Mount Borah sits high on the Lost River Range, one of many Basin and Range systems in central and southern Idaho.
There is nothing harder for me to grasp than geologic time. I see our world as it is and, for the most part, cannot visualize processes that occurred millions of years ago on a grand scale. Many of these processes still happen today but our lives are too short to be able to really witness them in motion.
That wasn’t the case on October 28, 1983. Just after breakfast, the Lost River mountain range demonstrated how it came to house Idaho’s highest peak. A fault line slipped and the mountain range drove upward a foot while the valley dropped four feet. Much of the West felt the accompanying 7.3 magnitude earthquake.
A fault scarp several miles long was still visible from Highway 93 when my son and I drove past Mt. Borah last week. It joins another six-foot fault scarp in the same area that geologists estimate to be 10,000 years old. Only 1,500 such events over five million years would be needed to explain the spatial difference between the top of Mount Borah and the rock buried by sediments in the valley bottom.
The Lost River range and its associated valley are part of a great area of similarly formed mountains called the Basin and Range Region. Beginning in the southeast corner of Oregon, it encompasses everything from the east front of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California to the Wasatch Range east of Salt Lake City, north from Helena, Montana through Yellowstone, the Tetons, central and southern Idaho, Utah and virtually all of Nevada.
Basin and Range formation can be visualized by taking a loaf of sliced bread, setting it on the countertop and pushing on one end. As the slices fall over, they create triangular valleys between them with a single sharp mountain range on either side. In this imperfect analogy, the slices represent fault lines in the blocks of crust. On one side of the fault, the blocks rise and on the other, they drop. Basins are the valleys and the ranges are the tops of the bread slices. In the real world, the basins eventually fill in with eroded material to become broad and flat.
How this came to be is the fascination of it. Geologists believe that about 17 million years ago, a giant meteor slammed into southeastern Oregon. This isn’t unprecedented. There is evidence in Mexico and India to name a few places, of other huge meteors impacting the earth. This meteor though, sent a shockwave through the earth’s crust and initiated a new era of mountain building in the Basin and Range Region.
Basin and range mountains are formed when the blocks on either side of the fault line shift in response to the impact. That they are all part of the same event is evidenced in their orientation. Almost all run roughly north to south. The oldest are in southeastern Oregon and Western Idaho, closest to where the meteor impacted.
When the blocks of mountains rise, the earth’s crust is pulled tight and begins to thin. It is estimated that if all the thinning were concentrated in one single fault it would divide the area with a fault at least as wide as the Red Sea.
As the Borah fault shift of 1983 shows, this process, which started 17 million years ago, is still occurring today. I have always prided myself on being able to take the long view, but I can’t get anywhere near being able to wrap my head around that.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho