Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Drunk on Geomorphology - Castle Creek Winery Cabernet Sauvignon


The next Drunk on Geology is for the Castle Creek Winery Cabernet Sauvignon out of Moab, UT. 

Located in the heart of the red rock region of Utah, Moab is spectacular place to catch some gorgeous scenery. We picked up this bottle just prior to moving away from Utah in 2021 and it does not appear that the winery is not open anymore but we will celebrate it nonetheless. 

The front label offers a lovely artistic rendering of the red rock cliffs surrounding the town of Moab. The rocks cliffs surrounding Moab are made up of several rock units including the Navajo Sandstone. The Navajo Sandstone is Jurassic in age, ~180 million years old, and is a preserved prehistoric desert that used to cover large parts of the American west. Although it can be red in color, it is generally a tan to light brown color. The Navajo Sandstone can be found in abundance in the nearby Canyonlands National Park

The area known as Park Avenue in Arches National Park

The rocks on the label though look more like the ones seen in another neighboring National Park, Arches National Park. The rocks structures in Arches NP are composed of arches and tall pinnacles called hoodoos. It is this hoodoo and other cliffs that appear to be the focus of the artwork. The rock structures in Arches NP are comprised of the Entrada Sandstone. The Entrada Sandstone, overlies the Navajo Sandstone and is therefore a bit younger. It is a Jurassic age (~150 million years old) sandstone, formed from a coastal dune environment. 

The reason that the Entrada Sandstone forms these fantastic structures is because of a variety of regions. There being that this is the desert. It is very dry here and not enough precipitation falls to erode away the rock structures. Another reason is that the Entrada is very porous, allowing for the rain water to easily soak into the rock. As the water filters its way down into the sandstone it eventually reaches the base of the sandstone at the contact with the lower rock unit, the Carmel Formation. The Carmel Formation is a slightly older, Jurassic age, series of mudstones, siltstones, and sandstones, formed in a tidal flat environment. The much higher percentage of mud prevents water from flowing through it, so as the water flows through the Entrada, it eventually pools at the base of the sandstone on top of the Carmel Formation.

The third feature is the cement in the Entrada Sandstone. Many sandstones are cemented by silica, which is basically a dissolved type of quartz, a very hard mineral. Those types of sandstones are incredibly difficult to erode. The Entrada Sandstone, however, is cemented with calcite, a mineral that easily dissolves in slightly acidic water, such as the calcite in caves. As the water sits at the base of the Entrada, it slowly dissolves away the calcite cement. Then as the water freezes and thaws over the winter months, the expansion and contraction of the water breaks apart the rocks and carries away the sand. Leaving an ever widening hole at the base of the rock formation.

The text on the back of the bottle:
Castle Creek Winery overlooks the mighty Colorado River at the foot of dramatic red rock cliffs. It's a classic, rugged Western landscape. Our lush, green vineyards are a standout among the sapphire sky, red rocks and mesas. A combination of hot summer days, cool evenings, and Moab's dry climate are optimum for growing many of the best varietals. Using locally grown grapes, the winery has produced over 30 award-winning wines.
There are many rocks units in the region and not only these two rock units, but many of the other rock units within the Moab area, are also red in color, producing the name the "Red Rocks Region". The red coloring comes from differing amounts of iron oxide in the rocks, also known as rust. Varying amounts of iron oxide can tint a rock from a light yellow/tan color to a very deep-dark red. And it doesn't take much iron oxide at all to produce this effect. The iron oxide within these rocks is from when the rocks were originally deposited as sandstones and mudstones millions of years ago, forever staining them for all time.


Sunday, April 7, 2024

Drunk on Geomorphology - Waterpocket Distillery

The next Drunk on Geology is for the Waterpocket Distillery out of Salt Lake City, UT. 

Before leaving Utah I made it a mission to visit the Waterpocket Distillery because there are few alcohols that more encompass the geology than this one. The distillery is named after the characteristic fold in the rocks that encompasses Capitol Reef National Park. According to the distillery's website:
The Waterpocket Fold gives form to the Capitol Reef and the national park that bears this name, and now gives its name to Waterpocket® Distillery.
Some of the offerings from the Waterpocket Distillery

Not only is the Waterpocket Distillery named after a geological feature, they also have geologically themed alcohols within their collection including the Temple of the Moon Gin, the image on the Waterpocket Cocoa & Rum, and the Toadstool Notom Amaro No. 1. 

Entrance sign to Capitol Reef National Park

The most characteristic features of Capitol Reef is the way that the rocks have been folded across the park. With an axis running nearly 100 miles north to south, is a feature called the Waterpocket Fold. There are several different types of folds when we look at rocks. When rocks are folded in a "U" shape, this is called an syncline. When rocks are folded the opposite way, essentially an "A" shape, this is called an anticline. However, when you have a stair-step fold, where one side of the fold is generally horizonal, then its comes down to another horizonal layer, you have what is called a monocline, and that is what the Waterpocket Fold is. You can essentially see this fold in the way that the rocks dip towards the east through much of the park, such as in the image above looking towards the south.
Cross section of the Waterpocket Fold by Ron Blakey. Image courtesy of the NPS

Looking west off the Cohab Canyon Overlook  you can see the dip of the beds towards the east as well as most of the rock units we talked about.

Google Earth view of the Water Pocket Fold (VE = 3)

As you can see in the profile above of the Waterpocket Fold, there are several rock formations that make up the rocks in Capitol Reef NP. Folded approximately 50 to 70 million years ago, the rocks within the park mainly range in age from the Early Permian age White Rim Sandstone (~280 million years old) to the Late Jurassic Age Morrison Formation (~150 million years old). Because of the Waterpocket Fold, the older rocks are easier to see in the western portion of the park and the younger rocks are more exposed in the eastern portion of the park. 

Let us focus in on the liquors from the Waterpocket Distillery. In the north part of Capitol Reef National Park is Cathedral Valley, where you can find the Temple of the Moon. The Temple of the Moon is pictured on both The Temple of the Moon Gin, from which the gin was named, and a more stylized version on the Waterpocket Cocoa & Rum. 

The text on the back of the Waterpocket Cocoa & Rum
We take our turbinado sugar & blackstrap molasses rum (fermented & distilled in-house, then aged in used whiskey barrels), and combine it with fermented and sun-dried Caribbean cocoa custom-roasted at the distillery. Open Wild for a decadent rum sipping experience, rich in cacao, spice, and rum flavor. 
The text on the back of the Temple of the Moon Gin
We dedicate this gin to the sacred Temple of the Moon in Capitol Reef's Cathedral Valley. Inspired by the juniper and pinion forests of Utah's high desert country, we crafted a gin of uncompromising artistry and beauty. Made with: Coriander, Lemon Peel, Lavender, Angelica, Ginger, and 10 other botanicals. 
Temples of the Sun and Moon. Image courtesy of William Belvin from

The monoliths of the Temples of the Sun (in the background) and Moon (foreground) are composed of the Entrada Sandstone. Looking at the cross section above, the Entrada sandstone is exposed along the eastern portions of the park and is one of the youngest rocks exposed in the park. The Entrada Sandstone is a buff-pink colored sandstone deposited during the Jurassic age (~150 million years old), formed from a coastal dune environment. The Entrada Sandstone is the same formation that is more well known as the rock that the arches are comprised of in Arches National Park, located to the east of Capitol Reef National Park.

South Window Arch in Arches National Park

The cement in the Entrada Sandstone is one of the key ingredients. Many sandstones are cemented by silica, which is basically a dissolved type of quartz, a very hard mineral. Those types of sandstones are incredibly difficult to erode. The Entrada Sandstone, however, is cemented with calcite, a mineral that easily dissolves in slightly acidic water, such as the calcite in caves. This means that it crumbles fairly easily and is removed rapidly by flowing water. 

Capping the Entrada Sandstone in these parts is the Curtis Sandstone. A grayish-green sandstone and siltstone that is more more resistant to erosion than the Entrada and protects the monoliths from complete erosion. 

The last bottle pictured above is the Toadstool Notom Amaro No. 1. From the Waterpocket Distillery's website:
Like the toadstools of Escalante's Grand Staircase, the great artistry of these liqueurs and bitters is the delicate balancing act of bitterness, aromatics, and other natural flavors. A warming of the throat and stomach highlights the traditional consumption of this type of spirit as a digestive or digestif, or after-dinner liqueur. We think this also make them perfect for after-ski, after-hike, or as an intense flask-filler for your next adventure into the wilderness.
Toadstools in Grand Staircase Escalante. Image courtesy of Visit Utah.

The Toadstool is named after geological features not in Capitol Reef this time but those a little further to the south in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. These features are known as the Toadstool Hoodoos. Hoodoos are:
 A column, pinnacle, or pillar of rock produced in a region of sporadic heavy rainfall by differential weathering or erosion of horizontal strata, facilitated by joints and by layers of varying hardness, and occurring in varied and often eccentric or grotesque forms. (Dictionary of Geological Terms, 3rd Ed.)
View of some of the equipment in the distillery. 

Even though these toadstools are much further south than the Temple of the Moon, these are also formed from the Entrada Sandstone, however here instead of being capped by the Curtis Sandstone, they are capped by the Dakota Sandstone. As the Entrada Sandstone erodes away, the much more resistant Dakota Sandstone protects the smaller column in the middle, much like the Temples of the Moon and the Sun. 

The Dakota Sandstone is Early Cretaceous in age, ~100 million years old, and represents the western shore of the very large Cretaceous Interior Seaway. The Dakota is made up of yellow to grey sandstones, mudstones, and a few thin beds of coal. These were deposited within a wide range of coastal environments including deltas, alluvial fans, and coastal deposits.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Drunk on Volcanology - Lava Lake Wit


The next Drunk on Geology is for Lava Lake Wit from the Crazy Mountain Brewing Company, out of Denver, CO. 

To start off, a "lava lake" is just what it sounds like, a lake of lava, or to be more technical per the NPS:
A lava lake is a pool of molten lava that persists in a vent or crater of a volcano...
Of which the only lava lake in the United States is found on the Big Island of Hawaii in the caldera of Mount Kilauea.

View of the lava lake within Mount Kilauea's Halema Ľuma Ľu Crater in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Lava lakes, at over 2300 degrees Fahrenheit, are not very common across the planet at all, for obvious reasons. There must be a specific set of circumstances to maintain that liquid lava and not to eventually cool down forming igneous rocks. The lakes are maintained by the stream of volcanic gasses including sulfur within the caldera of the volcano that prevents the lava from cooling enough to solidify. 

Although the lava lakes are essentially "permanent" they do frequently drain and refill depending on the plumbing going on beneath the surface of the volcano as earthquakes and other forces redistribute the magma paths. 

Mount Nyiragongo in Congo. image courtesy of National Geographic

There are currently eight known lava lakes on Earth. Besides Mount Kilauea in Hawai'i, there are lava lakes in Ethiopia (Erte Ale), Antarctica (Mount Erebus), Vanuatu (Mount Yasure and Ambrym) and Nicaragua (Mount Masaya), with the largest known lava lake located in Congo (Mount Nyiragongo) measuring 820 feet in diameter and up to 2000 feet deep.

Looking at the back of the can, it says:
Slow down and take in the scenery with Byamba, one of the brighter creatures on Crazy Mountain. She boils the water for brewing with a zest for life that is contagious. Her personality is lively, refreshing and a little complicated. So pause for a moment and join her for an afternoon amid the blooming chamomile on Lava Lake. 

The text on the can made me wonder if that indeed we weren't only referring to a lava lake, as in a boiling lake of lava, but an actual place called Lava Lake. And it turns out that there is indeed a lake located kind of near Vail, CO called Lava Lake in White River National Forest. 

Lava Lake, CO

Which looks just like a cute little mountain lake on Lava Creek, although I'd prefer to take an afternoon next to an actual lava lake. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Drunk on Paleontology - Tricerahops Double IPA

The next Drunk on Geology is for Tricerahops Double IPA from the Ninkasi Brewing Company out of Eugene, OR.

Although, obviously named for the dinosaur Triceratops, the Ninkasi website also states that this beer, along with three others, are part of a comic series produced by Dark Horse Comics called Legend of Ninkasi: Rise of Craft.

And according to their comic lore:
Legend has it that Tricerahops, loyal companion to the goddess Ninkasi, acquires his abilities from the goddess’ mystical hops. While our brewery is working on propagating these hops for the good of all, we brewed this Double IPA to showcase all that’s possible. Its floral aromas collide with a splendor of resinous hop notes to create a beer suitable for a magical beast like Tricerahops himself.

Triceratops horridus skeleton and cast from the Field Museum in Chicago, IL. 

The first discovery of  material attributed to Triceratops, was in 1887 by George Lyman Cannon near Denver, Colorado, who had found a set of the brow horns attached to a skull roof. He sent the material to O.C. Marsh who, assuming the rock dates were Pliocene, determined that it was from a prehistoric bison, which he named Bison alticornis. However after a more complete specimen was discovered in 1888 from Wyoming's Lance Formation by John Bell Hatcher, as well as a couple of other discoveries, Marsh reevaluated the initial find and eventually added all the finds under a new species, Triceratops, which he named in 1889, meaning "three-horned face". 

The side of the Tricerahops box notes:
This is our monument to the big and beautiful beasts that came before us. Tricerahops is an ancient field of floral hops with a deep, earthy taste and a balanced finish.
Triceratops belongs to a group of animals known as ceratopsians.

Ceratopsian wall at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Triceratops is the one located in the far right at the top.

Ceratopsians were prolific during the Cretaceous, with many different varieties evolving with various numbers of horns and frill adornments. Triceratops was one of the last ceratopsians to have evolved with remains having been found in rocks dating from ~69 million years ago to the end of the dinosaurs ~66 million years ago. It is estimated that Triceratops could grow up to 30 feet in length and weigh 12,000-16,000 pounds. There are currently two recognized species of Triceratops, T. horridus (pictured above in Chicago) and T. prorsus

The skull of Triceratops is one of the largest skulls ever discovered, approaching 10 feet in length in some individuals and not only had the three primary horns (one above each eye and one on the snout), it also had a series of spikes along the edge of the frill known as epoccipitals, and hornlike projects on the jugals (cheekbones). The horns are thought to serve multiple functions, such as defense from predators as well mating display structures. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Drunk on Geomorphology - Salt Flats Slipstream IPA


The next Drunk on Geology is for Salt Flats Slipstream Indian Pale Ale from the Salt Flats Brewing Company out of Salt Lake City, UT. 

For this post we'll focus on the name of the Brewing Company, Salt Flats. The Salt Flats Brewing Company from Salt Lake City is named after the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats, a large flat pan covered with a hard salt crust which lies to the west of the Great Salt Lake. 

The Bonneville Salt Flats

Although used as a race track in the dry season, the Bonneville Salt Flats have an extensive geological history. The formation of the salt flats started when this region of North America, known as the Basin and Range Province, started to form. At one point in time the western edge of North America was being compressed by the Farallon Plate pushing up against North America, squeezing the continent as the Farallon plate subducted (went beneath) North America.

Graphic of the Farallon Plate subducting beneath North America. Image courtesy of the NPS.

Eventually most of the Farallon Plate was entirely subducted beneath North America, especially along the Californian coast, and the compression was released. This essentially allowed North America to expand outwards, like a squeezed sponge being let go. This expansion thinned the crust, while also producing a series of linear mountain ranges and valleys. 

Graphic of the Basin And Range expansion producing linear mountains and valleys. Image courtesy of

As the expansion progressed, the crust was broken up into a series of smaller blocks. These blocks rotated as the crust stretched out. The rotation of the blocks produced the mountains along the upper corners, with gaps along the lower corners. These gaps eventually were filled with sediment eroded off the mountains, forming the valleys between the mountain ranged. 

Coverage of the Great Basin. Image courtesy of the NPS.

With the thinning of the crust, this area also ended up being lower than the surrounding regions. Because of this, water was not able to flow out of the Basin and Range Province, also known as the Great Basin. Unlike water along the eastern portion of the country and along the west coast, water within the Great Basin does not reach the oceans. All precipitation here eventually ends up in end- or terminal basins, such as the Great Salt Lake, where the only water outflow is through evaporation.

Where the Desert Meets the Mountains

The Great Basin currently contains many end-basins with the primary basin being the Bonneville Basin, which ends at the Great Salt Lake currently. However, during the last ice age the Great Salt Lake was much, MUCH, bigger. Referred to as Lake Bonneville, the lake covered most of western Utah as seen in the map below. 

Maximum extent of Lake Bonneville. Image courtesy of the Utah Geological Survey

Lake Bonneville started to form 30,000 years ago during the last Ice Age and reached its peak at 18,000 years ago. At that point it had reached it's physical maximum volume and started to overflow the glacial moraine dam that was located to the north at Red Rock Pass in Idaho. Once the water reached this level it spilled out over the top of Red Rock Pass. This spillage eventually caused the dam to collapse releasing a mega-flood on to the Snake River Plain. This mega-flood caused to lake level to drop by almost half within a matter of weeks. As the Earth slowly moved out of the Ice Age, the climate started to dry. This drying caused less precipitation within the basin and over time the water level dropped from the imbalance between precipitation and evaporation in the Great Basin. 

As the water in Lake Bonneville evaporated, salt that was dissolved in the fresh water lake started to concentrate. Each year several million tons of dissolved salts are added to Great Salt Lake basin from its tributary rivers. Most lakes worldwide have an outlet and therefore salts and other erodes chemicals don't concentrate within those lakes, being washed out as the water cycles through. However, in terminal lakes while the water is able to evaporate away, the salt is left behind, increasing the salt concentration year over year. 

Where the finish line meets hoppiness

After the water level of Lake Bonneville (which turned into the Great Salt Lake) dropped below the elevation of the Great Salt Lake desert, the Bonneville Salt Flats started to be born. Over time the salty groundwater wicked its way up to the surface, evaporated, and left the salt behind creating a thin crust of salt across the surface of the salt flats. Over time this thin layer of salt built up into a significant hard pan. In places the salt reaches several feet thick in the center of the salt flats and peters out towards the edges. Today these evaporative processes are help along by the addition of salt brine added to the salt flats from the nearby potash operations to prevent the too much salt from being removed from the area through industrial collection lakes. 

Friday, March 15, 2024

Drunk on Petrology - Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc

The next Drunk on Geology is for Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc from the Greywacke Winery in Marlborough, New Zealand.

The term "greywacke" (pronounced "grey wacky") is a rock name like sandstone or granite. However, the term is typically used as a "garbage" or "trash can" term, meaning that it is often used when better names aren't known. Greywacke is a grey sedimentary rocks composed of various cemented rock and mineral fragments like a sandstone or an arkose. While the term "greywacke" is often used without a specific meaning, there is a specific meaning to the term according to the Dictionary of Geological Terms 3rd Ed.:
Graywacke: (Note: this the the American spelling of the term "gray" for "grey") - An old term, now generally applied to a dark gray firmly indurated coarse-grained sandstone that consists of poorly sorted angular to subangular grains of quartz and feldspar, with a variety of dark rock and mineral fragments, embedded in a compact clayey matrix having the general composition of slate and containing an abundance of very fine-grained illite, sericite, and chlorite minerals. Graywacke commonly exhibits graded bedding and is believed to have been deposited by submarine turbidity currents. 
A piece of New Zealand greywacke. Image courtesy of The University of Auckland

Greywacke is a variety of argillaceous sandstone that is highly indurated and poorly sorted. It comprises a large percentage of the basement rock of New Zealand, and so is an important rock type throughout the country. Because it has been subjected to significant amounts of tectonic movement over a long period of time (some New Zealand greywacke is over 300 million years old), greywacke is commonly extremely deformed, fractured, and veined. Although greywacke can look similar to basalt, it differs in that it is commonly veined (with quartz being the vein mineral), and lacks vesicles.

Greywacke from New Zealand's Southern Alps. Image courtesy of

Here are New Zealand's Southern Alps, which are almost entirely comprised of the Torlesse greywacke. Some more information from the Greywacke website:
New Zealand does not have a designated national rock, but if one was ever chosen, it would have to be greywacke. This drab grey stone is found everywhere in New Zealand – on the mountains, in the rivers, on the beaches. It consists of layers of hard, muddy grey sandstone alternating with thinner layers of darker mudstone (argillite). Technically, the term greywacke refers to the sandstone (wacke is a German name for a type of sandstone), but it is also used as a general term for the entire rock. 
The label on the back of the bottle has a bit more geological context:
"Named after New Zealand's prolific bedrock, Greywacke (pron Greywacky) is the label of Kevin Judd, one of Marlborough's pioneer winemakers. Grown in prime vineyard sites in the central Wairau and Southern Valleys, this is a deliciously aromatic, finely balanced wine." 

More from the Greywacke website:
Greywacke (Grauwacke) was first used in the 18th century to describe rocks in the Harz Mountains of Germany. Ernest Dieffenbach, a German scientist who travelled widely in New Zealand between 1839 and 1841, was the first person to use it for local rocks. English geologists regarded greywacke as an uncouth foreign term, but it was adopted in Scotland. Archibald Geikie’s Text-book of Geology, published in 1903, gave descriptions of greywacke, and helped persuade New Zealanders that it was an appropriate term for their most widespread rock. In the 1960s, some geologists argued that the term greywacke was vague and imprecise. A subcommittee of the Geological Society recommended that it be dropped, but this was widely ignored. The term is possibly used more widely in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world.
Sets of turbidite deposits along the coast in Zumaia, Spain

As noted above, the greywacke "is believed to have been deposited by submarine turbidity currents". These submarine turbidity currents are also known as turbidites. Generally, these are underwater landslides. The landslides are denser than the surrounding water with the sediment tumbling down from higher to lower elevations. During the tumbling, sediment is kicked up into the surround water creating a "turbid" cloud. Once reaching a stable platform the cloud will settle out with the larger sediment fragments settling out first, followed by smaller and smaller sediments until the top layer is made up of a fine clay.  

As seen in the image above, when you have areas which are prone to turbidite deposits, these will often result in packets of rocks that cycle through that course to fine cycle. The above picture is from Zumaia, Spain where the rocks, once horizontal, have since been rotated almost vertically. 

Geologic Map of New Zealand. Image courtesy of

Greywacke is a primary component of the Torlesse Composite Terrain of New Zealand. Looking at the above geologic map of New Zealand, we can see how much of the islands, especially the southern island, are covered with the Torlesse. And besides just these areas where it is exposed, the Torlesse is found below most of the younger rocks across the islands. The composition of the Torlesse Composite Terrain includes not only greywacke but also argillite, as well as metamorphosed rocks that were altered from the original greywacke and argillite.

The Torlesse Composite was deposited by submarine turbidites in deep marine water which ranges in age from Middle Permian (~260 million years old) to the Early Cretaceous (~100 million years old) with the primary deposition taking place in the Late Triassic, or approximately 216 million years old.