Calico rocks

March 9th, 2010

ZZYZX, CALIFORNIA–The day started very cold with a stiff, persistent wind and low dark clouds moving quickly across the mountain north of Soda Lake. We are comfortable in our rooms and the dining hall, but tend to notice the cold in the shower building which is, shall we say, a tad breezy. Fortunately our first stop would be mostly in buildings and underground mines.

Calico is a reconstructed mining town east of Barstow.  It was founded in March 1881 and was soon the richest silver mining district in California. It began to decline with silver prices in 1907 and dwindled to a few shacks until Walter Knott renovated the buildings in 1951 and turned the site into a tourist attraction. Now it is a county park with numerous private businesses operated inside. We visited it today to see the old silver mines and mining techniques and to look at the mineralized Pickhandle and Barstow Formations which host the ores.

Calico Ghost Town from the scenic viewpoint to the north.

Megan Innis showing us excellent desiccation cracks (from drying mud) preserved in the Barstow Formation (Middle to Late Miocene) at Calico.

Rob Lydell, Adam Samale, Rob McConnell and Andrew Retzler relaxing outside a Calico business. Andrew is drinking, of course, a sarsaparilla.

Sure it is a bit windy out here, but look at these folds!

March 9th, 2010

Syncline in the Barstow Formation at Calico Ghost Town. Note that the ductile deformation at the base of the fold becomes brittle toward the top as the fold tightened. Shelley Judge is the one with the explaining hand.

A Windy Desert Day for the Wooster Geologists

March 8th, 2010

ZZYZX, CALIFORNIA–The skies were brilliantly clear early this morning when we left the Desert Studies Center for points west. The price for the passage of the front was a stiff wind that kept up all day and even now is whistling in the darkness past our windows. I don’t mind at all.  It reminded me of delightful spring days in the desert when as kids we flew kites so high we could barely see them.

Our first stop was a visit to the extensive sedimentary layers laid down by the Pleistocene Lake Manix in what is now the lower Mojave River Valley.  We drove several miles on Harvard Road and walked across long stretches of desert pavement with ventifacts and occasional wind-polished agates.

Bottom sediments from the pluvial Lake Manix near Harvard Road. For scale, you may notice Megan Innis and Stephanie Jarvis in the central wash.

We then traveled farther west through Barstow to Owl Canyon and Rainbow Basin a few miles northwest of the city. There we met Buzz and Phyllis Sawyer, childhood friends of mine from Barstow and superb natural historians of the desert. We all enjoyed the diverse facies of the Barstow Formation (Middle to Upper Miocene) as well as the plants and animals in this protected area.

Professor Shelley Judge explains the complicated structure of Owl Canyon to her faculty colleagues using traditional geological hand language.

Wind-blown Wooster Geology field trip participants in Rainbow Basin with the famous Barstow Syncline in the background. This photograph was kindly taken by Buzz Sawyer.

Our last stop was Afton Canyon where we completed the Lake Manix story by looking at the outlet through which it catastrophically drained into Soda and Silver Lakes to the east. The sun had set by the time we gathered back at the vans, ending another productive and thought-provoking field day.

Wooster geologists crossing the mighty Mojave River in Afton Canyon. We don't think this is quite the same river Jedidiah Smith encountered.

Death Valley Day

March 7th, 2010

ZZYZX, CALIFORNIA–Today the Wooster Geology Mojave Desert field trip team visited the southern half of Death Valley National Park.  We left Zzyzx (love that name) early in the morning and drove straight north to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.  After our orientation we headed south to the Natural Bridge trail.  There we hiked up a narrow canyon to look at the faulting associated with a metamorphic core complex.  As a bonus we studied a beautifully-dissected fanglomerate along the way.  We next spent quality time at Badwater, a fault-dissected cinder cone, and Shoreline Butte with its evidence of the receding levels of the ancient Lake Manly.  The weather could not have been better.  The little bit of rain as we drove back to Zzyzx produced one of the most brilliant rainbows I’ve ever seen.

Fanglomerate-walled canyon near Natural Bridge, Death Valley, with metamorphic highlands of the Black Mountains in the background.

The Natural Bridge made of fanglomerate.

Adam Samale, Jesse Wiles and Rob McConnell at Badwater on a recently-flooded portion of the salt flats.

A bright rainbow near Baker, California, at the end of our field day.

Scarlet and Gray in Southern Nevada

March 6th, 2010

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA–After our long flight we drove our three vans a few miles west of Las Vegas to visit the spectacular Red Rocks National Conservation Area.  Greg Wiles and I were astonished to see how much construction had taken place there since we last visited in 2005.  The visitor center is completely new, and the scenic roads have been redone. We also learned that on a warm Saturday afternoon in March, the place is filled to capacity with people.

The main attraction for geologists is the vivid red rock, which we know as the Aztec Sandstone (Jurassic).  It lies below a gray Paleozoic section which makes up the bulk of the Spring Mountains.  (I did my dissertation on some of those rocks back in the day.)  The Paleozoic dolomites and limestones have been thrust over the Jurassic sandstones.

The Aztec Sandstone with overthrust Paleozoic rocks as seen from the visitor center.

The sandstone itself has many geological mysteries embedded into it, not least is the pattern of reds, oranges and whites seen on the outcrop.

Wooster junior Megan Innis photographing the Aztec Sandstone.

Somewhere some geologist must have explained the following contorted beds in the Aztec!

Contorted bedding in the Aztec Sandstone. The units is thoroughly cross-bedded otherwise, revealing its origin as a set of ancient sand dunes.

At the end of this long day we arrived safely at the Desert Studies Center in Zzyzx, California.  More later!

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