Friday, September 11, 2009

Meadow Valley Wash: Cottonwood Canyon to Elgin

I did a lot of driving around during the two field days I was in the Caliente area, and one thing I did was to drive south on Highway 317, which goes one-half mile south of the turnoff to Elgin, NV. At Elgin, I turned and drove south on dirt toward Carp until I came to Cottonwood Canyon, shown here looking under the railroad bridge that crosses the canyon.

Cottonwood Canyon is part of a large drainage system that heads in the Clover Mountains at least 14 miles upstream from its mouth, and about 6 to 8 miles east to northeast of our 1978 camp area. Upstream from its drainage mouth, Cottonwoood Canyon becomes Pine Creek, which becomes Ash Creek on one of its major side branches. Ash Creek heads in the mountains just east of Ella Mountain Lookout. Pine Creek heads in the mountains just south of the lookout.

I did at least two helicopter-assisted traverses in this drainage, way back when. The first one involved being let off by the helicopter in the wrong place, which meant that we didn't know where we were for some time. It was one of our first drainage traverses of the summer. S and I walked the flowing stream together, thinking we knew where we were, until we finally came to a particularly stunning landmark - a major bend in the drainage - which was where we were supposed to have been let off. That was the last time I relied on the helicopter pilot to tell me where I was, even though he was an exceptionally good helicopter pilot.

Prior to finding out where we really were, while in the higher reaches of the drainage, S and I drank some of the water. It was flowing along pretty good and was nice and cold. I don't recommend drinking random creek, river, or spring water in Nevada: cows are ubiquitous even if you haven't seen them. Fortunately we felt no ill effects.
wash The lower part of Cottonwood Canyon consists mostly of a wide sand and gravel wash. Besides doing that one traverse farther up the drainage, later in the summer I walked the lower part of Cottonwood Canyon. The sandy parts of the wash were soft and hard to walk through, even though I was walking downstream. Because I was low on water before I came in sight of the bridge, I practised some Rules of the Desert while walking, by wandering back and forth between anything that even hinted at shade. Or maybe I wandered due to incipient heat exhaustion! The last little bit of shade, besides shade under rocky overhangs on the sides of the canyon, had probably been a mile or more above the end of the wash.
This view, looking under the railroad bridge at the main canyon of Meadow Valley Wash, would have meant that I'd made it to the pickup point. I have no idea how long I had to wait there - maybe a truck had been left for me, maybe not.
While in the area, I thought I would drive down to Carp, but Cottonwood Canyon was it. Maybe the heat of the day was getting to me. So, after spending a little time in the Cottonwood Canyon area, I turned around and drove north toward Elgin and Caliente.
On my way to Elgin, I of course took a few pictures, mostly of the volcanic rocks forming the canyon walls. Above, a thick ash-flow-tuff sequence is seen looking north up the Meadow Valley Wash road from Cottonwood Canyon, with my truck for scale.
Meadow Valley Wash is a great place to see varied and variegated volcanic rocks, including a lot of ash-flow sheets that erupted from the Caliente caldera complex and the Kane Springs Wash caldera. In the photo above, one can imagine that there is a fault offset of units going up the steep drainage in the center of the photo, with the offset appearing greater upward. The angle of the photo isn't great, and one has to contend with palaeo-topography, like old caldera walls and such, which may have created local unconformities.
I can no longer identify any particular tuff units or volcanic formations - except in a general way and in my first map area. The rocks are, nevertheless, locally stunning and fun to view. (See the last link for a few geologic references.)

And, hey, we'll get to Elgin soon!

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