Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Roan Cliffs Again, This Time with Some Contacts

After seeing Ron Schott's awesome and enlightening GigaPan of the Roan Cliffs, I decided I had to mark some contacts on the photos from my last post (and partly because what I said or implied about the formations were a little off). To deduce the location of these contacts, I extrapolated from this USGS preliminary geologic map, using the USGS TNM 2.0 Viewer and Google Earth.
In the first photo, it's still a toss-up, imo, as to whether the Tertiary Uinta Formation (Tu) can be seen—but if so, it's way up at the top of the cliff. Most or all of the cliff and most of the slope is underlain by the Tertiary Green River Formation (Tg). Aaaaand maybe there's a bit of the Tertiary Wasatch Formation (Tw) at the bottom of the photo.
In the second photo, there is (probably) just a tiny bit of the lower part of the Uinta Formation (Tu) above the cliffy area, and the reddish-brown foreground slopes are underlain by the Wasatch Formation (Tw). The rest, cliff and slope, consists of Green River Formation (Tg).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

From the Road: Bedding and Talus in the Roan Cliffs of Colorado

Getting back to my October-November road trip (last seen here), I stopped to get some fuel in Parachute, CO, on what was Day 7 of the trip, and I ended up taking a few photos (surprise!), partly thinking that the cliffs show good examples of bedding, and also because I was becoming fascinated by the exceptional talus slopes coming off the cliffs. The first photo is a cliff at a round nose sticking out from Mt. Callahan. The second photo is of a cliff at the southern end of a nose known as Allen Point, a long skinny ridge running about 1.5 miles south of a broader, arcuate area also called Allen Point.
When I investigated this area after my trip was over, I was surprised to find that these cliffs are part of the Roan Cliffs: while still enroute, I thought I was driving along the Book Cliffs. The Roan Cliffs are the cliffs that break south off of the broad Roan Plateau, a large plateau area that extends from Rifle, CO, to at least somewhere north of Grand Junction, possibly bounded on the west by Roan Creek. The Roan Cliffs, however, at least as shown here, encircle a broader area extending westward from Rifle, CO, to the mountains just east of the Wasatch in Utah.

The Roan Cliffs are capped by the Eocene Uintah Formation (which we may or may not see in these photos), and slopes below the uppermost cap are composed of the Eocene Green River Formation. Some of the lower, reddish slopes in the area are underlain by the Paleocene to Eocene Wasatch Formation. You can read a little more about the geology of the area in this USGS Bulletin.

The Roan Cliffs stratigraphically overlie the Book Cliffs, which we'll see later. I'm not sure how I mistook the cliffs of the Uintah Formation and upper Green River Formation for cliffs of the Cretaceous Mesaverde Group, or slopes of the Green River Formation for the usually easy-to-spot Cretaceous Mancos Shale. I can only plead that geology at 70+ mph isn't always spot-on.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Tales of the Mojave: A Bit About Northern Exploration Company

I planned to have this descriptive section as part of the last post—the one about being packed and ready to leave town—but this "little bit" grew and grew, and eventually it had to find its own home. I've written lots of little pieces like this; many of these could be hyperlinked from several main posts. This one might most properly go near the beginning of a Tales of the Mojave book.


Northern Exploration Company (NEC), a famous former international mining and minerals exploration company, had seven exploration offices when I began working there as part of a small horde of young or “junior” geologists in NEC’s Western District. Some of us were temporary summer hands (and many of us, like me started that way); many of us were on year-to-year contracts (me!); and a very few of us ended up with permanent positions in the company. There were three or four permanent geos leading the horde when I began working there; that permanent cadre had expanded to maybe six by the time I left.

When not out in the field, we worked out of one of several office-warehouse complexes scattered here and there in Reno and Sparks.[1] The complexes seemed to have been slapdashed together and often had a few problems; for example, the typical southwest-desert–inspired flat roofs were prone to leak during storms or snow-melt. Our complex—and a nearby complex leased by another, also famous former mining company—was near the Truckee River and so occasionally flooded. The large windows of the office half of our complex faced south across a largely undeveloped area of the Truckee Meadows; these windows caused overheating, especially in winter when the low sun provided unplanned for solar energy. Nonetheless, we had a good setup that included a smallish warehouse in the back with shelves for field supplies, tables for core logging, and rock saws and grinding wheels for cutting and polishing hand samples.

The Western District of NEC was a decidedly renegade district, though at the time renegade attitudes were fairly common within exploration groups based out of Reno.[2] Geologists aren’t ordinarily known for their adherence to rules, and they are especially not known for following pointless and questionable rules sent down from above—an above that was usually either outside the country or east of the Mississippi, the latter being nearly the same thing as a foreign country to those born and bred in The West.

We can argue nearly forever about where The West begins or ends. The Mississippi River clearly constitutes one viable boundary for defining what is east and what is west. The hundredth meridian has also been used as the boundary between east and west; for example, in 1843, Thomas Farnham said lands between the 100th meridian and the Rockies were “usually called the Great American Desert” (Stegner, 1954). Later, Thomas Durant held a “100th Meridian Excursion” when Union Pacific crews passed the 100th meridian in 1866, a goal set by Congress. A little later, John Wesley Powell, writing for the USGS in 1879, recognized the 100th meridian as a line roughly defining the eastern boundary of his “Arid Region,” an area that generally receives less than 20 inches of rainfall per year and encompasses most of the west (by any definition). I think one could also use the Great Continental Divide as the boundary between east and west: All drainages east of the divide would drain to the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic. All drainages west of the divide would drain to the Pacific.
Google Earth image with yellow line marking part of the 100th meridian. The meridian cuts several states in two and roughly separates a greener area in the east from a notably browner area in the west.
I usually maintain that the true west, “The West” as I capitalized above, begins at the eastern edge of the Front Range of Colorado. Denver is not inside The West by this definition. (Neither is Boulder, for that matter.)

As mentioned in our main text above, geologists within the exploration offices of the west (however we define west) were often fractious and rebellious, and they were unlikely to listen to anyone from Chicago, say, some muckety-muck who might be sporting a fancy three-piece suit and polished black shoes. (There are numerous stories revolving around entertaining such VIPs.) Denver’s offices were often a little spiffier than those in Reno, perhaps having been influenced somewhat by the fancier petroleum offices in the area. Also, some Denver offices acted as headquarters for the minerals explorations groups of larger companies, and some *were* the headquarters for smaller companies. Consequently, geologists who had the misfortune to be based in Denver often ended up being a little more stilted, a little less rebellious, a little more formal: they were ever-so-noticeably more well-behaved when it came down to orders from above, and they were a little more likely to look at you askance if you decided that a rock-throwing contest was in order before the sampling program began in earnest. (A few were definite leaders as far as renegade actions go—here I’m particularly thinking of some unnamed few during my later years at Former Mining Company. Most, though—well, many—tried hard to keep up.)

The Kmart of Exploration

Our Hughes 500-D in 1978.
The Western District of NEC came to be known, at least to a select few, as “The Kmart of Exploration.” This appellation had been assigned to NEC by a summer hire[3] —Dan, the guy with the Frisbee dog, a black and white Aussie of one variety or another—during the uranium summer of 1979. He said he came up with the epithet after being involved in procuring supplies and provisions for the field largely at Kmart. I thought the nickname—seemingly indicating that the company was cheap—was overstated; after all, each uranium camp[4] had a trailer with space for a full kitchen; an office with drafting area, map storage cabinet, and beaucoup supplies; a camp cook; canvas tents with room for two field hands in each tent; a couple of 1978 4WD pickup trucks, brand new during the uranium summer of 1978; and a Hughes 500-D helicopter equipped with radiometric instruments capable of detecting radiation and breaking it down into the three major source elements, potassium (K), thorium (Th), and uranium (U). I thought our camps and equipment were pretty plush, especially when compared to the archaeological camps my husband frequented.

Much to the head honcho's dismay, "Kmart of Exploration" stuck. Perhaps it was partly our field schedule that made the name stick. We worked eleven and three, drive-on-your-own-time. That schedule meant eleven days in the field, three days off, with the driving time between home and field (and vice versa) being on our own time, not on paid-for company time. Perhaps the name stuck because we were encouraged, if not required, to camp out rather than stay in motels.

Camping supposedly saved gas, time, and money because we didn’t have to drive in to town every morning and evening and didn’t have to spend money on motel rooms. We also bought groceries instead of eating in restaurants, resulting in a lowered food expense. So we typically lived outdoors—in the dirt and weather of whatever area we were working in—for two to four nights; then we were into town for one night to get a shower, to sleep in a cool, air-conditioned motel room, to gas up, to stock up on fresh food, and—most importantly in the Mojave—to stock up on water and ice. Then, back into camp mode we went. I thought there were some flaws to the party line about camping, although I never did an actual cost-benefit analysis. For one thing, those of us who didn't have a permanent camp located somewhere near running water in the higher and cooler reaches of eastern Nevada (a certain lucky few that I was rarely part of) spent a certain amount of time setting up camp every evening. After getting our new camp in order, we made dinner and cleaned up. Then, nighty-night. After waking up in the morning, we tore everything down and repacked the back of the truck. With all the unpacking at night and repacking in the morning, we often ended up rearranging boxes of sample bags twice a day. Because we prepped our own camp and food daily, we were essentially working twelve to fourteen-hour days, rather than ten, with little time to rest or recoup in the evening before falling asleep (on cots or on the ground). Ten-hour field days were de rigueur at NEC. That meant we'd quit camp at 7:00 am, say, with breakfast and camp tear-down already complete, then work in the field until 5:00 pm. Then we'd finally get on to camp setup and dinner making after that. When someone else was cooking your meals and when there was running water available for cooling off and even showers, as in the uranium and moly camps, the hours were okay—long, but feasible.

In the Mojave, they were hell.

To be continued...


[1] These complexes were often called "geo-ghettos" back then—although that term would probably not be politically correct now—often because they weren't built all that well in some respects, and also because they seemed to house a lot of geological groups.

[2] We cultivated—or were known for—a semi-outlaw attitude and everyday defiance that was deliberately exacerbated by the temperament of the head honcho in Reno.

[3] We didn’t call our summer employees “temps” until a good number of us moved to Forminco, where "temp" was already in use.

[4] For more about the uranium camps, see this series about the Caliente camp of the first uranium summer (that's what we called them: the first uranium summer, and the second uranium summer).

A Reference

Stegner, W.E., 1954, Beyond the hundredth meridian: John Wesley Powell and the second opening of the west: Penquin Books, 496 p., 1992 reprint. Quote from p. 215-216 of 1992 reprint.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tales of the Mojave: We're Almost Ready to Go

The Road South:

Our story—the 1981 story of Allie and I doing recon down in the Mojave—began in Reno in the spring of the year and ended unexpectedly and abruptly in Needles before the end of June. I no longer remember exactly how long we spent in the east-central Mojave, but we looked at six different target areas—depending on how you count them—and we probably spent at two to five days in each area.
"A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. ...
- from 'Manual of Muad'Dib' by the Princess Irulan"

A Caravan Camper on a white truck
in front of a mine dump in eastern Nevada.
Allie and I left Reno in a dull gray, four-wheel drive Chevy pickup truck topped with a matching Caravan Camper, a type of heavy-duty metal camper shell with carpet kit, similar to the one I have now. We were equipped with an ice chest full of food, drinks, and ice; a 5-gallon water cooler or two; sundry camping gear; assorted tools; one spare tire (only one!); and all kinds of exploration equipment and supplies. We had sample bags and sample books, Estwing rock hammers and rock chisels, triplet hand lenses and little magnets on rawhide straps, and little plastic squeeze bottles filled with a 10% dilute solution of hydrochloric acid (HCl). The acid bottles were usually held tight in leather cases that could be slid onto belts. We also had a carefully stowed glass bottle of non-dilute HCl, so we could make additional dilute acid as needed. (HCl was easy to get back then, and the bottle came meticulously packed in vermiculite within a sturdy cardboard box.)

We had files of topographic maps, geologic maps, published reports, books, and copies of company reports in plastic file boxes that would help to keep everything organized while also protecting it from water and the pervasive Mojave dust. We had Brunton compasses in leather holders, ready to attach to our belts. And we had various mapping paraphernalia: mechanical pencils with black, blue, and red leads; colored pencils; pens and markers; and six-inch C-Thru® protractor-rulers of various scales: 10-50, 20-40, 10-20, and 30-60. We had field notebooks to hold notes and sketches, and we had aluminum clipboards that would protect our maps, air photos, and reports. We carried everything we needed for any particular day’s traverse in Filson® survey field vests[1], on belts, or in backpacks. A geologist, fully attired and field ready, is easily distinguished from desert rats, ranchers, and routine hikers.

We also had a pile of camping and cooking gear scattered in the back of the truck: pots and pans; plates, bowls, and utensils; a gas Coleman stove and fuel for said stove; sleeping bags and sleeping pads; a tent, which we didn't use while down in the Mojave; a tarp or two; and other miscellany. We may have rustled up some of the gear from a stash in the company warehouse—though had we not been timely in choosing gear (and we were late that year), we would have been out of luck. A certain person's name was used to describe what happened if you didn't grab your gear in time, or if you got stuck with second-rate supplies. Had his last name been Gibbs, it would have been called "getting Gibbsed." 
U.S. 95, looking south, just a few miles north of Beatty.
Before leaving Reno, we spent a little time pondering two particular questions: 1) should we take a thermometer and 2) should we abstain from beer and other alcohol? We debated back and forth about the thermometer and finally decided to leave it behind. Maybe we'd feel cooler if we didn’t see the expected 3-digit Fahrenheit temperatures!

If the creosote has bloomed, the field season is over.
Speaking of temperatures, when we got to our first locality, the temps we encountered didn't seem too bad, though it took a little time to adjust after coming from the higher and cooler elevations of Reno. We adapted. We devoured lots of fresh fruit. For lunch we’d have half avocados, their centers filled with Italian salad dressing, and we’d roll whatever else came out of the icebox in flour or corn tortillas.[2] We also prepared our own variant of south-of-the-border food, using lots of hot peppers, gobs of hot sauce, and unlimited spicy guacamole. We figured there would be something medicinal in mixing the spicy fire of the food with the scorching heat of the desert. And in fact, these were the only foodstuffs we could bring ourselves to eat in the heat. And throughout the day, from sunup to sundown, we drank gallons of water, juices, and sodas—and zero beers.

To be continued:


[1] It looks like the standard survey vest isn't being made anymore—at least I don't see it on the C.C. Filson website. Perhaps that's because so many geos are now wearing safety vests much of the time. I hope my current beige style-12 and orange style-8 vests will last indefinitely: I still use them on field trips, while hiking, and on most sampling and mapping excursions. My beige vest is partly held together by duct tape; a gaping hole in the lower right area developed after carrying a leaky acid bottle inside the inner pocket. (I really don't like having things hanging from my belt, though I did used to wear my Brunton that way. Now I stick it in one of the side pockets.)

[2] This was called a "Bill Rehrig" lunch, although we didn't use that term until many years later.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Repost: Here's to You, Geological Heroes

My DSL lines and WiFi, provided by Frontier (or not provided, as the case may be), are currently quite lousy with 50%-plus packet loss. For some reason, Google pages and products, including this blog, work at least slowly and sporadically, as does the NWS weather site. So I can find out how many calories I'm eating (or drinking) while checking out the latest atmospheric river that has most likely been one of the culprits in decimating my internet connection. I can also do a little research by asking Google questions and submitting search terms. If the answers show up in the blurb accompanying the resulting list of search results, then I'm good; if not, I'm stuck with a list of websites that won't open. Consequently, I can't quite finish the current post I'm working on: It needs a little more research. So I'm reposting a post from 2010: a submittal to the now defunct Accretionary Wedge blog carnival. Here it is.

The Accretionary Wedge is coming up soon, so my thoughts are naturally turning to Geological Heroes, the topic of this month's Wedge, hosted at Mountain Beltway by Callan Bentley. Callan says,

I invite all participants (geobloggers and geoblog readers alike) to contribute stories of their heroes. It’s time to pay tribute to the extraordinary individuals who helped make your life, your science, and your planet better than they would otherwise have been.
As far as geologic heroes go, I was first thinking that maybe I don't really have any (or maybe I just don't have many personal ones that I feel I can write about on the blog). I thought, therefore, that I'd list two geologists who are heroes to me, although they aren't personal heroes:

  • Tanya Atwater - a leading plate tectonicist, geophysicist, geologist, and oceanographer. She is a hero to me by way of being a leading and famous woman in my field (or a related field), one who "is especially well known for her works on the plate tectonic history of western North America, in general, and of the San Andreas fault system, in particular...."

    I've not yet had the good fortune to meet her, but long ago (and not very far away) I named a dog belonging to my previous partner and me after her. Upon hearing of this dubious honor from an acquaintance of ours, Tanya A. reportedly said, "Ruff ruff," while making a motion like scratching her ear with a paw.
  • Tom Dibblee - a legendary field-mapping man, who mapped "565 quadrangle maps covering over 40,000 square miles, some fourth of the State of California." I first learned of his mapping while working in the Mojave, where his maps cover nearly every square inch of ground and provide the basics and details for every geological map that has come after him. He is known in that region for not having to use a Brunton to take strikes and dips (except when beds were dipping at shallow angles), because his sense of orientation and angle estimation were excellent, such that he was always within a couple degrees. He started mapping when in high school, and never stopped, completing a mapping career of almost 80 years only when he passed away in 2004.
Beyond these two, I was sitting out on the rig one day, and while thinking that I'd just leave this post at a two-person list I realized that the topic "Heroes" was making me think of Waylon and Willie, and I started singing "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys."

Don't let 'em pick guitars and drive them old trucks...
[technically a road song because it mentions trucks] and then that somehow led me into "All My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" followed by "Waylon, Willie, and Me."

Now, not all the lyrics of these three songs are applicable to whatever particular feeling they engendered in me on that recent field day, nor are all of the lyrics particularly applicable to the topic of geological heroes — except that:
When I start thinking about the real geologist heroes I've known over the years — whether male or female — they are rather much like cowboys, or like outlaws: out in the field all day, bouncing around in pickup trucks old and new, doing their own thing, making it on mottos such as "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission" or "it's all changed now," running their own programs, districts, and companies, shooting cans, rolling boulders, and participating in other shenanigans that shall go unmentioned here, some of which have involved various forms of (legal in Nevada) explosives.

These more personal heroes of mine include my thesis advisor(s), my major professor, the professor I T.A.'d for, several former professors and T.A.'s, many geologists from both Northern Exploration Company and Former Mining Company and elsewhere, the two Larry's, the two Nancy's (you *know* who you are), most of my former field assistants — one has or is now running her own company, one patented her Hg-gas sniffing method and has run her own lab, one is now running her own exploration group at a major mine, and some have gone on to other things but are nevertheless heroes to me for making it in the "man's field" of exploration and mining geology.

My heroes, over the years and decades, have also included several FOP/Quat people: JODavis, Bud Burke, Marith Reheis, and anyone who was present for the flying Vee in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in 1987 or who made it to the 1991 FOP down in Fish Lake Valley, Nevada.

And then there are some true outlaws or aspiring, wanna-be outlaws — hmm... should these names go unmentioned? (You know who you are: R, BS, JS, PG, S+D, et al.)

Really, when it comes right down to it, there are too many geological heroes to list, refer to, or name, including all the consultants and independents attending the hospitality suites and receptions at Northwest every year, going back to the wild S+D bashes in Spokane some thirty-plus years ago.
And so, here's to you (all of you)...
...from a copy of a print from an original slide taken here at a now burned-down hot spring cabin, by JODavis in the fall of 1981, photo credits to JODavis and LLLackey, photo ©2010 Looking for Detachment, all rights reserved, poem written by SH and CR.

The Spencer Hot Springs cabin, with roomy concrete bathtub and piped in hot water, was burned down later that year or the next, reportedly by the same individuals who, in their over-zealous righteousness crossed out in red marker the name "Asshole" (and other cuss words written on the interior of the cabin) — these individuals were apparently disturbed by the existence of such a den of iniquity as a hot spring where people *gasp* sometimes bathed naked. I don't know who these red-marker people were, nor do I really know that they were the arsonists — but that's the way the story goes.

The original from the 1978 album "Waylon and Willie."

April 2010 Accretionary Wedge: Heroes