Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tales of the Mojave: We're Almost Ready to Go

The Road South:

Our story—the 1981 story of Allie and I doing recon down in the Mojave—began in Reno in the spring of the year and ended unexpectedly and abruptly in Needles before the end of June. I no longer remember exactly how long we spent in the east-central Mojave, but we looked at six different target areas—depending on how you count them—and we probably spent at two to five days in each area.
"A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. ...
- from 'Manual of Muad'Dib' by the Princess Irulan"

A Caravan Camper on a white truck
in front of a mine dump in eastern Nevada.
Allie and I left Reno in a dull gray, four-wheel drive Chevy pickup truck topped with a matching Caravan Camper, a type of heavy-duty metal camper shell with carpet kit, similar to the one I have now. We were equipped with an ice chest full of food, drinks, and ice; a 5-gallon water cooler or two; sundry camping gear; assorted tools; one spare tire (only one!); and all kinds of exploration equipment and supplies. We had sample bags and sample books, Estwing rock hammers and rock chisels, triplet hand lenses and little magnets on rawhide straps, and little plastic squeeze bottles filled with a 10% dilute solution of hydrochloric acid (HCl). The acid bottles were usually held tight in leather cases that could be slid onto belts. We also had a carefully stowed glass bottle of non-dilute HCl, so we could make additional dilute acid as needed. (HCl was easy to get back then, and the bottle came meticulously packed in vermiculite within a sturdy cardboard box.)

We had files of topographic maps, geologic maps, published reports, books, and copies of company reports in plastic file boxes that would help to keep everything organized while also protecting it from water and the pervasive Mojave dust. We had Brunton compasses in leather holders, ready to attach to our belts. And we had various mapping paraphernalia: mechanical pencils with black, blue, and red leads; colored pencils; pens and markers; and six-inch C-Thru® protractor-rulers of various scales: 10-50, 20-40, 10-20, and 30-60. We had field notebooks to hold notes and sketches, and we had aluminum clipboards that would protect our maps, air photos, and reports. We carried everything we needed for any particular day’s traverse in Filson® survey field vests[1], on belts, or in backpacks. A geologist, fully attired and field ready, is easily distinguished from desert rats, ranchers, and routine hikers.

We also had a pile of camping and cooking gear scattered in the back of the truck: pots and pans; plates, bowls, and utensils; a gas Coleman stove and fuel for said stove; sleeping bags and sleeping pads; a tent, which we didn't use while down in the Mojave; a tarp or two; and other miscellany. We may have rustled up some of the gear from a stash in the company warehouse—though had we not been timely in choosing gear (and we were late that year), we would have been out of luck. A certain person's name was used to describe what happened if you didn't grab your gear in time, or if you got stuck with second-rate supplies. Had his last name been Gibbs, it would have been called "getting Gibbsed." 
U.S. 95, looking south, just a few miles north of Beatty.
Before leaving Reno, we spent a little time pondering two particular questions: 1) should we take a thermometer and 2) should we abstain from beer and other alcohol? We debated back and forth about the thermometer and finally decided to leave it behind. Maybe we'd feel cooler if we didn’t see the expected 3-digit Fahrenheit temperatures!

If the creosote has bloomed, the field season is over.
Speaking of temperatures, when we got to our first locality, the temps we encountered didn't seem too bad, though it took a little time to adjust after coming from the higher and cooler elevations of Reno. We adapted. We devoured lots of fresh fruit. For lunch we’d have half avocados, their centers filled with Italian salad dressing, and we’d roll whatever else came out of the icebox in flour or corn tortillas.[2] We also prepared our own variant of south-of-the-border food, using lots of hot peppers, gobs of hot sauce, and unlimited spicy guacamole. We figured there would be something medicinal in mixing the spicy fire of the food with the scorching heat of the desert. And in fact, these were the only foodstuffs we could bring ourselves to eat in the heat. And throughout the day, from sunup to sundown, we drank gallons of water, juices, and sodas—and zero beers.

To be continued:


[1] It looks like the standard survey vest isn't being made anymore—at least I don't see it on the C.C. Filson website. Perhaps that's because so many geos are now wearing safety vests much of the time. I hope my current beige style-12 and orange style-8 vests will last indefinitely: I still use them on field trips, while hiking, and on most sampling and mapping excursions. My beige vest is partly held together by duct tape; a gaping hole in the lower right area developed after carrying a leaky acid bottle inside the inner pocket. (I really don't like having things hanging from my belt, though I did used to wear my Brunton that way. Now I stick it in one of the side pockets.)

[2] This was called a "Bill Rehrig" lunch, although we didn't use that term until many years later.

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