Monday, November 24, 2014

More Dust Devils

I often have occasion to see dust devils while traveling through Nevada, especially in the dryer months, but any time of year can afford the right conditions: a dry playa or dirt road (and other surfaces, read more here) and thermally unstable air. And so, while driving through the Fortymile Desert and about to pass by the Nightingale Hot Springs exit on I-80 back in early October —  the exit name combines two locations into one: Nightingale is from an old mining district and ghost town  in the Nightingale Mountains north of the freeway; Hot Springs is from the geothermal area at Brady's Hot Springs just south of the freeway — I noticed a large plume of dust rising from the desert just north of the highway. I pulled off, securing a viewing point near a powerline road crossing the main road going north to Nightingale.
Several dust devils, including the large, obviously whirling one, and a few tiny ones. Photo looks southwest toward basalt covered hills on the east side of the Truckee Range.
The large devil and three small ones apparently trailing it.
The same large dust devil, this time with two tiny ones seemingly leading.
Here, the same large dust devil appears to get all torqued out of shape!
Later, just for good measure, I took a photo of this devil, also in the Fortymile Desert; our view is southward toward the West Humboldt Range.
This last devil was located about 14 or 15 miles east of the group near the Nightingale Hot Springs exit. The white, rectangular thing on the horizon in the left part of the photo is a semi heading north on U.S. 95, about to reach I-80 near the old site of Trinity (MSRMaps location; Google Maps location).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Hanging Valley in Lamoille Canyon

Getting back to Lamoille Canyon, a place of stunning cliffs and glacier carved valleys, I'm going to take us to an up-canyon viewpoint where we can see one of many hanging valleys. MOH and I initially came to this valley by way of the last stop on our second-day, GBR field trip. The roadside pullout, compleat with descriptive sign, can be reached easily by paved road by driving about 1.5 miles past Thomas Canyon campground.
The hanging valley, as seen from a pullout along NF-650,
looking up (way up) and to the southwest.
From the vantage point of the pullout, you can look straight up and see the hanging valley above a rocky, vegetated cliff. A narrow, V-shaped rill is curving it's way down the 450 feet of cliff below the U-shaped, glacially carved bowl above, which we can barely see from this vantage point. The triangular peak behind the dark green cleft in the cliff towers over us at just over 11,000 feet.

By Yosemite standards, this cliff is really not that high above the valley floor, and there isn't a waterfall pouring out of our hanging valley, the way Bridalveil Fall rushes over the cliffs near Cathedral Rocks, but our little cleft is green with dense vegetation, indicating that the creek flows at least part-year (a feat in and of itself in Nevada) — and you can drive right to it. On pavement! (Pavement in Nevada is a real bonus.)

Before leaving the pullout, you can read a sign about the hanging valley and the tributary glacier that created it, and if you have the time, you can take the Hanging Valley nature trail through the aspens to Lamoille Creek and a beaver pond or two. Not sure if the trail continues uphill into the hanging valley — the cliff looks quite steep and brushy — but I suspect you can get to the valley via some other route.
Turning to look at the opposite canyon wall, you'll see a sheer cliff with a narrow chute carved into it. The slicked canyon rocks show where water has flowed persistently, probably with small casdcading waterfalls at some times of most years; those areas are now marked by black vertical lines where water has deposited dark minerals, often manganese oxides of some type, and where algae or lichen might get a toe hold.
Topo map of the area (USGS TNM 2.0 Viewer link), centered about on Thomas Creek, showing several hanging valleys around the area.
"Our" hanging valley marked by a star.
Topo map (TNM 2.0 Viewer link) centered on our valley, also showing most of two other hanging valleys to the northwest and southeast of it.
Google Earth view approximating the view shown in the last topo map.
The views all around from the hanging valley pullout are stunning, and a drive up Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains is always well worth the time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sluggish Fly on A Pyritic Boulder

It's not like it's a meme or anything, but I saw a sluggish fly on limestone at Really Going Places — after taking these photos on the first day of November — and thought, what an opportune time to post photos of this fly, also sluggish, on a pyritic parking lot erratic (glacial erratic? not sure).
Iron-stained rock with a large mass of pyrite in the upper right, with fly for scale
(a bit left of the large pyritic mass)..
The same mass with the fly close to a large pyrite cube.
Now the fly has wandered over a bit to the left (out of the first photo's range), and is standing at a small precipice, appearing to check out the tiny pyrite cubes below.
Here, I've had to give the fly a gentle nudge, because I wanted it to move closer to the tiny pyrite crystals (that's how sluggish it was!).
The fly now looks like it's interested in mining the tiny cubes!
And now the fly has moved over a bit back to the right (barely into the first photo), and is checking out a couple veinlets.
And here's one last photo, for those of you who prefer not to see a fly for scale.
The funny, almost sickly yellowish green color on the outside of this rock indicates that you should be able to find some kind of sulfide mineral inside — in this case, a heckuva lot of pyrite. This color can be used as an exploration guide, provided that one wants to find an ore deposit rich in sulfides.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Update from the Road: It's Finally Fall

So there I was, traveling west on I-80 late last week — just after our first rain sans snow (except for at the high elevations of a few mountains east of the Sierra, like the Humboldt and Sonoma Ranges, which top out at 9836 and 9396 feet respectively), and before our most recent larger rain and snowstorm of this past weekend — when I came to the marshes that border the west end of the Fortymile Desert.
One of the marshes bordering the west end of the Fortymile Desert,
just northeast of Fernley (location).
I was pleased to see that the marshes were fairly rich in water, and that even the median between the eastbound and westbound sections of freeway had patches of water. The volume of water in the marshes, in the median, and in the adjoining playa and Fernley Wildlife Management Area varies considerably, and though the area has been somewhat drier than usual this last year, I've never seen the marshes completely dry. I enjoy driving this section of I-80: I often see birds in the marshes, including American avocet and black-necked stilt.

I passed through Fernley, stopping briefly at the Gilpin rest stop (AKA Wasdworth rest area), always a good place to find excellent fall colors.
Trees at Gilpin.
And a closer, brighter view.
I had already crossed the main bridge over the Truckee River, between the west Fernley and west Wadsworth exits, and I had been surprised to see that the trees along the river were still yellow. They had been, I thought, nearly at peak about two weeks prior, so I really didn't expect to be seeing much besides some faded golden brown leaves or maybe even mostly barren trees.

Instead, fall was in full swing, and I was reminded that the same was true just almost exactly a year ago when I passed through and decided to exit at Painted Rock to get a closer view of the leaves.
Cottonwood trees along the Truckee River, October 24, 2013.
The river and colorful trees, from the one lane Painted Rock bridge (location).
This year, I didn't exit anywhere along the river (besides Gilpin/Wadsworth), opting instead to move through the canyon as quickly as possible (such are the vagaries of a traveling life).

After driving into Reno, I navigated the notorious Spaghetti Bowl, turning north onto 395. Eventually I stopped at the Honey Lake rest area.
Maple tree at Honey Lake rest area, October 30, 2014.
Same maple tree on October 24, 2013.
The changing leaves and general fallishness of the marshes reminded me of a detailed sequence of events from last year — of the bright golden leaves turning and falling in the canyon of the lower Truckee River, of other leaves turning and falling elsewhere along the road, and of the bright yellow aspen leaves in our yard, also turning and falling. We don't have aspen trees in our yard anymore (we had to make space for gardens and trees that don't perpetuate themselves through annoying, ever-present and ever-growing roots and sprouts), so we don't have our own bright colors and fallen leaves (except for on a few small plants in the midst of growing), but I know that fall will always come about this same time every year — often with bright colors — and possibly I will always feel nostalgic for the days gone by.