The work of John Bluemle PhD

1-INTRODUCTION TO NORTH DAKOTA GEOLOGY – PART ONE

During my 42 years with the Geological Survey (1962 – 2004), I worked on nearly every facet of North Dakota geology: the rocks that produce oil, gas, coal, gravel, ground water and our other mineral resources. My studies of the glacial sediments near Devils Lake helped me to gain detailed insights into North Dakota’s past climate changes. However, I was always most interested in the origin of the hills and valleys I saw every day as I traveled around the state. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to understand how the land that is North Dakota came to be the way it is. My wife, Mary, and our three children as they came along, lived with me in about 25 North Dakota towns over the years. Our oldest son, Bill, was born in Park River while I was mapping Walsh County, and our daughter, Irene, arrived in Lisbon while I was mapping Ransom County. Paul, the youngest, was born in Grand Forks on the first day of January, when it was too cold to map anywhere. Over the years, we lived, up to six months each, in places like Carrington, Cooperstown, Harvey, Hazen, Mayville, McClusky, Washburn, White Shield, Fort Totten, Fort Yates, Rock Lake, and Turtle Lake. Our summer homes were in towns in about 30 counties, and on four Indian Reservations. We enjoyed every one of them.

Fig. 1-A. Mose is one town we never stayed in. On July 12, 1943, a tornado moved west from the town of McHenry toward Mose, twisting trees out of the ground as it went. As it came, it developed into one of the biggest storms in North Dakota’s history. Twenty-one-year-old Helen Johnson stood in the north window of her home and watched the driveway go, along with a bridge over the ditch at the front of her house. Mose actually survived for another 12 years before the post office finally closed. Mose was located about six miles west of Banford in Griggs County. Photo: 9-10-2009.

Each place was special in some way. North Dakota people are open and friendly, and often interested in geology. When we arrived at a new place, we asked locally if anyone had an apartment for rent and, usually, someone did. In Harvey we rented from the owner of the town bakery—a great choice! In Enderlin, our landlady’s son, a hunter, kept us supplied with pheasants and geese that autumn. In another town, our landlady’s son provided us with wild turkeys (some of them may have been poached—we didn’t ask). In another place, we shared a rental house with some bats. In Fort Yates, the brand-new nursing home was not yet filled and still had room, so that became our home. Our little kids were a hit with the elderly residents. I worked in every part of the state. A “field season” for me usually lasted from sometime in May, beginning when it was dry enough to get around, and ending in November, when the ground was frozen too hard to auger a hole. Just before Thanksgiving, we would move back to our own home in Grand Forks. The day after we got home one year, I raked the yard and put up the storm windows. The next day a blizzard blew, and the snow stayed until spring. Our neighbor, an elderly Norwegian man, commented, in his wonderful accent, “that Bluemle, he always times things right.” Well, I don’t “always time things right,” but I was glad I had that year. For the nearly 25 years that we spent our summers “in the field,” throughout North Dakota, we tended to visualize Grand Forks as a white and snowy “winter wonderland” because we weren’t around much to enjoy it in the summer time. Mary and I claim some important knowledge and understanding of North Dakota, apart from the geology. While mapping, I noted stands of chokecherries, wild plums, buffalo berries and juneberries. That valuable information went on my field maps, right along with the geology, as did the locations of the best places to buy sausage and kuchen.

This witch hit the road sign at the end of the driveway into the Davis Ranch in Slope County, October 23, 2009. She represents my own pondering as I tried to decide “which way to turn” as I constructed this website.

Fig. 1-B. This witch hit the road sign at the end of the driveway into the Davis Ranch in Slope County, October 23, 2009. She represents my own pondering as I tried to decide “which way to turn” as I constructed this website. Photo: 9-10-2009.

Most of the photos I will post on this website will illustrate landforms. I hope they will help readers appreciate and understand the geologic processes that shaped our modern landscape. I took most of them during the summers of 2009, 2010, and 2011 while we traveled throughout the state. The notion to travel around the state in the summer as kind of a “post-retirement” project turned out to be a great decision. To provide purpose, I took photos of geologic features. During some of our trips around the state we got a little more “off the beaten path” than I intended. One day, I drove along a road on the Missouri Coteau that became a trail, and eventually a narrow, mostly washed-out path with no place to turn around easily, so I kept going. Finally, we came to a barricade, so I stopped and walked around it to read the hand-printed sign: “Do Not Enter: Road Impassible.” The seven miles I had just driven were Longhorn cattle.IMG_1789_webimpassible! I dug out a couple of the steel fence posts, drove to the “good” side of the barricade, and replaced the posts and sign. Another day, I walked over to a fence line, took a picture, and stepped in a badger hole and broke my foot. Still another time, we stopped to admire a herd of longhorn cattle, standing on the road, surrounding us. I thought one was particularly handsome so I took his picture through the open window on the passenger side of our van. I felt something cold, turned around, and found myself nose to nose with a cow that had gotten her head in through the open window as far as her horns allowed. I presumed she probably wanted her picture taken too, so I snapped her as well.

Top photo shows the "handsome" Longhorn. Lower photo shows the cow that got her head inside our van. Notice that the bark has been scraped off some trees. Billings County, September 10, 2009

Figs. 1-C & 1-D. Top photo shows the “handsome” Longhorn. Lower photo shows the cow that got her head inside our van. Notice that the bark has been scraped off some trees. Billings County, 9-10-2009.

Many geologists move from country to country around the world; we moved from county to county around the state of North Dakota. Unspoiled prairies and buttes, rivers and lakes, wildflowers and wild fruit are everywhere. Wildlife abounds. Gravel trails lead to broad horizons. Late afternoon summer

This "gravel road leading to broad horizons" shows an area of dead-ice moraine topography with a crop-dusting airplane spraying a weed-infested slough area. About six miles south of Hurdsfield, Wells County, August 8, 2009.

Fig. 1-E. This “gravel road leading to broad horizons” shows an area of dead-ice moraine topography with a crop-dusting airplane spraying a weed-infested slough area. About six miles south of Hurdsfield, Wells County. Photo: 8-8-2010.

showers are followed by spectacular sunsets. The prairie landscapes are multi-dimensional. Their breadths, elevations and depths reflect geologic events and processes I’ll explore on this website. And the geology is always there. Geology opens the door to another world just beneath the familiar scenes of our everyday lives. It takes us outdoors as we explore the intricacies of our Earth’s history. Mary and I have traveled beyond North Dakota–to most of the states and Canadian provinces and about 20 other countries. Much of our travel has been to enjoy geology. We’ve seen a lot of spectacular geology in places like Montana, Alberta, and Sweden. Scotland is my favorite destination for geology and for the history of the science of geology. Our geology, here in North Dakota, may be more subtle than the places I just mentioned, but it is just as interesting. My career has been satisfying, my work interesting and rewarding. Every day on the job was different for me. Whether it was the glorious summer days in the field, mapping geology, or wintry days I spent in my office, piecing together and trying to understand what I had mapped the previous summer, it was always fascinating.

Fig. 1-F. “A Tree Grows in Hatton.” This tree in the park has its roots in the air. I don’t think it represents one of the intricacies of our earth’s history, just someone with a backhoe, a sense of humor, and some extra time. This part of Traill County, which includes the Hatton area, is part of the Elk Valley Delta in which sandy silt was deposited by streams flowing into Glacial Lake Agassiz. I took this photo on May 31, 2010.

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North Dakota’s Geologic Legacy Our Land and How It Formed
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