Question of the Day: What Causes The Discolorations Pouring Down These Rocks of the Archuleta Mesa outside of Dulce, New Mexico?

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Thu, 12/30/2010 - 10:44.

Rock formation at base of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, Dulce, New Mexico

I was thrilled to recently be invited to the beautiful Jicarilla Apache Nation Headquarters, on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, in Dulce, New Mexico, to meet with a community development organization there and discuss agriculture, economic development and regeneration of the Earth, with a focus on the future of growing hemp in America.

Continental Divide sign on Jicarilla Apache Reservation outside Dulce, New Mexico
Continental Divide sign on Jicarilla Apache Reservation outside Dulce, New Mexico - Elevation 7,715 feet

There is evidence hemp is native to this land, and Jicarilla laws make it legal for them to grow hemp on their reservation - they do not yet grow hemp here (which is otherwise illegal to grow in the United States), which is something I met with the Jicarilla to discuss changing, in 2011. Their one million acre reservation on the Continental Divide is one of the most unspoiled places on Earth... there is significant native American wildlife and virgin soil never turned by humans here. The Jicarilla have a natural existence and agricultural history in balance with the environment, and they are smart to consider adding hemp to their portfolio of economic development plans.

Navajo River through Archuleta Mesa, Jacarilla Apache Reservation north of Dulce, New Mexico 
Navajo River through Archuleta Mesa, Jacarilla Apache Reservation north of Dulce, New Mexico

The Jicarilla have a reputation of being smart business people and good stewards of their community, so their community is well kept, and the reservation is spectacular. Revenues from oil and gas exploration and other activities on their reservation make the Jicarilla Apache prosperous, and their capital, Dulce, is a very modern small town of around 2,600 residents - 90+% Native American. It features a modern hospital, new schools, an airstrip, significant new housing, a recent Best Western with casino, and a state-of-the-art headquarters building that offers a dignified home for their government.

Narrow Gauge Rail Bridge and water tower on Jicarilla Apache Reservation north of Dulce, New Mexico
Narrow Gauge rail bridge and water tower on Jicarilla Apache Reservation north of Dulce, New Mexico - out of commission

You drive through some of the most beautiful natural lands on Earth to get to Dulce - including the San Juan National Forest, where I encountered a white-out blizzard - and pass through the silver mining support town of Chama, where is still based the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad - "Americas Longest & Highest Narrow Gauge Railroad", built in 1880... offering trips over the highest pass with passenger rail service in America. In Dulce, today, you see scant remnants of these rail encroachments of the White Man's mining into these native lands.

Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico
Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico

Jicarilla Country - at 7-8,000 feet, this is a place where legends were made, and live on today.

Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico
Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico

One group of legends I didn't know about, before coming to Dulce, revolve around theories of a secret US military base under the Archuleta Mesa, just North of Dulce, supposed to house aliens... and there are extensive stories of encounters around here with UFOs, aliens and of cow mutilations... search "Dulce Base" on the internet for the stories. I did not encounter any signs of any of that, and I'm glad I didn't know of these stories before visiting Dulce.... looking for UFOs would have distracted me from enjoying some of the most striking countryside in America.

Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico

What I did observe around Dulce, that I found abnormal, was strange discoloration of the cliffs of Archuleta Mesa, north of Dulce, which appears to be caused by dark run-off from the mesa above, which I've not noticed on natural rock formations anywhere else I've been before. It looks like the discoloration on buildings around my house, in Cleveland, from rain streaked coal powerplant soot... although it appears the discoloration in Dulce has been occurring for a very long time - there are places where the stone face of the mesa has fallen off the mesa, over the years, and the areas where newer stone is exposed is not so discolored... this didn't happen over night.

Discoloration on Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico
Discoloration on Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico

I'm interested in any geological explanations from observers of these photos and facts on realNEO.

Discoloration on Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico
Discoloration on Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico

There have been few major wild fires in this area in the past five Centuries - many of the trees are old growth, dating to a period after a major die-off in the 1580s. Over the last century, known pollution sources around here would include a single narrrow gauge steam rail line, for mining north of this valley, limited motor vehicle traffic in the area, and the emissions from the San Juan coal power plant about 30 miles away (which just recently installed environmental upgrades).

Rock formation of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce, New Mexico

Perhaps these are the tears of the Black Hactcin - The most powerful of the Hactcin in the underworld - as Jicarilla legend has it that supernatural beings... the Hactcin... made the earth, the underworld beneath it, and the sky above it.

Detail of rock formation at base of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, Dulce, New Mexico
Detail of rock formation at base of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, Dulce, New Mexico

Perhaps the Black Hactcin is not pleased with the progress of mankind, since he was created. That would explain all the natural and supernatural observations on the Jicarilla Apache lands, since the White Man arrived in America.

Rock formation at base of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, Dulce, New Mexico
Rock formation at base of Archuleta Mesa, Jicarilla Apache Reservation, Dulce, New Mexico

Or, it could just be that the White Man has ruined America, including polluting the most beautiful and natural places on Earth, far beyond human creation, and that shows.

Archuleta Mesa on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation north of Dulce New Mexico
Archuleta Mesa on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, north of Dulce New Mexico

The Jicarilla Apache creation story tells of the Creation and the emergence of the Jicarilla people, and the sacredness of the number four.

The Hactcin, supernatural beings of the Jicarilla Apache

In the beginning there was nothing - no earth, no living beings. There were only darkness, water, and Cyclone, the wind. There were no humans, but only the Hactcin, the Jicarilla supernatural beings. The Hactcin made the earth, the underworld beneath it, and the sky above it. The earth they made as a woman who faces upward, and the sky they made as a man who faces downward. The Hactcin lived in the underworld, where there was no light. There were mountains and plants in the underworld, and each had its own Hactcin. There were as yet no animals or humans, and everything in the underworld existed in a dream-like state and was spiritual and holy.

Black Hactcin

The most powerful of the Hactcin in the underworld was Black Hactcin. One day Black Hactcin made the first animal with four legs and a tail made of clay. At first he thought it looked peculiar, but when he asked it to walk and saw how gracefully it walked, he decided it was good. Knowing this animal would be lonely, he made many other kinds of animals come from the body of the first. He laughed to see the diversity of the animals he had created. All the animals wanted to know what to eat and where to live, so he divided the foods among them, giving grass to the horse, sheep, and cow, and to others he gave brush, leaves, and pine needles. He sent them out to different places, some to the mountains, some to the deserts, and some to the plains, which is why the animals are found in different places today.

Next Black Hactcin held out his hand and caught a drop of rain. He mixed this with some earth to make mud and made a bird from the mud. At first he wasn't sure he would like what he had made. He asked the bird to fly, and when it did he liked it. He decided the bird too would be lonely, so he grabbed it and whirled it rapidly clockwise. As the bird became dizzy, it saw images of other birds, and when Black Hactcin stopped whirling it, there were indeed many new kinds of birds, all of which live in the air because they were made from a drop of water that came from the air.

 Black Hactcin sent the birds out to find places they liked to live, and when they returned he gave each the place that they liked. To feed them, he threw seeds all over the ground. To tease them, however, he turned the seeds into insects, and he watched as they chased after the insects. At a river nearby, he told the birds to drink. Again, however, he couldn't resist teasing them, so he took some moss and made fish, frogs, and the other things that live in water. This frightened the birds as they came to drink, and it is why birds so often hop back in fright as they come down to drink. As some of the birds took off, their feathers fell in the water, and from them came the ducks and other birds that live in the water.

Black Hactcin continued to make more animals and birds. The animals and birds that already existed all spoke the same language, and they held a council. They came to Black Hactcin and asked for a companion. They were concerned that they would be alone when Black Hactcin left them, and Black Hactcin agreed to make something to keep them company.

The creation of human beings

He stood facing the east, and then the south, and then the west, and then the north. He had the animals bring him all sorts of materials from across the land, and he traced his outline on the ground. He then set the things that they brought him in the outline. The turquoise that they brought became veins, the red ochre became blood, the coral became skin, the white rock became bones, the Mexican opal became fingernails and teeth, the jet became the pupil, the abalone became the white of the eyes, and the white clay became the marrow of the bones. Pollen, iron ore, and water scum were used too, and Black Hactcin used a dark cloud to make the hair.

The man they had made was lying face down, and it began to rise as the birds watched with excitement. The man arose from prone, to kneeling, to sitting up, and to standing. Four times Black Hactcin told him to speak, and he did. Four times Black Hactcin told him to laugh, and he did. It was likewise with shouting. Then Black Hactcin taught him to walk, and had him run four times in a clockwise circle.

The birds and animals were afraid the man would be lonely, and they asked Black Hactcin give him company. Black Hactcin asked them for some lice, which he put on the man's head. The man went to sleep scratching, and he dreamed that there was a woman beside him. When he awoke, she was there.

 They asked Black Hactcin what they would eat, and he told them that the plants and the cloven-hoofed animals would be their food. They asked where they should live. He told them to stay anywhere they liked, which is why the Jicarilla move from place to place.

 Ancestral Man and Ancestral Woman

These two, Ancestral Man and Ancestral Woman, had children, and the people multiplied. In those days no one died, although they all lived in darkness. This lasted for many years. Holy Boy, another Apache spirit, was unhappy with the darkness, and he tried to make a sun. As he worked at it, Cyclone came by and told him that White Hactcin had a sun.

Holy Boy went to White Hactcin, who gave him the sun, and he went to Black Hactcin, who gave him the moon. Black Hactcin told Holy Boy how to make a sacred drawing on a buckskin to hold the sun and moon, and Holy Boy, Red Boy, Black Hactcin, and White Hactcin held a ceremony at which White Hactcin released the sun and Black Hactcin released the moon. The light grew stronger as the sun moved from north to south, and eventually it was like daylight is now.

The people didn't know what this was, and the shamans each began to claim that they had power over the sun. On the fourth day, there was an eclipse. After the sun had disappeared, the Hactcins told the shamans to make the sun reappear.

The shamans tried all kinds of tricks, but they couldn't make the sun come back. To solve the problem, White Hactcin turned to the animals and had them bring the foods they ate. With the food and some sand and water, they began to grow a mountain. The mountain grew, but it stopped short of the hole in the sky that led from the underworld to the earth. It turned out that two girls had gone up on the mountain and had trampled the sacred plants and even had defecated there.

White Hactcin, Black Hactcin, Holy Boy, and Red Boy had to go up the mountain and clean it. When they came down, the people sang, and the mountain grew again. It stopped, however, just short of the hole, and when the four went up again they could only see to the other earth. They sent up Fly and Spider, who took four rays of the sun and built a rope ladder to the upper world. Spider was the first one to climb to the upper world, where the sun was bright.

 The emergence

White Hactcin, Black Hactcin, Holy Boy, and Red Boy climbed up the ladder, and they found much water on the earth. They sent for the four winds to blow the water away, and Beaver came up to build dams to hold the water in rivers. Spider made threads to catch the sun, and they made the sun go from east to west to light the entire world, not just one side.

Hactcin called for the people to climb up, and for four days they climbed the mountain. At the top they found four ladders. Ancestral Man and Ancestral Woman were the first people to climb up, and the people climbed up into the upper world that we know today. Thus the earth is our mother, and the people climbed up as from a womb.

Then the animals came up, and before long the ladders were worn out. Behind the animals came an old man and an old woman, and they couldn't climb the ladders. No one could get them up, and finally the two realized they had to stay in the underworld. They agreed to stay but told the others they must come back to the underworld eventually, which is why people go to the underworld after death.

Everything in the upper world is alive - the rocks, the trees, the grass, the plants, the fire, the water. Originally they all spoke the Jicarilla Apache language and spoke to the people. The Hactcin, however, decided that it was boring to have all these things speaking the same, so they gave all these things and all the animals different voices.

Eventually the people travelled out clockwise across the land. Different groups would break off and stay behind, and their children would begin to play games in which they used odd languages. The people in these groups began to forget their old languages and use these new ones, which is why now there are many languages. Only one group kept on traveling in the clockwise spiral until they reached the center of the world, and these are the Jicarilla Apaches.


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Lichen Environmental Monitoring

There do appear to be Lichen or some similar organic matter covering some surfaces of these rocks, and the black areas appear to be where the Lichen is exposed to some run off and discolored black... e.g. dead?! Other areas are green and living colors...

Wikipedia writes Lichen are responsive to Air Pollution - could this be a form of Lichen Environmental Monitoring... in which case, did the Lichen turn black in a short period of time, indicating some environmental stress (e.g. acid rain or climate change)? It should be able to find out from the locals if they have noticed any progression of this discoloration in their lifetimes - analysis of the actual Lichen for metal content, etc., would probably tell much more... I wonder if University of New Mexico explores such things here...

I do understand there have been issues in the area from mining uranium, so you never know what such study of Lichen may reveal...

Clearly there are natural indicators of pollution like Lichen we may monitor to understand stresses in our environment

From Wikipedia, regarding Lichen response to air pollution...

Air pollution

Lichens are exposed to air pollutants at all times and, without any deciduous parts, they are unable to avoid the accumulation of pollutants. Also, by lacking stomata and a cuticle, aerosols and gases may be absorbed over the entire thallus surface from which they may readily diffuse to the photobiont layer.[24] Because lichens do not possess roots, their primary source of most elements is the air, and therefore elemental levels in lichens often reflect the accumulated composition of ambient air. The processes by which atmospheric deposition occurs include fog and dew, gaseous absorption, and dry deposition.[25] Consequently, many environmental studies with lichens emphasize their feasibility as effective biomonitors of atmospheric quality.[24][26]

Not all lichens are equally sensitive to air pollutants, so different lichen species show different levels of sensitivity to specific atmospheric pollutants. The sensitivity of a lichen to air pollution is directly related to the energy needs of the mycobiont, so that the stronger the dependency of the mycobiont on the photobiont, the more sensitive the lichen is to air pollution.[27] Upon exposure to air pollution, the photobiont may use metabolic energy for repair of cellular structures that would otherwise be used for maintenance of photosynthetic activity, therefore leaving less metabolic energy available for the mycobiont. The alteration of the balance between the photobiont and mycobiont can lead to the breakdown of the symbiotic association. Therefore, lichen decline may result not only from the accumulation of toxic substances, but also from altered nutrient supplies that favor one symbiont over the other.[24]

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Desert Varnish seems a factor

I do see signs of Lichten - and also of Desert Varnish, which is little understood and may be found on Mars...

Common in the Four Corners region...

Caused by manganese, but they can;t figure out why there is manganese there... making this explanation stranger than expected...

    Desert Varnish
    Written by Larry Larason  
    Sunday, 13 June 2010 17:28
    Here in the Four Corners we have so many rock faces with black streaks that we seldom pay much attention to them. Those streaks are desert varnish; it is common in the Southwest, but we don’t have a monopoly on it. Desert varnish is most often found in desert environments, but also occurs in wetter places, and can be found around the world. Because it is so common the name “rock varnish” is probably more appropriate. Desert varnish was named in 1898 by a geologist with the U. S. Geological Survey, but no one studied it much until the 1950s.

    The Mars rovers have sent back a lot of photos that are examined very carefully by scientists at NASA. Recently those scientists announced that they believe they see desert varnish on Martian rocks. This has spurred much interest in how varnish forms, especially because some geologists think microbes are involved. If there is desert varnish on Mars, that might indicate there is [or was] microbial life on that planet.

    Rock varnish is still mysterious, but we know some things about it. Sometimes it is so thin it is more like a stain. In other instances it is thick enough to be called a crust, even though it seldom is thicker than half a millimeter. That’s about 2/100th of an inch. Archaeologists studying rock art refer to is as “patina”.

    Mineralogically, desert varnish is about 70% clay. The remainder is mostly oxides of iron and manganese. If the proportion of iron is higher, the color ranges from brown to reddish. More manganese gives the varnish a black color and often makes it shiny. Iron, of course, is common in rocks and soils all around the world. Manganese is fairly common at very low levels in most soils and sea water. It plays a role in the metabolism of many organisms, including humans, although high concentrations can be toxic.

    Originally it was assumed that desert varnish was formed by minerals seeping out of the rock face onto the surface. Then it was noticed that in many cases the rocks where it formed had no manganese or clay in them. Then, it was proposed that all of the constituents of varnish could be blown on the wind as dust, and given a little moisture, they might adhere to the stone.

    Electron microscope studies made of desert varnish in 1978 showed that the crust was layered: bands of manganese oxide alternated with layers of clay and iron. This reminded some geologists of stromatolites, although at a very small scale. Stromatolites are layered structures left by [usually] cyanobacteria that grew on the floor of shallow seas beginning more than 3 billion years ago. They were built by photosynthesizing bacteria clustered within a mat of slime, which caught sand and mud. As sunlight was obscured by the accumulation of debris, the cells divided and created a new layer. The result over time was a layered mound. Stromatolites are still forming in some few places around the world. They incorporate manganese in their cells to protect themselves from the sun’s UV rays.

    A few microbes have been found growing on the surface of desert varnish, and fossil bacteria have been found “entombed” within it. But whether they were involved in the formation of the varnish is still unclear. They may have simply taken refuge in the coating to survive desiccation and harsh sunlight. All life needs some moisture, of course. And one thing pointing to the possible role of microbes in the deposition of varnish is that dark crusts are more common where water pours over rock faces. Notice in the photo of Mummy House Ruins in northern AZ, that the black streaks appear where water would run down the slightly under slung cliffs. Likewise, varnish forms on the sides of pebbles on the ground in deserts where moisture accumulates from dew.

    Mummy House ruin, AZ

    The Ft. Stanton Cave near Ruidoso, NM provides more hints of the microbial origin of desert varnish. This cave is the third longest in New Mexico and is most famous for the Snowy River Passage, where more than five miles of the cave floor is composed of a sparkling white calcite deposit. On the walls above the calcite pavement are layers of iron/manganese oxides bound in clay. These layers are covered with manganese-using bacteria. Because the cave is damp the coating seems to grow much faster than it would in open air. Researchers from UNM and the NM Institute of Mining and Technology are currently studying these cave deposits. But the cave deposits bring up one of the big questions about rock varnish. Manganese appears in varnish up to 50 times the concentration in local soil and water. It is reasonable that microbes using it in their metabolism would accumulate and concentrate it, but where do they get it? In the cave environment it can’t just blow in the wind as it might do at the surface.

    Desert varnish allowed prehistoric artists to record their visions for centuries. Petroglyphs are designs scratched through the varnish to expose the contrasting color of the underlying rock. Where the micro-stromatolites were found in desert varnish, archaeologists hoped it would be possible to read the layers much like we read tree rings, thus dating the rock art. Some efforts have been made, but I’m not very impressed with the results so far. We can do some relative dating by comparing the repatination of petroglyphs. For example, one of my favorites on the Sand Island Panel in Utah is a small figure that has been so re-covered by desert varnish that you can hardly see it. This tells us that it must be very old, certainly much older than the figures near it that have not been repatinated. A variation on the technique in making art with desert varnish is seen in Peru’s Nazca Lines. These lines and figures [geoglyphs] were made by a prehistoric culture between 200 BCE and 700 CE by removing pebbles and boulders covered with dark varnish to expose the light colored soil of the high desert plain beneath them.

    Fuel cans abandoned by British soldiers during WWII were recently found in the eastern Sahara Desert. A well developed layer of desert varnish was found on the upwind side of the cans. This is the only instance I’ve heard of that involves varnish on anything other than rocks.

    The verdict on whether microbes are responsible for rock varnish is still pending. The possibility of varnish on Mars has spurred a lot of research, but it may be decades before science has a definite answer. When I began researching this topic, I had no opinion about it, but now I find the evidence in favor of microbes to be fairly convincing. However, whether there is rock varnish on Mars or not remains to be seen. The next generation of rovers, expected to land on Mars in 2012, will be equipped to detect manganese in the coating on rocks.
    Last Updated ( Monday, 06 September 2010 19:06 )

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Some interesting things about Manganese in Desert Varnish

Some interesting things about Manganese in Desert Varnish - from Wikipedia...

First of all, it isn't mined or produced in North America, although we import and use huge amounts of it and have forever...

Manganese production around the world
World Manganese Production 2006

Manganese makes up about 1000 ppm (0.1%) of the Earth's crust, making it the 12th most abundant element there.[19] Soil contains 7–9000 ppm of manganese with an average of 440 ppm.[19] Seawater has only 10 ppm manganese and the atmosphere contains 0.01 µg/m3.[19] Manganese occurs principally as pyrolusite (MnO2), braunite, (Mn2+Mn3+6)(SiO12),[20] psilomelane (Ba,H2O)2Mn5O10, and to a lesser extent as rhodochrosite (MnCO3).

The most important manganese ore is pyrolusite (MnO2). Other economically important manganese ores usually show a close spatial relation to the iron ores.[1] Land-based resources are large but irregularly distributed. About 80% of the known world manganese resources are found in South Africa, other important manganese deposits are in Ukraine, Australia, India, China, Gabon and Brazil.[21] In 1978 it was estimated that 500 billion tons of manganese nodules exist on the ocean floor.[22] Attempts to find economically viable methods of harvesting manganese nodules were abandoned in the 1970s.[23]

Manganese is mined in South Africa, Australia, China, Brazil, Gabon, Ukraine, India and Ghana and Kazakhstan. US Import Sources (1998–2001): Manganese ore: Gabon, 70%; South Africa, 10%; Australia, 9%; Mexico, 5%; and other, 6%. Ferromanganese: South Africa, 47%; France, 22%; Mexico, 8%; Australia, 8%; and other, 15%. Manganese contained in all manganese imports: South Africa, 31%; Gabon, 21%; Australia, 13%; Mexico, 8%; and other, 27%.[21][24]

For the production of ferromanganese, the manganese ore are mixed with iron ore and carbon and then reduced either in a blast furnace or in an electric arc furnace.[25] The resulting ferromanganese has a manganese content of 30 to 80%.[1] Pure manganese used for the production of non-iron alloys is produced by leaching manganese ore with sulfuric acid and a subsequent electrowinning process.[26]

As for how we use it...

Manganese has no satisfactory substitute in its major applications, which are related to metallurgical alloy use.

Manganese is essential to iron and steel production by virtue of its sulfur-fixing, deoxidizing, and alloying properties. Steelmaking,[27] including its ironmaking component, has accounted for most manganese demand, presently in the range of 85% to 90% of the total demand.[26] Among a variety of other uses, manganese is a key component of low-cost stainless steel formulations.

The second large application for manganese is as alloying agent for aluminium.

Methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl is used as an additive in unleaded gasoline to boost octane rating and reduce engine knocking.

Manganese compounds are less toxic than those of other widespread metals such as nickel and copper.[42] However, exposure to manganese dusts and fumes should not exceed the ceiling value of 5 mg/m3 even for short periods because of its toxicity level.[43] Manganese poisoning has been linked to impaired motor skills and cognitive disorders.[44]

Steel containing 8 to 15% of manganese can have a high tensile strength of up to 863 MPa.

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