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.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Repost: Here's to You, Geological Heroes

My DSL lines and WiFi, provided by Frontier (or not provided, as the case may be), are currently quite lousy with 50%-plus packet loss. For some reason, Google pages and products, including this blog, work at least slowly and sporadically, as does the NWS weather site. So I can find out how many calories I'm eating (or drinking) while checking out the latest atmospheric river that has most likely been one of the culprits in decimating my internet connection. I can also do a little research by asking Google questions and submitting search terms. If the answers show up in the blurb accompanying the resulting list of search results, then I'm good; if not, I'm stuck with a list of websites that won't open. Consequently, I can't quite finish the current post I'm working on: It needs a little more research. So I'm reposting a post from 2010: a submittal to the now defunct Accretionary Wedge blog carnival. Here it is.

The Accretionary Wedge is coming up soon, so my thoughts are naturally turning to Geological Heroes, the topic of this month's Wedge, hosted at Mountain Beltway by Callan Bentley. Callan says,

I invite all participants (geobloggers and geoblog readers alike) to contribute stories of their heroes. It’s time to pay tribute to the extraordinary individuals who helped make your life, your science, and your planet better than they would otherwise have been.
As far as geologic heroes go, I was first thinking that maybe I don't really have any (or maybe I just don't have many personal ones that I feel I can write about on the blog). I thought, therefore, that I'd list two geologists who are heroes to me, although they aren't personal heroes:

  • Tanya Atwater - a leading plate tectonicist, geophysicist, geologist, and oceanographer. She is a hero to me by way of being a leading and famous woman in my field (or a related field), one who "is especially well known for her works on the plate tectonic history of western North America, in general, and of the San Andreas fault system, in particular...."

    I've not yet had the good fortune to meet her, but long ago (and not very far away) I named a dog belonging to my previous partner and me after her. Upon hearing of this dubious honor from an acquaintance of ours, Tanya A. reportedly said, "Ruff ruff," while making a motion like scratching her ear with a paw.
  • Tom Dibblee - a legendary field-mapping man, who mapped "565 quadrangle maps covering over 40,000 square miles, some fourth of the State of California." I first learned of his mapping while working in the Mojave, where his maps cover nearly every square inch of ground and provide the basics and details for every geological map that has come after him. He is known in that region for not having to use a Brunton to take strikes and dips (except when beds were dipping at shallow angles), because his sense of orientation and angle estimation were excellent, such that he was always within a couple degrees. He started mapping when in high school, and never stopped, completing a mapping career of almost 80 years only when he passed away in 2004.
Beyond these two, I was sitting out on the rig one day, and while thinking that I'd just leave this post at a two-person list I realized that the topic "Heroes" was making me think of Waylon and Willie, and I started singing "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys."

Don't let 'em pick guitars and drive them old trucks...
[technically a road song because it mentions trucks] and then that somehow led me into "All My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" followed by "Waylon, Willie, and Me."

Now, not all the lyrics of these three songs are applicable to whatever particular feeling they engendered in me on that recent field day, nor are all of the lyrics particularly applicable to the topic of geological heroes — except that:
When I start thinking about the real geologist heroes I've known over the years — whether male or female — they are rather much like cowboys, or like outlaws: out in the field all day, bouncing around in pickup trucks old and new, doing their own thing, making it on mottos such as "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission" or "it's all changed now," running their own programs, districts, and companies, shooting cans, rolling boulders, and participating in other shenanigans that shall go unmentioned here, some of which have involved various forms of (legal in Nevada) explosives.

These more personal heroes of mine include my thesis advisor(s), my major professor, the professor I T.A.'d for, several former professors and T.A.'s, many geologists from both Northern Exploration Company and Former Mining Company and elsewhere, the two Larry's, the two Nancy's (you *know* who you are), most of my former field assistants — one has or is now running her own company, one patented her Hg-gas sniffing method and has run her own lab, one is now running her own exploration group at a major mine, and some have gone on to other things but are nevertheless heroes to me for making it in the "man's field" of exploration and mining geology.

My heroes, over the years and decades, have also included several FOP/Quat people: JODavis, Bud Burke, Marith Reheis, and anyone who was present for the flying Vee in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in 1987 or who made it to the 1991 FOP down in Fish Lake Valley, Nevada.

And then there are some true outlaws or aspiring, wanna-be outlaws — hmm... should these names go unmentioned? (You know who you are: R, BS, JS, PG, S+D, et al.)

Really, when it comes right down to it, there are too many geological heroes to list, refer to, or name, including all the consultants and independents attending the hospitality suites and receptions at Northwest every year, going back to the wild S+D bashes in Spokane some thirty-plus years ago.
And so, here's to you (all of you)...
...from a copy of a print from an original slide taken here at a now burned-down hot spring cabin, by JODavis in the fall of 1981, photo credits to JODavis and LLLackey, photo ©2010 Looking for Detachment, all rights reserved, poem written by SH and CR.

The Spencer Hot Springs cabin, with roomy concrete bathtub and piped in hot water, was burned down later that year or the next, reportedly by the same individuals who, in their over-zealous righteousness crossed out in red marker the name "Asshole" (and other cuss words written on the interior of the cabin) — these individuals were apparently disturbed by the existence of such a den of iniquity as a hot spring where people *gasp* sometimes bathed naked. I don't know who these red-marker people were, nor do I really know that they were the arsonists — but that's the way the story goes.

The original from the 1978 album "Waylon and Willie."

April 2010 Accretionary Wedge: Heroes

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tales of the Mojave: An Intro


I'm going to move into what I hope to be the blog-publication of a few of my old stories, which I began here quite a while ago with several posts that became the Caliente series and other posts that were part of my Finding a Thesis series (which I haven’t finished). I'm not sure how far I'll get into this new project, but it's something I want to start in order to see how my writing has progressed from the first drafts, which I probably began in the late 1990s. I'll no doubt be interspersing this Mojave set of posts with other field notes, road trips, or miscellany like Friday Fault/Fold, etcetera; we'll just have to see how it goes. Also, at this point the old stories have become tied up with some fictional stories or novel I've been playing with. The fictional book or novel doesn’t really have a plot yet, and it also has a lot of completely made-up to deeply modified or wildly intertwined adventures. I'm attempting, here, to remain true to life.

The Mojave

You can check out any time you like,
but you can never leave.[1]

My memory of the Whipple Mountains, where we'll be heading shortly, extends back to 1981, when Allie [2] and I conducted some preliminary geologic reconnaissance (recon) during June for Northern Exploration Company (NEC). It was my first visit to the Mojave Desert of southern California. (I can’t speak for Allie, but I think it was hers, also.)

The Mojave Desert is outlined in red.
Image courtesy USGS, modified from here.
Hell, that's not strictly correct. Looking back carefully, I really can't say that I had never been to the Mojave before 1981—though I do often say that very thing, not usually thinking about the technical boundaries of the Mojave The boundaries, right, largely though not completely faithfully, follow the range of that well-known Mojave denizen, the Joshua tree.

So when did I first visit the Mojave? Well, let me think. Sometime in the late '70s I was in Vegas for an archaeological conference—we had driven all night to get there and had beheld a truly spectacular thunderhead near Tonopah. Before that, I’d seen (and drawn and photographed and summarized) the Charlie Brown Outcrop during the third field trip in Larsen's Geology of Nevada class. On the way down to the Charles Brown Highway, we had camped in the Beatty dump on Thanksgiving night after a particularly mediocre meal at the C-rated Exchange Club. Fortunately for everyone involved, there had been plenty of beer afterward to settle the stomach.70

Beatty is technically just inside the Mojave Desert, and the Charlie Brown Outcrop isn't far from its center. So yes, using almost anyone's definition of that southern desert, I had been there before '81. Nevertheless, I usually think of June, 1981, as my first foray into the area, and indeed it was the first time I had been south of Shoshone on the California side or south of Vegas on the Nevada side...

Our Carryall probably had 4 doors.
Photo credit: CZmarlin.
No wait! Most maps place Baghdad, Arizona, in the Mojave, and I'd been to Baghdad during field camp in '73; that was the place we'd gotten a Carryall stuck in the sand while trying to take a short cut back to Flagstaff. We weren't even supposed to have gone that way, but we'd purposefully drifted to the rear of the caravan and then left the pack. It had taken us an hour to dig out. We had finally made it back to Flag for dinner, only to find that no one had even missed us! The mishap instantly became one of the highlights of field camp, albeit one with apocryphal overtones: We exaggerated our difficulties while building road to get unstuck, we gleefully inflated the story during the two-hour drive back to Flag, and we greatly hyperbolized the event while telling the story over beers later that evening.

This little spate of reminiscing has brought me to the realization that I still don’t always think of the Mojave by its technical definition, and that in 1981 I generally thought of the Mojave as a big hot unknown encompassing the entirety of the southern California desert, or at least the part of it that lies south of the Garlock Fault. Back then I often thought that the SoCal areas north of the Garlock, including the broader Death Valley region, belonged to a kind of never-never land that should really be part of Nevada. I still often think the CA-NV border should run along the crest of the Sierra, though I’m not sure where that line should jog eastward to leave the main bulk of southern California in California, and somehow place Clark County of Nevada in SoCal.[3]  Perhaps the new border would look something like this, with the CA-NV border in white, and the southern CA border in yellow:
Google Earth image with proposed new borders.
Later in my career—later being when I worked at Former Mining Company, AKA Forminco—we, the southern explorationists of Forminco's Western District used the presence of cholla as a key factor when trying to push our district north into Nevada, as far north as the Gilbert mining district in the Monte Cristo Range northwest of Tonopah. The Nevada District had responded with uncharacteristic equanimity and had let us in, mostly because they didn't really want that part of Nevada.
Anyhow, back in the early 80s I liked placing the northern boundary of the Mojave at the Garlock Fault: It made geographic and geologic sense to me at the time, and it affirmed a feeling I had, when driving south across the Garlock, a feeling of dropping off into another, lower land. And as far as I was concerned, the eastern boundary of the Mojave was the Colorado River. My boundaries, however, held as little water as most Mojave washes—for one thing, there really isn't an elevation drop when driving south across the Garlock along U.S. 395 or S.R. 14, and even though there is quite a drop when coming into the Mojave from the west at Tehachapi, one has at that point crossed the southern Sierra Nevada, so a drop is to be expected; and for another thing, the Mojave is really defined as more of an ecologic or biologic-climatologic region than a physiographic region—and I knew that, so I always spoke of the "Mojave Desert of California" when referring broadly to all of the southern California deserts, or even those just south of the Garlock, hoping that the phrase would exonerate my technical sloppiness.[4]
Google Earth image showing part of the western Mojave, a bit of the Garlock Fault (dark blue), and U.S. 395 and S.R. 14. Ignore the road marking for 58; it is inaccurate.
This recon program was completely mine. Prior to that summer, the target areas of grass-roots ventures I'd been involved in had been at least partly chosen by others. I did the research in the spring, generating several targets across the region, from Tehachapi to Barstow to Needles[5], and I decided where to start. We'd begin in a few relatively low areas along the Colorado River—the district boundaries of NEC were such that someone else was in charge of Arizona, so like an aquaphobic saguaro in reverse, I wasn't supposed to cross the Colorado River—and we'd work our ways toward higher elevations, hoping to get ahead of the summer heat.

Because of a delayed start to my recon targeting, it was late in the field season, probably the first of June, when Allie and I finally left Reno to drive as far south as Parker, Arizona. I wondered how long we'd last down there in the heat of early summer; we knew it wasn't the most auspicious time to begin field work in the Mojave, but we hoped we could stick it out and find a property or two to stake.

My first recon program! I was both excited and apprehensive.

To be continued...


[1] Felder, Don, Henley, Don, and Frey, Glen. "Hotel California" (lyrics) perf. by the Eagles. Hotel California (album), Asylum Records, 1976.

[2] Names have been changed.

[3]Northern boundary of Southern California, at Wikipedia.

[4] In reality the Mojave Desert is an ecologic area defined by plants and climate, which extends as far north as Beatty, Nevada, and which doesn't include all of southern California's desert, because some of that area belongs to the Sonoran Desert. Whether the Whipple Mountains is in the Mojave proper seems to depend on who draws the map. These stories will take place mostly in the deserts of southern California, and I'll usually refer to that area as "the Mojave." 

[5] A target area can consist of a whole region (like the Mojave Desert itself), an entire mountain range (like the Whipple Mountains in the eastern Mojave Desert or western Sonora Desert), a large or small mining district (like the Savahia Peak area in the Whipple Mountains), or a smaller area around one old mine or prospect (like the Dollar Bill Mine on the south side of Savahia Peak.).

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

From the Road: Talus Stripes and Shorelines along the Truckee River

Talus, shorelines, and fall colors.
It was a late fall day, and I stopped along Route 447 to see if I could get close to some of the brilliantly colored trees along the Truckee River a few miles north of Wadsworth. I didn't end up finding a good spot for pics of fall colors—other than maybe this one taken down near the Numana Hatchery—but I did find lots of wonderful talus stripes and some Lake Lahontan shorelines.

At two stops a little farther to the north, at and near the junction of 447 with Chicken Road and at the Historic Marker 448 pullout, I grabbed a hodgepodge of photos.
Looking SSE from the historic marker pullout.
These two photos look south-southeastward along the Truckee River toward distant Fernley. A good portion of the river in this area runs parallel or sub-parallel to Walker Lane strike-slip faults. Wadsworth Amphitheater, which shows up in the Google Earth images we'll see in a minute, is not visible from any of our photo sites; it's an amphitheater-shaped topographic feature cut into Lake Lahontan sediments right along the east bank of the Truckee, beyond the dark basaltic hills on the right side of these two photos (east side of the Truckee).
I love the lone Cottonwood in this photo.
I went ahead and drew a few lines on Google Earth, then I rotated the resulting images to two different orientations so we could see a little more of the terrain. Be sure to check the north arrow in the upper right! The linears I drew are parallel or sub-parallel to the trend of the Walker Lane. You might be able to pick out a few more in the images (or go to Google Earth and looking around a bit).

The Walker Lane—on Google Earth (G.E.)and on other aerial representations such as air photos—shows up best at very small scales; that is, if we zoom way out and observe the area from way above, we can see the trend of the Walker Lane better than if we zoom way in, like we've done here. Nevertheless, individual strike-slip faults have been identified throughout the Walker Lane, and a few of these occur right in this area.
The A is centered on Wadsworth Amphitheater. The purple camera icon shows the location of the first photo.
The next G.E. image zooms in to the area we can see in the photos. I've got all three photo locations turned on, the A for Wadsworth Amphitheater, and my drawn-in linears. These linears aren't necessarily faults, although I'm pretty sure the one on the far left is. Unfortunately, because I currently have a very lousy internet setup (thanks Frontier!), I can't load very many research web pages. Google works well—and Blogger is a Google product—so I can blog even with 25 to 100% packet loss (it's 50% this very moment). And because Google Earth is a Google product, it's working for me also! (But I can't routinely access my non-Google email.)

Back to the faults and linears. I do know from personal experience that Walker Lane structures pass through the Lake Lahontan sediments in the area where the Truckee is running in a particularly linear fashion. I know this from some work I did a long time ago with J.O. Davis, who was studying Lake Lahontan and using tephra beds to date various aspects of the stratigraphy. The two linears or faults in the lower right of the image cross through the area where I've seen older Lake Lahontan sediments faulted and highly contorted by the major structures that pass through the area. I can't say that my particular linears are right on the major structures, and I can see other possible lineaments.

UPDATE 3Feb2017: I now have good internet back, and I've been able to compare my "map" to a geologic map of the area (Bell, Garside, and House, 2005). My linear passing through the hatchery location (below) is spot on for their most prominent fault, which was mapped as a dominantly extensional fault.
A zoomed in G.E. view of the area.
Not sure why, but I prefer to spell amphitheater with an "re" at the end: amphitheatre. I also have a hard time sticking the first "h" into the word!

I sure wish Frontier was a better internet service provider! (I never had this kind of semi-routine trouble with AT&T in eastern and northern Nevada; their every-day speeds were faster, and service was (generally) provided more quickly.

Back to the photos! 😊
Horizontal Lahontan shorelines and vertical basaltic talus stripes.
Some of the same talus stripes in Google Earth.
This photo shows a juxtaposition of talus stripes, faint shorelines, and layered Lahontan sediments.
On this trip, I focused mostly on trying to get good photos of the talus, because that's really what caught my eye. I later noticed that a few shots showed the Lake Lahontan sediments fairly well.
White, gray, greenish gray, and pinkish layers of the Eetza Alloformation.
While driving through the area, I'd been assuming that the prominently exposed white units were part of the Sehoo Alloformation. I was wrong! The Sehoo is barely identifiable in this zoomed in photo, and it's the older Eetza that is most conspicuous. In fact, the Sehoo here is mapped as gravelly beach deposits, so it mostly comprises the dark gray or brownish gray layered deposits above the whitish units.

Note: I usually use "formation" when talking about the subdivisions within the Lake Lahontan section, but "alloformation" is technically correct. In explanation, Bell et al (2005) say this, "Lake Lahontan and related subaerial deposits were considered lithostratigraphic units in the early studies of Morrison and were designated as formations. With the revision of the North American Stratigraphic Code in 1983, new allostratigraphic and pedostratigraphic unit definitions were added which allowed the definition of time-transgressive, lithology-independent rock units and soils."
Qsm = middle member of the Sehoo Alloformation; Qe = Eetza Alloformation.
After taking all these photos, it was time to move on, so I looked to the north, in the direction I'd be heading.
What I saw was more talus, more shorelines, and more Lahontan sediments. (And some fall colors.)
Selected Reference:
Bell, J.W., Garside, L.J., and House, P.K., 2005, Geologic map of the Wadsworth Quadrangle, Washoe County, Nevada: Nevada Bur Mines and Geology Map 153.