|Purple-leaved chokecherry, August 2020.|
|Purple-leaved chokecherry, August 2020.|
|Tweedy's pussypaws has long challenged plant taxonomists. Should they abandon Darwinian evolution for an alternative? Photo by Hike395.|
|Tweedy's pussypaws lives here! Tronsen Ridge, Wenatchee Mountains. Photo by brewbooks.|
|Specimen 37514, Gray Herbarium, Harvard. Washington Territory, 1883 ("Mt. Stewart" is Mt. Stuart).|
|Minor damage and loss of color due to long drying time (no other option on early expeditions). Material was removed from the fragment packet for imaging.|
|Left: Frank Tweedy, 1875. Union College Special Collections. Right: Townshend Stith Brandegee, date unknown. Jepson Herbaria Archives, U. California, Berkeley.|
|Brandegee label above, Gray annotation below; note edit (red arrow). "TYPE" (blue arrow) marks this specimen as the holotype, the basis for describing the new species, Calandrina tweedyi.|
|Specimen V211615, U. British Columbia Herbarium. Washington, 1996. Faster drying makes better specimens. Note the different name on the label.|
|Click on image for a "clearer" view.|
|Tweedy's pussypaws is popular with gardeners, and has received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. From Curtis's Botanical Magazine, 1899 (more here).|
|Tweedy's pussypaws by any name would be just as lovely! Photo by Richard Droker.|
|Test-driving the new windows.|
|Library of Congress (LOC)|
|In 1847, Ben Franklin would appear on one of the nation's first postage stamps (trial design here). For 5¢, a half-ounce letter could travel up to 300 miles. National Postal Museum (NPM)|
|Postmaster positions outgoing mail for pickup. The mailbag would be snatched by a catcher arm (steel hook and crane) as the train rolled by, avoiding the need to slow down. NPM|
|The wonderful convenience of home delivery. NPM|
|Senator Francis E. Warren would use power and pork-barrel politics to secure millions of dollars for Wyoming. He finally left office in 1929, when he died (age 85). LOC|
|Laramie postal districts with carrier names, as of Dec. 1, 1892. Blue dots mark deposit boxes, post office in pink (added to 1894 map).|
|In the 1890s, 2¢ was the cost of 1st-class domestic postage, no matter the distance. George Washington has appeared on more U.S. postage stamps than any other person. NPM|
|LaBonte Park yesterday afternoon, "unhealthy for sensitive groups".|
|St. Matthew's Cathedral in Laramie Oct. 5, "very unhealthy". Laramie Boomerang.|
|Mullen Fire, just one of many in the western US (InciWeb, Oct. 11).|
|Thirty miles south of the Mullen Fire, the Cameron Peak Fire is also burning beetle-killed trees and generating lots of smoke (InciWeb, October 11)).|
|Smoke and airtanker, Mullen Fire. From every news outlet in the region; original source unknown.|
|For geologist and bishop Nicholaus Steno, science was a way to understand God's work (source).|
On the morning of August 13,1894, mason Michael Bergin picked up a stone to add to the new Episcopalian church in Laramie, Wyoming. But upon inspecting it, he spotted a fossil very different from the others he had found.
"CURIOUS FOSSIL. Found in the Sandstone Rock of the Cathedral" announced a headline in the Laramie Boomerang (newspaper) later that day. "It is a shell exactly like a miniature buffalo head ... the solid part corresponding to the head is about an inch in diameter, the horns about an inch long and three inches from tip to tip." Bergin set the stone aside for Professor J.D. Conley, curator of the University of Wyoming Museum.
Stonemasons at St. Matthew’s Cathedral regularly found fossils, saving the better ones for Professor Conley. He had already identified the clam-like allorisma, snail-like bellerophon, and pinna, which resembled a razor shell oyster. "The professor is gathering facts to put into a bulletin on the subject," explained the Boomerang.
But the article ignored the remarkable mystery these creatures implied. They were marine—all inhabitants of oceans. Yet the stones were quarried just east of Laramie. How did sea shells end up so far from a sea, and 7000+ feet above sea level?
A Persistent Question
Four centuries earlier, in the Apennine Mountains of Italy, scientist Nicholaus Steno asked the same question, but in Latin: “Quomodo res marinae in locis a mari remotis derelictae fuere?” How was marine life abandoned in places far from the sea?
No answer was immediately forthcoming. In the 1600s, geology did not exist, and knowledge was strongly shaped by church teachings, which did not address things like sea shells high in the mountains. Steno had to rely on field work and his own clever mind to solve the puzzle.
After examining many specimens, all of which looked like sea shells down to the finest level of detail, he concluded they were sea shells, now entombed in rock. They must have risen from sea level, thousands of vertical feet! This meant the surface of the Earth was dynamic, changing dramatically since the Creation. Steno's findings contradicted strict biblical interpretation—that God had created an immutable Earth—but the Church did not object. Science was increasingly seen as a way to understand and appreciate God's work.
|Steno's interpretation of an angular unconformity, from his Prodromus, 1671.|
The Rocks Rise
While Nicolaus Steno was convinced that rocks could rise thousands of feet, he never came up with an explanation for how. In fact, how mountains rise proved to be a most persistent question. It wasn't until the mid 20th century that it was answered satisfactorily: The Earth's surface consists of giant shifting plates that collide, sink, override, fuse, and more. The effects can be dramatic.
Between 70 and 30 million years ago, the Pacific plate was diving under the North American plate, compressing and crumpling the interior of the continent, creating among other things the Rocky Mountains. With uplift of the Laramie Range, ancient marine limestones and sandstones, carrying fossil shells, rose thousands of vertical feet. Erosion later exposed these rocks, setting the stage for Laramie's promising building stone industry.
|Quarrying stone just east of Laramie; date unknown.|
American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming (AHC).
Ever the civic promoter, the Boomerang declared Laramie's stone to be "equal to any in the world. ... It is useless to send to Colorado at great expense for rock which is not one particle superior, either in strength, beauty, evenness ..." The local quarries were inspected, the stone tested. In August, a contract was signed. The University Building (today's Old Main) rose quickly, completed in time for the first classes in September 1887.
|Old Main under construction, University of Wyoming, ca. Dec. 1868 (AHC).|
"One of the Most Beautiful and Complete Churches in the entire Western Country"
In 1892, on September 21 (St. Matthew's Day), the Boomerang gave front-page coverage to the laying of the cornerstone of St. Matthew's Cathedral. In the recently completed basement, hundreds listened to distinguished clergymen speak eloquently and at length. Then three officers from the Grand Lodge of the Free Masons—equipped with square, level, and plumb—set the stone.
|St. Matthew’s Cathedral as originally planned; the final was somewhat smaller. Laramie Boomerang, Sep 22, 1892.|
It was said that the Cathedral would be completed within a year. But the walls would rise in spurts, as funding waxed and waned. Bishop Ethelbert Talbot traveled far afield in his fund-raising. Big donors included friends in the east, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt ($1500) and J.P. Morgan ($1000), and the Mother Church in England.
By the end of 1896, the grand structure was ready to serve its congregation and was dedicated before a crowd of almost a thousand on December 17. Twenty years later, Edward Ivinson made a large donation in memory of his wife, Jane, to finish the towers.
|St. Matthew's Cathedral before towers were completed (in 1916); photo ca. 1910-1915 (AHC).|
|St. Matt's in 1935 (AHC).|
Adding to the puzzle is confusion regarding rock type. Cathedral descriptions variously refer to limestone, silicious limestone, limey sandstone, or sandstone. The Casper Formation, where Laramie's quarries were developed, contains all of these.
Reading the Casper Formation
To a geologist, a formation is a group of rocks that is both recognizable and extensive enough to map. The Casper Formation extends from Casper Mountain south along both sides of the Laramie Range into Colorado. It's a mix of limestone, sandstone and everything in between. Herein lie important geological clues!
Geologists say they study the past by "reading the rocks." What have they learned by reading the Casper Formation? We already know from its fossilized sea shells that there was an ocean here 300 million years ago. But there's more.
Let's start with limestone, which forms from limey muck deposited in deep water far from shore, out of reach of sediments from land. The northern part of the Casper Formation is dominated by limestone, indicating the area around the towns of Casper and Douglas was submerged in deep water during much of the Paleozoic Era (tour map below shows features mentioned here).
But in the Laramie area, the Casper is mainly sandstone with occasional beds of limestone. Sand, being coarse, doesn't travel far, so sandstone is a sign of shallower water closer to shore. The limestone beds are a bit of a mystery, with geologists still debating the details. Most likely they formed when the sea advanced, perhaps with rising sea level. So Laramie probably was in deep water occasionally, the shoreline farther away.
The Casper Formation also contains clues about the shoreline itself. Not far south of Laramie are outcrops of cross-bedded sandstone (criss-crossed layers). These are remains of sand dunes deposited by wind along the ancient shore.
Just beyond the dune field was the Ancestral Front Range. We know of these ghostly mountains because the Casper sandstone contains abundant feldspar. Feldspar is a soft mineral that breaks down quickly. It must have been carried to the sea by fast-flowing streams from mountains close by.
Tour Paleozoic Laramie
|Yellow very roughly outlines the Casper Formation (above and below ground).|
|"Grotto at Sand Creek"—S.H. Knight photo, 1899 (AHC).|
|Chris and Ed of Laramie brave the smokey air to ascend lithified seafloor muck in Roger Canyon.|