Montana Public Radio

geology

Lichens are a combination of fungi and algae living together in a symbiotic relationship. In this symbiosis, the fungi and algae benefit from each other. This evolutionary adaptation allows lichens to grow in some incredibly harsh environments: in deserts and in the Arctic, on barren tundra and on bare rock. Lichens grow in such rugged environments that some early naturalists thought they existed on nothing but air and sunlight.

Geology student studying the limestone near Farlin, MT.
UM Western

Last summer I was helping teach a geology field camp near Dillon. On our way back to the Birch Creek Outdoor Education Center each day, after long hours in the August sun spent identifying and mapping incredible exposures of rock, we would drive past a few crumbling cabins beneath an unweathered cliff face footed by large piles of scree.

This was once the town of Farlin – a long-abandoned copper mining camp at the base of the Pioneer Mountains. Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, it was home to hundreds of men, women, and children. Inextricable from the experience of Montana, ghost towns like this one now dot the landscape they once extracted.

The Bitterroot Mountain range, part of the Idaho Batholith
Beth Anne Austein

The difference in temperature between the crust, mantle and core creates an effect where hot molten rock, called magma, slowly moves toward the surface in plumes, much like the wax of a lava lamp. This phenomenon, called convection, slowly moves the plates of the earth’s crust, grinding them against each other, causing volcanoes, earthquakes -- and mountains.

Glacial erratic in Yellowstone Park's Lamar Valley
Jo Suderman - National Parks Service

Few sights have the romantic appeal of a lone tree growing in the grasslands of Montana. While these trees are beloved by photographers and artists for the serenity and peace they evoke, their origins typically lie in a more abrasive past. As the Wisconsian and Pinedale glaciations began their slow march from the mountains of western Montana and greater Yellowstone, they picked up rocks of varying sizes from pebbles to house-sized boulders. When the climate shifted and the glaciers melted, the rocks trapped in the ice settled on the ground and became known as glacial erratics.

Roger Lynn

"Blodgett Canyon," written by Ben Johnson, read by Caroline Kurtz.