Posted by: Kirsten | Saturday, 5 January 2008

Geology and Erosion, One Step at a Time

This week, as I was reviewing all my fotos from 2007, I rediscovered something from my summer trip to England’s Yorkshire Dales National Park that really impressed me.  It was very subtle — something that perhaps some folks might not notice, but I thought it was an ingenious technique to teach people about what they were seeing in the Aysgarth Falls area of the park. 

You walk down this picture-perfect staircase toward an idyllic waterfall scene. When there’s not a lot of people around (and I did have times where I had the place to myself) it was just wonderful.  You could even go past the railing and explore the river’s edge, walking out on the flat rocks, hopping over erosional puddles, and avoiding the slippery spots and mud flats here and there.  Then, after enjoying the scenery on whatever level works for you, whether skipping stones, watching for birds, practicing your yoga, or taking lots of fotos, you eventually gotta leave, right?  As you’re walking back up those stairs, perhaps you look down as you ascend toward the main trail, carefully watching your step. 

Hmm.  There are words engraved into the stone steps…  I don’t know if you can read them in the foto I’ve supplied below (click for a larger view), so in case you can’t — here’s what it says.  On each step’s side face, it says “HARD LIMESTONE” and on the top face it says “SOFT SHALE”.

Now most people might just shrug and keep on climbing.  But I thought this was a really smart way to educate the public on what they had just seen.  Four simple words explained it all.  The harder limestone did a better job of resisting erosion from the river while the softer shale did not, which explains the stair-step effect the river had on these alternating rock layers and the resulting waterfalls.

Not only did it convey the message simply and effectively, it’s also vandalism-proof.  How many out-of-date, defaced, destroyed, or missing National Park interpretive signs have you seen in your travels?  I see them everywhere I go, and it’s a crying shame that our fellow Americans and visiting foreigners don’t take better care of these special places. 

Aysgarth Falls Staircase -- Foto by Jon T. MerrymanSo, here’s to hoping the U.S. National Park Service can learn a little from the great, great ideas of other parks throughout the world. It might cost a bit more for this type of signage, but it will still be there the day my great-great-grandkids visit this park.

Parke Diem!
— Jon

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