Thursday, July 14, 2011

Left Behind: Pink Point

It's rare that I haven't brought too much back from the field, rather than too little, so I had to think hard about the question for this month's Accretionary Wedge:
What do you regret leaving behind at a geological locality?
and I'm not sure that what and where I left this one thing qualifies as terribly geological.

One day, while in the middle of our 1978 helicopter camp in Hot Creek Canyon (camp #3, not yet blogged), I was let off by the helicopter in the early morning on the top of a drainage — a fairly typical thing for days when the helicopter was in camp. That particular morning, there was no good place near the top of the drainage to be let out, and so the pilot put one skid on a rock outcrop jutting 10 or 20 feet up in the air, a rocky mass all surrounded by dense juniper and piñon. He told me to hop out on the downhill side. (We hadn't really gotten any hover-exit training the way Indiana Meg did; our pilot seemingly expected us to know everything he learned over his many years in Vietnam and Alaska.)

I looked, and sure enough it was somehow possible; after I threw my pack into the brush below me, I managed to get myself onto the skid. Maybe it was only 5 feet down, but it was the hairiest "landing" save one other that I can recall.

The rest of the day was somewhat standard save for three things.

(1) I found a large pink projectile point in the middle of the drainage I was walking down, a drainage that had obviously seen some flooding in the last 1 to 5 years. The point was possibly made of Ivanhoe "chert" (more precisely opalite or silicified tuff) from the Tosawihi Quarries of northern Nevada, a large series of rock quarries made by ancient to nearly present-day native Americans in the Ivanhoe mercury-gold district north of Battle Mountain. I had been trained by my archaeological contacts to leave things like this in place, but I debated a long time before complying and moving downstream. GPS didn't exist back then, so I carefully spotted the location on my 7.5' topo map, planning to report the location later to the NAS or BLM. The problem with this approach is that the point was an anomaly: it was probably washed downstream in the most recent flash flood and would probably end up being buried by the next. I should have picked it up, marked the location on the map, and turned it in to a museum or some other appropriate outfit.

That's the thing I regret leaving in the field.

(2) A second fairly unusual thing happened that day when I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. It was by no means the first rattler I'd seen that summer, but it was the closest I had come to one without being warned. I was walking rather quickly downhill through some trees, having bypassed part of the drainage because of dense vegetation. I stepped, and in mid-step I saw the rattlesnake just as it saw me. I sidled rapidly to the right while it slithered rapidly to the left. It had absolutely no interest in making a stand, which is what I've found to be the case in most of my rattlesnake encounters. Needless to say my adrenalin shot up.

(3) Later that day, after having walked and sampled the entire drainage down to the range front, I picked out a likely helicopter landing spot on the upper part of the alluvial fan. The sun was hot. The willows, or some other large, clumpy masses of sticks with minimal leaves, were not casting any shadows worth using, and trees were lacking. I took my flannel shirt (worn in early morning when the temperatures were sometimes chilly) out of my backpack, placed it half over a sagebrush and half over my head and face, and lay down under the shade I had just created.

I think that the only reason I recall the last bit is because of the three earlier unusual events and because it was possibly the first time I created shade in the desert that way. The trunk of a juniper tree would have been most welcome.


For the record, I also regret leaving behind one or two boxes of jasperoid from my thesis area in the yard or shed of a house I moved away from in 1979 or 1980. As far as I know, samples of that jasperoid no longer exist, certainly there are no more outcrops of it.

Related Posts:
A Few Rules of the Desert
The Caliente Series & Caliente Camp Series


Gaelyn said...

I'd would have a hard time leaving behind an artifact like that also, even knowing it's the archeological thing to do. But I'm sure to have come home over laden with rocks.

Silver Fox said...

Gaelyn, fortunately I couldn't make it home with too many rocks that day because my pack was filled with little samples and a large walkie-talkie! :)