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Grand Canyon Older Than We Thought?


[Image courtesy of Victor Polyak.]

There's a new study out, published in Science, saying the western part of the Grand Canyon may be 17 million years old, which is about three times older than the orthodoxy.

Here's my story.

Visitors to the Grand Canyon always want to know: How old is it?

Park rangers are instructed to tell them that the canyon has been carved by the Colorado River for the past five or six million years. The park's web site, under Frequently Asked Questions, notes that the rocks exposed by the canyon are up to two billion years old, and then adds: "The Canyon itself -- an erosional feature -- has formed only in the past five or six million years. Geologically speaking, Grand Canyon is very young."

That might need revision. The canyon is more like 17 million years old, according to a new study published online today by the journal Science.

And the Colorado River may not be the only river involved in its formation. The new study contends that a smaller river cut the older, western part of the canyon. Gradually the canyon formed from west to east on westward-flowing river. Then something happened about 5 or 6 million years ago -- what, exactly, is unclear -- to accelerate dramatically the rate of the canyon-carving.

[Click here to keep reading.]


Victor Polyak, lead author on the paper, photographed on top of the Redwall Limestone in east-central Grand Canyon. Photo by Art Palmer.


View from a cave. Photo by Art Palmer.


Marble Canyon. Photo via AAAS, courtesy of Victor Polyak.


Image courtesy of Victor Polyak.

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 6, 2008; 2:22 PM ET
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Posted by: frostbitten | March 6, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Good for you, frostbitten. Well done.

I like this kit a lot, and the photos are spectacular.

Tell me Boodlefriends, what to do. I've just had a conversation with my boss (who has the most senior marketing position) in which he asked me to a) take on another team and b) act as his #2 in the management of the department; liaise with the Board, attend audit committee meetings, develop and execute all the evaluations and professional development plans for all our people, etc. I can do all that, and it is flattering to be asked after only a few months in my current position, but... it means I'll do all management stuff, and no writing or international travel, or next to none. Yes or no? I'm really struggling. There might be a bit more money, and with two kids in college that too is attractive, but not decisive.

Posted by: Yoki | March 6, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

I have never seen the Grand Canyon, except in pictures. I'm not surprised that the rocks are more aged than had previously been known. Science marches on. Cool.

Posted by: jack | March 6, 2008 2:52 PM | Report abuse

You answered it yourself, Yoki --- "no."

Sounds like more work and not more fun. Unless there is a promise of a reward -- money, fun -- in a specified time frame.

Posted by: nellie | March 6, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, I'm sure you will make the right decision. Good luck with whatever happens.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 6, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to stop looking the pictures. Those are the biggest mammilaries I've ever seen.

Posted by: jack | March 6, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

How cool is it that not only are scientists learning more about the Grand Canyon, they are trying to learn more in the first place? It's good to not think we already have all the answers.

Thanks Yoki. Great way to get back to boodling if I say so myself. Hmmm, give up travel? Not sure how much of a raise is needed to make up for that.

From last boodle-mmg, most excellent cartoon. 8/10 on the quiz, but that's one of those things where having a lower score is probably better.

Posted by: frostbitten | March 6, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, questions for you:

1. Which part of your job do you like better, management or writing and international travel?
2. Your boss has basically asked you to take over some of his responsibilities. What will he now do? (i.e., is he asking you to do all the parts of his job that he doesn't like?)
3. Is your boss one to share credit? i.e., if it's your hard work with the team, will he take the credit for the successes?
4. If you don't take the job, will someone else? Will you like working for that person?

Posted by: Raysmom | March 6, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Where'd the dirt go?

The aliens took it.

Or the ground squirrels.

Posted by: Ivansmom | March 6, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

This is all very helpful. I'm thinking about all the questions you raise.

Posted by: Yoki | March 6, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Lots to comment on:

1) Great kit, great pix.

2) 8/10 on the quiz. Blew the Emmy and MTV questions.

3) Mammillaries are...some kinda rocks? With a name like that? Sounds like some geologist has a breast fixation. I know clouds are hard, but not *that* hard.

4) Yoki, sit down, have a glass of white zin, and figure out which one will make you happier. (I have a hunch it might be to refuse the promotion, but don't want to pre-empt you. The whole trick to Parkinson's law is to know when to refuse being promoted up to one's level of competence. It's how great journalists wind up becoming lousy editors.) (And you mention "a bit more money." I wouldn't settle for "a bit," whatever that may be. It sounds like the raise ought to be substantial to take on that kind of responsibility. But only you can put a price tag on your happiness and job satisfaction. But you already know all this.) (My third parenthetical: what does Himself have to say? Will you be seeing less of him and/or the kids?)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 6, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

The Grand Canyon is so huge and amazing. I have never been there in person, but friends and family members have told me of their visits and it seems like most people go to the same places and see the same views.

Many years ago I read a definitive book about the canyon, _The Man Who Walked Through Time_ by Colin Fletcher. Fletcher didn't just drive up to the edge and look over. He hiked the length of the canyon, floated the river, climbed the cliffs. He also studied the geology and that's part of his story too. Reading that book ensured that the Grand Canyon has a permanent place in my consciousness.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 6, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

SCC: promoted up to one's level of INcompetence

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 6, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Yoki... Sometimes the best opportunities are the ones you don't take.

Did that make any sense? In other words, you don't have to take every opportunity put in front of you. But you know that. And I think if you're questioning it, then nellie's right... you've already answered your question.

Posted by: TBG | March 6, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Fabulous photos. It was hazy the day we were there, and the pictures show that. I'm ready to go back.

Yoki, good luck with your decision. Personally, I'd be holding out for a serious raise, to take on the extra responsibilities and give up some tasks I enjoyed.

Posted by: slyness | March 6, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

8/10 on the tv quiz. I have some false childhood memories I need to deal with. Perhaps a therapist.

I'm not sure this canyon before the canyon theory is all that radical. He talks about one minor branch of the canyon having an earlier retrograde flow. THE Canyon was clearly made in 2348 BC during Noah's Flood.

When I drove cross-country two years ago the grand canyon was the only place we stopped two nights. I refused to allow it to become a Griswold drive by. Both mornings I got up early to watch the sunrises. Here's my Flickr pictures:

Sunrises and sunsets are when the canyon really glows.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 6, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Mammals give live birth (except for the monotremes) and nurse their young. Mammaries are the organs mammals use to do the nursing. Some things in nature bear resemblance to human mammaries (unless she's flatchested). Mammatus clouds are bulbous things that hang down from the underside of nasty storms which often signal the formation of a tornado. Mammilaries seem to be bulbous speleothems that resembled mammaries to the person who named them. It doesn't necessarily indicate an obsession with the organs, but I'd be willing to bet it was a man who named them.

Anybody know of any other mammarish-type objects in nature that share the "mamm-" prefix?

Posted by: Gomer | March 6, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

A good deal of the West is the Land of Missing Rock. The Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, at least, has rivers (Big Horn and Shoshone) that flow directly across mountains rather than maunder through nearby low spots in the topography. The Shoshone's particularly blatant, avoiding a convenient valley just a couple of miles away to slice through a 3,000 foot mountain. So presumably the rivers once ran atop where the mountains are now, and dug down. To the best of my memory, they did it after the basins had formed and filled with stuff (some of it's scarcely worth calling rock, since it includes drilling mud [bentonite] and gypsum [wallboard]). All this stuff went somewhere, perhaps all the way to Louisiana. Of course the drilling mud's shipped all over the world.

The Grand Canyon and surroundings seem to be in relatively well-constructed geology, the sort that won't dissolve in water, so it ought to be findable, unless some sci-fi sand worms gobbled it up.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 6, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Mammatus clouds-

Posted by: Gomer | March 6, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse


Some pretty tough clouds.

Posted by: Gomer | March 6, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Another definitive book on the Grand Canyon is "We SWAM the Grand Canyon, The True Story of a Cheap Vacation That Got a Little Out of Hand" by the late Bill Beer. This adventure was back in the 1950s before Glen Canyon Dam controlled flows and got rid of the mud.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 6, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 6, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Mammoth. :)

Posted by: hokiealumnus | March 6, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, is that Wally Ballou's brother with the ice cream container?

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 6, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

I don't know about the mamm- prefix, but I'm aware of how the Grand Tetons got their name.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 6, 2008 3:39 PM | Report abuse

yoki: i've found, in my not at all vast experience, that a good many choices in life don't come down to a "right" or "wrong" decision, but rather fall in some murky grey area, where it could turn out to be great if you pick option "a", but "b" is just as viable. then, it basically depends on what you -want- to do, which you feel most comfortable with, and what your family and friends think. how's that for vague/abstract? just go with what 'Mudge and the others said.

Those are great pictures, too. the world's a pretty amazing place; here's hoping we don't mess it up too much.

Posted by: Tangent | March 6, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, does the prospect of the job change make you nervous and uncertain? If so, do it. The day we are completely satisfied with where we are and what we have, we are dead.

Posted by: ScienceTim | March 6, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Tangent! Long time no see. How ya been?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 6, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, as you are aware my household is going through various job change decisions.

I keep stating that if you have the ability take the job you want, doing what matters to you and what you believe in.

If I recall you considered travel a great job perk.

Good luck with the decision.

Posted by: dmd | March 6, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Yoki: Does doing without international travel mean tending the nest while others actually go do things?

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 6, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

After driving for three wonderful days through the desert, and experiencing a vastness I'd never seen or felt before, I felt like the tiniest mote in the universe. By the time we got to the Grand Canyon I was ridiculously nervous about falling into the huge chasm.

I wouldn't go near it, and I wouldn't let Son of G get very close to the edge...

Posted by: TBG | March 6, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I urge you all, and Joel in particular, to run out and listen to Donald Davis' fabulous recording of "The Grand Canyon."

Posted by: StorytellerTim | March 6, 2008 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, congratulations on the offer. Celebrate that! I know you'll make a good decision, but have to add in my $.02 anyway.

//attend audit committee meetings//
That settles it right there! Give up the international travel to attend audit committee meetings! :-) (Maybe Charlotte Allen just needed to use emoticons).

Plan on getting manicures weekly because you're going to spend every meeting digging your nails into the palms of your hands to stay awake. Except for the moments of sheer terror.

Not that I'm certified as an IT auditor and would do anything like this myself.

Posted by: dbG | March 6, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Big? As a Wyomingite, I was dazzled by Mt. Rainier. It helped that a freshly-exploded Mt. St. Helens was puffing steam in the distance.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 6, 2008 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Pshaw! You shoulda seen the Red Sea part! Now THAT was somethin' to see.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 6, 2008 4:32 PM | Report abuse

...although the smell of dead fish stuck with us for quite a few miles, I have to admit.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 6, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

The precursor to the Sonic Disruptor, eh 'Mudge?


Posted by: Scottynuke | March 6, 2008 4:42 PM | Report abuse

I like the way Polyak is presenting is findings without getting defensive about their limitations. That's the mark of good science. Whenever legitimate science provides two contradictory answers there is a real opportunity to learn something.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 6, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

How old are you again Mudge?

A classic

Posted by: dmd | March 6, 2008 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I will suggest that mammillaries are a much more memorable term than cave clouds.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 6, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Cool pics and story, Joel. Since I just visited the GC last October I will defintely return. I want to get to the bottom since I didn't have time. Breathtaking only begins to describe the experience. Everyone should get there at least once. It helps to put us humans in our place...which is very, very small.

Yoki, stick with traveling. The desk jobs will always be there.

Posted by: eidrib | March 6, 2008 4:52 PM | Report abuse

So old that very frequently I forget, dmd. Why, were you thinking of finding me a card?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 6, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Real quick note before I run out the door.
Got 8/10 on the TV quiz. Missed the Happy Days and MTV questions. I swore off sitcoms real early, and I may have spent a grand total of 5 minutes looking at MTV. Looks like great pics of the Canyon. Will have to go back and review the Boodle in more detail later.

Posted by: ebtnut | March 6, 2008 5:00 PM | Report abuse

The Grand Canyon is on my list of places I want to visit before I die. Like Times Square. And Manitoba.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 6, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Science has a subscribers-only news story on severe damage to China's forests caused by this winter's incredible storms. The story mentions the Guangdong Nanling National Nature Reserve. Specialists on China's flora and ecology in the US might be able to fill in with more info.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 6, 2008 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Don't do it, RD! I once visited Manitoba, in January. For a vacation! hahahaha. I was a idiot.

There is a good reason why Canadians have nicknamed Winnipeg "Winterpeg" and why, when someone says 'mosquito' we all shout "Manitoba!." Not to mention the black flies.

Posted by: Yoki | March 6, 2008 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I want to visit Amsterdam before I die. Or die while there. I visited once as a kid, but no fun was had at age eleven.

Posted by: Gomer | March 6, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Ah, dmd, I may never forgive you for that Mel Brooks link. Here's where I wound up several links later:

I loved this guy.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 6, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Yoki - But would you get free coffee?

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 6, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Actually, my goal is to travel to one of those places where what you do there stays there.

And then, for once in my life, actually do something I want to stay there.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 6, 2008 5:24 PM | Report abuse

uh, rd, that place is Thailand and you real don't want to do many of the things they let stay there.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 6, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Yello - Heavens no! I was thinking, you know, an all you can eat buffet. Or an all night poker game with real money and beer.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 6, 2008 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I'd give up a front row seat in heaven to have a boss who thought enough of me to hand over some of the reins. Even if it is the boring stuff, it's important enough to him to be worried about(he's obviously worried because he knows he can't, or won't get it done), and you are impressive enough to be trusted with it.

It's the next step in the climb upward, if upward is indeed where you want to go. If not, enjoy the view from where you are at. In any event, may God bless you.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | March 6, 2008 5:43 PM | Report abuse

I thought there was a hypothesized huge inland lake in North America which spilled over catastrophically in some relatively short period of time, carving out the Canyon. I suspect Governor Jesse Ventura is getting traces of this ancient residual sludge on his toes every morning, down in Baja California.

Posted by: Jumper | March 6, 2008 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Mudge I remember watching those Roasts as a kid, laughed then, and still laugh now.

You post about parting the Red Sea reminde me of Mel Brooks - hence the link

RD, your 5:31 was very funny.

Posted by: dmd | March 6, 2008 6:25 PM | Report abuse

A good summary of extremophiles. My personal interest is in the effects of these organisms on geological weathering processes; mechanisms which formerly were attributed to actual "weather" only, that is, rain, groundwater, riverine erosion, wind, etc. The role of these relatively newly known "weird life" forms in historic geologmorphology is still under investigation.

Posted by: Jumper | March 6, 2008 6:33 PM | Report abuse

"What a pretty mountain."

"It's a butte"

"And right pretty too."

Posted by: Anonymous | March 6, 2008 6:37 PM | Report abuse

8/10 on the quiz, I got the MTV question with an educated guess and missed the Tonight Show one because I'm an idiot. I can't wait to see the Grand Canyon. I hope I'm still spry enough when we finally go to do the burro ride down into it. If not, we'll find some way to see more than a quick glance.

Yoki, I can't add anything to the advice already given but you've got to feel pleased that your boss thinks so highly of your talents (not that he shouldn't, you know what I mean). I'd go with whatever gives me the best quality of life for myself and my family.

I forgot that Carl Reiner used to have hair!

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | March 6, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

When I was a child, we drove by the rim of the Grand canyon. That was just once, and the painted desert became part of my dreamscape.

That said, I was rather revulsed by the PBS special on the Grand canyon that seemed to be instead a snuff film of various creepy-crawlies dying from one cause or another. Some people just should get their heads examined. That was the only time I complained to PBS about how misleading the special was in regards to its content.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 6, 2008 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, what people say, though from my jaded viewpoint(jaded to that good olde guy in the middle syndrome), don't give up the travel.

Unless you really hate the travel.

Grand Canyon? I was there but its a long time ago now. January 1980 found me standing at the rim.

Posted by: dr | March 6, 2008 7:19 PM | Report abuse

I really am quite serious in my desire to one day visit the Grand Canyon. I have been fascinated by it ever since the Bradys took that cool vacation there in that nifty camper. The ending credits of the movie "Grand Canyon" helped seal the deal for me.

I am told that the colors of the canyon are hard to capture on film. Indeed, those who have visited claim that to truly appreciate the canyon you need to sit, porchlike, and watch the shadows move. (A simple Griswold-like quicky won't do it.) Friends tell me that only over time are the subtle textures and shades truly revealed.

One day I will have an opportunity to visit.

Just, I dearly hope, not in a nifty camper.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 6, 2008 7:52 PM | Report abuse

1. "I'm not surprised that the rocks are more aged than had previously been known."

Posted by: jack | March 6, 2008 02:52 PM

Jack! It's not the ROCKS that are 17 million years old--they are almost all far older, and the dates for the various strata haven't been seriously questioned in years (at least, not scientifically). It's the canyon cut into the rocks that the article says should be tripled in age. The Vishnu schist at the bottom of the western end of the Canyon is about 2 billion years old.

2. "THE Canyon was clearly made in 2348 BC during Noah's Flood."

Posted by: yellojkt | March 6, 2008 03:17 PM

Noah's flood may have covered the earth in water--but if it did, then how could the water run off to cut canyons? Where would the downslope drainage be going to? It'd have to evaporate away, wouldn't it? Just askin'--one of the many puzzlements 21st century young earth "geologists" don't seem to address.

3. "I thought there was a hypothesized huge inland lake in North America which spilled over catastrophically in some relatively short period of time, carving out the Canyon."

Posted by: Jumper | March 6, 2008 06:21 PM

Several canyons in the West (including the Palouse country in Eastern Washington, and the Snake River canyon in Idaho) are thought to have been created in part by lake releases, but not the Grand One.

Sheesh. When I'm reduced to being a science authority, the boodle is in real trouble.

Anybody want some shares in the bridge my consortium is building across The Canyon? Senators Stevens and Murkowski are arranging federal funding! It's a slam-dunk!

Posted by: MedallionOfFerret | March 6, 2008 8:37 PM | Report abuse

One morning I watched the mule train leave for the bottom of the canyon. It's a full day trip and you have to book a year in advance. The cowboys give a full hour orientation on what to do and what not to do. It's pretty funny but very serious too.

I walked a little down the trail to film the the first group and the second group nearly trampled my camera and tripod. Those mules don't stop for anything.

Every piece of literature there warns against even thinking about hiking to the bottom without lots of preparation. It really isn't a day trip and temperatures are often twenty degrees hotter at the botton than they are on the rim.

One trip you can arrange is to hike down, camp at the bottom and then hike up the North Rim the next day. It's not on my bucket list, but it's tempting.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 6, 2008 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Obviously like the Grand Canyon, you have hidden depths, Medallion of Ferret.

'Sides Yello was being snarky. You did raise some good counterpoints.

However, I think the explanation for everything flood-related is "Atlantis," if it's not "God."

This story sounds to me like a plan for... nuclear-powered tulips?

Yes, you can use CO2, water, and energy to produce fuel. It's called photosynthesis.

Folks, Mankind is at a pinnacle. We are now reinventing the leaf. No longer will we have to torture helpless green slaves in order to get our daily sugar fix.

I foresee an plant rights movement coming up 20 years after this technology is implemented.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 6, 2008 8:54 PM | Report abuse

yoki, congrats on the promotion offer. it sounds like you are extremely well thought of and very much up to the task if you want to be - which is the main question, of course. good luck with your decision.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | March 6, 2008 9:37 PM | Report abuse

And for something entirely different:

Some cute pictures of a boxer and his new kid.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 6, 2008 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Hey 'Mudge!
Thanks for asking, and I'm doing pretty well. I've been pretty much inundated this semester (hence the extremely delayed response to your query). It's my last semester on campus, so I have to finish up both my Core and major requirements before heading off to England next year, which I'm pretty excited about. England, that is, more than mandatory classes that I should have taken 2 years ago.
No replacement for Cosine yet. enjoying the single life, not looking too hard at this point, especially if i'll be out of the country next year.

Posted by: Tangent | March 6, 2008 9:45 PM | Report abuse

... a place I haven't been but would love to go... gorgeous photos... last one reminds me of Ansel Adams... but I did read a guide book to American parks and the author warned against wandering about on your own in many, including the canyon... they warned against picking up any shiny metal... old ammunition can be hazardous... go figure!!

Posted by: Miss Toronto | March 6, 2008 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Miss Toronto, these guidebooks probably meant dumb urban tourists, not wily backwoods Canuckistani shooters 'n' trappers who can probably nail a grizzly in the eye with a penknife from 50 paces.

Altho those wily trappers might not be quite familiar with the concept of heatstroke and not sharing blankets with scorpions and rattlers either, so it could be good advice all around.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 6, 2008 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Tangent, Miss Toronto, great to see you! MofF, thanks for the clarification. I'm in awe of the GC, hope to see it someday, but I admit I was confused about what was being claimed. Because I read this stuff too fast at work - or maybe it's just my mush-brain.

I've been wanting to post this all day:

(Weeping willows, golden with a hint of green. That's all I'm saying.)

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 6, 2008 10:14 PM | Report abuse


Congratulations on the job offer. I hope whatever your decision, you'll make lots of money, and of course, just love what you do.

Time for bed. I'm going to attempt cleaning this apartment. And try the laundry room tomorrow, hopefully.

Night, boodle. Sweet dreams.

Posted by: cassandra s | March 6, 2008 10:27 PM | Report abuse

And this:

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 6, 2008 10:36 PM | Report abuse

ha! funny Wilbrod... and yes, they did mention the heat and recommended visiting in the late fall months to avoid the smell of donkey doodle on the trails. Although, at this point, I could do with some wicked heat!... this snow is... well... this says it all... for you dog lovers out there (along the lines of the boxer and goat :)...

... on that note, sweet dreams everyone!

Posted by: Miss Toronto | March 6, 2008 10:39 PM | Report abuse

An extremely important question has been raised in the ScienceHousehold this evening, a question whose significance is such that only the collective wisdom of the Boodle may be sufficient to furnish a satisfactory answer, if even that. The question is: who is funnier, Jack Benny or Groucho Marx? And also, is either one a serious contender for the title of Funniest Guy Ever? -- not counting the anonymous Prankster of Salisbury and his humorous arrangement of large rocks in Britain. Benny is my candidate, on the strength of his brilliant Your Money or Your Life bit, but Groucho is a strong contender for loving his cigar but taking it out of his mouth on occasion.

What do you (all) think?

Posted by: ScienceTim | March 6, 2008 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Great video Miss Toronto - cute as it was it has not warmed my heart to our snow. It is time for spring.

SciTim, I vote for Jack Benny over Groucho.

Posted by: dmd | March 6, 2008 10:58 PM | Report abuse

Tim, starting from the end, my funniest guy ever is Robin Williams. H's also a wonderful actor "Oh, Captain, my captain", but inch for inch, I don't know of anyone nearly as funny as he is.

Jack Benny was much funnier than Groucho, in fact, I didn't care for his "humor" at all.

Posted by: VintageLady | March 6, 2008 10:59 PM | Report abuse

When we visited the Grand Canyon about 15 years ago, I decided the word "awesome" was first created for the canyon.

Wonderful pictures, Joel.

Posted by: VintageLady | March 6, 2008 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Science Thursday Special:

The tree of animal life is being rearranged a little.

Let's take a little sea safari through the evolutionary jungle, no?

I was never quite convinced sponges were as primitive as claimed.

Sponges, unlike jellyfish, form tubes and fractal surfaces-- a common motif in higher life forms. Also, sponges have got mad endoskeleton-building skills in 3-D.

Some lovely pics of sponges.

(Love the pink crab on that white sponge there.)

To clarify, comb jellyfish are NOT actually jellyfish. They're in a separate phylum from the cnidarians (jellyfish, hydra, sea anemones, coral)

Comb jellyfish lack stinging cells, and they move by beating cilia which reflect light to make pretty patterns.

Check this out:

This looks so much more like a 60's spaceship than an animal, doesn't it? I feel myself humming "Encounters of the Third Kind" watching this video, and I watched a few more comb jellyfish videos while I was at it.

Aliens truly have landed and are here with us under the sea.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 6, 2008 11:12 PM | Report abuse

Y' know, geologically speaking, the roughly 10-million-year difference in the two theories represents something like .4% of the age of planet Earth.

Having said that, all of recorded human history - let's be kind and call those cave paintings in France recorded Human history at 32,000 years - is something like less than one thousandth of a percent of the age of Earth.

A blink of Gaia's eye would be an eternity in comparison.

And the Grand Canyon a wrinkle in her beautiful careworn face, carved by a tear.


Posted by: bc | March 6, 2008 11:17 PM | Report abuse

SciTim, don't really remember Groucho, but from what I've read and heard of both, Bob Newhart could kick Groucho's rear any day.

And Chaplin probably could beat him on the pratfall from that kick, as well.

I'm a huge Robin Williams fan. He is and has been a terrific and creative comic performer and a great adlibber. Mork from Ork alone... well!

I liked Kelsey Grammar as Fraiser, and I'm told he does a great Jack Benny almost constantly, yet next to Robin Williams...

WHO can do a great Robin Williams consistently? The man goes through different personalities at breakneck speed. Just watch him do the voice of Genie in Aladdin.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 6, 2008 11:21 PM | Report abuse

Lovely, bc. Looks like you're in a great mood for the jellyfish videos.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 6, 2008 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Not to boodle-hog too long...

The earliest fossil ctenophores (2 species) have been found in the Late Devonian, in the famous Hunsrückscheifer slates of southern Germany. That's 354 million years at the latest.

Even earlier, ctenophore-like fossils have been found in the Burgess Shale. That's 545 to 525 million years ago at the earliest.

So this phyla of fragile jellies is at least 20 to 30 times older than the Grand Canyon.

Posted by: Wilbrod | March 6, 2008 11:34 PM | Report abuse

I stand corrected, again, MOF. I typed before I read more critically. May I take a Mulligan? *desperately searching for literature regarding the hydrogeology of the Grand Canyon* I confused the rocks with the formation that is the Canyon itself. I give up.

Posted by: jack | March 6, 2008 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Benny. Groucho could only do one-liners, but Benny could act. And do one-liners. And set up longer bits.


Posted by: nellie | March 7, 2008 12:14 AM | Report abuse

And while Groucho was in many movies, he still just did one liners!

Posted by: nellie | March 7, 2008 12:18 AM | Report abuse

I have to agree with Wilbrod and Vintage Lady, Robin Williams is definately my favorite.In terms of Comic genius(writer,producerand sometimes actor) My nod goes to Mel Brooks. But Robin Williams really cracks me up.

Oh, good evening or morning boodle. i saw the train rolling along the potomac tonight, 3 lights shining and the river flooding. it flooded my mind with plenty to write about.

Posted by: greenwithenvy | March 7, 2008 12:31 AM | Report abuse

Jack Benny. No contest. I'm not saying that Groucho wasn't funny, I'm just saying that Jack Benny is practically peerless.

I loved the Don Rickles was amazing to see all those guys up there. Lorne Green and Rich Little...I hadn't thought of them for years! Clearly, those folks knew how to party!

G'night all!

Posted by: Kim | March 7, 2008 12:32 AM | Report abuse

Really hard for me to pick - I love Groucho, Benny (and I would rate their acting ability about the same), WC Fields. Jonathan Winters was the earlier version of Robin Williams. George Carlin, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, Carol Burnett, Steve Martin. Well, I could go on and on. Burns and Allen too. Benny's up at the top, for sure.

And now for something completely different (OMG, John Cleese) - Dave of the Coonties has mentioned the UW arson a couple times. There was a verdict in the trial of one of the people involved in that today:

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 7, 2008 1:40 AM | Report abuse

Best of luck with your decision, Yoki.

Beautiful canyon pictures. The Grand Canyon has some magnificent structures.

Just like the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon also has some awesome structures. To see the true beauty of those structures, you need to be there at a certain time of the day when the sunlight hits them at a certain angle.

I visited Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon just before I left the US in '94. I was standing at the edge of the plateau looking down at the many hoodoos, in Bryce Canyon, at probably 3:30pm or 4pm. When the setting sunlight hit the hoodoos at an angle, the view was simply magnificent and when the sun set further it became a little eerie. Later, I bought a poster of the hoodoos. The poster was rolled up and inside a plastic jacket. When I got home and unrolled it, the poster didn't do the hoodoos justice. I guessed the picture wasn't taken at the right time of the day.

Posted by: rainforest | March 7, 2008 2:38 AM | Report abuse

Not seen any Jack Benny or Groucho Max shows. Robin Williams is funny but somehow I don't quite like him. Steve Martin's ok. He's funny. Carol Burnett, I like.

Posted by: rainforest | March 7, 2008 2:53 AM | Report abuse

Hoodoos rock!
I went up this pretty and very quiet trail last month in NM (b/w S.Fe and Alb.que). I don't know who Kevin and Jean are, but their pics are the same as mine except for all the ice that made us slip happy:

And Jellyfish (hold) sway!
Here are some videos from the lovely Monterey Bay Aquarium (page 2 for the jellies):

Posted by: DNA Girl | March 7, 2008 3:33 AM | Report abuse

That's a sad end to the Center for Urban Horticulture story. To judge from their website, the rebuilt Center is now well-housed, and it looks as though Washington Park's management has changed over the past few years, seemingly with more University involvement. It's got to be one of the most attractive plant collections in the country.

Some of the West's most enjoyable scenery is relatively intimate. Arizona's Montezuma Well might be a case.
That's where a Park Service volunteer drove me a short distance over to the ancient irrigation ditch fed by this spring. It's in perfect condition because the mineralized water hardened its sides.

Along the same lines, the mini-Yosemite atop the Bighorn Range and the mini-mountain of Devils Tower have their charms.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 7, 2008 3:48 AM | Report abuse

DNA girl, that's a beautiful canyon. Fascinating rock!

Posted by: rainforest | March 7, 2008 4:12 AM | Report abuse

SCC: I didn't mean just 1 rock. I meant all the rocks.

Posted by: rainforest | March 7, 2008 4:14 AM | Report abuse

Morning, morning, friends. JA, the pictures are beautiful. The canyon seems like a lonely place, but that does not take anything away from the beauty.

Well, it's Friday, TGIF, and I'm getting ready to get busy. You know one has to prepare to get busy, one does not just break out in it. There is a etiquette here to be observed, a decorum, I believe is the correct word. And in this beginning process, one contemplates the seriousness of getting busy, and whether or not this is a venture to begin. It is not to be taken lightly. And timing is everything in this process. It could very well take awhile. Check with me later to see how it's going.

Scotty, Slyness, Martooni, Mudge, just because it's Friday,you still got to go, let's move people. And a good morning to all.*waving*

Today is suppose to be the rest day. We shall see.

The weather is pretty warm this morning, but the weather folks are calling for rain. And thunderstorms. Yesterday, it was just beautiful. The earlier part of the day, not a cloud in the sky, and then it got warmer. Just lovely.

Have a great day, folks. And a good weekend. Give God some of your time, and enjoy your family.

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: cassandra s | March 7, 2008 5:17 AM | Report abuse

Favorite comics

I had my beginnings with Mom Mabley(talking about old men, she despised them) and Redd Fox, on records, the old albums.

Robin Williams
Jonathan Winters
Bill Cosby
Martin Short
D.L.Hugley(?)Not sure about the spelling.
The guy in the Bewitched series, and the middle square, Paul something.

Graucho Marxx, one liners, but Jack Benny had the look.

My dad mentioned yesterday a song by Billie Holiday, called "The Bitter Earth", anyone heard of it?

Posted by: cassandra s | March 7, 2008 5:36 AM | Report abuse

cassandra, that's funny, you have me laughing this morning. That's just the way my husband always starts his busy days. Me, I jump out of bed and move, right away. I had laundry in the washer within 5 minutes of opening my eyes this morning; often I am jogging ten minutes after the alarm goes off. I slow down as the day goes on, and by 5 p.m. I'm moving pretty slowly.

re: comedians, I'll put in a vote for Michael Palin. For a comedian to make my top ten he needs to be both likeable and highly intelligent. Michael personifies that, in addition to having provided me with many, many laughs.

I saw Robin Williams in an old documentary last night and even though I remember thinking he was really funny years ago, he irritates me now, and I just want to fast forward through his segment. On the other hand, I enjoy Don Rickles more than I used to--I've been through his Youtube oeuvre, and I think he's really funny. When I was young he used to sort of scare me, but now I appreciate his schtick more.

I think I like Groucho more than Benny, he's cleverer. Like his quip about not wanting to join any organization that would have him as a member, or at the country club pool that didn't allow Jews he said, my daughter is only half Jewish, can she go in up to her waist. Jack Benny was funnier to look at, though, and his routines can't be appreciated by reading the words, you have to see his face.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 7, 2008 6:36 AM | Report abuse

I was at the Georgia Aquarium and got a very good picture of a jellyfish.

I got carried taking pictures of the grouper. How can something so dumb looking taste so good. They're like swimming cows in that respect.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 7, 2008 6:51 AM | Report abuse

Groucho is funnier to me, but everyone has a different sense of humor so it's hard to compare different comedians. Carlin, Pryor, Williams are terrific in their own ways but not everything they have done is funny to me. I love Paula Poundstone and Lewis Black and they couldn't be more different in their approachs to humor.

So happy it's Friday. We are looking at torrential rains here tomorrow and a return to winter cold on Sunday. We will have the granddaughters Sunday and I'm thinking of taking them to a museum.

I wish the candidates would take a break for a while, they're going to run out of dirt to throw if they don't, plus I'm getting weary listening to it all.

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | March 7, 2008 7:08 AM | Report abuse

TGIF indeed, Cassandra!! *hopping to it* :-)

Don't ask me to single out a favorite comedian, there are simply too many folks that make me bust a gut on a regular basis.

Including a few right here in our little Boodle.

*not-looking-forward-to-losing-an-hour's-sleep-this-weekend-but-still-happy-to-be-almost-through-the-week Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | March 7, 2008 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, you crack me up!

I move slow all the time, so I can't comment on being busy. Even when I have lots to do, I don't do it fast.

We made it up the mountain fine and found everything in good shape. The owner of the three houses at the end of the street had gravel put down, so the road is in a little better shape. It was getting to be tooth-jarring, so that's good.

Weather is supposed to be rainy and seasonal today, cold and snowy tomorrow. Mr. T will be thrilled with snow.

Happy Friday, everybody!

Posted by: slyness | March 7, 2008 7:31 AM | Report abuse

So much for the huge inland lake theory. So a mystery remains. Good.

That may have been Dinah Washington your dad remembers, Cassandra. I'm not sure.

"This bitter earth
What fruit it bears
What good is love
That no one shares
And if my life is like the dust
That hides the glow of a rose
What good am I
Heaven only knows

This bitter Earth
Can it be so cold
Today you're young
Too soon you're old
But while a voice
Within me cries
I'm sure someone
May answer my call
And this bitter earth
May not be so bitter after all."
(Hayes, Pessis, Mcnully?)

Posted by: Jumper | March 7, 2008 7:33 AM | Report abuse

ScienceTim: I go for Jack Benny. His dry character-based humor redefined what it was to be funny. And it has influenced everyone from Johnny Carson to Kelsey Grammer to David Letterman to Jerry Seinfeld.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 7, 2008 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Jack Benny, violin in hand, at the beginning of his Vaudeville act:

Are you enjoying the show so far?

Well, that'll change.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 7, 2008 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Conan O'Brien claimed, in an interview with Terry Gross, tha he got some of his comic persona by studying Bob Hope movies. Movies, not the late TV stuff.

Ernie Kovacs.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 7, 2008 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra - you have good taste in comedians!

The Center Square gentleman you are referring to is Paul Lynde, who many of us consider a special friend to the boodle. Even though, you know, he's dead and all. But we try not to hold that against him.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 7, 2008 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, it was Paul Lynde (sp?) in the center square and I always liked him, too. Also Carlin, Whoopi, Rich Little, Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor and also there was a female comic named Brett Her-Last-Name-Escapes me who I thought was hilarious. I once saw Pryor and Williams at the Comedy Club (before they were really famous), they performed separately and then got together at the end and it was one of the most brilliant and funniest things I've ever seen in comedy.

I also know what you mean about "preparing" to be busy. It's funny, when I worked 5 days a week, I jumped up Saturday mornings and whirled thru the housework (often accompanied by Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell") just so I could have the rest of the day and Sunday to relax and enjoy. Now that I have all the time in the world, I often contemplate myself right out of doing chores, knowing there's always tomorrow ('To-MOR-row, To-MOR-row, I'll vacumn To-MOR-ow...').

I leave you with that tune cooties boring a hole in your brain all day. Sorry.

Posted by: TLF | March 7, 2008 7:47 AM | Report abuse

SCC: "cootie", just one, so sorry.

Posted by: TLF | March 7, 2008 7:51 AM | Report abuse

I should stress that I love Groucho too. All those old Vaudevillian guys like Jack Benny and Groucho Marx and George Burns have a special place in my heart.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 7, 2008 7:52 AM | Report abuse

TLF, nothing like blasting some music to get the blood flowing and the chores done. Personally, nothing works better than the Stones.

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | March 7, 2008 8:10 AM | Report abuse

That would be Brett Butler you were thinking of TLF. Very, very funny. Had a television show too, which I loved, so of course it was doomed to a short run.

Morning boodle! It is -20F at Chez Frostbitten North this morning so I am glad to be in Tampa. But, will my vehicle start when I get back to MN tomorrow? It's parked at a hotel in Minneapolis. Ah well, at least I arrive in the middle of the day so it won't be dark when I hook up the jumper cables.

Posted by: frostbitten | March 7, 2008 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Back to the Grand Canyon. As we all know, there is a vociferous group out there who insists that the Canyon is but a few thousand years old, and will doubtless latch onto this current debate as a way of justifying their own views. After all, the argument will probably go, if the smarty-pants scientists can't agree, why should we believe anything they say? (There is a chance that the phrase "smarty-pants" might be omitted.)

As has been trotted out before, science is messy and progresses in spurts. There are many dead-ends and inherent uncertainties. It really is all about theories.

I recently read that Florida has decided to issue educational guidelines accepting the demand from Creationists that the word "evolution" always be preceded by the phrase "the scientific theory of".

Of course, they guidelines also insist that all scientific concepts, like, you know, gravity, atoms, and planetary motion also have the "scientific theory of" appended to them. Thus highlighted the ludicrous mis-characterization of the term "theory."

This is the kind of dry humorous approach that Jack Benny would approve of.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 7, 2008 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Sneaks, one of the best things about my first "real" job was getting to clean up the "golden" fast-food joint overnights on the weekend by myself, so that I could blast whatever music I pleased.

The free food helped too.


Posted by: Scottynuke | March 7, 2008 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Ooh, Frostbitten! I heard an interview with Rashida Jones, she's the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton, and has a new Fox series starting called "Unhitched." The point is, she's in Miami working on a movie called "Chilled Florida" or "Florida Chilled" or something, starring Rene Zellweger as a Miami resident who has to relocate to Minnesota for her job. They should have you as a consultant on that film. I can see where it might be funny.

Posted by: kbertocci | March 7, 2008 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Brett Butler! Thanks, frostbitten. I, too, enjoyed her tv show, tho my addled brain cannot recall the name of that, either. Didn't it have "Hope" or "Faith" or some such in the title?

Posted by: TLF | March 7, 2008 8:25 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle.

OK, gang, what did you think of the "Lost" episode last night?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 7, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: omni | March 7, 2008 8:32 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: omni | March 7, 2008 8:33 AM | Report abuse

The Florida legislature is in session and may prohibit schools from teaching much of anything contrary to what kids are led to believe at home. It's framed as a freedom issue. No Cuban Communist messing with family values in Florida. So, in all probability, no evolution without stating that it's just an idea that's been around for a while.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | March 7, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

New kit.

Posted by: dbG | March 7, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Personally, I think Jack Benny was funnier as a stand-up comedian, but Groucho's movies and wide-ranging social and political commentary are superior to anything I ever saw from Benny though I don't discount his inclusion of the Rochester character.

I'm not sure who was a better foil/straightperson for each; Rochester for Benny, or Margaret Dumont for Groucho.

Having said all that, Benny and the Marx Brothers both came up through vaudeville in the early 20th century, and I'm pretty sure that they were friends. Benny was involved with - maybe married? - one of the Marx sisters, IIRC.

On a seperate note I see that Marc Kaufmann has written a piece about something I've long been saying would be a problem: With the decomissioning of the Space Shuttles in 2010, the US will have no manned space capability until the new Ares/Orion systems come on line in 2012 or so.

And the Russians get to name their prices for ferrying Americans to the ISS, as tensions between the two countries are rising...


Posted by: bc | March 7, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I'm now convinced the US is filled mostly with educated idots. Everyone knows Paul Bunion took wiz and the acid in his urine eat away the rock.

Posted by: jfisher23 | March 10, 2008 10:59 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: AIssTLDm | March 11, 2008 3:48 AM | Report abuse

Back to mammilaries. writer must have intended to post to "Flunking Charlotte Allen"



Posted by: FlyOnTheWall | March 11, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

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