Sunday, December 16, 2018

Uptop: A Winter Poem

By Steven Wade Veatch

A winter wind blows swirling flakes of snow
that blankets the quiet town of Uptop. 
Light from a coal-oil lamp casts
a golden glow down a silent, powdery street.

People of Uptop long for spring days;
the shifting realm of white to robust green
when flowers spread a chorus of colors
in an alpine crescendo.

For decades they came over highland passes;
searching for gold in streams or silver in veins.
Others started ranches where the grass was good. 
And each one tamed the mountain wilderness.

The depot built by section hands still stands 
that once met fortune seekers coming over the Pass.
Today the rails are gone and travelers are rare.
Only a few stay in the small town of Uptop.

On Sunday at the Chapel by the Wayside
a church bell rings—renewing spirits
of humbled hearts who stay another year,
in the forgotten town of Uptop, Colorado.

Directions to the ghost town of Uptop, Colorado:
Two turnoffs to Uptop ghost town are located off Hwy 160:
• 20 minutes east of Ft. Garland, CO: turn at mile marker 276.
• 15 minutes west of La Veta or 20 minutes west of Walsenburg: turn at mile marker 281.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Duria Antiquior: A Nineteenth-Century Forerunner of Paleoart

By Steven Wade Veatch

In a breath of inspiration in 1830, English geologist Henry De la Beche (1796–1855), while exploring new intellectual territories in the emerging fields of paleontology, painted Duria Antiquior (meaning “a more ancient Dorset”), a representation of a prehistoric Dorset coast. De la Beche’s work was groundbreaking—his artwork combined science and art in the first artistic rendering of a paleontological scene, while laying bare the secrets of the past. Before 1830, art depicting the prehistoric world did not exist and these realms were unknown to the public (Porter, n.d.). While it is true that scientists made drawings of fossil animals and exchanged them with each other in private letters, the public had no concept of how prehistoric animals looked. This painting opened people’s imagination to new visions, thoughts, and beliefs.

Fig. 1. Duria Antiquior. A watercolor painted in 1830 by Henry De la Beche who conjured up a vivid picture of an ancient world. Duria Antiquior is now in the National Museum of Wales. (Image is public domain)
De la Beche’s painting also laid the foundation for a new genre that would later be known as paleoart, an artistic genre that reconstructs prehistoric life according to the fossil record, scientific understanding, and artistic imagination. De la Bache’s brushstrokes of prehistoric time included (literally) all the information known at that time about ancient life and soon became the first teaching graphic used in the classrooms of the Golden Age of Geology, a period from 1788 to 1840 (Clary R. M., 2003). Today, this graphic would be equivalent to a PowerPoint slide in a classroom.

De la Beche’s Duria Antiquior brings the viewer face-to-face with creatures that once lived in a coastal sea where these animals fought a deadly battle for survival, a typical theme of nature in the Regency era (McGowan, 2001). The scene is remarkable: a toothy ichthyosaur bites into the long neck of a plesiosaur, while another plesiosaur tries to grab a crocodile on the shore (De la Beche’s ichthyosaur is minus the triangular dorsal fin and vertical tail fin that, from later fossils found in Germany, we now know it had).   A turtle quietly dives into the water. What would become coprolites (fossil excrement) drop from a terrified plesiosaur (Davis, 2012). Other creatures patrol the deep waters for food, while two pterosaurs dive toward each other in the sky. Belemnites appear like squids. Hollow ammonite shells rest on the bottom of the sea and crinoids (sea lilies) are portrayed in the lower right corner. Groves of palm trees grow on the shore. All of this is rendered through the painter’s use of a restrained palette of browns, greens, and blues.

Another striking feature of the painting is how it is divided. The waterline reveals the action above and below the water’s surface (Rudwick, 1992). The Duria Antiquior is the first example of what is known as the aquarium view that would become a Victorian trend several years later (Clary & Wandersee, 2005). The area above the waterline is further divided into two areas of activity—action on the land and in the sky. De la Beche wanted the viewer to be convinced of his portrayal of a prehistoric scene.

De la Beche based the Duria Antiquior on fossils found by Victorian fossil collector, Mary Anning (1799-1847), along the Dorset coast near the resort town of Lyme Regis (Brewster, 2016). Anning was from a poor family, who frequently found themselves on the far side of desperate. To ease these brutal financial circumstances, the family earned money by collecting and selling fossils. As a child, her father would take Mary Anning and her brother, Joseph, fossil hunting by the fossil-rich cliffs near Lyme Regis. They returned home with fossils and, with superior skill, cleaned and prepared them, and then sold them to tourists as curios. Anning, aged 11, continued the family business after her father died of tuberculosis and heavily in debt.

Fig. 2. Portrait of Mary Anning with her dog, Tray. This painting was owned by her brother, Joseph, and given to the Natural History Museum, London in 1935 by Mary's great-great niece, Miss Annette Anning. (Image is public domain)
By 1830, Anning was a celebrity among the leading constellation of British geologists for her knowledge and skill in collecting and preparing fossils (Cadbury, 2000). Anning is credited with finding the first ichthyosaur skeleton to be recognized and the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found. Her discovery of these marine reptiles had created a sensation in the scientific community (McGowan, 2001).

Anning frequently found herself in financial straits due to harsh economic times in Britain, and from the unpredictability of finding and selling fossils. Being strapped for money restricted her ability to find fossils. De la Beche wanted to keep her in the field hunting fossils. To that end, he arranged to have prints of Duria Antiquior made and then sold the copies for £2 10s (approximately £213 or $279 today) each (Rudwick, 1992). De la Beche gave the profits—with great enthusiasm—to Anning, so she had more time to hunt for fossils and seashells along the seashore. The painting was a smashing success and, to meet the enormous demand for the prints, the Duria Antiquior was reprinted and redrawn several times.

The Duria Antiquior pushed the boundaries of science and art at the end of the Regency period in Britain. This avant-garde watercolor became the first scene of prehistoric animals interacting with each other in their ancient environment, all based on known science at the time. This was the earliest such art to be widely distributed and helped shape the understanding of prehistoric life on Earth. 

Brewster, S. (2016, July 4). Duria Antiquior, A More Ancient Dorset. Retrieved from Eastern Biological:

Cadbury, D. (2000). The Dinosaur Hunters: A True Story of Scientific Rivalry and the Discovery of the Prehistoric World. Foulsham.

Clary, R. M. (2003). Uncovering Strata: an Investigation into the Graphic Innovations of Geologist Henry T. De la Beche. Retrieved from LSU Doctoral Dissertations:

Clary, R. M., & Wandersee, J. H. (2005). "Through the Looking Glass: The History of Aquarium Views and their Potential to Improve Learning in Science Classrooms. Science and Education, 579–596.

Davis, L. E. (2012). Mary Anning of Lyme Regis: 19th Century Pioneer in British Palaeontology. Headwaters: The Faculty Journal of the College of Saint. Benedict and St. John's Universtiy, 96-128.

McGowan, C. (2001). The Dragon Seekers. New York: Perseus Publishing.

Porter, S. (n.d.). Paleontology Needs Paleoart. Retrieved from Earth Archives:

Rudwick, M. J. (1992). Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Mystery of Genevieve: The Golden Dinosaur from the Depths of the London Mine

Steven Wade Veatch
Teresa L. Stoiber

The legend of “Genevieve,” a fossilized dinosaur not only made of stone—but also of gold—began on July 3, 1932. That was the day W. K Jewett, owner of the London Mine near Alma, Colorado, stopped at the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs and made the official announcement of its unearthing. The story was picked up by the news services, and word of the fantastic  find spread through the scientific world like a prairie fire.

The golden dinosaur was discovered by William White, 700 feet underground—deep in the London Mine (W. K. Jewett, 1932). Curiously, the miners had been using the creature’s nose as a lamp holder, not realizing there was a "dinosaur" (if that is what it was) there. White, a hard rock miner, believed at first he was looking at two stumps. In reality, it was a dinosaur lying on its back with its limbs at an angle of 75 degrees. Eager to retrieve it from its rocky tomb, miners blasted it out of rock at the 700-foot level of the London Mine with dynamite. The explosion shattered the specimen. Bits and pieces of the dinosaur were hoisted to the surface, where curious crowds gathered to see the prehistoric monster.

As the story goes, a geology professor at Colorado College, Robert Landon, traveled to Alma so he could examine Genevieve—an extraordinary record of a former world. The measurements he made revealed that the animal was 18 feet (5.4 m) long and 6.5 feet (2 m) high (W. K. Jewett, 1932). The creature had a long neck that supported a small head. It also had a long tail.

Fig. 1. The only known photo of Genevieve taken in the basement of Cutler Hall, Colorado College.Photo credit: Colorado College Tiger, August 12, 1932. Page 3. Courtesy of Colorado College Tutt Library, Special Collections.

Jewett, who gave to the city of Colorado Springs the Patty Jewett golf course, presented the dinosaur to the Colorado College museum (Skeleton of Dinosaur, 1932). The 16-ton dinosaur reached Colorado College by truck, where a crew of men carefully carried it to the basement of Cutler Hall. College technicians spent countless hours in the basement, where they enthusiastically cemented together what the newspapers hailed as the rarest find ever made in paleontology (Genevieve, Colleges Latest Acquisition Now Ready to Receive Callers, 1932). After the repair of the fossil dinosaur, it was moved to Colorado College’s museum and put on display (Will Bring Dinosaur Here Late this Week, 1932).

There is a real mystery that surrounds this dinosaur. In the 1960s, the museum closed and Genevieve’s display was removed. No one seems to know what happened to this specimen. Was Genevieve smelted down, put in the basement archives and forgotten, or taken to a professor’s house for a private collection?  The mystery of her disappearance still stands to this day.

Three critical questions must now be answered: Was Genevieve a dinosaur, where did she go, and was she really made of gold? The past would not easily give up these secrets, including unfortunately, the origin of its lovely name.

An article, from Greely, Colorado’s Tribune-Republican, dated July 2, 1932, stated the dinosaur remains were made known to Mr. Jesse Figgins, Director of the Colorado Museum of Natural History (noted for for his work on the famous Folsom archaeological site in New Mexico), who said this unusual dinosaur fossil must be the remains of a marine reptile. Nowhere in the article does it report  that Genevieve was made of gold—but it does state that she was shattered when dynamited out of the mine, and that restoration wasn’t expected to take long.

When asked about Genevieve, Colorado College archivist Jessy Randall said she had been questioned about her before. The last time was in 2004, when Geology Professor Emeritus Bill Fischer, former chair of the geology department, was still alive. Fischer gave this response:

“The one man who would have had the answers, Professor Bob Landon, died in 1995, and all of the people associated with the college museum are also deceased. . . I never heard of the specimen during my 50-year association with the school, and I suspect that it really was never installed in the museum and that the college newspaper account that ‘it was resting on a pedestal in the museum’ is totally false. From the photograph, one can see that with 16 tons of matrix and bone it would have taken months if not years to prepare the specimen for display. Now for a few thoughts as to the fossil itself. First of all, it is not a dinosaur and probably not a rhynchocephalian reptile. The photograph is of very poor quality, but my best guess is that it may have been a Phytosaur—but regardless of the correct identification it was a very valuable find, and I am sorry if it ended up in a smelter. . . Good luck in your search and sorry I couldn't be of more assistance.” Signed: Bill Fischer.

Sadly, it looks like Genevieve’s case has gone cold. The museum has long been closed, and those associated with the museum are deceased. It is doubtful that she was made of gold—but she was found in a gold mine, the source of a good rumor and the basis for a great story surrounding her mysterious existence and disappearance.

Although Genevieve remains a mystery, this article has dug up and weaves together most of what is known and speculated about her. Although her real story has been buried with the museum workers and gold miners who have passed away, there are still a few miners who, while relaxing at a local saloon, fondly ponder the puzzle of Genevieve. They raise their shot glasses and make this toast to the miners who found Genevieve, the golden dinosaur: “May you always stand on ore and your labors be in vein.”


The authors thank Danny Alfrey for bringing Genevieve to our attention back in 2011. We also appreciate Ben Elick’s help in obtaining the photograph of this mysterious fossil.

References Cited

Find Skeleton of Dinosaur in Ore of London Mine. (1932, July 2). Colorado Springs Gazette, p. 2.

Genevieve, Colleges Latest Acquisition Now Ready to Receive Callers. Made Presentable by Profs. (1932, August 12). Colorado College Tigers

W. K. Jewett Gives Skeleton of Prehistoric Animal to Colo. College Museum. (1932, July 3). Colorado Springs Gazette, p. 2.

Will Bring Dinosaur Here Late this Week. (1932, July 6,). Colorado Springs Gazette, p. 5

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Moment in Time: The Barker Reservoir Photograph

By Steven Wade Veatch
Whenever I look at an old photo that once hung on my grandfather’s cabin wall, it conjures up memories—revealing a sliver of one of his lived experiences from more than a century ago. My grandfather often talked about this photo of him, his brother, and two friends while he reminisced about growing up in Nederland, Colorado, a small mountain town in southwestern Boulder County.

Figure 1.  Looking at Barker Reservoir. My grandfather, Roland Giggey (farthest boy in the background), and his brother George Nelson Giggey (foreground) look out over the Barker reservoir around 1911 in this undated Ed Tangen Photograph. George Nelson Giggey would have been about 10. My grandfather would have been 7. Ed Tangen’s trademark “T” enclosed by a diamond appears in the lower left portion of the photo. From the S.W. Veatch historic photo collection.
No less a personage than Ed Tangen took the photo. Tangen famously photographed the early decades of Colorado’s 20th century and later used his skills to document Boulder area crimes scenes for the county sheriff. I often wondered how my grandfather’s family could afford this photo. Taking the photo on location would have been too costly for my grandfather’s family. My grandfather’s dad, George Leon Giggey, earned modest wages. He spent his teen years in the mining camp of Caribou, Colorado, and later worked in Nederland as a teamster hauling tungsten ore. There was no extra money to spend on an expensive photograph like this one. It is possible that Ed Tangen, while photographing the reservoir one day, came across the small posse of boys and staged the scene to add interest to his photo. Perhaps Tangen made a gift of the photo to the Giggey family.

In the photograph are the monochromatic faces of four boys: my grandfather (Roland Giggey), his brother (George Nelson Giggey), and two of their friends. The boys wore hats and dressed for the crisp mountain air as they looked out on Nederland’s Barker Reservoir, named for Mrs. Hannah Connell Barker, the owner of the meadow where the dam was built. Based on my grandfather’s age at the time, the reservoir was newly built. In 1908, the Central Colorado Power Company started construction of Barker Dam—a project to provide hydroelectric power. Workers scrambled to finish the dam in 1910.

Figure 2. A view of Nederland and Barker Reservoir in the background circa 1912. Winter’s ice covers the reservoir. A red arrow marks where the boys in the previous photograph stood for their photo. This photo also hung on my grandfather’s wall next to the first photo and bears Tangen’s trademark in the right corner. From the S.W. Veatch historic photo collection
Barker Reservoir became a favorite place for Nederland’s kids to play. In the summer, my grandfather, his brother, and friends floated little canoes they made from tree bark on the water where light gleamed off small waves in dazzling flashes. In the winter, my grandfather and his buddies would play on the ice that covered the reservoir. Several times, the boys rigged a sail onto their sled to catch the cold winter gales that would move them over the wind-swept ice.

The Tangen photo is also the only photograph of George Nelson Giggey that exists. George was 17 years old when he came home one day from work. He was not feeling well and sank into the couch with aches that felt like his bones were breaking. George never left the couch, and a bitter gloom filled the room as he died on October 13, 1918. He was a victim of the flu that would soon become the deadliest epidemic in human history. My grandfather disappeared outside as he shut the door. He stood on the front porch, blinked some tears away, and took the seven dollars George had in his wallet that day. He carried them for the rest of his life.

The person I wanted to talk to about the photo, my grandfather, was the person I was trying to remember the most. I tried to summon up those days when my grandfather told me about growing up in Nederland and the story behind the photo. It was like trying to corral ghosts in the night. Although it is true that time tries to blow out that small flickering flame of memory, a photograph keeps a moment more complete. It preserves a single step in the march of time.

I think about this photograph now, and how it captured a day in the lives of four boys, all on the threshold of life. One died young; the others spent a few more years in the little mining town watching the world change from horse and buggy to cars, airplanes, radios, and televisions. They grew up, held jobs, raised families, grew old, and then crossed that final threshold. Although more than a century has passed, and these boys are gone and will not return to life, this photograph brings my grandfather and his brother back to the present—to the living; to me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Cripple Creek’s Mule Skinners

By Steven Wade Veatch

In the late 1890s, Cripple Creek was the site of Colorado’s last gold rush and soon became known as the World’s Greatest Gold Camp. Ore from Cripple Creek’s gold mines was hauled in large wooden wagons by four or six mules or horses to a team. Skilled drivers, known as mule skinners or simply skinners, could “skin” or outwit stubborn mules and compel them over rugged roads hauling ore, goods, and materials in and out of the gold camp.

Some mules were as mean as a surprised grizzly. Other mules were more obliging to the skinner. A good skinner could control his team and drive heavy, cargo-laden wagons along winding mountain roads raising dust at two to two-and-a-half miles per hour.

A group of scrubbed up, dressed up mule skinners relax on a boulder in a rugged mountain clearing. In the background is a large tent and several horses grazing in the meadow. These skinners worked for A.E. Carlton’s Colorado Trading and Transfer Company in Cripple Creek. By the time this photo was taken (1906), the company had a thriving business transporting ore from the mines to the Midland terminal railhead. Photo © Cripple Creek District Museum.
A mule skinner’s job was arduous. It took dogged determination and an understanding of a team of mules to make an efficient driving outfit. The work, sometimes dangerous and always hard, had long hours, starting at five in the morning and lasting long after the sunset. Young, ready men who could take the punishing work performed this job the best. Though no mules were ever skinned, these men would boast, “I can pop my initials on a mule’s behind.”

Most of the skinners were as lonely as a seagull in an Iowa cornfield, and some skinners were as mean and stubborn as their mule. The skinners, in their quest for company, headed for the dancehalls that lined Cripple Creek’s notorious Meyers Avenue.

This imagined scene applies to so many of these trips:
It’s Saturday night, the sun has gone down behind Mt. Pisgah and a full moon is beginning to rise at the bottom of the sky. Coyotes prowl behind Mineral Hill in howling packs while the mournful whistle of the Midland Terminal locomotive wails through the city of Cripple Creek. 

A chill shivers the night air as a small cadre of mule skinners walk down Bennet Avenue on their way to Meyers Avenue to spend the evening in a dance hall—a place more alluring than the dream of buried gold. It’s time for a big night. On Bennett Avenue, they walk past Kurth’s music store and peek through the window at the phonographs and pianos on display. The skinners continue to a grocery where the pungent smells of coffee, cheese, and pickles in this cornucopia of plenty spill out onto the street. One skinner walks in to buy a plug of Brown’s Mule chewing tobacco and carefully counts out the money for the grocer. Next, they go past a hardware store where the window displays new picks and shovels with white-pine handles. As the skinners turn onto Meyers Avenue, a cat creeps along the boardwalk and then zooms into the dark alley. The skinners are as free as the night and stand together looking at the lights that flash and flare along the rip-roaring pleasure street. The wooden stomp of horse hoofs, the rolling wheels of buggies, and the sound of music fills the night air.

The group of skinners choose a likely dancehall to enter, a hopping hive of humanity. The young men step into the smoke-filled, raucous dancehall and eagerly part with their hard-earned cash. Girls bring whiskey and beer to miners sitting at the tables. Men jam around the bar while drinking and talking about gold mines. The piano player pounds away while other musicians play their fiddles. Most of the dances were too complicated for the skinners, unlike the other fast-drinking, fancy-stepping clientele, so they wait for the musicians to play the Monterey, a more straightforward dance they knew.

The interior lights illuminate the dancehall girls who appear as enchanting beauties—a sight for the skinner’s wearied eyes. The skinners, with work-roughened hands and hammering hearts, each grab a girl and step out on the wooden dance floor where they join the others, dancing to the band’s rendition of Mule Skinner’s Delight. They go around and around in a circle—markedly self-aware—as the caller proclaims, “honors to your partner, honors to the corner, swing your partner and all promenade.” When they finish the dance, the skinners and their girls line up at the bar for a few drinks. The mule skinners, full of brag, talk about their mules or horses and the perils their jobs until a work-worn miner yells: “another Mule Skinner’s Delight!” The dance was on, with skinners spinning in a whirl as a happy reverie fills their minds and the night drifts on.

The mule skinners in the Cripple Creek Mining District played an essential role in bringing goods to the district and hauling gold ore to mills for processing or to railroads for shipment. The skinners did not disappear like yesterday’s snow but stepped into the pages of history. They even became folk icons when, in 1930, Jimmy Rodgers and George Vaughn wrote a song called Blue Yodel No. 8, also known as Mule Skinner Blues. Bill Monroe’s 1939 version of Mule Skinner Blues became a hit, and since then a variety of recording artists, including bluegrass and folk musicians, have performed the song. These songs immortalized the skinners who played a vital part in Cripple Creek, the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp.”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Geology of Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks

By Steven Wade Veatch

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time, used his knowledge of geology to inform his art. Leonardo was also noted for his work in sculpture, anatomy, mathematics, architecture, and engineering during the Italian Renaissance (about 1330 to 1450).

Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks (1483-1486). From his studies of geology, he learned how the Earth works and improved the realism of his paintings. Location: Louvre, Paris. Oil on panel transferred to canvas. Height: 199 cm (78.3 in). Width: 122 cm (48 in). Image is in the public domain.
From a geological perspective, Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings present a realistic portrayal of nature.  In his Virgin of the Rocks (1483-1486), on display in the Louvre in Paris, the geological accuracy is striking (Pizzorusso, 1996). The painting’s subject is both the Virgin and the rocks. The Virgin sits in front of a grotto or cave. Various aspects of the grotto, according to geologist Ann Pizzorusso (1996), “are rendered with astounding geological accuracy. Leonardo has painted a rich earthscape of rock eroded and sculpted by the active geological forces of wind and water. Most of the rock formations . . . are weathered sandstone, a sedimentary rock.” What looks like basalt, an extrusive igneous rock formed by the cooling of lava, appears above Mary’s head and at the top right of the picture. Leonardo even painted the columnar joints formed by the cooling of the rocks. Also, just above her head is a precisely painted seam between the sandstone and igneous formations, and a joint runs horizontally to the right of her head. Art historians believe that the landscape in this painting is not an actual place, but one conjured up by Leonardo’s experience, understanding of geology, and observation (Issacson, 2017).

A second version of the painting, also called the Virgin of the Rocks (1495-1508), is exhibited in the National Gallery in London. This painting fails to depict such a faithful rendering of geology as the one in Paris. Despite decades of analysis by scholars, there are doubts that it is an authentic da Vinci painting, but rather a copy of the original painting by another artist.

Leonardo da Vinci was ahead of his time in his understanding of geology, and he meticulously recorded his observations in notebooks and journals (Bressan, 2014). After his death, his notebooks ended up on the bookshelves in libraries and private collections throughout Europe, while other notebooks disappeared into history (Waggoner, 1996).

Da Vinci wrote in one of his notebooks, the Codex Leicester, about the fossils he found as he walked the countryside. Da Vinci recognized that fossils were the remains of once-living organisms and relics of former times and other worlds—traces of a past hidden to other thinkers of the time. Da Vinci also observed that distinct layers of rocks and fossils covered large areas, and the layers were formed at separate times—not in the single biblical flood (Issacson, 2017). And centuries before Darwin, Leonardo conjectured through his understanding of rocks, fossils, and the slow processes of erosion and deposition that the world is much older than what church fathers proclaimed (Jones, 2011).

Leonardo da Vinci’s observations of fossils found on the tops of mountains wore a path through his thoughts. Since fossils are found in the mountains, the surface of the Earth, Leonardo posited, has changed over time. For example, an ancient sea is now dry land (Jones, 2011).  Leonardo concluded that as mountains formed, they lifted marine sediments—carrying fossil-bearing rocks skyward to become mountain peaks. Today, geologists know that tectonic plates and other geological processes form mountains.

In another of his notebooks, the Codex Arundel, now housed in the British Library, Leonardo describes graded bedding in layers of sedimentary rocks (Pedretti, 1998). He also had a basic understanding of the superposition of rock strata, where the oldest rocks in a sequence of sedimentary rocks are at the bottom. This concept would not be recognized until the second half of the 17th century when Danish geologist Nicolas Steno, carrying the light of learning, took up the subject in 1669—laying the foundation for modern stratigraphy and geological mapping (Capra, 2013).

Da Vinci never published his theories. He only wrote his observations in his notebooks, which ended up scattered or lost. For more than three hundred years, his notes were not part of the progression of science. It was left for future scientists to rediscover Leonardo's observations on the vastness of geological time, sedimentary layering, and the significance of fossils, and to make these discoveries part of science.

Leonardo da Vinci’s endless curiosity and boundless creativity made him the quintessential Renaissance man. He was a keen observer of nature whose interest led him to paint nature not only beautifully, but accurately.

Works Cited
Bressan, D. (2014, April 17). The Renaissance's Contribution to Geology: Landscape Painting. Retrieved from Scientific American:

Capra, F. (2013). Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius. New York: Berrett-Koehler.

Issacson, W. (2017). Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Jones, J. (2011, November 23). Leonardo da Vinci's earth-shattering insights about geology. Retrieved from The Guadian:

Pedretti, C. (1998). Il Codice Arundel 263 nella British Library. Florence: Giunti.

Pizzorusso, A. (1996). Leonardo's Geology: the Authenticity of the Virgin of the Rocks. Leonardo, 440.

Waggoner, B. (1996, January 3). Leonardo DaVinci. Retrieved from University of California Musuem of Paleontology:

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


 By Steven Wade Veatch

With the suddenness of a rattlesnake’s strike, an enormous boulder of Pikes Peak Granite moved down one of the steep slopes of the lower part of Ute Pass, Colorado. As this rock—larger than a yellow school bus—traveled down the hill, it flattened the bushes growing in front of it, and left a trail of scraped ground behind it.

Figure 1. Gravity’s relentless force pulled this huge boulder
down the hill to its resting place near US Highway 24
between mile marker 295 and 296. This is a geohazard.
Photo © S. Veatch.
This giant rock, perched on a slope in Ute Pass along US Highway 24— between Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls—moved downslope from the pull of gravity in a type of erosion called mass wasting. When combined with the water of winter snow melt or rain that alters ground conditions, gravity can move rocks downhill—the steeper the slope, the faster the rocks and boulders move (McGeary, Brown, & Plummer, 1992).

During a recent summer, thunderstorms poured rain on the pass.  The slope where this boulder rested was saturated with water, making the ground a muddy, slippery mess. As the rain soaked into the soil, it filled pore spaces, which pushed apart individual grains in the soil—decreasing the resistance of the boulder to movement (Murck, Skinner, & Porter, 1997). Also, some of the grass was washed away by rivulets and rills running downslope, also adding to the conditions that mobilized the boulder.

One night when it was quiet, except for the rasp of a cricket and the passing of an occasional car on the highway, the force of gravity became greater than the resistance of the ground holding the immense boulder in place. Catching the sleeping birds in the pine trees off guard, the giant rock yielded to the endless pull of gravity and slid down the slope—a geological event that starts within the blink of an eye.

Figure 2. A once moving boulder left behind a trail and pushed up
loose gravel in front of it as it slid down the slope of Ute Pass.
Photo © S. Veatch.
This rapid movement of rocks is a geohazard that develops over time and locally impacts Ute Pass and Manitou Springs. Ute Pass and Manitou Springs are in the path of sliding and falling rocks. Work is ongoing to mitigate some of these hazards. Travelers going through Ute Pass not only have to watch other drivers, but must also look out for moving boulders.

McGeary, D., Brown, W. C., & Plummer, C. C. (1992). Physical Science: Earth Revealed. Dubuque: William C. Brown.

Murck, B. W., Skinner, B. J., & Porter, S. C. (1997). Dangerous Earth: An Introduction to Geologic Hazards. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.