Sunday, June 4, 2017


The other night I was channel searching for something to fill the sound of an office room as I was thinking about the Black Rock Desert in Utah.  A friend was traveling through the area and was interested in seeing some geology, and perhaps identifying a few plants.  Suddenly I came upon the movie Cool Hand Luke (“what we got here is…a failure to communicate”). Those of us at a certain age will always remember the performance of Paul Newman as Luke and Luke Askew as Boss Paul.  By the way, Boss (now known as Sheriff Cooley played by Daniel von Bargen) with his sunglasses reappeared in another much later movie with George Clooney entitled Brothers Where Art Thou (see Posting May 11, 2012).  Both movies are among my favorites with the latter requiring a weird sense of humor to really enjoy the nuances.  But Cool Hand Luke appeared in 1967; that was 50 years ago.  Wow.
Photo courtesy of
The year 1967 was monumental for me---no I did not participate in the Summer of Love (see posting August 21, 2012); however, in a space of two weeks I graduated with my M.A. from the University of South Dakota, drove to Kansas and married (spouse still with me), and then drove to Salt Lake City (And I'm bound to keep on riding, and I've got one more silver dollar---Allman Bros Band) where I started doctoral work at the University of Utah.  As I tell my children (and anyone else who will listen), it was an interesting time in our nation, and the world.  Nearly a half million people were serving our country in Southeast Asia and several were my friends, some of whom did not return alive.  
Getting ready for USD 1967 Homecoming parade, downtown Vermilion. Yes, I had a collection of narrow ties.  Photo courtesy USD Archives and Special Collections.
The Middle East was in flames again as Israel tangled with Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the Six Day War. Things haven’t changed much today except the weapons have become more deadly and powerful and certainly more expensive.  How much does $110 million buy?  Wait, my mistake---that is $110 Billion!
I never made it to the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles.  Here the Go Go Dancers perform the Watusi in a cage suspended from the ceiling.  Photo courtesy of the
On the social scene discotheques appeared, even a few popped up in Salt Lake City, where young ladies danced in suspended cages.  Say it ain’t true dad.  Yep, I hate to say it but your mother and I actually observed this sort of behavior while rocking to Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane belting out Somebody to Love and White Rabbit.  But don’t worry son, we did not tie dye our tee shirts!  And very seldom did we visit an actual establishment that served alcoholic beverages and provided a live band since our personal income was rather low!  That fact was not lost on my fellow grad students and we were all in the same boat.  So, it was three quarts of beer for a buck and a gallon of cheap red wine to accompany our spaghetti dinners.

Check out the Jefferson Airplane at youtube with White Rabbit!
On the academic side, it was field trips and field work that excited all students.  I mean, that is why we became geologists.  At times the trips were led by professors, at times by advanced grad students, and at times by someone saying “we are heading to----somewhere---and leaving at six tomorrow morning.  Grab you tents and supplies and meet us at the corner of ------.”

Walk along the river, sweet lullaby, it just keeps on flowing,
It don't worry 'bout where it's going, no, no.
Don't fly, mister blue bird, I'm just walking down the road,
Early morning sunshine tell me all I need to know
RIP Gregg Allman

On one of our trips, heading to the San Rafael Swell, we stopped near Soldier Summit (US 6 from Spanish Fork to Price, Utah) at the former site of Colton.  Yes, Colton is still listed on the maps and a “general store” is present (sometimes open, often not) but that is “new Colton.”  The "old Colton" was a little to the west and had the original name of Pleasant Valley Junction. It was first constructed in the early1880’s as a stopping point for the newly built Rio Grande Railroad.  Pleasant Valley Junction provided coal and water to refuel the engines that hauled coal cars from Price over the pass to Spanish Fork/Provo.  The area around Price has almost unlimited (it seems) supplies of Cretaceous-age coal. In addition to the Price area coal, the hills around Pleasant Valley Junction, known as Pleasant Valley, also produced coal, transported by a spur line, for shipment to the west and for use as fuel for the train.  By around 1897/1898 Pleasant Valley Junction had morphed into a sort of booming town and was renamed Colton (as best that I can tell from the history books the name honors a person associated with the railroad).  Evidently the town started shipping local agricultural products, ice (in the winter), and a strange new and rare hydrocarbon from some local mines, ozokerite. 

Google Earth © image of the Colton area.  Soldier Summit is just to the north of the upper border along US 6 leading to Spanish Fork/Provo.  Price is to the south on US 6.  
Ozokerite, a waxy hydrocarbon, had been known from the Soldier Summit/Colton area since the mid-1880s but serious mining did not take place until after the turn of the century.  The depth of the mine shafts was reported by Taft and Smith (1905) to be in excess of 200 feet with several lateral drifts following veins ranging from a few inches to three feet in thickness.  Small powered hoists (steam I presume) were used to transport the wax to the surface.  In addition, some shafts started at the surface and simply followed the veins into the host rock fractures.

Taft and Smith (1905) further noted that the distilling location consisted of a steam boiler and engine, a crusher, and steam-heated vats with narrow bottoms.  The host rock and the ozokerite were crushed and run into the long vats containing water at boiling temperatures.  The ozokerite begins to melt at ~ 136 degrees F while the crushed host rock waste was driven out of the narrow-bottom vats by a revolving screw.  The floating ozokerite was skimmed off, placed in pans, cooled, and then remelted to remove all moisture.
Either Colton or Pleasant Valley Junction.  Photo courtesy of Utah Historical Society.
Ozokerite (AKA wax, wax stone, earth wax, crack wax, ear wax, blister wax, paraffin wax, paraffin, pietricikite, and others) is one of those strange and interesting solid bitumens found in Utah, and in other places in the world.  However, Utah seems to have the greatest variety in the United States: kerogen in oil shales; ozokerite (ozocerite), albertite, ingramite, glance pitch, gilsonite (see Posting March 13, 2013), tabbyite, asphaltic (tar) sandstones, argulite, asphaltic limestones, wurtzilite, liverite, elaterite (Hunt, 1963) and Chinese Wax (Ritzma, 1975); most bitumens are associated with the Tertiary Green River Formation in the Uinta Basin. Generally, the bitumens are solids with low melting points; however, some are essentially heavy liquids as they “ooze” out of rocks---often depending on ambient temperatures.  The bitumens generally are distinguished from one another by their fusing points (point at which they melt), solubility in carbon disulfide, physical characters, specific gravity, sulfur content, Infrared Absorption Spectra, refractive indices, and the hydrogen/carbon ratio. Hunt (1963) arranged the Utah bitumens into four groups according to their increasing fusing points: waxes (ozokerite), asphalts (tabbyite, liverite, liquid gilsonite, argulite), asphaltites (gilsonite, grahamite, glance pitch, asphalitic sandstones, asphalitic limestones), and pyrobitumens (wurtzilite, ingramite, albertite). However, none of these bitumens meet the criteria that would qualify them as true minerals.

Ozokerite in the Colton/Soldier Summit area is generally black to brown-black in color often with inclusions of yellow-green resinous material (pure ozokerite from several European localities is colorless).  It does not bend but seems malleable; at times the material has a petroliferous odor.  It is soft and can be scratched with a finger nail, cut with a knife and has a “greasy feel.”  The hydrogen/carbon ration is about 85/15 and ozokerite has a very low specific gravity of around 0.8-0 .9 (water is 1.0).  The melting point of ozokerite is low as it begins to melt at ~136 degrees.  This low melting point allowed the early miners to boil the mine-run ozokerite in water and skim it off the surface to help eliminate the impurities. 
Ozokerite collected near Colton, Utah.  Note the shiny surface that creates a "slick" feel.  Length is ~7.0 cm.
Hunt (1963) grouped the major bitumens of Utah (essentially the Uinta Basin) as oil shales, vein deposits, and bituminous sandstones and each group occurs in a particular sedimentary facies associated with the Tertiary Green River Formation.  The Green River rocks are lacustrine (lake) deposits associated with intermontane basins in Utah (Uinta), Colorado (Piceance), and Wyoming (Greater Green River).  The widespread oil shales are found in the lake rocks while the bituminous vein deposits (including ozokerite) are associated with fracture systems in the shore facies.  Rocks of the subaerial facies seem devoid of bitumens.  Hunt (1963) further believed these solid bitumens started as heavy oils and migrated along fault zones, or migrated updip, from the lacustrine facies into the shoreline facies.  He pointed out that some wells in the Basin produce oil from fractured bituminous shale in the Green River Formation and the “heavy fraction” is similar in composition to ozokerite. Of course, the liquid fractions evaporated and oxidized leaving behind the wax as the oil morphed into ozokerite (and other vein bitumens).

A similar vein bitumen situation occurs near the summit of Daniels Canyon, the major mountain pass on US 40 trending from Heber City to Vernal, Utah.  Ritzma (1975) reported the Chinese Wax Mine produces a hydrocarbon that ranges from very viscous heavy oil to a very soft wax (depending on ambient temperature) that fills the pore spaces of the badly fractured host rock.  Composition of the hydrocarbon is similar to ozokerite. Several decades ago, before my claustrophobia blossomed, I somewhat explored parts of the mine and noticed a black substance oozing from the rock.  Later I found that the mine was first claimed in 1909 and actually produced, by retorting or distilling, a high-grade oil that was used in automobiles, lamps and the candle wax industry. The commercialization of the mine seemed short lived.
Map showing location of Uinta and Piceance Basins.  Daniels Canyon Summit is located in the far northwest corner of the Basin.  Map courtesy of
The really interesting aspect of the Chinese Wax Mine is the geological setting--it is located on the far west margin of the Uinta Basin where the Pennsylvanian-Permian Oquirrh Formation crops out.  The Oquirrh is present due to a large thrust fault (the Charleston) “transporting” the rocks from several tens of miles to the west.  In other words, the marine rocks of the Oquirrh were originally deposited in a Pennsylvanian-Permian Basin west of Salt Lake City and “thrusted’ along a low angle fault many miles to the east. The oil evidently migrated along a fracture zone from the lacustrine facies of the Green River Formation several miles toward the center of the Uinta Basin (Ritzma, 1975).
Diagram of a thrust fault with compression from the left pushing older rocks over younger rocks.  Note the blue layer is older than the green layer.  However, in the area of the white circle note the older layer (blue) is sitting on the younger layer (green).  Public Domain sketch courtesy of Mikenorton.
Thrust faults are one of the wonders of geology.  In describing these magnificent features Hintz (2005) stated: lifting a brick house off its foundation and putting it on wheels to move it somewhere else is something we’ve seen and can understand.  But taking a stack of rock strata 2 or 3 miles thick and several tns or even hundreds of miles long and wide and moving it 50 or 60 miles on its own bedding planes or fracture zones and having it arrive and having it arrive at its destination in some coherent shape is something we find almost unbelievable!  Yet evidence this commonly happens during an orogeny is undeniable…  In Utah, these Cretaceous thrust faults were caused by crustal shortening due to plate collision and compression to the west. 
This diagram, courtesy of the University of Maryland, illustrates tectonics in the western US during the Jurassic and Cretaceous----the Sevier Orogeny.  A Pacific plate was being subducted under a continental plate (note red arrow).  Crustal melting, volcanism, metamorphism, and large-scale intrusions formed the rocks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Further to the right note how the compression, caused by the subduction, caused large thrust faults that moved older rocks over younger rocks.
Ozokerite originally was used in candle making (a higher melting point), mixed with rubber (not synthetic) to construct electrical insulators, boot polish, a skin balm, and distilled into light oil. Today all ozokerite is obtained by distilling petroleum products and is mainly used in various beauty products as a binder, emulsion stabilizer or a thickener.  It is used to add strength to lipstick and compact eye shadow. It is also found in some brands of skin care lotions, suntan lotions, and fragrance.  Perhaps one should check the label on makeup; however, it may be listed as ceresin, a “purified” ozokerite.  I did a quick check at the local pharm and noted that several brands of lip balm contained ozokerite.  Ain’t geology fun?


Hintze, L.F., 2005, Utah’s Spectacular geology: Department of Geology, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

Hunt, J.M., 1963, Composition and origin of the Uinta Basin bitumens in Oil and gas possibilities of Utah, re-evaluated, A.L. Crawford (Ed.), Utah Geological and Mineralogical Survey, Bulletin 54, Paper 24.

Ritzma, H.R., 1975, The Chinese Wax Mine; A unique oil-impregnated rock deposit: Utah Geology; vol. 2, no. 1.

Taft, J.A., and C.D. Smith, 1905, Ozokerite deposits in Utah: Contributions to Economic Geology.

There's a dance called the Watusi
 it's out of sight, 
First you slide to the left then to the right. 
The Watusi is out of sight, 
You slide to the left, 
then to the right. 
Take two steps up and keep it tight. 
And do the Watusi, 
it sure is a sight.
Come, on try, sugar pie, 

OK, so the lyrics seem a little lame compare to lyrics today (often vulgar).  But this song (sung by The Vibrations) and accompanying dance were "really big" in the 1960s.  Note one of the photos above.