Monday, December 27, 2010

Like caterpillars, crawling or marching...

...northward out of or toward Mexico.

On Christmas Day, I went hunting for the source of the widely quoted description of the Basin and Range, starting with my easy-to-find reference in Bill Fiero's Geology of the Great Basin. He said that a long time ago a geologist had compared the mountain ranges of the Basin and Range to "dark fuzzy caterpillars crawling northward" [his words]. He didn't reference the geologist, so I got to wondering and went online. Well, I was already online, but I went farther, into that great Google machine, starting with "basin and range caterpillars," which got me the Wikipedia Basin and Range page and The Basin and Range Province (Coulter, 2005). Both pages state that it was Clarence Dutton who made the analogy, quoting him as saying "army of caterpillars marching toward Mexico" and "an army of caterpillars crawling northward out of Mexico," respectively. You'll immediately notice the double discord: marching v. crawling and toward v. out of.

I was inclined to go with the second quote, because it partly agreed with what Fiero had said, and because at least Coulter (2005) had given a reference, namely to King (1977). Going back to Google with basin and range "army of caterpillars" dutton, I found another reference to "an army of caterpillars crawling northward out of Mexico" by Mac and others (1998), who again cited King (1977), with Dutton being the quotee; and I also found this article (Jensen and Platts, 1990), which quotes Dutton (1880) as saying "army of caterpillars marching to Mexico," reinforcing the quote confusion, but providing the alleged source: Dutton (1880).

So, hence to Dutton's 1880 tome, Geology of the high plateaus of Utah, which is searchable online by various methods, including visual scanning. The quote, if present in that volume in any form, would have to be hidden on a map included in the Atlas (which I also viewed and eliminated), or in the footnotes, many of which I scanned. Searching for "caterpillars" or "Mexico" does not yield the quote; searching for all occurrences of "north" does not yield the quote. I didn't try all occurrences of "out of" or "toward," but did scan all seemingly relevant chapters and sections more than once without results. The problem with search methods other than reading or visual scanning, is that the original is old, so some words don't search properly or have been changed by the various methods of acquisition (e.g., digital scanning) to other words or nonsense words. Also, a word like northward can be broken at the end of a line into "north-" and followed in the next line by "ward." The quote might still be in there somewhere, but I doubt it.

Then, tyring to get some help via Twitter, I was led by @rschott to the above picture, which is from Dante's View at Death Valley National Park. The sign quotes Dutton (1880) as saying, " an army of caterpillars crawling toward Mexico...." Darn, there for a minute I thought the caterpillars crawled when going north, and marched when going south!

Ron Schott also found an old reference to the quote, wherein Keyes (1920) said that Dutton "likens [the ranges] on the map to an army of caterpillars crawling northward out of Old Mexico." This is the oldest reference (so far), perhaps giving credence to the northward crawling aspect of the alleged Basin and Range quote. Additionally, at least one reference (Udall, 1998) has Dutton "quipping," suggesting that Dutton might have been speaking at a meeting rather than writing a report.

Another tidbit in this intensive reference hunt: I found one endnote (in Goin and Starrs, 2005) that states:
"army of caterpillars" is without a doubt Clarence Dutton's comment, but exact attribution is impossible – although everyone knows he wrote or said it, chapter and verse are undocumented in our experience, but it is quoted by John McPhee in Basin and Range (1981).
I couldn't find the quote or a reference to Dutton in Basin and Range.
Basins and ranges in central Nevada

And then things got interesting.

This search led to a more detailed quote from Dutton: "composed of many short, abrupt ranges looking upon the map like an army of caterpillars crawling northward. At length the army divides into two columns...." I couldn't, however, search farther in that book (Anderson, 1977), or find where Dutton said that. Later, on Boxing Day, I used this search confining the timing to 1879 to 1921, and found this long reference to Dutton's description of the desert mountains or arid ranges of the west (Keyes, 1909), though it isn't explicitly a quote:
Upon the map Dutton has likened them to an army of caterpillars crawling northward out of Mexico, dividing as it enters the United States, the main body turning westward and then northward again until it passes into the British possessions.
I was pretty sure at this point that we had narrowed it down to, more or less, "an army of caterpillars crawling northward out of Mexico," but I still couldn't find the reference!

I then went a little farther, using this search to reveal even more of the Dutton quote, still with no viewable reference (Anderson, 1977):
"...composed of many short abrupt ranges looking upon the map like an army of caterpillars crawling northward. At length the army divides into two columns, one marching northwest, the other north-north east."
Anderson (1977) then goes on to say, "Hence the Great Basin's ranges, and the Rockies...," implying that the quote refers to the entire west, not just the Basin and Range.

By this time, I was ready to finish up this blog post and move on, so I grabbed another view of the west from Google Earth...
And then, late in the afternoon, another link came in from Twitter, this time from @microecos, who blogs here. It's the full and entire quote, with the source! Dutton (1886) says:
The great belt of Cordilleras coming up through Mexico and crossing into United States territory is depicted as being composed of many short, abrupt ranges or ridges, looking upon the map like an army of caterpillars crawling northward. At length, about 150 miles north of the Mexican boundary, this army divides into two columns, one marching northwest, the other north-northeast The former branch becomes the system of mountain ridges spread over the southern and western portions of Arizona, the whole of Nevada and the western portion of Utah and extending into Oregon and Idaho.
What he goes on to say from there, makes it clear that the western army going to the northwest (to begin with) is the Basin and Range of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and Idaho, and the eastern army, going to the north-northeast (to begin with) is the Rocky Mountains.

Check it out for yourself, right here!

How many times has Dutton been misquoted? Not sure, but I'd say tens of times—or more! I own at least two such misquotes, myself (the caterpillars crawling or marching to or toward Mexico rather than crawling northward). Surprisingly, the misquoting began as early as 1915!

Some References:
Anderson, R.S., 1977, A biography of Clarence Edward Dutton (1841-1912), nineteenth century geologist and geographer: Stanford University, 252 pp.

Coulter, Poppy, 2005, The Basin and Range Province: Volcanoes of the Eastern Sierra Nevada,: Geology and Natural Heritage of the Long Valley Caldera, at Indiana University Geological Sciences (a field course website).

Dutton, C.E., 1880, Geology of the high plateaus of Utah: U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region, vol. 32, 307 pp, with Atlas.

Review of Dutton's 1880 monograph at Magma Cum Laude

Dutton, C.E., 1886, Mount Taylor and the Zuni Plateau, p. 105-198 in Volume III of Report of the Secretary of the Interior; being part of the Message and Documents Communicated to the Two Houses of Congress at the Beginning of the First Session of the Forty Ninth Congress in Five Volumes: Washington, Government Printing Office.

Fiero, Bill, 1986, Geology of the Great Basin: University of Nevada Press, 198 pp.

Goin, Peter, and Starrs, P.F., 2005, Black Rock, Volume 2004: University of Nevada Press, 273 pp.

Jensen, S.E., and Platts, W.S., 1990, Restoration of degraded riverine/riparian habitat in the Great Basin and Snake River Regions, p. 367-404 in J.A. Kusler and M.E. Kentula (eds.) Wetland Creation and Restoration: The Status of the Science. Island Press, Washington, D.C. 591 pp.

Keyes, C.R., 1909, Lineaments of the desert: Popular Science Monthly, v. 74, p. 19-30.

Keyes, Charles, 1920, Paleozoic Diastrophics of the Northern Mexican Tableland: The Journal of Geology, vol. 28, no. 1, p. 75-83.

King, P.B., 1977, The Evolution of North America: Princeton University Press, 216 pp.

Mac, M. J., Opler, P. A., Puckett Haecker, C. E., and Doran, P. D., 1998, Great Basin—Mojave Desert Region in Status and trends of the nation’s biological resources Vol. 2: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA, p. 437-964.

McPhee, John, 1981, Basin and Range: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 215 pp.

Rice, W.N., Adams, F.D., Coleman, A.P., Walcott, C.D., Lindgren, Waldemar, Ransome, F.L., and Matthew, W.D., 1915, Problems of American geology: a series of lectures dealing with some of the problems of the Canadian shield and of the Cordilleras: Yale University Press, 505 pp.

Udall, S.L., 1998, The myths of August: a personal exploration of our tragic Cold War affair with the atom: Rutgers University Press, 412 pp.

A Few Google Book Searches:
clarence dutton caterpillars
dutton caterpillars crawling (1879-1921)
dutton caterpillars crawling northward divides northeast
abrupt ranges looking upon the map like an army of caterpillars


Ron Schott said...

A-ha! So the columns are dividing around the Colorado Plateau, with the main body of the army marching northwest through Nevada and western Utah while the other smaller column follows the Rio Grande Rift northward through Colorado.

Spectacular research and perseverance, Silver Fox! We are truly in your debt for tracking this one down. Great work!

Silver Fox said...

Thanks, Ron! I'm indebted to you and @microecos, and I know others were Googling, also. I hadn't tried the Google Book Search method until you posted the results of your searches.

Gaelyn said...

Dang, you got the research down. Does seem to go around the CO plateau. Maybe I should read more Dutton.

Dana Hunter said...

Awesome! Excellent detective work! Now we can giggle every time we see someone misquote Dutton with seeming authority. It's no wonder the image caught on and evolved: first time I read it and then looked at an image of the Basin and Range, the two meshed perfectly. It's one of those descriptions that powerfully evokes the reality.

Nina F said...

Wonderful post on pretty much my favorite topic - Basin and Range Province and the Great Basin within.
In "The Broken Land - Adventures in Great Basin Geology" (2003), (in my opinion one of the greatest books ever written!), Frank L DeCourten wrote (pg. 10) about the poetic geologist Clarence Dutton describing the province as "an army of Caterpillars crawling toward Mexico" (or coming "north out of Mexico" depending on who "quotes" Dutton!). McCourten wanted to make the distinction (which we now know but perhaps they did not back in Dutton's time?) that the caterpillars were heading south (extending into)to Mexico - that the B&R province extends far beyond the area of internal drainage of the Great Basin.
McCourten takes the theme further in chapter 8 "The Army of Caterpillars and the Conflagration" and a section (page 180) he calls "Extensional Faulting - the Caterpillars Hatch."

If I were allowed to keep only one book (geology or otherwise) in my lifetime, THIS excellent book would be it. Second would be "Annals of the Former World" by John McPhee.
Thanks for a great post!

Silver Fox said...

Thanks, Nina!

Nina, Frank DeCourten made the mistake that everyone has made over the years - not to find Dutton's original quotation, "crawling northward." He also made the second common mistake, in thinking that Dutton was referring just to the Basin and Range, when in fact he was referring to the entire West. Dutton and other geologists may not have known about the internal drainage of the Great Basin - I don't know when that was discovered.

The Great Basin is a very tiny thing compared to the Basin and Range, and they are very different things (maybe another blog post?). The Basin and Range runs from Mexico, into Arizona and part of New Mexico, into part of southern California, into Nevada and Utah, and then into Oregon and Idaho. There is also some Basin and Range in Washington. I suspect a bit of Basin and Range type country is opening in northern B.C. or southern Yukon near Kluane Lake.

The Great Basin is a hydrographic province, mostly but not entirely in Nevada and Utah, where drainage is internal and not to the sea. It only overlaps with a small portion of the Basin and Range, which is a tectonic or geologic province.

Yes, those are two good books! :)

Silver Fox said...

Of course, if DeCourten - or anyone else - would have cited Dutton properly, I wouldn't have ended up posting this! :)

Anonymous said...

Great work, and fun to read!

No doubt the comparison of mountain ranges to "marching caterpillars" would have been enhanced (in Dutton's time) by the former practice of drawing mountain ranges on maps with radiating pen strokes, rather than contour lines, giving them a real resemblance to fuzzy caterpillars, for example here (zoom to the "original" size):


Silver Fox said...

Thanks, Howard. That's a great point you have about the way maps used to make mountains look like caterpillars. I hadn't thought of that, but maybe Fiero had, when he said "fuzzy."

Suvrat Kher said...

this made terrific reading.. thanks!

Silver Fox said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Suvrat - it was fun to write!

Cian said...

Wow! Great example of playing telephone with quotes, and no one knows where the real one was from. I'm impressed you were able to track down the source (and I'm reminded of how much online search engines and material have changed this kind of research and fact checking!).

Silver Fox said...

The quote was finally tracked down by @microecos, though I'm sure my relentless tweeting had something to do with that. Many of these mistakes could have (fairly) easily been corrected before libraries went digital - I think researchers were often more particular at that time. The quote somehow, though, got distorted - and it was distorted early on - and then at some point, everyone assumed it was one of those things that "everyone knows" so doesn't really need to be cited anymore. If Dutton had just said that in a Monograph or Professional Paper, instead of a huge report to Congress - I think that's how it got lost.