Archive for June, 2006

old pics 112

Originally uploaded by Mic2006.

As mentioned, this last weekend I had visited with a local archeologist who was investigating the possibility of human habitation in the caves of the Eramosa Member and its surroundings.

I had heard voices as I approached the woodlot and following down a leafy path I soon found Joseph Muller and his two companions combing through the soil. Joseph is a “cultural archeologist, he works for the city. I had taken the accompanying picture of Joseph two years ago as he and I worked down in the bottom of the big solution tube. I dug hoping to reveal an open lower tunnel and he, hoping to attain a greater understanding of those who had preceeded us. The successive layers hold many clues if you know what to look for. By the end of the day Joseph had a line of tiny colored medicine bottles, several bones and all sorts of unidentifyable oddments that obviously meant something to him but little to me.

“What should I look for while I wriggle around underground? What exactly is it that defines a place as a valuable archeological site”? I asked one of Joseph’s companions. Well its nothing that you might immediately recognize she told me cryptically. I peered over her shoulder onto a screen that she shook around – little pebbles and shards of glass, nothing that seemed new to me. We parted ways and I left them to work the soil through their screens. They had already accumulated a huge heap of rich black dirt in the clearing.

Touching base around lunch time the lady with which I had spoken pulled a shard of chert from her pocket. “This rock is not native to the area, it was bought here and likely chipped from a bigger piece. Somewhere there is an arrowhead onto which this flake will fit. I am quite awestruck. Holding the relic I envision the hunter crouched in one of the local crevices, whacking away the stone in measured blows, “freeing the inner tool” upon which his clan’s survival depended. It is a stone very much like a dull blackened glass in appearance. It is derived from “Quarry sites”. According to Joseph the quality varies quite widely from location to location.


Oh!, BTW, You wont see my usual post tomorrow, my caving partner and I are headed off to check out a really amazing cave in solid marble! It is situated in a remote forested part of the Canadian Shield and I wont be home tomorrow night. Wish us luck and expect some amazing pictures, the marble is a pure and white as fleece, translucent to the point you can actually shine you light right through thin sheets.

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IMG_2124, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

At its finest this wonderful purple gem is a rich, fathomless violet frozen in stone. It was a color most valued by Roman nobility and until the latter half of the 18th century, was considered to be amongst the most precious of jewels. With the discovery of the vast Brazillian deposits the purple gems’s value was diminished with abundance.

Bishops of the Church of England wore the stone as a symbol of sobriety. This was widely believed to be one of this gem’s powers. In older times a bear carved into amethyst was said to keep the posessor from falling prey to demons and the wine drenched Greek celebrant clutched a crystal beneath his robe to ensure a rapid, painless return from drunkenness.

There is a strip of highway over the top of Lake Superior that is tinted mauve for the quantity of that mineral in the rock thereabouts. Just outside Thunder Bay there are numerous amethyst mines, some at which you can collect your own wonderful specimens.

Amethyst is a variety of quartz though its velvety hue is attributable to the replacement of some tiny amount of silicon within its atomic structure by iron. With a little radiation the gem darkens to purple. When packed in iron filings and heated it mellows to the deep gold of citrine. Today, hardly a citrine on the market has not been altered in this way.

Geologically speaking, the occurence of amethyst along the west shore of Lake Superior is quite predictable. It is an environment whereby the lake’s sedimentary basin changes to the hard igneous rock of the Canadian Shield. The gem usually can be found along the contact between the Pre Cambrian Granite and the overlying Sibley layer.

By the late 1800’s Ontario had a thriving local trade in amethyst, The vast majority of the deposits were discovered in the search for silver, copper and zinc. These base metals are known to be frequently associated with amethyst bearing fissures. The north-western shore of Lake Superior truly acheived supremacy as a gem location with the opening of the Thunder Bay Amethyst Mine in 1967.

A most recognizeable characteristic of the Thunder Bay Amethyst is its distinct color zoning. If the stone is cut diagonal to the length of the natural crystal prism it will display a chevron pattern; an intermeshing of coloured triangles with colorless stone. It is a result of crystal twinning, an idea supported by the appearance of interferance figures when the stone is examined in polarized light.

In the accompanying photo a rather healthy stone is examined. Historically the finest specimens were said to come from the Ural mountains – Catherine the Great was said to have amassed a vast collection of these gems. To this very day the designation of a gem as “A Siberian Stone” implies that it is of the finest color.

IF UP NEAR THUNDER BAY CONSIDER VISITING THE BOULDER CREEK AMETHYST MINE (45 minutes east of Thunder Bay). It has a great orange vein with watery wine red crystals or shocking purple clusters. Here you pay only for what you keep and the site is open May – October, (by appointment only).

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old pics 048, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

This is Kirk MacGregor, founding father of the Toronto Cave Group. Early in the morning (Early for Kirk that is), while the other cavers were still rustling around in their tents we followed into the underground from a valley beside the encampment. It is one of the few horizontal entrances to Friar’s Hole, a huge system that stretches beneath the mountains of West Virginia. Most visits are conducted by way of a 100 foot absail.

There were four of us, Johnathan, YP myself and Kirk. We cut along several tunnels to the right, beneath the historic battlefield of Droop Mountain where the night before, during a heavy downpour we had heard the mad antics of a Civil War re-enactment, big flashes, cannon fire – the works. Descending a pit from a crawling tube we found ourselves in a dead end and had to struggle back up all slick and covered in mud.

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Originally uploaded by Mic2006.

In a previous post (The Water Table has Dropped and What a Pleasant Surprise; the Sound of Running Water) D told me that Marcus Buck and Steve Worthington had pushed their way along this low muddy crawlspace for around 30 metres. It supposedly joins up with the main Olmstead Cave that they had explored from a passage that we had come to know as, “the forest entrance”.

When I had first entered into the room from which this passage leads it was entirely underwater. Today after a protracted dry spell it appears as a good example of a tunnel that has formed in a bedding plane. Bedding planes appear in a massive expanse of sedimentary rock strata as a horizontal weakness. It is along this weakness that the rock typically erodes or breaks. As the rock-forming sediment had been accumulating on the bottom of an ancient ocean or lake millions of years ago, some change in the depositional circumstances would have disturbed the cohesive bond in an otherwise solid mass of stone. These eroded bedding plane passages are typically wide-low shelves such as this.

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Originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Here we are at the heart of the action, Maggie sprays Shaka and he grumbles and moans. We use the soap titled "Skunk De-scenter". After the bath a hose blasts high pressure air over your pet, drying him in a fraction of the time than if you were using a hair dryer like we usually do.

Though the facility is a great concept; an advance on the "Duds and Suds" idea – where you do your laundry and wash the car at the same time, there was the agravating wait while one woman took about half an hour spraying her obnoxious dog and then, as we stood in the hot sun outside, proceeded to groom him in the basin for another 15 minutes.

There are two booths at the pet spa and when the other pet owner left after a reasonable time we went in. Maggie had been trying to keep the volume of my comments down to an angry mutter. I think the "oblivious dog groomer" (nice words only) might have heard me outside suggesting we use a cattle prod on her ample posterior (to get her moving). Nothing worse than those bimbos who dont mind wasting your time as you politely stand there (no so polite by me today) but they will be the first to comment or lean on the car horn if you inconvenience them (Bank machine time wasters are the worst).

Maggie is angry with me for using this picture, says its very unflattering. If she had stopped flittering around like a hyperactive bumble bee I could have done a better job. Oh well, I think it shows you all a person might want to know about the Wag N Wash.

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Originally uploaded by Mic2006.

No rock related activities today; Maggie had a strict schedule to which I was tied. First task was to take Shaka swimming down at the river near Arkell (The Eramosa River). He loves the water but smells terrible afterward. My second job was to accompany her to the new "Wag N Wash" – a so called car wash and pet spa. After washing your car you can wash your dog as well.

Shaka has never liked being bathed and when you wash him in the house he pays you back by shaking wet dog hair and stinking water all over. In the end, by hoping to eradicate the dog odour from the dog, you have just spread it all over the house and the dog still smells.

No problem here, you enter into a steamy – dog tasting atmosphere where you lead your hound up a rubber floored ramp to a stainless steel basin where for five dollars you have fifteen minutes to eradicate the stench.

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IMG_4512, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

After my first miserable experience in mid November (See post- Urban Caves Challenge Explorers in Southern Ontario) when I wriggled through water, neck-deep and almost hypothermic I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that the tunnels were relatively free of that turbid coffee-swill.

Slipping through the opening at the bottom of the solution tube I found myself in the wonderfully sculpted chamber beyond. It is only a small niche but to me, with its earthy colored striations and thick beds of freshly deposited mud it is most fascinating (see photo). Any untouched passage is a source of wonder to me.

I sat for a short time; like a scorned beggar in the muck, listing to the hollow plopping of a small stream as it flowed over an unseen obstacle. The sound carried from somewhere off along a side bedding plane tunnel. I discovered, much to my delight, that in pressing myself neck deep in this paste I was able to squeeze along beneath a low shelf towards the noise. It was a cavity that had been immersed on my last visit and though I had felt it with my feet, I had given it little thought. The cold soon put a stop to my efforts. It is a trip that will need a wet suit and possibly a thinner caver.

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IMG_4506, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Greetings Bloggers, Well now that I am on a roll, its hard to stop. I had the good fortune to split my time between two cave projects today, firstly a meeting with a team of local archeologists who are sifting through the soils of the afore-mentioned “Eramosa Member Karst” for clues of early human habitation and secondly a trip to an area mentioned in an earlier post to pursue a cave dig.

In this photo, Jeff stands at the bottom of the solution shaft as mentioned in the previous post, “Urban Caves Challenge Explorers in Southern Ontario” The “thinly bedded nature” of the dolostone is quite clearly visible in the picture and the strata have a tendency to form shape edged blades that make tight squeezes quite painful.

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old pics 058

Originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Encased in a rapidly expanding urban sprawl in Southern Ontario there is a provincially significant showing of the cave-forming geographical landscape known as karst. Though it’s core is only 130 acres in extent it is recocognized as one of the foremost teaching and research areas in the region.

The geological setting is at the edge of a low scarp, the rock being the thinly-bedded dolostone of the Eramosa Member. It is a stone best-known for its quarrying potential on the Bruce Peninsula. The Eramosa Member lies atop the Amabel Formation and by its bituminous, argillaceous nature is postulated to have formed in a “restricted marine environment”. (Geology of Ontario – Ontario Geological Survey – Liberty and Bolton 1971)

This particular area of karst is most interesting to me for its cave forming potential. The solution of the local rock likely began with the retreat of the last glacier some 13 000 years ago. The karst is most intensely developed at the edge of this low scarp and in the area’s larger river beds. It is a manner of erosion related to the thickness of the glacial sediment that overlies the dolostone. Solution is most effective with limited soil overburden and as the sediment is washed away the karst region slowly expands southwards.

Geographers are most fortunate to find numerous karst landforms, all concentrated within this confined area. The intensity of the development is most highly evolved in a patch that is surrounded by streams that feed the developing cave tunnels. There are soil pipes, sinking streams and solution shafts that hint to the explorer of the underground drainage taking place.

About three years ago members of the TCG had worked with the well-known karst specialist, “Marcus Buck” to investigate the local features. Many tons of pollutants were removed and numerous likely underground passages were exposed in the process.

Of particular interest was a prominant solution shaft that led down to a clay choked ending. As Marcus said, “When following the water’s flow you are likely to find going passage” and how right he was!

 In pulling away a century of old cans and tree trunks the floor of the shaft suddenly collapsed away. It was like clearing a blocked air way; the cavity was visibly sucking air in and out as if the rock were breathing. Below I could see a muddy stream that ran off into blackness; a scant few inches of airspace above the water and the roof of the tube. Though it was mid November Marcus and I clambered in to see where it would lead us (me in photo above – the event spoken of).

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IMG_4088, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

There is some sort of rumour that talks of an Indian Brave and a maiden that had fallen in love with him. I cant recall the exact content of the story but the end result was that they were both supposedly turned into stone along the lakeshore. The two stone pillars are all that is said to remain of them. We interpret Flowerpot Island’s sea stacks a little differently; a hard cap of dolostone that is underlain by the weaker Medina series rock. The churning waves have gnawed away the underside and left these top-heavy monoliths.

Kayakers journey across the bay to the island’s shores. With their craft pulled up onto the rocky beach it makes for a colorful photo and I am left wondering where the paddlers have disappeared to.

Inshore the island rises rapidly upward to a cliff edged plateau. A dense bush of cedar, moss and rotting logs makes progression beyond the path almost impossible.


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