A paper canyon ghost

The Superstition Wilderness is rumored to hold the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine. But other treasures can be more readily found here…

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The landscape is a harsh volcanic one, dominated primarily by lava flows and ash deposition. The rocks are mostly basalts, tuffs, and rhyolites.

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Narrow canyons are incised into these planes. The canyons are where the mountains’ secrets are kept.

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Descending through these broken landscapes across boulders and woody debris, the bedrock of the canyon bottom can be hard to find.

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But occasionally bedrock sections do appear, and in these impermeable places water can be reliably found. At least, when there has been rain. When there has not been rain, the water slowly evaporates away. And the organisms that have purposed it as habitat and home begin to die. The landscape becomes alien.

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This was once a floating mat of green algae, a sort of floating plant. As the water began to disappear the algae began to fold itself over the rocks, and soon enough was bleached by the sun. The only remnant of earlier life is this ghost.

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The dead algae had a fibrous texture, and would rip and tear just like a rough paper. Green algae produce a range of polysaccharides to form their cell walls, including cellulose – a key component of modern papers. Interestingly, most paper is produced from wood, but wood comes only from vascular plants (which evolved from green algae) and contains lignin, a biopolymer that is typically removed chemically in high-quality paper to prevent the degradation that occurs for example in news-paper. No surprise, then, that this algal mat had such fine texture to it. The gold of the Superstitions will remain lost, but I was glad enough to find this ghostlike secret here.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. terrybg says:

    A bit over 20 years ago, I did a horse pack trip through the Superstitions. What amazing terrain! It was my first time among cacti. Otherworldly for this East coaster. Had to make sure that my horse’s tail didn’t swish into the cholla.

    1. bblonder says:

      I wonder if we walked any of the same paths! What brought you out?

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