Friday, July 29, 2011

Back from Alaska

As some of you may know, we were gone somewhat more than a week (north to Alaska), getting back just a few days ago. Our trip had a strong family orientation (timing and purpose were entirely based on a major family get together), and although it was a small gathering, it was good and fun. I'll not report on it here.

Instead, I hope to run through a few highlights from the several days of the trip, starting with a hike out in central Nevada while we were on our way to meet a plane.
About a month and a half after this hike, we started back up the same trail to the the Cold Springs Pony Express Station. I was inclined to go about half way, until we came to water running across the lower part of the trail, something I haven't seen in several years of visiting the area. The water inspired me to make the entire three-mile round trip. I've been plagued off and on with "runner's knee" — more properly known as ITBS, a syndrome not limited to those who run — ever since hiking to 12,350 feet on Wheeler Peak two years ago, so decisions like these don't come lightly.
Water in Pony Canyon creek at about 5520 feet, low on the alluvial fan.
Up at the station, the water was still flowing fast, as it was in late May, but there seemed to be less of it, or it wasn't spread out as wide, possibly not ponding as much as it had just above the station, although this earlier photo isn't strictly comparable.
Just below the station, the water definitely wasn't ponding as much as in late May, but was otherwise flowing well. This last time, the grass was taller, the green swath next to the creek was not as wide, and lupines were blooming near the bend in the creek (barely visible below the distant juniper if you enlarge the photo).
Walking back down the trail, this Long-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia wislizenii) was hanging out in the middle of the trail, probably at about 5600 to 5800 feet, not far below its reported upper elevation range of 6000 feet.
It's the females that show these bright orange spots. Here she is up close, still keeping an eye on us. Beware if you manage to catch one: they are known to bite.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Things You Find in the Field: Ore Bin

Well, it's pretty rickety, but I'm guessing it's an ore bin rather than a fallen down headframe because it isn't located over (or near) an old shaft, unless the shaft has been buried by a later mine dump, which -- given the non-square nails in the thing -- seems unlikely to me.

After taking the photo, I climbed the angle-of-repose dump, cemented and hard to get any footing in, by grabbing a buried cable and pulling myself up step by step. Gloves would have been ideal for this undertaking, but I didn't have any with me. Not something I carry routinely out in the field, although there should be a pair or two somewhere in the back of my truck. Up at the top of the mine dump, the signs of the old workings that led to the creation of the mine dump were quite vague.
Oh, and I found some wildflowers, too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Lincoln Highway: Quotes and Links

"The Lincoln Highway was built during the early 1900's as the country's first transcontinental highway. This now long overgrown dirt surfaced road passed through the Pony Express trail, down to Ely, then to Kimberly, across Jake's Valley to the Moorman Ranch, and followed the present US Highway 50 for several miles before passing through Hamilton. BHP has recently marked the old Lincoln Highway through their property that can be accessed just a mile or so before reaching their administration building off County Road 44 just past Ruth, NV. This section of the Lincoln Highway comes out at the Moorman Ranch."
Originally from: Interesting Places in White Pine County, now cached here. Moorman Ranch location: Google Street View.

"Much of the road between Ely and Eureka was completely relocated northward during the early 1920s to follow the current alignment of US 50. As a result, an array of lonely places listed in the 1915 and 1916 Complete and Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway were absent from the 1924 edition, including Reipetown, Kimberly, White Pine Summit, and Six-Mile House."
From Lincoln Highway in Nevada, Chapter 16 of The Lincoln Highway Resource Guide.


The Lincoln Highway
The Lincoln Highway Association
The Lincoln Highway across Eastern Nevada, 1924 map

Friday, July 22, 2011

Record Reds

Bank fishing is in vogue today, and unlike this picture of the upper Kenai from a couple years ago, our fishing hole is lined with people -- it's not shoulder to shoulder the way it is on the Russian sometimes, but the east bank is lined.

The limit for red salmon (sockeyes) was raised from 3 in possession to 6 because record numbers entered the Kenai on Sunday! (The record was set in 1987.)

So far, everyone has caught one each.


Monday, July 18, 2011

A Hidden Waterfall

Eastgate Wash upstream from Eastgate, looking southeast toward its headwaters in the Desatoya Mountains .

Eastgate Wash is a major drainage incised into more than one alluvial fan complex on the western flank of the Desatoya Mountains of central Nevada. As you can see above, it also cuts into the darkly iron-stained middle Tertiary volcanic rocks of the Eastgate Hills. It's shown on most maps as an ephemeral stream, but I've often it running near Eastgate, and westward out to Middlegate, the eastern notch in the Clan Alpine Mountains. (It doesn't necessarily run year-round all the way to Middlegate Station).
Aerial photo of Eastgate Wash going throught the Eastgate Hills, a small western arm of the Desatoya Mountains, from MSRMaps.

Recently, while driving over scenic Highway 722, formerly S.R. 2, formerly Highway 50, we stopped at a pullout because I thought we might be able to see the Mazama Ash in the banks of the creek. I couldn't remember exactly where that ash locatlity is, and the channel was filled with willows and other dense vegetation, not terribly inviting for a quick reconoiter, so we decided against trying to find the ash.

Instead, as I stood there, I could hear the stream roaring, so I walked down to check it out.
View looking upstream.
View looking downstream, with the volcanic rocks of the Eastgate Hills in the background.
Zooming in on that last view, you can just begin to see the water pouring over a little cliff in the upper right.
I scrambled back uphill, then back down, moving downstream until I came to this little viewing area, with the stream running rapidly in the foreground, and yes, a waterfall in the background, almost hidden by the brush. That little waterfall was causing all that roaring!
A zoom shot of the little waterfall.
And the water flows by at my feet.

I stood there, breathing in the green, flowing turbulence, then scrambled back up to the roadside. We got in the car and drove on, over the pass.

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

Friday, July 8, 2011

Memories: First Trip on Highway 50

Toquima Range and Big Smoky Valley in a dust storm.

There are stories, and then there are stories. There are the stories already written, filed away in computer drives and manilla folders, and there are the stories that come to me out of the blue while I’m driving down some road, often Highway 50 where I seem to do most of my on-pavement travel these days. When I look north and south from Highway 50, down the great basins like Big Smoky Valley or along the great mountain ranges like the Toiyabe Range, I see memories as far as I can see—sometimes farther than I can see—often all the way to the next major east-west highway like I-80 to the north and Route 6 to the south. I'm not sure if all those memories should count as belonging to Highway 50 in particular, but some of them clearly do.

It starts this way, whether driving or riding in the passenger seat: I'll spot some familiar canyon or notice a particular bend in a dirt road, ahead of me or way off in the distance, and suddenly I'm part way up that canyon or around that bend, seeing the place the way I saw it the first time. And as I drive by these places—many of them tens of miles from pavement, some of them nearly a hundred, all of them hazy with the time and distance, many of them not quite visible through mountains or over the curvature of the earth—the times and places begin to overlap, and I can see all the times for a particular place and see all the places for some particular time.
Toquima Range and Big Smoky Valley on a clear day.

I've thought of writing up these memories of Highway 50: it’s the highway with the widest reach across my past and across central Nevada, and I've been thinking about this during at least the last four trips. I could start at one end of the state and work my way to the other end—either end being possibly less rich in memories than the middle—or I could start somewhere in time, like the first time, working my way forward into the present, or at least into the 1980s when travel down that road became less and less frequent, until travel became more frequent again sometime after the 1990s.

Having to start somewhere, I’ll start with my first trip on Highway 50, a geology field trip taken with a required graduate class entitiled Geology of Nevada, a semester-long class with three weekend (or weekend plus) field trips. This was our first trip, and for some of us—for non-Nevadans like me—it was our first real foray into Nevada. What do I remember most about Highway 50 and environs from that trip?
Shadows on mountains in central Nevada.

First off, I remember the breathtaking vastness and the unexpected clarity of the views across central Nevada’s basins and ranges. It was fall, and the light was low on the horizon, the shadows were deep, the clouds came and went, casting shadows of their own, changing and adding to the deep browns and bluish purple hues of late September, or was it early October?

I remember looking for graptolites in the brown-weathering shales of the Ordovician Vinini Formation, finding them on moderately steep slopes under a thin piñon and juniper canopy in the early morning of the second day. Did we have breakfast? Or beer the night before? I don’t remember the food or drink; I remember the graptolites and the cool morning, I remember the sun rising and heating up the hills slowly, rising and finally hitting our fossiliferous field stop.
Petes Summit Road, heading toward the pass, passing Spencer Hot Spring.

Petes Summit it was, a low pass over the Monitor Range just east of Spencer Hot Springs, on a dirt road that I’ve since passed over countless times. We had camped there the first night, after a stop at Bob Scott Summit east of Austin. I know we stopped at Bob Scott, though I don’t remember why, but the summit names Austin, Bob Scott, and Pete’s were forever mapped into the topography of my mind.

At the time, I knew nothing about Nevada's cool fall nights, and had bought a mummy bag to replace the thin, rectangular bag I had brought with me from the east coast, where summer nights were often warmer than wanted, usually muggy and humid, maybe cooling if you stayed up late enough. I had sought out a down sleeping bag at the local Army surplus store on 4th Street, as other grad students had recommended. The guy there sold me a clean, used, fluffy bag that was supposed to be "good to 20 degrees," which seemed unfathomably cold to me, surely good enough to for my field trip needs.

It wasn't. I found out later that I had purchased a sleeping bag filled with feathers, not down. No wonder it was so cold that first night under the stars and trees on Pete’s Summit. Weather Underground puts the lows in nearby Austin, NV at 39 to 40 F in late September, down below freezing in early October, and as low as 17 F in late October. I’m not sure what the date was—it was probably late September, but even with the temps just down to 40 F or so, I shivered all night. I bought a space blanket shortly thereafter, and upgraded to real down within a couple years.
Diamond Mountains on the eastern horizon, as seen from near Lone Mountain.

Other memories from that trip come harder, but are also within the range of my views from Highway 50: the old mills at Cortez (at the time, pronounced COR-tehz by the locals, run that last syllable quickly), my first view of Gold Acres across the valley from Cortez, and the triangular facets in Crescent Valley (the latter being closer to I-80 than to Highway 50, but around a viewable corner, visible from a Highway 50 field trip).

Oh, and then there was the spectacular arm waving from a hill just outside Eureka, with arms waving toward and beyond the Diamond Mountains, then back toward the Roberts Creek Mountains, then back to Diamond Peak: waving at and pointing out the overlap terrane of Mississippian Diamond Peak Formation reportedly sitting on both the eastern and western assemblages of the nearly unimaginably huge Roberts Mountains Thrust. Can you see it? Just over there?
Lone Mountain north of Highway 50, near Eureka, NV.

And Lone Mountain. I took a picture of it from the dirt road heading south into Antelope Valley, one of the better viewing spots for the mountain and for the Eureka Quartzite on its west side. I later drew the formations, Op through Srm through Dd, on one of the printed photos I glued into the field trip report I wrote for class. I think of that first time at Lone Mountain anytime I stop to take a picture, anytime I look deeply into the Eureka Quartzite while driving by.


Yes, those are my first memories of Highway 50: late September or early October, 1975.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Update from the Lake: Early Blooms

Almost immediately upon arriving at the lake on our recent trip, MOH and I took a walk around the yard. Some small lavender flowers were still blooming on a natural ground cover bush that grows under trees in the forest—and here and there in our yard—although the color had faded some.
One tall lilac bush was doing well, another we later cut down to make room for something else.
White flowers blossomed on prickly bushes in our back yard. These also grow wild in the forest.
Of planted flowers besides the lilacs and some poppies, only these irises were yet in bloom. Other flowers were still waiting for more sun and warmer days.
These flowers almost inspire me to get out my watercolors.

After our tour of the yard, we settled in for four days of heavy yard work interspersed with a couple interior chores, walks, and bike rides. It was a great trip!

Monday, July 4, 2011

First Jobs in Brief

Once upon a time ... I was a budding but green economic geologist of the hard rock kind (I'm no longer green or budding, but otherwise the same). It was an era when many mineral exploration companies and related outfits looked to hire graduates who had recently completed their Master's degree in geology, a time when summer jobs (not internships as they seem to now be called) were often available to M.S. students prior to graduation, and a time when some summer jobs were available for geologists still working on their Bachelor's degrees. A solid background in mineralogy, petrography, structure, and completion of field camp were usually expected, and for "real" jobs (the so-called full-time jobs, permanent or semi-permanent, which eventually led to variable benefits), it was expected that your graduate degree had focused on hard rock geology of some kind, with a thesis centered around some economic problem—the mapping of a mining district being one classic type of thesis that companies looked for and encouraged (and sometimes funded).

Never mind your background and degrees, however, one could still expect to do some kind of fairly basic field work for one's first summer or two—or even for many of the early years—the details of that work depending on your aptitude, the availability of more creative or responsible assignments (and the possibility of designing self-generated exploration programs), and the type of on-the-job training you might get (or not get). Because we all came from hard rock and mineral-exploration–oriented backgrounds, companies and bosses expected us to want to go out and find something (a gold or moly deposit or prospect, for example), and companies and bosses expected us to be enthusiastic about getting out there and doing it, despite the long hours, hard work, variable to poor accomodations, and generally poor connections to what might have been our home life, if we had managed to create one while in grad school. It was a work-hard–play-hard sort of ethic, one left over from field camp, one that stayed with many of us through the long years. In recompense, you got paid somewhere between one half and two thirds of what petroleum companies were paying M.S. grads, and you got to see lots of new countryside (the Brooks Range in Alaska was quite popular for a couple-three years), and you probably would get some serious 4WD experience and maybe even learn a few basics of helicopter flight (which you would hopefully never have to use).

For my first field job, a summer job, I collected stream sediment and water samples across a good portion of central Nevada. I worked for a young woman younger than my then 25 years; I did most of the navigating, she did most of the driving.

For my second field job, a summer job that ended up lasting four years, with one-year renewals every winter, I was given a hand sample test as part of my interview, an interview conducted by at least two, if not three or four, male geologists who were perhaps mostly in their late twenties to possibly mid-thirties.

After being hired, I was, as I've mentioned before, almost immediately sent out to a semi-remote helicopter camp (town was only a few miles of pavement away, but town was small, and we were all a long way from home, with the company offering transportation and accomodations on days off to whatever "larger" town was nearby*). Our primary job was to collect numerous stream sediment samples and the occasional rock sample on daily traverses down 3 to 5 mile drainages, while also taking scintillometer readings along the way and at sample sites. We worked in 4-man crews (2 women, 2 men in my camp—plus camp cook, a helicopter pilot and fuel truck driver shared between two camps, and an occasional boss). We were fortunate to do some on-the-ground geologic mapping in four areas staked by the company during the course of, and as a result of, our summer explorations.

I hired my own field assistants/partners from 1981 through about 1991, usually one per summer or year, sometimes with jobs lasting as long as two years. I unabashedly practised reverse discrimination as much as possible: looking around, I could see that if I didn't hire women, none or very few would get hired. I rarely ended up hiring someone who didn't know basic rocks and minerals. In fact, the young geologists I interviewed, my age to a few years younger than me, often knew more than the basics, and they usually knew the basics quite well. Some were mineralogical hot shots; others were strong in geochemistry. I would often have to teach sampling methods and what in particular to look for; this basic exploration introduction was often accomplished by an early season field trip designed to see mineralized areas of interest, whether or not those areas were held under claim by us or by others (the latter would, of necessity, involve some stealth operations). My favorite place to go for this recon intro was Yuma, where we could always get good food and pitchers of margaritas (stories of Yuma not yet told).

Because of the orientation of geologists coming in to interview, and the orientation of schools we sometimes recruited at, I rarely had to work with young geologists who had no, or little, interest in the work we would set out to do every morning. I had one or two field assistants who were rather lackluster, maybe showing little inclination to learn the terminology of the field or to put in the required hours of throwing drilling samples into the back of my truck, only to lug them once again from the bed of the pickup to the sample trailer—but I've been lucky and have rarely run across these lackluster types. At least once I was at fault for hiring the wrong person (choosing the right people hasn't always been easy for me, and at least once, with the company refusing to match the going summer rate during the slowdown of the late 80s, the best candidate got away to some worthy competitor, maybe Freeport or Newmont). At least one of the lackluster types was hired by someone else for later in the season, with me being stuck with that person until my temp showed up later in the year. (At Northern Exploration Company, our summer geologists were called "summer hires" or "summer" somethings; at Former Mining Company, we called them "temps," an epithet I gradually adjusted to and finally used.)

During my own slowdown years (and perhaps the trend had already started sometime during the 80s), it gradually came to pass that geologists with solid hard rock basics and Master's degrees became unavailable or less and less abundant, schools changed directions and dropped mining-related degrees and course work, and some schools eventually ran out if funding for field trips and field camps while basic on-campus field methods classes fell by the wayside. Some Schools of Mines became Schools of Earth Sciences. And so it went...


* On my first days off, because I refused to be shipped off to the larger town of Las Vegas (at only 4 years in Nevada, I was already a die-hard, not interested in casinos or glitz), I stayed in camp, driving a company truck up to Wheeler Peak one day, and driving around the Caliente area on other days. We had three days off for every 11 worked (that, by the way, fully identifies "Northern Exploration Company" to those in the know).

Friday, July 1, 2011

Honey Lake Update: Comparison Photos 2007-2011

...a collection of various semi-comparable photos taken from 2007 through 2011 at the Honey Lake Rest Area on Highway 395 between Reno and Susanville, looking east toward the Skeddadle and Amedee Mountains.
9-22-2007: lots of water in the fall.
9-24-2008: not much water in the fall.
6-24-2011: pretty good water in early summer.
9-24-2008: a broader fall photo, not much water.
6-24-2011: comparable photo from this year, fair to good water, though nowhere near full.
3-22-2009: very dry in early spring.
6-24-2011: comparable photo from a few days ago.

As you can see, I don't have a full set of photos from spring, summer, and fall for every year, so these are not strictly comparable. I had stopped taking photos of the lake, partly because it has always looked the same to me during the last couple years: dry. I don't know if that's just because the few times I've been by have been at the wrong times of year, but I don't really think that's the case: I think it was dry, and is fairly wet this year after a good snow year in the Sierra. The Susan River and Long Valley Creek have been running well this spring, though maybe slowing down recently.

Related Posts:
One Year Ago Today: Honey Lake
Honey Lake Update and Other Water News
Honey Lake Update: Dust, Rain, and Water
Honey Lake Update: Snow Geese
Three Years Ago Today: East Side of Honey Lake