Life", makes the following humorous observation, "Scheuchzer's anatomical skills were not up to his Biblical knowledge, since it is actually the fossil of a giant salamander."

Another sad event involved Dr. Johann Beringer (1667-1740), dean of the Wurzberg, Germany medical school. Fascinated with the "petrifications" that collectors had given to him, he composed a large monograph of the "figured stones". Some bore resemblance with frogs, shells and other natural objects, some with stars and other curious patterns. Colleagues whom Beringer had offended passed off the carved objects, but confessed the hoax too late to stop publication. He was ruined, and died spending his last pfennig attempting to buy back all the copies of the book.

By the mid eighteenth century, naturalistic fossil concepts prevailed. Linnaeus published the Systema Naturae in 1735, which classified all life including fossils, which were treated and named the same as extant species. At the dawn of the nineteeth century, Baron Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) made progress in the area of comparative anatomy, demonstrating how certain features; claws, sharp teeth, hooves and grinding teeth, were correlated. It is to Cuvier we owe the paleontological tradition to predict unknown anatomical structure, based on a comparison with anatomy of close relatives. Cuvier also showed how bones from mastodonts and mammoths were in actuality, an extinct elephant-like species and explorers had discovered no species like them. Cuvier became the founder of comparative anatomy and vertebrate paleontology, bringing the study of fossils away from much of the Biblical superstition previously overshadowing it. Prior to this time extinction was an unacceptable fact for it went against everything believed aobut the creation account in Genesis. For instance, as Donald Prothero states, "If God watched after the little sparrow, surely He would not allow any of his creatures to go extinct."

During the late eighteenth century, William Smith (1769-1839) an engineer from Britain, was surveying for canal excavations and made the observation that fossils reveal a pattern -each formation had different assemblage, as he wrote in 1796, "the wonderful order and regularity with which nature has disposed of these singular productions [fossils] and assigned each to its own class and peculiar Stratum." Smith became an expert at recognizing the fossils in each formation and correctly identifying the layers from which the specimens orginated. Smith used his knowledge of faunal succession in the first geological map, which was published in 1815. At the same time, Cuvier and a colleague Alexandre Brongniart were mapping the Paris Basin's strata. Though independently, these men realized there was a regular fossil succession, differing formation to formation. These discoveries eventually led to modern concepts of biostratigraphy, a means to explain earth's history.

By the time Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, the understanding of fossil complexity had became so widely accepted among scholars, few took Noah's flood literally.

PaleobiologyBringing Fossils to Life, An Introduction to Paleobiology, McGraw Hill Publishers, Donald R. Prothero

PaleobotanyPaleobotany and the Evolution of Plants, by Cambridge University Press; 2 edition, Wilson N. Stewart, Gar W. Rothwell

DinosaursKingfisher Illustrated Dinosaur Encyclopedia, Kingfisher Publishers, David Burnie


Adrienne Mayor's books

1) The First Fossil Hunters (Princeton 2000) explains how ancient Greek and Roman discoveries of mysterious petrifed bones of extinct dinosaurs and mastodons led to myths about griffins, giants, and monsters. Watch for "Ancient Monster Hunters" on the History Channel.
2) Fossil Legends of the First Americans (Princeton 2005) gathers exciting Native American discoveries and myths about fossils, from tiny shells to enormous dinosaur bones, with stories from more than 45 different tribes, beginning with the Aztecs & Incas.

Stephen Meyer's article, "Are Dinosaurs Mentioned in the Bible?"

Edward T. Babinski wrote: "In 1726 [Prof. J.J. Scheuchzer] mistook the skull and vertebral column of a large salamander from the Miocene of Oeningen for the "betrübten Beingerüst eines alten Sünders" (sad bony remains of an old human sinner) and figured the specimen as "Homo diluvii testis" (the man who witnessed the Deluge).

SOURCE: Dirk Albert Hooijer, "Fact and Fiction in Hippopotamology (Sampling the History of Scientific Error)," Osiris, Vol. 10. (1952), pp. 109-116.

Funny comment about the above sentence: Assertion, emphatic and immune to reason, might not be the best foundation for a new critical practice; but we also can’t tell our salamanders from sinners.

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Geological Eons, Eras, Periods and Epochs, and How Fossils Are Used

Chart of major geological eons, eras, periods, epochs and events. How fossils are used by scientists to determine its relationship with other specimens, with objective to un-ravel evolutionary patterns and origins.

Index fossils are sometimes used by Geologists to determine stratigraphic data about Earth's surface. This is true in the case of spores and pollen grains, the reproductive materials found in plants. By doing so provides the palyntologist means to determine relative age and position of rock, containing the spores. When studying drill cores, this kind of information can be useful to miners searching for fossil fuels.

Palynologists have used index fossils for practical applications, including understanding relationship between major groups of plants, specifically, gymnosperms and angiosperms.
A good index fossil is considered to be one that is easily identifiable, with wide horizontal distribution, and vertical range of approximately one million years. Traditionally, due to scarcity and difficulty in identification, plant megafossils were rarely used as index fossils. Though possessing wide geographical distribution in various sedimentary rocks, the vertical range spans millions of years. Assemblages of megafossils used as indices (or, indexes), accompanied by palynological information, scientists have been able to characterize restrictive stratigraphic units in rock units containing megafossils.

Extant organisms in their structure and distribution, reflect the composition of their environments. We assume extinct organisms also adapted to their environment in the same way. If this assumption is true, then it is possible to determine seasonal variations using growth rings from petrified wood, including paleo-environmental availability of water and temperature changes. Fossilized wood which reflects lack of growth rings, indicate a continuous supply of water and uniform temperature, just as thickened cuticles and sunken stomata of fossilized leaves indicate a lack of water, while roots and spongy stem tissue suggest a swampy or aquatic paleo-environment. With such information extracted from morphology and anatomy of fossil plants, provides in part, the basis for paleoecology and paleoclimatology. Further studies are taken into consideration, such as those on sedimentary materials which naturally occur with the fossils and, how the fossil became preserved, all play into better understanding the paleoenvironment. Specialists caution however, conclusions should never be based entirely upon extant organisms and how they interact with present environments. What we observe occuring today, is not necessarily the key to the past. (Paleobotany and the Evolution of Plants, Stewart and Rothwell, 1993; DiMichele & Wing, 1987.)

Paleofloristics, which specializes in assemblages of fossil plants, provides insight into Earth's restricted and widescale climate. On the worldwide scale, such studies have provided scientists with insight into plate tectonics and continental drift. These studies can also provide further insight into plant distribution, population, migration and significant changes in early environments. Studies on succession of plants in the geological column have became popular among paleoecologists, and also useful in studies on extant organisms and plant successions in natural history.

Successional changes in organisms throughout natural history are the basis of studies related to the evolution of life. Most paleontologists focus more on relative stratigraphic positioning of fossils, than absolute ages. It remains more important to most in the field, to determine how a fossil relates to other specimen with objective to un-ravel evolutionary patterns and origins.

Bringing Fossils to Life, An Introduction to Paleobiology, McGraw Hill Publishers, Donald R. Prothero

PaleobotanyPaleobotany and the Evolution of Plants, by Cambridge University Press; 2 edition, Wilson N. Stewart, Gar W. Rothwell

Prehistoric WorldAtlas of the Prehistoric World, by Discovery Channel Books, Douglas Palmer

Kingfisher Illustrated Dinosaur Encyclopedia, Kingfisher Publishers, David Burnie

Adrienne Mayor's books
1) The First Fossil Hunters (Princeton 2000) explains how ancient Greek and Roman discoveries of mysterious petrifed bones of extinct dinosaurs and mastodons led to myths about griffins, giants, and monsters. Watch for "Ancient Monster Hunters" on the History Channel.
2) Fossil Legends of the First Americans (Princeton 2005) gathers exciting Native American discoveries and myths about fossils, from tiny shells to enormous dinosaur bones, with stories from more than 45 different tribes, beginning with the Aztecs & Incas.

Stephen Meyer's article, "Are Dinosaurs Mentioned in the Bible?"

Read More »

Canadian Rockies: A Geologist's Paradise, National Geographic, June 1911

Charles D. Wolcott, secretary of the Smithsonian visits the Canadian Rockies. A look back to 1911, when science was first discovering the vast age of the earth, rich fossil record, and paleontology was still in its infancy.

National Geographic, June 1911

NATURE has a habit of placing some of her most attractive treasures in places where the average man hesitates to look for them. Twenty-five years ago rumors came of a wonderful find of glaciers, forests, mountain peaks, and lakes along the line of the rugged pass through which the Canadian Pacific Railway was building.

A geological reconnaissance by Sir George M. Dawson, of the Canadian Geological Survey,outlined some of the broader geological features, and a somewhat closer study by Mr. R.G. McConnell in 1886 resulted in a more accurate description of the thousands of feet in thickness of sandstone, shale, and limestone that had been arched and broken before being dissected and laid to view by the agents of erosion which formed the canyons, cliffs, and mountains by removing grain by gain or by chemical solution the material that formerly occupied or surrounded them.

A young American, Walter Wilcox, taking his surveying instruments and camera, spent summer after summer sketching maps and photographing the scenery, and in 1869 he published the first of several beautiful volumes on "Camping in the Canadian Rockies." Later, with the development of the Kodak, thousands of pictures were taken by tourists who had little thought of the geological treasures lying all about.

The study of the glaciers was begun early by an American, George Vaux, of Philadelphia, assisted by his sister Mary, and later an expedition sent out by the Smithsonian Institution under the leadership of William H. Sherzer, of the University of Michigan, resulted in the publication in 1907 of a memoir describing and illustrating many of the glaciers.

During the past three years an expedition from the Smithsonian has been making an examination of the four miles or more in thickness of bedded rocks forming the main range of the Rocky Mountains that has been pushed eastward by the great mass of the Selkirk ranges to the west. It is a curious and instructive feature of the geology that the strata of the Rockies, although crowded eastward and thrust out over the later rocks of the plains of Alberta, have not suffered nearly as much dislocation, injury, and alteration as the apparently more massive bedded rocks of the Selkirks. The latter are crumpled, broken, and altered in about the same manner as large blocks of brittle paper would be if subjected to side pressure in a hydraulic press.

Camp Contentment
Camp Contentment Meadow, Above Lake O' Hara, At Foot of Mount Schaeffer
Photo by Charles D. Walcott

The study of the arched block of strata 16,000 feet or more in thickness from which the picturesque and impressive mountains and canyons have been carved has resulted in the discovery that the rocks in which the great Bow Valley is excavated form a part of the North American continental beds that were deposited in great fresh-water lakes before the waters of the ocean swept over the continent and began their task of depositing the 12,000 feet or more in thickness of rocks of Cambrian age that now contain the remains of the marine life of that period.

As the study of the formations developed it was found that in the eastward thrusting of the rocks massive limestones were often crushed and ground into fragments; in other places the thinner beds for 100 feet or more would be folded and crumbled between huge masses of even-bedded limestones that showed no traces of disturbance. In other places a series of beds, 1000 feet or more in thickness, met some obstacle which they could not crush or surmount, and were driven upward at almost right angles, forming series of sharp, ragged ridges. On the east side of the Lower Yoho Valley the limestones of Mount Ogden are lying nearly level, but on the eastern slope above Sherbrooke Lake Canyon the same beds are turned down at right angels and disappear beneath the canyon bottom. Everywhere the keen eye of the geologist will find evidence of mountain-building on a grand scale.

The panoramic photograph, taken by the author from Burgess Pass, 3,000 feet above Field, and published as a Supplement to this number of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, shows at a glance over 9,000 feet in thickness of bedded rocks, 6,000 feet of it in an almost sheer cliff in the mass of Mount Stephen. Many thousand feet more may be seen to the westward in Mount Denis and in Mount Vaux. From Mount Stephen the eye follows to the left across the great canyon of the Kicking Horse River to the summit of Mount Field, two miles away, where the same limestone and shale beds carrying the same fossils indicate that thousands of feet in thickness and many millions cubic yards of hard rock have been removed by erosion from between the two mountains, Stephen and Field. From Mount Field a gentle slope carries the same beds northward through Mount Wapta, where they undulate across the President Range and plunge to the westward beneath the corrugated and more readily broken Ordovician rocks of the Van Horne Range.

All of the Cambrian rocks were deposited in waters teeming with marine invertebrate life. As far as now known, this was before the day of fish or of any other vertebrate animal; land plants and even marine vegetable life were almost unrepresented. Other animals of the sea, however, existed in great profusion, and here and there conditions were so favorable for their burial in the mud and sand of the Cambrian sea that they were preserved unbroken, and throughout all the processes of rock-making and mountain building they have escaped destruction.

In one of these favorable places the most delicate of organisms, like the jellyfish, have been exquisitely preserved and we have crustaceans of many varieties. Among these many preserve the most delicate branchiæ and appendages, and one can hardly realize that they were buried in the mud 15 to 20 million years ago and have remained undisturbed while several miles of thickness of sediment were deposited over them, changed into rock, elevated into mountain masses, and later eroded into the present mountains and canyons.

We have long considered that the trilobite (page 516) was the most highly developed animal in the Cambrian time, but last summer a crustacean was found by the author in the fossil bed near Mount Wapta that was the king of the animal world in its day (page 517). That it was prepared to asset its right to the control of the Cambrian sea is shown by the claws with which it was armed.

To the geologist interested in the volcanic rocks a great field is waiting in the Selkirks to the west, and for generations to come there will be unsolved problems for the special student in this great region of mountains, glaciers, and rivers.

In the long panoramic view the rocks seen in the distance, forming Mount Balfour, belong to the Sherbrooke formation of the Upper Cambrian, or the most recent rocks of the Cambrian section. Beginning with these and going downward, the following formations are passed through:

  • Sherbrooke formation (mainly limestones) 1,375 feet
  • Paget formation (limestones and shales) 360 feet
  • Bosworth formation (limestone and shale) 1,855+
    Total Upper Cambrian 3,590+

Lake O'Hara
Lake O'Hara (6,664 Feet) Rests In A Bowl In The Mountains
From the lake to the top of Mount Lefroy 4,000 feet of Cambrian strata are seen in one unbroken section.
Photo by Charles D. Walcott

President Range
View Of The President Range From A Point On The Trail On The West Slope Of Mount Wapta, 3½ Miles In An Air Line North Of Field, On The Canadian Pacific Railway, British Columbia, Canada
This view shows Emerald Glacier after a light snow-storm has whitened the ice. Note particularly the two lateral moraines formed of broken-up light gray limestone (see page 520).
Photo by Charles D. Walcott

Burgess Trail
Waiting On The Burgess Trail Under Mount Wapta
Photo by Charles D. Walcott


  • Eldon formation (siliceous and arenaceceus limestones) 2,700 to 2,800
    This is the formation that caps Mount Stephen and may of the higher mountains.
  • Stephen formation (limestones and shale) 620
  • Cathedral formation (arenaceous limestones) 1,543
    Total Middle Cambrian 4,963


  • Mount Whyte formation (limestones and sandstones) 390
  • Saint Piratt formation (sandy shales and sandstones) 2,705
  • Lake Louise formation (siliceous shale) 105
  • Fairview formation (sandstones) 1,324
    Total Lower Cambrian 4,524

Upper Cambrian 3,590+
Middle Cambrian 3,963
Lower Cambrian 4,524
Total thickness of Cambrian section 13,077+

Beneath the old Cambrian sea-beach now forming the base of the Fairview formation there is a great series of sandstones and sandy shales of quite a different character. These rocks formed the land area which was submerged by the Cambrian sea that wore them away more or less in its advance over the continent.

These older rocks are supposed, owing to their character and the absence of marine fossils, to have been deposited in fresh water. They are referred to a series called Algonkian, and are divided into two formations:

  • Hector formation (sandstones and shales-gray, black, greenish, purple in color)... total thickness.. 1,302
  • Corral Creek formation (sandstones)...1,320

The breaking down of the mountain summits by the action of rain, frost, and ice, so as to form strong pyramids and ridges, is constantly going on. This is well shown by the photograph of Mount Huber, on page 518.

7000 Feet Above Sea Level
A Cool September Morning At 7,000 Feet Above Sea-Level
Photo by Charles D. Walcott

An illustration of a long summit ridge is given by Mount Daly, where every summr storm leaves a fresh coating of snow. I well recall stepping off that limestone onto the snow, thinking it hard and secure, and dropping in up to my armpits within a few feet of the rock. We were glad to paddle our way back and follow the rocky ridge for miles around to get back to camp.

Some of the deep canyons were filled up for 1,000 feet or more by dirt, gravel and boulders washed down from the sides of the mountains, probably during the great Glacial period. Upon the withdrawal of the ice this accumulated material was rapidly cut away, but occasionally masses of it are left high on the sides of a mountain, and often most fantastic forms result from its erosion where the finer beds of gravel and clay are hardened and protected above by blocks of sandstone and limestone. One of the most noteworthy examples is that of the so-called Hoodoos, on the slope of Mount Vaux, 18 miles west of Field.

Trilobite Fossils
Fragments Of A Colony Of Marine Animals On A Slab Of Black Rock, With Many Trilobites (Dark) And Shells Of The Sidney Crab (Light), Whose Claws Are Shown On Page 517
These creatures and other animals, like the delicate jelly-fish, have been preserved many millions of years while sediment several miles deep was deposited over them (see page 511).
Photo by Thomas W. Smillie

Middle Cambrian Crustacean
The King Of The Animal World 15 Million Years Ago; Discovered By Mr. W. Alcott
The Spiny claws of the Middle Cambrian crustacean (Sidneyia inexpectans), shown as a light patch in the center of the figure on page 516 (see page 511).

Mt. Huber Cambrian Erosion
View Of Mount Huber, Showing The Erosion Of The Massive Cambrian Limestones Above The Quartite Sandstones
View taken from a low ridge of Lake O'Hara, six miles south of Hector, on the Canadian Pacific Railway, British Columbia, Canada (see page 514).
Photo by Charles D. Walcott

Mount Wapta
Cooling Off After A Hard Climb Up Through The Limestones
Panoramic view, at 9,000 feet, of the south face of Mount Wapta from the summit of Mount Field, 4,600 feet above Field, on the Canadian Pacific Railway, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Charles D. Walcott

Summit of Mount Field
The Author Ready To Take A Panoramic View From Summit Of Mount Field
Photo by Sidney S. Walcott

The panoramic photographs were taken with the Cirkut camera that is used by newspaper men and others for photographing processions and obtaining panoramic views of buildings, railway lines, etc. For use in the mountains several minor changes were made, so that the instrument could be used successfully under such adverse conditions as strong winds, hands and fingers numbed from cold, and often very insecure foundation for the tripod. As it is necessary to have absolute stability and the camera-bed level, the securing of perfect negatives is difficult.

The camera consists of the ordinary 6½ by 8½ outfit, with a panoramic attachment which is 10½ inches square by4 inches in thickness. When the latter is used the tripod head is a 12-inch graduated circle with the revolving bed above A ratchet, driven by springs, moves the camera around the circle, the speed being governed by fans. Our lens is a Bausch and Lomb Zeiss Protar, Series VII.

The long panoramic view had an exposure of one-tenth of a second over each part of the film. The film moves past a vertical half-inch aperture from right to left as the camera is revolving from left to right. With this instrument a view can be taken 8½ inches in height and of any desired length up to 10 feet. Two persons can readily carry the outfit anywhere that one can ordinarily climb. Under unusually difficult conditions the camera can be drawn up by a rope.

Often in the Canadian Rockies days will pass in which the atmospheric conditions are unfavorable for an extended view--dust blown in the plains, smoke from forest fires, or the indefinate summer haze and cloudy weather interfering. The best conditions usually occur just after a heavy storm of either snow or rain has cleared the air.

One really great panoramic view and a half dozen fine smaller views is a successful season with the camera when it is used as an adjunct to hammer and compass in geologic work.

From the vicinity of the Burgess Pass camp the views were most beautiful and varied, and changed from hour to hour during the day and from day to day with the varying atmospheric conditions. Emerald Glacier, directly facing camp (page 513), was always attractive, whether in the bright sunlight, the gray light of early morning, the shadows of sunset, or when snow and fog were sweeping over the range, giving only now and then a glimpse of the ice and cliffs. The light-colored moraines on either side of its foot and the dark rocks afforded a beautiful setting for the glacier. Across the Yoho Pass the cliff of Mount Wapta stood in bold relief, with a steep slope of broken rock on the western side and a huge bank of snow on the eastern side of its south ridge.

Rising back of camp was the beautiful cliff of Mount Burgess, a favorite haunt of the mountain goat. At its eastern foot on the narrow ridge is the point where the great panoramic view was taken. Far below and almost at the foot of the great cliff is Emerald Lake, a spot famous for its scenic beauty. Our camp in the forest just below the ridge was visited quite frequently in September by heavy snow squalls that gave a welcome opportunity for a day's rest, reading, and cleaning up.

Our camp at Lake O'Hara was in a beautiful mountain meadow at the foot of Mount Shaffer. Morning and evening the views of the surrounding mountains were most inspiring. At this elevation (7,000 feet) snow squalls were not infrequent on the higher summits above, and on July 17 snow fell at the camp most of the day. From a slope of Mount Odaray, Lake O'Hara, resting like an emerald in a bowl of mountains (see page 512), reflected the glaciers of Mounts Lefroy and Hungabee.

Camping in the Canadian Rockies is a relatively simple affair if one is accustomed to going about with saddle and pack animals for conveyance. It is not difficult to obtain good camp outfits with horses and men, and much of the most beautiful scenery can be visited without riding on a trail or leaving wagon roads. Firewood and good water are well distributed and grass for the horses usually abundant.

NO ONE would be more surprised and delighted with Mr. Walcott's beautiful panoramic view, which is published as a Supplement to this number, than the American scientist whose discoveries gave a practical value to Daguerre's invention of photography, and the 100th anniversary of whose birth was celebrated last month. It s only 72 years since John William Draper in New York took the first photograph of a human face, but the progress in the photography art since then is amazing.

Mr. Walcott's panorama is the most marvelous mountain view that has ever been published, and is remarkable not only for its exceeding beauty, but also because of the many lessons in geography learned by studying it.

Readers of this Magazine who have attempted to take photographs in high altitudes can appreciate the combination of patience and skill required to secure a panorama like our Supplement. Weeks usually elapse before the weather is favorable, and then the slightest error of judgment may make the exposure a complete failure.

Perhaps equally difficult is the engraving, printing, and handling of 100,000 copies of 9-foot picture. For the success of this part of the publication the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE takes pleasure in acknowledging its indebtedness to the Matthews-Northrup Works, of Buffalo.

A few copies of the panorama have been printed on heavy art mat paper suitable for framing, and may be obtained at the office of the National Geographic Society at 50 cents per copy.

THE scenes in the Canadian Rockies, published on pages 522 to 530, are all from photographs by Rev. George Kinney, of Keremeos, B.C., Canada, who, with his companion, Duncan Phillips, has the distinction of being the first to ascend to the summit of Mount Robson, the highest mountain yet discovered in the Canadian Rockies.

Mount Robson is situated in the heart of the Rockies, some 50 or more miles north of Yellowhead Pass and hundreds of miles from civilization. The mountain can be reached ony by pack-train after long weeks of strenuous endeavor through trackless forests and muskeg.

Mount Vice President
A Shoulder Of Mount Vice-President, Overlooking Emerald Lake, Near Field, British Columbia
The upper falls in the photograph are about 200 feet high.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Takakkaw Falls
Takakkaw Falls (1,200 Feet), In The Valley Of The Yoho, British Columbia
Fed by the great Daly Glacier, which is backed by a snow-field of many square miles in extent, the Takakkaw Falls leaps full fledged over a cliff 1,200 feet high, thus forming the crowning wonder of the marvelous Valley of the Yoho, near Field, B.C., in the Canadian Rockies.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Ascending Mt Vice President
Members Of The Alpine Club Of Canada Ascending Mount Vice-President
A difficult piece of rock-work. Under the care of expert guides the members thus qualify for active membership.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Mount Pinnacle
Mount Pinnacle and Sentinel Pass, Near Paradise Valley, British Columbia
This splendid peak, rising out of Paradise Valley like a jeweled needle tipped with pearl, stands side by side with Mount Temple, in the Canadian Rockies, and overlooks the celebrated "Valley of the Ten Peaks."
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Canadian Rockies
Mount Peelee And The Yellowhead Lakes: Canadian Rockies
Yellowhead Pass, sentineled by Mount Peelee and the Yellowhead Mountains, offers for the transcontinental railroads the lowest and easiest gateway through the Canadian Rockies. Gigantic Douglas firs make picturesque the shores of the lakes in this region.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Mount Wapta
Mount Wapta, Near Field, British Columbia, And The First Camp Of The Alpine Club Of Canada
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Two Rope Parties Of The Alpine Club Of Canada Crossing The Great Snow-Field On The Summit Of Mount Vice-President, Near Field, British Columbia, At Over 10,000 Feet Altitude
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Mount Robson
Mount Robson (Nearly 14,000 Feet Altitude), King Of The Canadian Rockies
As the tourist on the Grand Trunk Pacific will see it, from the mouth of the Grand Forks, on the Fraser River. This monster peak, towering over 10,000 feet above Lake Kinney, in the valley below, at an average angle of over 60 degrees, was finally captured, in 1909, by two Canadians, Rev. George R.B. Kinney and his companion, Donald Phillips. It is the highest mountain yet discovered in the Canadian Rockies.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

North face of Mount Robson
The north face of Mount Robson rises abruptly in a series of precipitous cliffs, rank on rank, to the very skies. At its base the Grand Forks River, swiftly flowing from Berg Lake, leaps a cliff as high as a Niagara and, plunging in a succession of superb falls through a gorge over 3,000 feet deep, sweeps through the "Valley of a Thousand Falls" on its way to the Fraser.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

East of Mount Robson
Climbing The Ice-Cliffs Of The East Side Of Mount Robson; Canadian Rockies
Dr. A.P. Coleman, L.Q. Coleman and Rev. George R.B. Kinney working their way up the fearful ice-cliffs of the east side of Mount Robson in their unsuccessful attempt to climb the mountain in 1908. Leaving their camp at tree-line, for 14 hours they fought their way up those treacherous walls of ice amid constant dangers from hidden crevasses and roaring avalanches, but only attained an altitude of 11,700 feet.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Canadian Rockies
Looking East And South From Mount Robson; Canadian Rockies
This view was taken from the east side of Mount Robson at an altitude of over 10,000 feet, high up on the crumbling cliffs from which the great East Glacier flows. From this altitude the snow-capped peaks to the south spread out like the surface of a rugged plain.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Canadian Rockies
East Side Of Mount Robson, Canadian Rockies, From Timber Lake
Looking from the east, Mount Robson, in the Canadian Rockies, rises out of one of the most beautiful valleys in all the world of alpine scenery. Six mighty glaciers, the least of which measures not less than a quarter of a mile wide, flowing from his rugged sides and those of the mountains opposite, pour their turbulent streams into the quiet waters of Berg Lake. This lake received its name because of its surface being constantly dotted with huge icebergs that plung into it from Tumbling Glacier midway its length.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Glacier Mount Robson
The Big Glacier On The East Of Mount Robson
This mighty glacier, flowing from a huge snow-field on the east side of Mount Robson and curving in a wide crescent around the base of Mount Rearguard, is a mile wide and five miles long. The glacier forms a watershed, part of its waters flowing into the Pacific and part into the Arctic seas.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Glacier Mount Robson
Surface Of The Big East Glacier Of Mount Robson
The crevasses of this glacier are in some places several hundred feet deep, while its lateral and terminal moraines are thrown high on every side, and a splendid medial moraine marks its course.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

Mount Robson and Berg Lake
Mount Robson And Berg Lake From The Northeast: Canadian Rockies
So frightfully steep are its rugged sides, and so high does it rise out of its valleys (over 10,000 feet) and so frequent are the severe storms of the region that of all the expeditions that tried to capture Mount Robson, Mr. Kinney's, in 1909, was the only one that ever reached its summit. Even then he and his companions had to sleep several nights on its lofty snow-covered ledges and nearly perished.
Photo by Rev. George Kinney

The Complete National Geographic, 111 Years; 1888-2000


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