Saturday, May 29, 2010

More Wildflower Comparisons

Wildflowers on our hiking hill seem to be growing more slowly this year than last year and the year before - earlier comparisons here - possibly because it's been unusually cold or because it's been unusually cloudy (I haven't verified either impression with weather data).

The first two shots compare a rocky area I routinely take pictures of when hiking. Flowers were going strong in late May of 2008; they were barely blooming yesterday.
May 28, 2010
May 25, 2008

The photos for this second area, a little farther down the hill where the paintbrush is blooming fairly well, aren't taken from exactly the same angle, but they nevertheless show a similar phenomenon: the flowers this year are so far not as far along as they were in mid-late April of 2009. We didn't get our usual April hot spell this year, which maybe is what got things going so well last year.
May 28, 2010
April 20, 2009

NOTE: Comparisons are more for the hiker's entertainment than for anything else, and taking pictures at the upper rocky area provides said hiker with incentive for going up the hill.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Back Again - At Least for Now

I have returned! On my trip through the state yesterday — coming back from field trips, meetings, and regional errands — I drove from partly cloudy or partly sunny weather in the west and central part of the state into dark, cloudy weather to the east. The spring greens and yellows of flowers and grasses were intense in places, the greens from native grasses and cheat grass already turning reddish purple, the yellows from tansy mustard and a few native wild flowers. Wide swaths of tansy mustard, like the one above looking north into the Clan Alpine Mountains from near Middlegate Station just west of The Shoe Tree, really made some areas stand out. Tansy mustard — an introduced or exotic annual usually considered a weed — is sometimes called tumble mustard. It's one of the "tumbleweeds" you can see blowing through the flats later in the year.
Coming in toward Austin, the clouds started looking seriously threatening, and rain or snow showers and squalls could be seen all around, especially to the north. The snow-covered mountain poking above a low place in the Shoshone Mountains, is a peak in the Toiyabe Range south of Austin, possibly the 10,793-foot North Toiyabe Peak.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three Bar Ranch Road

Looking north up the 3 Bar Road from Highway 50.

I've been away for almost two weeks because of field trips and meetings. As I drove to the first field trip, I stopped and took this picture on Highway 50, within sight of the Eureka Quartzite outcrop on Lone Mountain. I took the picture knowing that I'd soon be north of the snow-covered mountains, north and beyond.

The Three Bar Ranch Road (or 3 Bar Road, Eureka #3708) heads north between the Simpson Park Mountains (left and center) and Roberts Mountains (right of the photo). From the pass between the two mountain ranges, one can drive northeast into Denay, Garden, and Pine Valleys. The Buckhorn-Cortez Road (Eureka #3706, same map) will take one west into the north end of Molly Knudtsen's Grass Valley and onto the Grass Valley and Cortez Road(s) (Eureka #3707, Lander #4206, also shown on old maps as S.R. 21). At the north end of Grass Valley, one is practically at the old silver mining district of Cortez. (Cortez used to be pronounced COR-tehz, but recent influx of people from outside the state has caused the pronunciation to revert to the more usual Cor-TEZ.)

Cortez, the old silver mining district - and newer gold mining district - was the second stop on the first field trip. When I first saw Cortez in 1975, it looked a lot like this, though maybe not as snowy.

The 3 Bar and Grass Valley Roads provide an excellent opportunity to make a side loop north from Highway 50 - a side loop entirely on dirt. The Grass Valley Road takes off from Highway 50 from a low area between Austin Summit and Bob Scott Summit, going north all the way to Cortez, or looping back to the 3 Bar Road through Pine Valley. It's a little early in the year to take this side trip (this year, anyway), although I'm thinking about it.

Cortez Mining District - at Online Nevada Encyclopedia.
Cortez - at NevadaAdventureS Ghost Towns
Cortez: Hearst Invested in Early Mines - at Gold Getter News
Here is Our Valley - by Molly Flagg Knudtsen - a great book by a great Nevada rancher.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Accretionary Wedge Geo-Images: Gold with Naumannite

This month's Accretionary Wedge is being hosted by the two co-bloggers at Highly Allochthonous, and it's a geo-image bonanza!
This rock is from a quartz vein in northern Nevada. Native gold (more properly electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver) and the dark blue silver mineral naumannite are set in a matrix of clay-rich quartz. I wetted the specimen with water to enhance the visibility of the gold. The pen used for scale is the tip of an Ultra Fine Point Sharpie. The metal part of the tip is almost exactly 1mm across. The gold in this vein is not as yellow as some gold because of the silver content; the clay is not pinkish the way the photo makes it appear.

I'll be off to see some volcanic-hosted epithermal gold deposits in central Nevada this morning. Doubt if I'll see anything as gaudy as this, but maybe...

Accretionary Wedge #25: An Illustrated Glossary of Cool Geological Things

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mt. St. Helens Field Trip

Thirty years ago today, Mt. St. Helens erupted, blowing away it's almost perfectly formed Cascade volcano cone in a large lateral blast to the north, felling trees with the blast and with a resulting pyroclastic surge or flow, sending an ash column 19 km into the atmosphere, and sending debris avalanches, lahars, and mudflows into the Toutle River and others. A map of the devastation area can be seen here.

USGS Photograph taken on May 18, 1980, by Austin Post.

For an exhaustive supply of before, during, and after May 1980 photos of Mt. St. Helens, go to this page of the CVO Website; Ron Schott, of Ron Schott's Geology Home Companion Blog, has an August, 2009 Gigapan of Mt. St. Helens right here.

Two things immediately happened in my world upon the climactic eruption of Mt. St. Helens. First, my SO (at the time called "POSSLQ") — later husband, later deceased husband — immediately left for eastern Washington to make an ash-sampling traverse across the state using his VW bug, a field vehicle that was impervious to ash fallout because of its oil-based air filtration system.

USGS Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Transportation, 1980.

Second, the district manager at Northern Exploration Comapny (NEC) released two company Broncos so we could, on our own time and dollar, drive to the volcano.

All told, there were eight of us: a couple permanent geos and a half dozen contracts types.1 We were young, all of us in our late twenties to maybe early thirties, and we were ready for adventure, or would be as soon as we could get out of the office. After grabbing some topo maps and the keys to the two Broncos — one mine, the other belonging to our pfearless leader [sic] — we loaded up some company camping gear: a large, manager-type tent that would sleep more than eight comfortably, and whatever else hadn't already been "64NZ3D" [this "word" is based on someone's real name] appropriated by a certain outlaw geologist.

We piled in and headed north. Mt. St Helens had just blown, the company was providing the means for us to go check it out, we were excited at the prospect of the trip.

North from Reno we went, stopping in Lakeview, Oregon, to fill the Broncos with many six-packs of relatively cheap beer (think: Bud, Bud Lite). We drove up the back side of the Cascade (that would be the east side for those of you not familiar with local terminology), stopping briefly at Mt. Hood. We camped, and awoke the next day under cloudy skies.

On that cloudy second day, a couple or three days after the eruption, we continued what would be a mostly overcast field trip by crossing the Columbia River, probably on I-5. We thought we'd attempt secretive, backroad entrance to the volcano from the southeast side, which was away from the blast zone, and which we figured (incorrectly) would be less heavily guarded. Those Forest Service and other roads in to the mountain were all blocked off — though with our topo maps and the first Bronco driver as acting leader, we drove up every road shown. Each road was blocked by manned barricades — the USFS (or others?) didn't want any people going in only to have to be rescued or worse.
stop"But we're geologists!"

"We're researchers investigating the eruption!"

"We don't need no... stinking badges!"

Nothing we tried worked, and we hadn't attempted getting in through USGS and university contacts (and I'm not sure those contacts could have helped anyway). Still, we kept attacking the problem, painstakingly checking out each and every road on our maps, however small or jeepish they appeared to be.
Finally! We found an unblocked road! We drove in, expecting to hit a barricade, literally, at any second. After winding our way through fairly dense trees, the dirt road turned back to the south, and — typical field experience — we came up on the wrong side of one of the roadblocks!

"Where are you coming from?" "How did you get in here?" We had to explain that we came in on a road they hadn't closed off. Displeased with us, and having already seen us drive up to the south side of their blockade less than an hour beforehand, they moved the orange and white contraption aside and let us through, with a warning: don't try that again.

We were disappointed not to get in farther, but pleased that we'd managed to crash the gates, even if only for a mile or two.

We gave up on the southeast non-entrance attempt, and drove over to the west side of Mt. St. Helens, thinking that we could at least get a look at her blown top from a distance. No luck! She was still hidden by clouds. The access roads in from that side brought us a little closer, but they never delivered us a view of the volcano. Instead, we found our way up the Toutle River. We talked to a couple local landowners who had experienced some mud-flood damage, drove around a bit, and took a few photos.

USGS Photograph of I-5 bridge (below) taken on July 6, 1980, by Lyn Topinka. Other I-5 bridge photos with people and stop sign (above) taken May 21±, 1980 by DMCS.

After the day's excursion, we drove south into Oregon, picked a campsite, drank some beer while hanging around the campfire in the off-and-on light drizzle, and in the morning — with the weather and views not looking any better — we drove back to Lakeview to turn in our empties for the highest can deposit around (Oregon), thus saving a few bucks.

It was a rowdy, fun, good time — with singing, drinking, and story telling — but all we saw was a muddy, lahar-flooded river, a few washed out roads, drizzle, and lots of barricades.

1Contract geos at NEC fell somewhere between temporary help and permanent geos in status, longevity, and benefits. Contracts were unrelated to consulting; they usually lasted one year and were renewable. We wouldn't see all the benefits unless they kept us on through a five-year vesting period, which didn't happen unless you were promoted to permanent status.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

While on our Titus Canyon, Death Valley and Mojave Desert trip last year, MOH and I managed to spend two nonconsecutive nights in one of my favorite resting spots: Baker, CA. (NOT!) We stayed in two different motels, the second night in a lovely place that was adorned by many of those "Signed, The Management" motel signs. The first one is a fairly standard — though perhaps overdone — version of the "Please don't back in, Aaaah" variety.
The "Please Do Not Leave Car Unattended While Pumping Gas" sign in the gas station attached to the motel, an also common sign, seems a little larger than usual.
Inside our motel room, we found this colorful and carefully taped agglomeration of signs. Ignore the brownish yellow one in the upper center — it's merely a hand-drawn fire exit map of sorts. You can also ignore the white Check Out Time sign: an average sign, with an average check-out time.
An unregistered-pet-fine sign — we saw a similar, though less colorful and more official-looking sign, at the motel we stayed in the first of our two nights. Unregistered pets in rooms are a notorious problem in Baker, one that apparently needs to be addressed in more than one language and with at least one exclamation point!
This sign seems a little unusual, not only for it's bright cheery green color and the quantity of items that need to be addressed, but also for some of the prices. A $50 blanket? Well, maybe. And maybe that's a good price for a small microwave. Probably one gets tired of running into either Vegas or Barstow to replace all these highly desirable items, thus the sign.
But what about this one: "SNAKE SPOTTED." Spotted? Yikes? When was the snake spotted? Immediately before the sign was put up some months or years back? Has it been spotted since? Why are there chairs out the back door for non-sign-reading vagrants guests if there is a (one?) snake running loose? After seeing this sign, we immediately had to open the back door and try to spot the snake! I mean, for whatever reason does a person go to the desert, if not to see a snake?
No snake out the back door, but we did spy this long-tailed lizard.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Highway 8A?

Someone, probably Callan Bentley, asked me this question at the Geoblogger-Geotweeter meetup-tweetup in Portland last fall (paraphrased): "What's the deal with Highway 8A on your blog," referring to this blog's URL.

Highway 8A was Nevada State Route 8A, one of a few mostly north-south paved roads through the state; it was related in part to S.R. 8 and S.R. 8B. Early in my exploration career, and even in grad school, I became familiar with two particular sections of 8A: the first section ran from Battle Mountain down to Highway 50 just west of Austin; the second section ran south from Highway 50 just east of the old Frontier down to Route 6 just east of Tonopah. It is the second section that I've spent the most time on: from at least one early field trip in grad school, then one summer working out of Austin, then a month or two at the Bowman Creek camp in 1978, and finally what essentially amounted to at least a year driving back and forth between Kingston Canyon and the Frontier Truck Stop (and sometimes Austin) from the summer of 1979 through at least the end of the summer of 1980. I've been back many times: Highway 8A, passing through the elevated Big Smoky Valley, is one of the scenic routes through Nevada.
Highway 8A, for me, started just east of the now burned down Frontier, and went south to Kingston Canyon, and beyond that to the turnoff to the Northumberland Mine Road, and beyond that to Carver's Station. Sometimes (for me) it went all the way to the road to Tonopah. Highway 8A was renumbered as part of the 1976 Nevada highway renumbering program when all (or most, at first) single digit state highway numbers were replaced by harder to remember three digit numbers. Hence, my stretch of Highway 8A is now S.R. 376. The Austin to Battle Mountains segment of Highway 8A is now S.R. 305. (Some routes, like the Battle Mountain to Austin to Tonopah part of S.R. 8A were still shown on state highway maps through 1981, and signs may still exist for 8A in the far northwest part of the state.)

I've started many exploration stories on paper and on computer, and I have them here and there. I didn't start these stories chronologically and have put only a few on this blog. The stories start, in my mind at least, with Highway 8A because I spent so much time on that road so early in my exploration career. The stories really begin before 1978, with Highway 8A being partly involved from 1975 through 1977 and then beyond. I've started putting these stories together on another, non-public blog, but haven't gotten very far with that project.
The stories all begin with the longest north-south straight stretch of paved Nevada highway, which at the time was on my section of Highway 8A, and which I drove so many times that I came to know every long mile by heart. That straight stretch started at the junction of Highway 50 near the old Frontier. It went south from there, making it past the Kingston Canyon turnoff and barely past the dirt road heading west up Bowman Creek, barely past the old RO Ranch, where the Northumberland Mine dirt road takes off to the east heading into West Northumberland Canyon, a favorite field area. The straight stretch crossed the Lander-Nye County border before ending where the road veers slightly to the right toward the Toiyabe Range. This "longest straight stretch" still exists, exactly 19 miles long, though it is probably not longest anymore: a straightened piece of Highway 50 between Austin and Eureka now spans about 21-22 miles. [Note: I've determined since writing this part, that I was referring only to north-south stretches of pavement. There may be additional east-west straight sections of road in Nevada; Highway 50's long straight section between Austin and Eureka, just east of Hickison Summit does not appear to have been straightened.]
All the exploration I've conducted prior and since working along this straight stretch of highway has somehow referred back to it in my mind, maybe just because I spent so much time there, maybe because of a fondness I have for that part of central Nevada. And, as I've said in part of the stories already published:
I'd like to say that it all started on Highway 8A, in Nevada, but it didn't. Nor, I suppose, will it end there, although it could.
And with that, I'll think I'll leave the story of Highway 8A, hoping that maybe the question has been answered or at least partially addressed.

old Frontier siteFrontier Truck Stop: The Frontier Truck Stop, aka Frontier Tavern — we just called it "the Frontier" — was an all purpose place. Besides the 4-room motel, the bar, restaurant, and gas station, it boasted a truck and vehicle repair garage and towing operation. It had a pay phone, inside out of the weather, no less, and the owners sold knick-knacks of a particular country style. Ranchers, cowboys, and field geologists came from miles around to use the phone, get gas, eat dinner, and have a couple beers (not necessarily in that order). Oh, and I'm pretty sure there was a pool table, at least before the slot machines moved in.

After being burned down in the late 1980's or early 1990's (a separate story), the land was vacant. The site went up for sale in the early 2000's (mentioned here [Wayback Machine], 5th page, 1st under Commercial Sales), and it's now occupied by a ranch-style house.

Posts that mention Highway 8A:
Friday Field Photos #3 (about Northumberland Canyon)
Bowman Creek: Getting There
A Saturday Drive (the road to Bowman and Ophir Creeks)
An Update from the Lake (written before blog publication)

1) Taken at a pullout on Highway 8A near the turnoff to Spencer's Hot Springs, at the start of the long straight stretch, looking south toward the Toiyabe Range.

2) Photo of the Millet AMS sheet showing Big Smoky Valley, with the Toiyabe Range on the west and the Toquima Range on the east. Austin is in the far upper left. Highway 50 snakes through the mountains then crosses the valley in the northern part of the map. Highway 8A (now S.R. 376) is the straight red line coming SSW from it's junction with Highway 50. MSR Maps.

3) Another view looking straight down Highway 8A's straight stretch toward the Toiyabe Range.

4) The end of the straight stretch.

5) Current conditions (2007) at the site of the old Frontier.

Posts tagged 8A
Single Digit Highways
A Bit about License Plates

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our Garden in the Snow

It's snowing today, after snowing all night, and our garden is under wraps, in plastic bins, on top of a heating pad.
It's just a little too chilly and wet to do any gardening today, other than making sure the plants are happy.

This year, we're starting a new garden area in our tiny front yard. It's covered with boards and chicken wire to keep the cats out - other than that, we haven't done anything to it. We're waiting for our plants to grow large enough and for the weather to get warm enough for planting in the ground (rather than in styrofoam cups).
Right next to our front yard garden area, elm branches hang over the down-below fenced yard.
More greenery hanging over the fence, all draped with snow.
Tiny new elm leaves covered with snow.
Shortly I'll have to get packed to go on a field trip. I hope the weather improves and that the mud isn't too much for the buses!

GARDEN UPDATE: The bins are now out from under the tarp, but it's still snowing.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Seen in the Field: A Mini-Placer

Seen in the field a few days ago: a mini-placer of pyrite concentrated in small gullies on a smallish alluvial delta.
Zooming in a ways, and then even more.

And hey, I guess this is getting a little fractal or something. I could zoom in farther and farther and... but I'll lose all definition.

I wonder if there might be any gold associated with these little pyrite placers?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

2MP HTC + Hand Lens = Macro

Okay, I'll bite on this one. I'm using a 2MP HTC 6800, not the newest or smartest of "smart" phones, two hand lenses, a penny (taking after Callan Bentley, the perpetrator of this meme) and one rock.

UPDATE 9Apr10: Actually, the "iPhone Macro Meme" started at Microecos and Myrmecos, and you will find some stunning pictures at both places. The meme has also been continued over at Highly Allochthonous. Do note that the phone used herein is not an iPhone or a Droid.

I sent these photos via email posting with my phone, primarily because I've never synched the phone to the computer; hence, no photo enlargement or enhancement has been attempted. The colors in photos from my phone always look a bit faded.

The penny, with a 10x hand lens + HTC.

The penny, using a 20x hand lens + HTC.
pennymacro The penny, full screen, using my regular 12MP camera in macro mode.

A rock containing pyrite and chalcopyrite, using the 10x hand lens + HTC. Click to enlarge and you can see some crystal shapes.

The same rock through a 20x hand lens, using the HTC. This is a bit blurry, but enlarging reveals some cubic crystal shapes.
And here's the way the mineralized rock looks using the macro setting on my camera. It can be hard to get everything in focus using the macro setting, and light and shadows can be a problem.

One reason I went ahead and played around with this meme, even though my phone camera is not that great, is that I would be able to send photos to the blog from the field, presuming that I couldn't wait until evening to post. Maybe I'll test it out for real next week!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things: Another Trip to Wheeler Peak

So, with some of my current field work complete, and with MOH fortuitously on his seven days off, we took a trip out to Wheeler Peak yesterday. I browsed through some old photos and found that this year's early May trip was the earliest of any year, except for trips that I would place into snowshoeing or other winter categories.
Consequently, although these first two photos are similar in location and orientation to several I posted last year as snow comparison photos, they are earlier than those by at least three weeks. Nevertheless, they do show that Wheeler Peak has more snow on it in early May, 2010, than in late May, mid June, or late June of previous years. No surprise there, really.
The Great Basin National Park website correctly reported that Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive (the paved road that goes to 10,000 feet) was open to Mather Overlook... we drove up and walked around the rocky point, which is at the end of a short dirt road and not far above the 9,000-foot elevation sign.
I was fascinated by how the snow highlights a fracture set across the face of Wheeler Peak, the fracture set being sub-parallel to the ground surface on the right (north) side of the peak. Enlarge the photo to see these fractures, and also to see the rock spire standing above and behind the foreground trees, also on the right side of the photo.
We walked around, finding plants and birds and rocks and things.
Plants included a lot of sweet-smelling, unusually tall and somewhat twisted Mountain Mahogany, manzanita, small Ponderosa pine trees (I think), distant leafless aspen, and distant limber pine.
We saw and heard a few birds, including a small group of Clark's Nutcrackers, a raven or two, and at least one chickadee.
As for rocks, they were everywhere, in roadcuts leading up to the overlook, forming whole hillsides and slopes across the way, scattered all over the ground over which we walked, and jutting out as cliffs to make good foregrounds for pictures and good sitting spots between meanderings. The rocks at Mather Overlook are probably part of the late Precambrian McCoy Creek Group. They come in a variety of whites, pale greens, and purplish grays, with occasional other colors like this nice orange. The metaquartzites are shiny, sugary, and show swirled to laminated bedding.
This pale green metaquartzite is cut by a sugary, white quartz vein, probably a metamorphic sweat-out vein. This type of vein most likely doesn't contain gold, but given the proximity to the Osceola gold district located on the west side of Wheeler Peak, one never knows.
The ground, besides being littered with loose rocks and rock outcrops, was turning green with grass and soon-to-be wildflowers. The air was crisp and refreshing at 36° F (2° C), and the views into Utah were spectacular.
We finally turned away from the mountain, walked back to the Prius, and drove down the hill to the 6,825-foot elevation of the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. We were glad to find that the NPS website was incorrect about the Cafe and Gift Shop operating hours. We went inside and had lunch with chocolate milkshakes.