Monday, September 30, 2013

Across the West and Back Day 2: Across the Salt Lake Desert

MOH and I left Nevada and entered Utah shortly after getting back onto I-80 following our brief sojourn in West Wendover, and began crossing the Great Salt Lake Desert (and Bonneville Salt Flats).

When almost to milepost 16, I took an obligatory photo of Floating Island, no doubt named for the mirage that often makes it look like it's floating above the salt flats. Here, the mirage is minimal but present. (See better photos of Floating Island with strong mirage here.)
Floating Island.
It turns out that Floating Island *may* be at least partly underlain by our old friend, the Ely Limestone — or perhaps it's underlain by a Utah equivalent, the Lake Point Limestone, or another Utah equivalent, the Erda Formation. On the interactive online Utah state geologic map, clicking reveals that Floating Island is listed as being underlain by the Oquirrh Group (with the symbol PP - Pennsylvanian undivided?), consisting of such formations as the "Wells, Weber, Ely, Callville and other Fms" — at the same time, the map shows the symbol PPe on the northeastern side of Floating Island. PPe is the usual symbol for the Ely Limestone in eastern Nevada, but perhaps it could also refer to the Erda in Utah. For me, the island is too far away to make any snap judgements!

It was a cloudy day, overall, but nevertheless you could see a good 90 miles to the far peaks.
Looking ESE across the desert at the Cedar Mountain, and the crest of the Stansbury Mountains beyond that.
It became clear about halfway across the desert that distances were more than usually deceptive. The eastbound road markers on I-80, which begin with milepost 1 exactly one mile east of the NV-UT border, essentially mark the distance you have travelled across the desert from its western edge at just east of West Wendover, NV (in fact, you travel almost exactly a mile from the state line before ramping down onto the flats). Just before milepost 21, we passed a road sign indicating that it's 22 miles to the Knolls. The Knolls exit is just past the eastern edge of the salt flats, so I knew we were just almost exactly half way across.

View Approximate half-way point in a larger map.

It seemed like we had been driving forever! The low hills in the distance, marking the other side of the desert, only looked about 8 to 12 miles away, though they were really about 21 miles off. We knew we had another "almost forever" still left to go!
Milepost 39: Finally we were approaching the east side of the broad, flat crossing.
Exit 41, Knolls, one mile past the first sand dunes at the east edge of the desert. Milepost 40 is visible in the photo, not far beyond the exit sign.
At the exit for Knolls (a siding? some hills?), we knew we were getting close to one of our favorite rest stops, Grassy Mountain. The rest stop is known for a short hiking trail and a sign saying "Watch for SNAKES and SCORPIONS."
Despite this sign, I've never seen any of either...
...although we did see a horned lark noshing on a pretzel.
More commentary has been added to a second warning sign.
The second sign says, among other things, "DANGER: Sex, Sleds, and Snowboards."
Finally, on a day perhaps as cloudy as the one shot here in 2011, we started out on a little leg-stretching expedition.
And I'll have to save the hike for another post...

Photos to this point in Day 2 have been added to the day's trip log on Google Maps, along with the ones from West Wendover, which I forgot to add after the last post:

View Day 2: Elko, NV to Vernal, UT in a larger map.

Related Posts:
Across the West and Back Day 2: A Side Trip in West Wendover
Across the West and Back Day 2: Pequop Summit to West Wendover
Across the West and Back Day 2: Looking for an Old Roadcut
Across the West and Back: The First Day
Intro to Recent Western Loop Trip

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Across the West and Back Day 2: A Side Trip in West Wendover

As I mentioned in my last western loop trip post, when West Wendover, NV, came into view, it became clear that the section of I-80 that we were on was identical to the route of old U.S. 40. We got off the freeway, not specifically to drive that section (there are a lot of sections of old 40 in Nevada that we haven't driven yet), but to get some items we needed for the trip. We found ourselves on West Wendover's main street, West Wendover Boulevard, AKA old highway 40 (unsigned).
West Wendover Boulevard, looking west.
As we progressed down the street, off in the distance we could see what looked like a giant cowboy.
Is that a giant cowboy in the middle of the street?
Yes, indeed! It's "Wendover Will," welcoming you to West Wendover, Nevada — although why he's doing that on the far west end of town is unclear to me.

We drove around Will toward the Smith's, our destination, and could see old 40 heading straight for I-80 where it goes through an unnamed notch in the southern Leppy Hills.
Decommissioned U.S. 40 heading west out of West Wendover for I-80.
We bypassed driving farther on this section of old 40 in favor of more easterly destinations, turned around after our needed stop, and left Nevada for the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake Desert and Bonneville Salt Flats.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Across the West and Back Day 2: Pequop Summit to West Wendover

On our journey eastward across Nevada, MOH and I were last seen approaching the Pequop exit in the Pequop Mountains. Just beyond that exit — which provides access to such places as Milk House Spring, Adele Spring, and Nanny Creek to the south and East Squaw Creek to the north — I-80 crosses Goshute Valley, heading for a passage over a low spot in the Toano Range.
Large alluvial fan in Goshute Valley.
Around the bend in the photo above, I-80 crosses a large alluvial fan coming southward off one area of the Toano Range. Both sets of mountains in the photo are parts of the Toano Range, with the low point in the center just beyond the fan being Silver Zone Pass.

A little farther on, in the center of Goshute Valley, you can look back toward the Pequops and see the drill roads of Newmont's Long Canyon project, which was acquired by buying Fronteer Gold (link to Fronteer's website now goes directly to a 2011 Newmont announcement about the buyout), who had done a good portion of the work on the property (along with others before them). An inferred resource of 2.6 million ounces of gold has been announced by Newmont.
Long Canyon drill roads on the east side of the Pequop Mountains.
About midway across Goshute Valley, shadows to the south made Shafter Knoll, about 13 miles distant, stand out against the faded blue of the Dolly Varden Mountains, which are about 42 miles south of the highway.
Looking south. Shafter Knoll is on the left, the Dolly Varden Mountains are in the center, and the Pequop Mountains are on the right.
Road construction on I-80 in the Toano Mountains.
As I've mentioned in earlier posts, we saw a lot of construction on the roads we travelled. This is the first time I've seen a mini-tunnel installed over a road to prevent rocks from falling, sliding, or flying through the air into the roadway. Two of these were being used, with the second spanning the westbound lanes of the freeway.

After crossing the Toano Range at Silver Zone Pass, I-80 goes into a straight section in the south end of Pilot Creek Valley. Here, the alluvial fan in the distance, coming off of the Leppy Hills north of the highway, looked as though it was crossing the valley to run up against the mountain range on the south, which is actually an eastern bulge in the Toano Range.
Looking southeast down I-80 at an alluvial fan coming out of the Leppy Hills on the left, with hills of the Toano Range on the right.
The topo maps of the area make it clear that alluvial fans from the Leppy Hills and meet fans from the Toano Range in the middle of the valley at a low, broad juncture between the ranges.
Topography is from the USGS TNM 2.0 Viewer (link).
The associated air-photo view shows a lot of shorelines from ancient Lake Bonneville. I'm wondering if the gravel pit seen in both views isn't in a gravel bar formed during Lake Bonneville times, but haven't found any literature to support that idea (and we zoomed by, not stopping for the fan or hypothetical gravel bar).
Air-photo view of the same area (link).
As we moved farther across the south end of Pilot Creek Valley, this unexpected view of rustic-looking buildings, reminding me of old western movie sets, popped into view.
Looking southwest toward the Toano Range.
Just beyond the buildings on the range front, I could see what looked like a small limestone mine. This turns out to be the Pilot Peak lime plant, operated by Graymont, which processes material quarried on site (you can see the highwall of the small mine behind the plant).
Pilot Peak lime plant and quarry.
A few minutes later, we were across Pilot Creek Valley, and our first glimpse of the Great Salt Lake Desert came into view beyond a low divide.
Looking southeast across  a bit of the Great Salt Lake Desert (white, beyond the closer hills), with Dutch Mountain about 35 to 40 miles away in the distance.
All through this leg of the trip, I'd been keeping my eye on the small portions of old U.S. 40 that hadn't been wiped out during construction of the interstate. Coming into Wendover, you end up looking straight down a still paved portion of the old highway, which is the main street in West Wendover, known as West Wendover Boulevard.
Looking nearly east down the main street of West Wendover to the Bonneville Salt Flats out beyond the NV-UT state line.
We had to get off in Wendover for some travel supplies, so we ended up driving on old highway 40 for a very short distance.

Be sure to check out the map insert below (and a larger view in Google Maps as desired), where I show the day's photos (to this point in the day). I've added a few of the locations mentioned in the post, including the alluvial fans shown above, Shafter Knoll, the lime plant, and an old part of U.S. 40 in West Wendover (which I'm often in the habit of calling Wendover, even though Wendover is in Utah and West Wendover is in Nevada).

View Day 2: Elko, NV to Vernal, UT in a larger map

Related Posts:
Across the West and Back Day 2: Looking for an Old Roadcut
Across the West and Back: The First Day
Intro to Recent Western Loop Trip

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Across the West and Back Day 2: Looking for an Old Roadcut

We left Elko early on the second day and stopped at a little cafế in Wells for breakfast.
I couldn't help but take a couple photos of the interior (!).

A Relevant Aside: Because this part of the trip was across the route of Historic U.S. 40 (now mostly defunct and nowhere signed in Nevada), the drive took me back in time to a cross-country family trip made on U.S. 40 from the west to east coast in 1957, then back east to west about a year later. I was quite young at the time, so have only a few vignettes from the trip stored in my memory. One is of a roadcut somewhere in the west, where we stopped, and I collected my first specimen of slate.

Much later, on a field trip the first year I came to Nevada for grad school — or on a trip to the GSA meeting in SLC that same fall, I saw the roadcut, and it was like dếjấ vu all over again — except this time I *had* been there, about two decades prior. The roadcut, therefore, was either on a section of I-80 between Battle Mountain and Elko (there are very few roadcuts west of Battle Mountain), or on a then still extant section of U.S. 40 between Carlin and the Utah border where I-80 was incomplete. I saw the roadcut then; maybe I saw it again on a 1982 trip to SLC for the GSA Cordilleran section meeting. Have I seen it since? Not sure.

I-80 through over Pequop Summit was still shown as not being completed on the 1987-1988 state highway map, and it was only shown as complete upon the issuance of the 1989-1990 map (I find it hard to believe that the interstate was only completed sometime between 1987 and 1989 or so, but there it is). Also see the 1975 map for the then current state of affairs during my first couple trips across the state that fall.

Back to the trip: At about 8:20, we started up the west side of the Pequop Mountains and began seeing our favorite limestone: the Ely Limestone (or maybe it's called something else in northeastern Nevada, like Etchart?). This section of road probably closely follows the original route of U.S. 40 through the mountains, and it goes through exposures of bedded to flaggy-looking Ely Limestone and shaly Chainman Shale below that.
Ely Limestone.
In the Pequops, I thought I saw a couple roadcuts that looked like the one I remember from long ago, but the ones that really struck me are probably in Ely Limestone.

Looking carefully at the satellite view of the area on Google Maps, I can deduce that the [articular roadcut shown below might be (partly) in Chainman Shale, although really, most of the exposure looks like limestone.
Ely Limestone on the right, a fault in shadow in the upper left; possible Chainman Shale left of the fault (barely in the photo).
By the time we were approaching the Pequop exit on the east side of the summit, I had seen several possibilities for the original roadcut, but I'm not sure that any of them fit the bill. Perhaps it was in the westbound lane on a section where the lanes diverge. Perhaps the roadcut has been modified beyond recognition since I last saw it. Perhaps it was really on some other leg of U.S. 40 in Nevada or Utah. In any case, I enjoyed seeing the Ely Limestone through this part of the trip and recognizing the Chainman Shale in exposures below it (mostly in the surrounding hills and not in the roadcuts) .
We approach the Pequop exit and can see part of the Toano Range across Goshute Valley.
I'm going to stop here for now, otherwise this will never get posted! I've got the Day 2 trip route in Google Maps below, with locations of photos taken during the day — I'll add to this as I post more photos. I've also shown several roadcuts of of interest where I took photos, roadcuts I later decided were most likely in Ely Limestone. Note the conspicuous divergence of the eastbound lane from the westbound lane in the middle of the Pequops. This divergence leaves a roadcut possibility to check out on some other trip.

View Day 2: Elko, NV to Vernal, UT in a larger map

Related Posts:
Across the West and Back: The First Day
Intro to Recent Western Loop Trip