Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Geology field trip to Mono Lake


Every term I try to go on the Ge136 field trip. This class, a student seminar based cornucopia of learning, has taken me on trips throughout the American south west. This time was no exception.

On many of the classes we've driven straight up the Owens valley towards Lake Tahoe or similar. This time, we drove a lot less (only ~800 miles) and enjoyed some of the places slightly closer to home.

The trip began at 5:30am on Saturday. Surprisingly, everyone was there on time. We loaded the trucks and headed out via the 210, 5, and 14 as the sun roared over the horizon. Before long we were through Mojave and up onto the Garlock fault, where I gave my talk on the Rand Schist. We proceeded throughout the day, stopping for lunch and talks at the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine Fault, eventually reaching our campsite at Convict Lake around sunset. The glacial valley terminated in a coloured spire of rock displaying a particularly nice metamorphic roof pendant. 

It was incredibly windy. Windy enough that talking was difficult. We lashed our tents to relatively immovable objects and huddled around a beaten fire. Dinner, of chili with a secret ingredient, was filling and excellent. A and I walked down to the lake to attempt photography, but constant spray and tripods being unable to stay up in the wind led us to give up. We returned to the campsite and organised a mercy dash to a nearby hot spring. Two cars departed, but only ours managed to find a sufficiently empty hot spring in time. We relaxed under the open sky and discussed terraforming and other sciency stuff. A few meteors flew overhead.

At length, we returned to the campsite, I warmed my sleeping bag near the fire, then retired to the camp stretcher and bundled up against the cold. Taking a few long exposures required enough crunches to ensure I was thoroughly warm by the time I went to sleep. Having slept only 3 hours the night before and driven all day, I passed out extremely quickly.

The next morning, I woke, inverted my previous actions resulting in a dressed, upright Casey, packed my stuff, ate some breakfast, and we were on the road. We talked about dating of glacial moraines and eventually drove as far as Bodie, a ghost town north of Mono Lake. Booming and busting in 5 years, Bodie's remaining buildings (much of the town burned down historically) are remarkably well preserved. By this time the wind had died enough to allow an attempt at drone flying. We checked out the museum and some of the houses, while trying to imagine how it had been in 1880, bullets flying everywhere, gold dust in the air, constant noise and the thrum of possibility.

Later that day, we drove back to Mono Lake, shivered during the sunset while hearing talks on hydrology, history, volcanoes, microbiology, and so on. Soon after we departed through half-dead forests for our campsite nearby, set up and cooked spaghetti for dinner. The first sign of trouble came when cleaning off the tables we encountered patches of nice. That night, the temperature dropped to -8C/20F, which was so cold I put on some socks with my sandals. Waking up frequently to shiver afforded terrific opportunities to admire the stars, galaxies, meteors, and quality campfire singing. Eventually the sun rose, two dozen or so frozen icicles stumbled from the tents and trembled their way to the coffee pot and lightly burnt toast.

We packed and returned to Mono Lake, then some of the surrounding volcanic craters, and gradually made our way south via the Bishop tuff, some tasty road cuts, canyons, and another glacial valley with awesome marble metamorphic rocks and tungsten mines, and some hot springs. Soon it was time to head back and we zoomed down the 395 to get home by 9pm.

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