Saturday, July 26, 2008

Where ATVs and Bruntons Meet

I haven't been to field camp, and I likely won't get to due to all of the academic catchup that comes with a major switch of fields this late in the game. I did get to take a field mapping course this past quarter, though, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it (I say almost, because the one day where it got up to 105 in the shade, and there wasn't any shade, was a bit intense). The professor outright asked me to take his class, never mind that I didn't have the prerequisite. The class involved ten days in the field, split between two different field areas in the Mojave Desert. Some of those trips were only for a single day - both areas were a nice hour and a half drive away from campus - but there were three full-weekend outings involved, which meant I still got some of the campfire conversation aspect of longer-term field camp.

Of the two field areas, I was particularly taken with the sedimentary-focused one. Mule Canyon is in the Calico Mountains, off the same freeway exit that takes you to Calico Ghost Town. The canyon exposes the bright greens, reds, yellows, and oranges of the Miocene Barstow Formation (though without the fossils, from what I understand), plus some younger caps of purple(!) extrusive volcanics. The name "Calico Mountains" explained itself right there. Mule Canyon ranks up among the most beautiful places I've ever visited, and I really enjoyed mapping it. To me, it was like a giant puzzle, only I had to walk on the pieces to match edges, rather than snapping everything together from one bird's eye view.

The colors of Mule Canyon. I really wish I'd taken a long panoramic shot of the whole place.

We were the only geology class out there for the six days we spent in Mule Canyon, but there was no shortage of other people. Mule Canyon is a popular spot for RVers, offroaders, and shooting enthusiasts. Mapping there was never quiet: there was constant engine noise, spatters of gunfire all too close to the actual mapped area, and one RV that seemed to be in the same spot playing the same Britney Spears CD on repeat for several of our visits. It was also never without its share of idiocy, mostly not on the part of our class: the first day we were there, some visitor had the brilliant idea to shoot across the road, and there were all kinds of incidents of people attempting to drive vehicles up hills that were entirely too steep and sandy to really be wise. (We had fun with this one. One night, well after dark, we saw ATV lights running across what was clearly our measured section - a high and narrow measured section, no less - so the professor led a charge toward them with flashlights. They proceeded to leave.)

But the Britney Spears, the ricochets, and the jeeps cutting back and forth across beds I was trying to map did not even come close to making the experience of mapping at Mule Canyon a bad one. It's too fantastic and fascinating of a place for that. (We only mapped the predominantly-homoclinal section of it. There are crazy folds all around that are absolutely worth going back for.) If anything, I pity the recreational users of that land, too busy putting bulletholes and tire tracks into the landscape to realize its beauty.


Thomas said...
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Thomas said...

As someone who has spent much time putting bullet holes into landscapes, I must say I am offended by your comment!

Seriously, though, some of us who put bullet holes into landscapes do also go out there to enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the closer-to-solitude-than-you'll-get-in-a-city feeling. That's why we go there instead of to a shooting range. ;-) To be fair, the time I've spent putting bullet holes into landscape was done in the brushland and forests of Texas, not a desert over there in California. Maybe their views are different.

On a more serious note, (I must fill this post with something other than that a gun related comment, lest I seem like one of *them*) I've recently started reading your blog and greatly enjoy the posts I've seen since I'm majoring in geology and love classical music. I'm also extremely impressed with your changing at so late in the game - I'm having problems and frustrations with finally coming around to geology (planning to go grad school in paleontology, if you're wondering) after a few years of messing around as an under-grad before figuring out what I wanted (21 with none of the necessary pre-requisites in physics or chem and without a geology class under my belt. Not to mention, all the bullshit I have to take to fill up 'core courses' which hold damn near zero interest for me. Ugghhh...) and I'm feeling a lot of pain for it, which gives me an intense amount of respect for you and the courage and devotion it requires to turn around so late in the game. It's also pretty damn impressive that your professor actually came forth and requested that you take that class!

Keep up the good work.

Julian said...

Perhaps I am underestimating all of the bullethole-inflicting people we encountered on this trip! (And I'm sorry if I actually offended you!) I didn't really feel up to getting close enough to them to ask, since they were, you know, firing at the time. But I'm sure that the vast majority of them were not geologists, and so might not have quite the eye for the place that you would!

But yes, no need to worry that I will write you off as one of them *cue ominous music*. I'm really glad that you're enjoying my blog and finding what I say to be interesting. I'm also flattered that you think I'm brave for deciding to switch academic directions at this late in the game. I've never thought of myself as brave for that (or for anything). Insane, yes, but I'm enjoying the insanity!

Best of luck in finishing up your undergrad work with minimal pain. And be glad you've decided which direction you want to go while still in undergrad! I know plenty of people who switched majors a bunch of times within four (or five) years, and they've all managed to make it work well. But no matter the field, you'll have to get those GenEd requirements out of the way - and nobody likes those, as far as I know!

Thank you again for the kind words! (And sorry I took a little while to respond to the comment. My internet connection has been spotty at best all weekend.) I look forward to hearing more about how your academic escapades are going.

Thomas said...

You didn't offend me. That said, I think one can enjoy the beauty of such things without geological knowledge of the subject, assuming they have an eye for it. My father is like that and always preferred going to a location out in the country to shoot (albeit, here in my part of Texas we have more shrub-land/forests than deserts with nice outcroppings) rather than a firing range for that reason. He has an eye for rock outcroppings, the fur patterns on animals, tracks (whether human or animal)...all sorts of stuff like that. It's pretty amazing, really. It made for a nice experience when I was growing up. I think the key difference between me and the people shooting out there would be a question of awareness more than appreciation, or lack thereof. Due to the fact that geology is an interesting subject to me, but I'm just starting out, I'm acutely aware of my ignorance and have some idea of how much more I'll appreciate the beauty of those rock out-croppings when I can look at them and understand what they have to say, so to speak. I imagine that most folks without this interest are blissfully unaware of this lack of knowledge and how much it would help them appreciate it, since they don't think of these things in that manner. Lucky them! :P

Hahaha, I *would* have been one of those people to switch majors several times, except that I was smart enough to stick with one major until I was sure that I had settled on what I wanted. I went through the process of taking various courses (and reading pop. science books outside of the courses) until I settled in on what I wanted before switching majors. Now, I am technically a liberal arts major (cue scream of agony) since the community college I'm at doesn't *have* a geology major. The idea is to transfer majors once I get out of here and make it to the university in town.

You know, I think there's a pattern going on; some of the geo-blogs I've seen (including yours) indicate that they didn't start out majoring in geology, but happened to stumble upon it and decide that they liked it. I also noticed this trend on the 'interviews with students' page on the geology department of UT Austin's website - only one of them actually started as a geology major and that person's parents were both geological engineers. I've also been reading the memoir that William Fisher (former director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at UT Austin) wrote recently, and he bluntly states that no one goes into college intending to be a geologist (he started out as a biochem. major and realized he wasn't cut out for it) but stumbles onto it when another major isn't working out. I think a series of hypotheses and discussion on the reasons this occurs would make for an interesting blog post.