In 1995, during a field trip to Death Valley, I encountered Tanzhou Liu, a graduate student at Arizona State University. His specialty was rock varnish. While I had heard of these coatings, I had never given them more than passing attention. T.L., as I came to know him, made sure that my state of ignorance did not persist. He not only showed me varnished rocks, but also blowups, in colour, of thin sections he had made. They were spectacular. Each section was capped by a yellow band that was underlain by a series of orange and black stripes. He explained...

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