We're on the Hanford Reach National Monument in Eastern Washington - making our way up Rattlesnake Mountain. "This is essentially an earth analog for a lot of what planetary scientists have been looking at on Mars, in particular."
Ridell works for the Department of Energy's National Lab in Richland, Washington. The Pacific Northwest National Lab is one of only 9 in the country. Normally, we'd never be allowed here. Ridell has special clearance from the Department of Energy to use this land as an outdoor laboratory.
"Remove the people, remove the vegetation, all the signs of humans and you've got Mars."
One of the more dramatic and obvious comparisons is a massive ridgeline called 'wrinkle ridge.' It's in Eastern Washington and there are similar looking wrinkle ridges on Mars.
A side by side look at Rattlesnake mountain's North Slope and a similar slope on Mars show striking similarities. And there are other comparisons. Sand dunes, on Earth and on Mars and lava flows with lots of basalt rock are found here and and on Mars.
Rattlesnake Mountain is also covered with volcanic basalt rocks and shows evidence of possible flooding -- both features also found on the Red Planet.
Ridell says the comparisons are so remarkable, even NASA scientists train here. "If they get an idea of what the terrain is like then they can help design their experiments," says Ridell.
Back in February, just 50 days into the Mars Rover Project -- NASA scientists made a priceless discovery: Evidence that there was once water on the Red Planet. "Opportunity is now parked on what was once the shoreline of a salty sea," boasted an excited NASA scientist. Scientists found ripple patterns and concentrations of salt that NASA believes are telltale signs that rocks formed in standing water.
Ridell sees the same patterns in Eastern Washington. "It's the field like this, that drives people in geology," says Ridell.
It's also the discoveries, that drive them: On Mars and Eastern Washington's mini mars.
Ridell says he plans to invite scientists from all over the world to eastern Washington next year to explore that secret, but amazing, piece of land.