Like Water for Martians

When I fly, I like to have the window seat. As an artist, I have a passion for the shapes and patterns that make up our world, and there’s no better place to observe than from the sky. It’s a landscape largely defined by the flow of water. Water has sculpted a beautiful world for us to live in.

This is an illustration I did for my Tumalo Creek project, showing the Deschutes River Watershed. The view is to the west, with the Mt. Hood and the Columbia River on the right.


When Google Earth first came out, I used to spend hours “flying” around the planet, simply enjoying the way the earth looks. I’m a geography geek at heart.

And, when Google Earth came out with their amazing “explore Mars” option, I was in hog-heaven. I could zoom through canyons and explore craters, and what had been abstract—a distant planet I knew little about—suddenly seemed almost as real as if I were there myself.

Recently, there has been some exciting news from NASA. The rover Curiosity has found  what appears to be an ancient stream bed—proof of water on Mars. It has long been suspected that water was present on the red planet, either now or in the past, but now they are sure of it. It is good news, because is means that Mars is, or was, capable of supporting life as we know it. It’s a step forward in answering one of the most intriguing questions of humankind: are we alone?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell


I find it amazing that we are able to enjoy images such as this…an actual photo of a Martian sunset, taken in 2005 by the rover Spirit. Has any form of Martian life ever seen this view? Personally, I can’t wait to find out what Curiosity digs up. Could there be fossils? Actual microbes? Tracks?

Okay…now my imagination is running wild.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona


The above photo is a composite image of the Gales Crater, where Curiosity is now. If you haven’t already tried it, try exploring Mars with Google Earth. Just go to the “View” menu, and choose “Explore Mars”. When the planet appears, type in “Gales Crater” in the “fly to” box. Another place I like to explore is the Valles Marineris—a huge canyon much longer than Earth’s Grand Canyon. It’s pretty cool.


Coming back to Earth

I few years ago, I designed, illustrated and wrote a series of interpretive signs for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department at Hat Rock State Park. The park itself is not what you would call spectacular, but for interpretive topics, it is fascinating. Not only did it feature prominently in the Lewis and Clark expedition, but it has interesting geology, and especially interesting to me, it was a good place to tell the story of the Ice Age Floods.

This was one of a series of signs I did for my Hat Rock project.


The story of the Floods is complex, and on the sign itself, I had to be extremely brief. So, I picked one aspect of the story I thought was most interesting. As you stand on the bluff at Hat Rock, you are looking directly at the place where a cataclysmic event happened at least once (and probably many times)…and it is possible it was witnessed by human eyes.

This is how I told the story on the sign:

Toward the end of the Ice Age, about 15,000 thousand years ago, there was an enormous lake in Montana that was formed when the Clark River was blocked by a large wall of ice – an ice dam. As the ice began to melt, it suddenly broke apart and the water burst forth in one mad rush. A towering wall of water, hundreds of feet high, thundered across the landscape, spreading out over eastern Washington.

The frenzied flow was slowed by the Wallula Gap, a narrow spot on the horizon to the east of where you are now. Here, the water backed up into an enormous lake behind the Gap. The Wallula Gap acted like a nozzle on a garden hose, forcing the water through at tremendous pressure and continuing for several weeks. The water scoured the landscape, carving out huge boulders from the rocky landscape and hurtling them downriver. From where you now stand, the river would have looked chaotic. Eventually, the water would have risen over your head!

This is the view from Hat Rock, where the visitor stands as they read the sign.



The flow of water would have been unimaginably intense. If there had been people around at the time, they probably ran for their lives…probably unsuccessfully.

There are lots more stories to tell about water on earth, about physical geography, the Ice Age Floods, and hopefully, lots more stories to come from Mars. Stay tuned to this blog!

For more information on the Ice Age Floods:

To watch an awesome video animation of the Curiosity landing on Mars:


7 thoughts on “Like Water for Martians

  1. The thing I always marvel about during debates about climate change is that the people who don’t believe it is happening seem to be of the view that it has also never happened before. I think before any such discussion, everyone should have to answer the question: Has climate change ever happened on earth? 🙂

    • Good idea, Mark! There is an interesting story associated with the Ice Age Floods, also known as the Bretz Floods. The theory of catastrophic flooding was initially proposed by J. Harlan Bretz in the 1920s, who recognized it as the only way the strange landscapes (the channeled scablands) of central Washington could have formed. But, he was scorned by the scientific community because his theory sounded too much like the stories of the great flood (Noahs Ark) in the Bible. At that time, many scientists felt they had finally gotten people to accept scientific theories such as the fact of things happening slowly over ‘geologic time’—and they were reluctant to accept any theory that sounded too biblical. Eventually though, the Bretz Theory was shown to be correct. The evidence was plain.

    • Thanks Barb and Dick! As I was drawing those people, I tried to imagine how frightening it would have been to witness such an event. But, if they had been close enough to the Wallula Gap to see the water explode through, they probably would not have had time to run far enough to escape the rising water. The water eventually rose up over the top of Hat Rock, forming a huge lake.

  2. As a young adult growing up in Walla Walla the Wallula gap is so memorable. I was very involved in sports so our track team would travel to play other E WA teams and driving from tri cities back home we had a ritual around the closing of the gap, it is nice to have this history behind it. Glory days!!!
    I love your blog and follow it regularly, thank you for sharing your rich knowledge and parts of yourself.

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