Sunday, October 10, 2010

Caves and Crystals!

Maddy here!

It's been a busy summer for me. I haven't even had time to blog about my favorite subject - caves. But now, National Geographic is airing a television special called "Into the Lost Crystal Caves." It will be on today (October 10th) at 8 PM. I - can't - wait!

Geologist Juan Manuel García-Ruiz said it's "the Sistine Chapel of crystals." He was talking about Cueva de los Cristales (Cave of Crystals) that was found a thousand feet beneath Naica Mountain in Mexico. The Cave of Crystals contains some of the largest naturally occuring crystals known in the world. Some are as long as 36 feet!

It's been said entering Mexico's Cave of Crystals is like walking inside a giant geode. Really? Well, I did that when I was in Krybos. Of course, the crystal cavern I was in didn't have the oppressive heat that this one in Mexico has. It is said that 30 minutes in that heat can kill a human. I think I'll stick with the looking at pictures of it. I know my best friend, Onyx, would be first in line to go inside. She's just a bit more adventurous than me.

Here is a web site with awesome pictures of the massive crystals:

Here's something I want to try: Nat Geo's "rock candy" recipe.

That's all for now!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Another Great Review of TKS

"Adventure and geology? Awesome!" - from Red House Books

Click here to read the review!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

TKS Book Review

Here's another great review of The Krybosian Stairpath.

Click to read the review

Monday, May 24, 2010

Book Recommendations

Maddy here!

Everyone who knows me knows that I love to read. Naturally, I spend a lot of time reading and researching geology topics because I teach geology classes at the university here in Cavern City. I have to stay current in my field. I even keep a rock and mineral guide on my bedside table. Weird, I know, but it helps me sleep better.

I also read quite a bit of fiction. I've found a web site that brilliantly categorizes and recommends both fiction and non-fiction books. It makes the search for the next good read a snap. Now I spend less time figuring out what I want to read and more time actually reading.

The site is called Flashlight Worthy and they make book recommendations. ←Click and you will find 4,940 great books in 53 different categories and 383 unique lists.

Here are two lists I like:

  1. "5 Great Books for Strong, Adventurous, Smart Young Girls"
    (Of course I like those books!)

  2. "Good Books for Strong Girls in 3rd, 4th or 5th Grade"
    (Remember - I'm still a 5th grader by day, geology professor evenings and weekends.)

That's all for now!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May Apples in Spring!

Maddy here!

It's the time of year for May Apples, being May and all. This year the mountains of Virginia are thick with them. Here are two pictures I took yesterday of what I call a May Apple Meadow, sheltered beneath a forest canopy not far from my house (Douthat State Park).

These May Apples (Podophyllum peltatum) erupted from the forest floor in April, bloomed their single white flower in May, and now their tiny fruit (see bottom picture) will steadily grow and ripen through the summer.

You can see that the plant has a single base stem from which a pair of umbrella-like leaves branch and rise up to shelter the fruit that forms at the leaf junction. Some plants in the picture above only have a single stem and leaf. These are first year plants and won't produce any flowers or fruit. No junction, no fruit. Cool, huh?

Supposedly, the fruit has a lemon flavor, but there is no way I'm going to taste test it. I've read that the May Apple fruit is edible and that some people eat them, but it is also reported that it is toxic in quantity. I choose to appreciate the plant only for its physical beauty and avoid ingesting any part of it.

Why? It's just a simple a safe rule for me. Since parts of the plant (leaves, stem and root) are definitely considered toxic, I avoid ALL of it. That's seems a logical approach for me since it's easy to do, and so far it's worked. No toxin issues with me.

My little brother, Mica, is safe because Mom can't even get him to eat a real apple. The Apple iPod is the only apple he knows anything about. Me, I'm a Granny Smith kind of girl. Tart and juicy!

This past summer when I was in Krybos, I nearly flipped when I saw my pet gopher, Digby, eating May Apples as fast as he could cram them in. I tried to stop him but he quickly pointed out, speaking in a Scottish accent, no less, that Krybos May Apples are not toxic at all. I was so stunned that he could speak English, I forgot all else. Still, I prefer to be guaranteed safe rather than hurling my guts up, or worse! And besides, Digs is a native of Krybos. Maybe he's just immune to any ill effects.

Below, I've included links to two great sites on May Apples.

That's all for now!
    "May Apple was once called the witches umbrella and thought to be employed by them as a poison, which may not be untrue! The English version of this plant has much lore told of it, being called Manroot (mandrake) believed to be alive and its screams when pulled from the ground would render a man permanently insane."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

TKS Book Review

Here's a wonderful review of The Krybosian Stairpath (TKS):

Click here to read the review!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Warm Weather, Finally

Maddy here.

Wow! It was warm outside today. I slathered on my 70+ sunscreen with Helioplex, donned my Serengeti shades, then went outside to read a new book. Bliss!!

I love to feel the warmth of the sun radiating across the surface of my skin and down to my very core. If I close my eyes, I can almost hear the soothing sounds of Caribbean steel drums not far off, and the cool waves lapping at the hot sandy beach. I can feel the . . . what? . . . rain?

Of course, the islanders had pirates to deal with, right? Now, I don't actually have murderous and thieving pirates skulking about, but I've got my little brother, Mica, running amok with a water hose!

Below is a link to someone else who likes to read outside:
The Joys of Reading Outside: "Today’s post is, quite simply, an ode to the loveliness of being ..."

That's all for now,

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy A F Day!

Every year I step out into the world on April 1st with my guard up and my senses on red alert, determined not to fall victim to another silly April Fool's joke. This year my confidence was high. Throughout the school day I moved cautiously from classroom to classroom, checking my seat for gum and the usual stupidness. I was ever vigilant as I opened my locker, and as I ventured into the hallways and the lunchroom. So far, so good, I kept telling myself.

This was going to be a banner year for me! Only a few more hours to go, and I'd be safely back home where I had planned to finish the day sorting and slicing specimens from my box of Moroccan geodes.

That's right. A banner year.

Well when I got home, I went straight up to Grandpa's Attic where I kept my box of geodes. These particular geodes were from Morocco and said to have very good crystalline structure inside, even better than the geodes from Mexico.

Needless to say, I was excited to get started.

I grabbed my safety goggles and gloves, then hefted my box of rocks onto the work bench that Grandpa had set up for the messier jobs like this one I was about to start. I pulled the box flaps back and stared in horror at what lay at the bottom.

My box of beautiful Moroccan geodes had been reduced to a lumpy pile of brown dust littered with disintegrated white crystal crumbles. They looked like they had been through a meat grinder. Anger began to build and I knew if I didn't get control of it, blood would shoot out of my eyes. I knew what I had to do, and I knew where to find him.

I pulled my gloves on, stretching and snapping each finger into place. Then, I seated the safety goggles over my eyes and walked purposefully across the expanse of Grandpa's Attic to the spiral stairs. I usually ride the elevator, but Mica knows this. It was time to change my usual MO.

I found Mica in the backyard cavern. He and Digby were sitting, legs dangling, on the wall of the elevated stone pool in the center of our cavern. Perfect, I thought. I can pay him back for trashing my geodes and teach him a valuable lesson at the same time.

Mica is forbidden to be near the pool without either an adult with him, or me. But, there he was all the same. I sneaked in and came around behind the pool, staying low and out of sight. I could see that Mica was showing Digby something, a rock. No, it was a geode. A Moroccan geode!

I dropped down and leaned back against the pool wall. It was over three feet high, so I remained hidden while my anger intensified.

Finally, I rose up and reached across the pool to drag Mica in. Just as I grabbed the neck of his shirt, Grandpa shouted my name. I turned toward his voice and drew my hand back, crashing face first into the pool, generating a soaking Free Willy-style splash. The cave averages 54ºF year-round, but the water always seems warmer. Not geothermal warm, but still warmer than the air. Thank goodness.

I bobbed to the surface, pushing strands of hair from my face and was greeted by Grandpa and Mica laughing hysterically at me, and Digby polishing his dripping fur. That's when I noticed in Grandpa's arms, a cardboard box. Digby hopped on top of the box and disappeared beneath the loose flaps. When he emerged, he held beautiful Moroccan geodes in each paw! My geodes.

"April Fool's!" and "You're all wet," echoed throughout the cavern as Mica jumped in the pool with me for a swim.

That's all for now,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: The Secret of the Sacred Scarab

Hi, everybody!

Maddy here. Everyone who knows me knows that I LOVE to read. I just finished reading a great work of fiction titled The Secret of the Sacred Scarab. It was awesome!

Egypt is a rich setting perfect for an adventure with cousins Justin and Adam. I hope to go there myself - some day! There are long-forgotten tombs and lost treasures, mummies, camels, a kidnapping, a boat trip down the Nile, and so much more!

After a street peddler secretly slips a sacred relic into one of the boys' pockets, danger stalks them at every turn and makes for an exciting story.

I recommend this book for middle-grade readers, teens, and adults. Once you've read it, you'll be wanting to start the next great adventure with Justin and Adam.

In the meantime, I've got a box full of Moroccan geodes that I need to carefully break open so I can see what they hold inside. If I don't get an early start, Mica will have them all cracked up, and will have moved on to his next destructive activity.

That's all for now,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Magnetic Reversals

Maddy here!

When my brother, Mica, and I ended up in Krybos last summer trying to outwit an interior world madman, concerns over disruptions in the earth's magnetic field came up. Mica wanted to know what dangers, if any, could occur from this field getting reversed. So, what did I do? I did what any self-respecting big sister would do. I lied to him. Well, I guess "lie" is kind of a strong word for it. I was really just pulling his chain by choosing what to say. Mica asked me if a magnetic reversal would affect us, and I told him no one knew the answer to that since humans had never been around during one.

Technically, it's all a matter of perspective. There are those who say that all creation and man only appeared roughly 6,000 years ago. Then there are those who point to the fossil record that dates Homo sapiens' appearance on the planet back about a half million years ago, and modern Homo sapiens to only 100,000+ years ago. But the fossil record also indicates that humans "in some form" have been around for about two million years, and a number of pole reversals have occurred during this time. And yet, life is still here.

I could've just told Mica that nothing would likely happen and left it at that, but I do thoroughly enjoy messing with him! All he'd have to do is pick up a book from time to time, and he might already have known the answer. It doesn't hurt Mica one bit to sweat about it anyway. If he gets curious enough, he can do some research.

Speaking of research, since school's been out a lot because of the snow I've been reading up on 2012 lore and the Mayan long count calendar bak'tuns. It's all pretty interesting stuff. I also read where a group of people actually thinks a magnetic pole reversal in 2012 will cause the end of life on earth. Others says a "pole shift" will be the culprit. When I say "pole shift," I mean when the earth wobbles on its axis. It's certainly happened before, and will likely happen again, but I don't think we'll croak over it. I'll delve into that shift in a separate blog post. For now, I would like to offer some thoughts on magnetic pole reversals.

Earth has a magnetic field that is generated by its rotating core. Actually, it's a dual core. There is a solid iron inner core and a liquid outer core. Anyway, it's when this magnetic field is disrupted that a magnetic pole reversal occurs. The north pole becomes the south pole, and vice versa. The last time it happened was about 780,000 years ago., and since humans (in some form) were on the planet, and humans are still here, that would lead me to believe it's a survivable event! The image at the right is a graphic representation of the field.

We know how frequently these reversals occur by studying the magnetic anomalies of the sea floor on either side of the mid-Atlantic ridge. The paleo-magnetic evidence is found in the mineral alignment in this iron rich rock. When the rock is laid down during sea floor spreading, the minerals orient according to the earth's magnetic field at that time. When the north pole is on top of the earth, the minerals align in one direction, and when the south pole is on top, the minerals align in the other direction. Pretty simple stuff there.

We also know from the rock that magnetic reversals occur at irregular intervals, but the typical period between reversals has been averaged at 250,000. Using that number, it could be said that we are overdue for one. But reversals take hundreds, even thousands of years to take place. So, we're not going to wake up one morning and discover that our compasses point south, although that would be pretty weird. It's a gradual process, and no single person will see one occur from its beginning to its end.

The paleo-magnetic record also indicates earth's magnetic field intensity during the time that the rock was laid down. This is important because, historically, it shows that reversals occur when the magnetic field is at its weakest. And currently, the global magnetic field is in decline. Snap! I forgot to mention that to Mica. He would absolutely freak out! And again, he could "grab a book, get an answer." However, in and of itself, this decline is really no big deal because the paleo-magnetic record also shows us that some fluctuations are always occurring. The field may weaken, but then it'll come right back.

So what's my take on this being an issue for mankind in 2012? NOT. I think the solar flares and sun spots will probably get us before then.

That's all for now.

(Here is a link with an excellent graphic of reversals dating back over 150 million years:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Digby's First Gopher Day

Today is Gopher Day 2010. School was canceled due to yesterday's snow, and the day started out with below freezing temperatures. Sounds like it would be a great day for the first official Gopher Day, right?

Early this morning, I sent Digby from Grandpa's Attic, through the vent shaft and out onto the mountain top where he would prognosticate about the weather to come. Simple enough, wouldn't you think?

Then, I stepped outside and looked at the cliff above the house, fully expecting to see a pot-bellied gopher trampling around in the snow looking for his shadow. I was all goose-bumpy with excitement to see what he would do, and to get year one of my Gopher Day record-keeping logged.

I figured since Punxsutawney Phil is right only 39% of the time, surely, Digs could do better.

And what did I see high on the cliff? Nothing! Digby was nowhere to be found. My favorite tunnel-digger had shirked his duties and must have high-tailed it (literally) off that mountain top, like a firewalker who suddenly realized he could feel the heat of the coals. What a waste of a perfectly good morning.

Now you see, this is exactly why I prefer the scientific method to unproven, untenable, rodent observation as a means of forecasting coming weather trends. (Like I didn't know where this was going when I thought it up.)

I guessed Digby was protesting our little "exercise." I'm sure he felt that no self-respecting gopher would allow himself to be reduced to emulating a groundhog, of all things. Digs can be overly dramatic sometimes, but I suppose he has to make up for not being able to speak. So, I'm good with that.

I returned to the house and found the little fur ball hiding out with Grandpa and watching, of course, The Weather Channel. There sat Digby, perched snuggly on the headrest of Grandpa's recliner, as settled in as if he'd been there all night. The furry pockets of his cheeks were bulging with popcorn, perfectly framing Digby's big Cheshire gopher grin.

Grandpa said Digby had scampered into the house and pawed through the DVD rack until he found what he was looking for. Grandpa held up a copy of National Lampoon's Vacation that Digby had dragged over to him. "Looks like Digby is predicting early spring and summer," he said.

Sure, I thought. Or, he wants to go to an amusement park. Gosh, even the groundhog was more scientific than that!

I've decided it's better to stick to science. I think we should start "Weather Channel Day." And we can make it occur every day! I'll take a Jim Cantore one-week forecast over a furry ground rodent's six-week prediction anytime. For me, science rules!

But, for the record, Digby's first official Gopher Day prognostication is for an early spring.

We shall see . .


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day 2010

Well, today is Groundhog Day. Some folks say the little Pennsylvania guy can predict if we'll have six more weeks of winter weather, or early spring weather. Supposedly, he comes out of his simulated tree stump and either sees, or doesn't see, his shadow. But you know me, I prefer a more scientific approach to everything.

I read this morning on the Internet that the beast has already emerged and seen his shadow. That means there is supposed to be six more weeks of winter weather. Maybe he's right. After all, there are approximately six weeks of winter left before the Vernal Equinox on March 20, 2010. And although I do love snow, sledding, and ice skating, I'm more than ready for warmer weather.

Therefore, I've decided that a second opinion is warranted. If we are to depend on furry rodents to prognosticate, then I'm sending Digby out tomorrow morning, February 3, for the first official "Gopher Day." I don't know what he'll see, and there's no telling what he'll be looking for, since Digby's genuinely a crazy little gopher.

Actually, he's not little at all. He's pretty big for a gopher. He's every bit as big as the average groundhog, which is considerably larger than the average gopher. And, of course, groundhogs hibernate — gophers do not. Digs would never check out for months at a time when there is so much mischief waiting for him to get into here in the surface world.

Digby is from the interior world of Krybos, where impossibilities are the norm. When in his native Krybos, Digby can talk. I discovered this when I ended up in his world, and he started conversing in a thick, suave Sean Connery meter and tone. Snap! Who knew?

Anyway, up here in the surface world, our world, Digby doesn't speak. He only makes typical gopher noises, with the occasional, and unfortunate, rumble and crack of stomach distress blended in.

With Digby's help, tomorrow will be the first official "Gopher Day."

He'll tunnel out of Grandpa's Attic first thing in the morning and then . . .

Until tomorrow,

Saturday, January 16, 2010

One of VA's Great Caverns

Luray Caverns is in western Virginia not far from I-81's New Market exit. I've been there and it's quite awesome.

The caverns have some spectacular formations including the world's largest musical instrument called the "Great Stalacpipe Organ." There is an underground lake and some enormous chambers with ceilings as high as 10 stories. The image in the upper left of this post is the Great Hall.

If you can't get there to see these caverns in person, you can view some of the grandeur online. Luray has an excellent web site with lots of information on the science of cave formation. On their kids' activities page you can download coloring pages and mazes, and there is even an interactive CAVE QUIZ you can take.