Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blackhawk Landslide Links & Danger in the Mojave

I recently uploaded my first post for Pathological Geomorphology, called Blackhawk: Truly Pathological. This post was inspired first by Kyle House's announcement that the subject of the month would be mass wasting, and second by Callan Bentley's post, Blackhawk Landslide, California. While writing the post, I collected a few related links.

As I mentioned at Pathological Geomorphology, I mapped in the Blackhawk Mountain area in the mid to late 1980's while doing some gold recon and exploration for Former Mining Company. It's a very neat place to work, with complicated and fascinating geology. The area is part of one of my mapping stories, about mapping from the top down or the bottom up and how the results might differ. As far as exploration went, we bulk sampled (as have so many other outfits), we mapped and sampled on the surface and underground, and we drilled using buckets to collect all the fines. All our work resulted in a geologic but not an economic success; we eventually, rather unwillingly on my part, moved on. Another exploration geo, also formerly of Former Mining Company, went back later while at another company; he may have put a couple small deposits together for smaller-scale mining than we had been interested in.

Blackhawk, which we maybe called something else so other companies wouldn't know which area we were talking about, was probably the first area in which I decided to go ahead and carry a gun in the field. This wasn't so much because that particular area was anymore dangerous than any other part of the Mojave (or, maybe it was*), but I thought I should act like a grown person in charge of my own protection, and start doing something about it. I haven't really gotten into the dangers of the Mojave that much before on this blog. Rest assured, the dangers are almost entirely related to people: people coming out of the vast basins or valleys south of the San Andreas fault, other people known as "L.A. escapees" who have escaped the mass city scene to live somewhere out in the desert, and people walking around carrying and shooting their own guns, many of them fully auto.

I found I really didn't like carrying a gun in a holster, either on my hip, or with a shoulder strap. It's extra weight (my version at the time was a .357 Magnum revolver), and carrying it made me feel just about as awkward as leaving the thing in my truck. Either way — whether I had the gun with me, whether it was in the truck behind the seat, or whether I didn't have one at all — I'd always watch my truck from some higher vantage point for several minutes prior to heading for it, to make sure no one was hanging around waiting for me. I'd also always leave the truck already turned around and ready to head out. I still do that; turning to face out, to face your exit direction, has nothing to do with the Mojave in particular, but the Mojave is probably where I started making that one of my own personal requirements.
Here's one of my favorite, out-of-the-way parking spots in the Blackhawk Mountain area, now apparently blocked by... a landslide!

*The unsafe nature of the northern San Bernardino Mountains relates to 1) the proximity of the Blackhawk area to the millions of people living in the L.A. and San Bernardino basins to the south, and 2) the proximity of the area to the tiny, then butt-ugly berg of Lucerne Valley (Google Maps), which at the time was a haven for drug thugs**. The worst of it for me was to call home or call the office from one of the two, count 'em, phone booths in town — the one in front of the Ace Motel — only to have someone drive up almost immediately in some fancy schmancy or beat up caddy and get out and start staring at me while I was talking: pointedly and impatiently staring after zero minutes. We had car phones, but they didn't work unless you got lucky or drove way down the road toward Apple Valley.

**Our claim staker, while using the other phone booth closer to the center of this supposed town, once had some slick dudes pull up on several motorcycles while he was conducting company business on said phone. While our guy was talking on the phone, Head Biker Dude jumped off one of the bikes, glared belligerently at our guy who was trying to say, "Hey, just a minute and I'll be done." Biker Dude then pulled a heavy chain outta somewhere, and then he started swinging it around and around in circles in an obvious threat: get offa my phone or I'll bust your face!

Friendly place. Can't say as I miss the town, but the geology was, and still is, great. And if you happen to be in the area, drive the road to the top of Blackhawk Mountain, to the peak called Silver Peak (MSRMaps): views from the road and from the top are impressive. Use 4WD.


Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Yikes! You're a bad-ass! And I've only ever done science in a nice safe (ish) lab!

Did you read Prof Like Substance's post about safety during field work?

(Heh - went over there to grab the link and saw that you'd already commented. Never mind then).

Silver Fox said...

They have a very good conversation going on over there - and this post was strangely fortuitous, posted prior to reading.

Today, I set off across a part of Nevada I'd never been through without maps, having looked at Google Maps once about a month ago, sure that I wouldn't be lost because I would know which way I was going (and could always go back, afterall). Not how I'd recommend doing things to new field personnel.

But I did have my SPOT!

BrownsBay said...

There's some weird people out in Lucerne Valley.

Silver Fox said...