Friday, December 31, 2010

The California Prairie: A final journey for 2010

I started 2010 talking about California's prairies (here and here), and with a nice sunny afternoon (another few storms are bearing down on the state at the moment) it seemed appropriate to make one last journey to see how the prairie in my backyard was faring. We took off to follow Crabtree and Willm Roads in the Sierra foothills and enjoy some sunshine (while it lasted). Not too surprisingly, water was everywhere; the recent bout of storms has left the soils saturated.
Our first intention was to check on the Tuolumne River where it flows through my little town. The Tuolumne starts in the Yosemite National Park high country near Tioga Pass, and has a larger drainage than the more famous Merced River that flows through Yosemite Valley. The river was very high...the flow was at 5,600 cubic feet per second (flood stage is 9,000 cfs). A check of the stats revealed that nearly 16,000 cfs of water was flowing into Don Pedro Reservoir upstream. Sometimes flood control dams work the way they are supposed to...
The prairies of California are bounty and famine. We've seen times of plenty in the spring (and even in the depths of winter like today; look at the greenery!), and we've seen plagues of grasshoppers (only a few months ago). In summer, the prairie bakes under the unforgiving sun and fires can sweep across the landscape.
It's been that kind of year for my family and friends. It's been a tough year for so many, with unemployment and foreclosures touching way too close to home. The economists are fond of telling us that the Great Recession is over and has been for months. I guess it is for the bank executives and stockbrokers and the cocktail party pundits on TV. I'm sure glad they aren't suffering anymore. The economists should visit central California sometime instead of studying their spreadsheets and statistics. It's painful to watch so many people who are ready to work and ready to contribute, and yet are not given the opportunity. It's frustrating to work in an educational system that can no longer provide enough seats and resources to our students. My prayer is that the coming year holds blessings and good things for all of my friends, family and readers, and that we will find our way out of this morass. Wishing you a happy 2011. May the road ahead beckon and lead to tremendous places!

Who are you looking at?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Other California: Sharktooth Hill and a Fossil Collection in Need of a Good Home

Besides the familiar La Brea Tar Pits (translation: "The Tar" Tar Pits), California is not widely known as a treasure trove of fossil discoveries. A little of bit of digging (pun intending) reveals the state as a rich resource of the history of life through time. Death Valley and other parts of the Basin and Range province have been a source of Proterozoic and Paleozoic fossils which are more varied and complete than the assemblage found at Grand Canyon. A few dinosaur bones have been found here and there, but the record of seagoing reptiles is (to me, anyway) even more intriguing: mosasaurs, plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs. But if you ask paleontologists about the time period with the richest fossil record in California, they may very well mention the Miocene epoch of the Neogene period (5.3 to 23 million years before present). California has some of the thickest sedimentary sequences of Miocene rocks anywhere, including marine and terrestrial environments. A future post may include a discussion of the Ricardo and Barstow formations in the Mojave Desert, but for reasons to be noted in a moment, I want to talk about the Temblor Formation in the Central Valley and Coast Ranges. The Temblor is a sequence of sandstone and siltstone that was deposited in shallow basins offshore in Miocene time, around 15-16 million years ago. A member of the formation, the Round Mountain Silt, is one of the most productive fossil layers in the state.
During the Miocene epoch, the Pacific shoreline lay at the eastern margin of the southern San Joaquin Valley. To the east, where desert landscapes exist today, there was a semi-tropical savanna environment inhabited by camels, horses, tapirs, sloths and elephants. The shallow sea was home to nearly two dozen of species of dolphins, whales, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) and other sea-going mammals, including a hippo-like creature called Desmostylus. The fauna also included turtles, crocodiles, and numerous birds. Something needed to fill the slot at the top of the food chain, and given the name of the locality, it isn't too surprisingly a group of sharks. Lots of them; about 27 species of sharks and rays have been discovered here, including the Discovery Channel's favorite, the massive Carcharodon megalodon.
The layers exposed at Sharktooth Hill (along the Kern River upstream of the town of Bakersfield) have yielded up not just thousands of specimens, but hundreds of thousands. In some places, a shovelful of dirt would have hundreds of teeth inside. Numerous studies have been undertaken at the site; a good review can be found here. The national significance of the site was recognized in 1976 as Sharktooth Hill was added to the United States Landmark Registry.

Sharktooth Hill is one of the most important fossil localities in the western United States, and one of the more important fossil collections to have come out of the hill is now being sold by the widow of an amateur paleontologist. The fossils in question have been on public display for a number of years at the CALM Zoo and more recently at the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History. They have hopes of getting the Allodesmus fossil (a primitive sea lion), but the price is too steep for their budget at around $150,000. I hope that some sort of arrangement can be made that will allow the fossil collection to remain accessible to the public. It is a great resource.

The Other California is my continuing series of what to see in our great state when you've visited all the really famous places that show up on all the postcards.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Scientists Don't Believe Anything, But I Believe I Liked This Book: The Planet in a Pebble

I would make a rotten book reviewer. My problem is that unless I'm reading a cliff-hanger type mystery by a Douglas Preston-Lincoln Child-Nevada Barr-Tony Hillerman type, I read books the way a wine connoisseur tastes wine. Sip by sip, enjoying the taste, the smell, the body of the liquid. So it was with "The Planet in a Pebble" by Jan Zalasiewicz, which I read a chapter and a paragraph at a time in my rare leisure moments at the end of the semester. I suck at deadlines, but I am happy to say I wasn't given one by Oxford University Press, who provided me with a review copy.

A number of other geobloggers clearly read a lot faster than I do, and Magma Cum Laude, Geology in Motion, Maitri's Vatulblog, Dave's Landslide Blog, and others have already commented on the book, and I can't add much to their analysis: they liked the book and so did I. I would echo their comments about why the publishers didn't include the actual pebble on the cover, and why there were so few photographs or diagrams in the book, but these were very minor criticisms. The book is well worth your time for many reasons. I started blogging here at Geotripper in an effort to translate the wonders of the earth sciences and geology to interested people who might not have a full background in the workings of science. A few weeks ago you may remember this post in which I talked about the rock in the photo above, and how it originated miles away in another time. It was short excursion of the imagination in geologic terms, encompassing no more than 100 million years. Jan Zalasiewicz has taken this idea that every rock tells a story into a journey across the vast expanses of time and space, into "realms that no spaceship will ever penetrate" and ending with a "diaspora without compare", covering a time period from 13.7 billion years in the past to untold billions of years into the future, but all within in the confines of a single slate pebble found along a coastline in Wales. The origin and gathering of the atoms that make up the pebble, the origin and development of the Earth, the formation of continents and ocean basins, the inner workings of the Earth's crust and the chemical interactions that take place there, and the connection and effects of life through time on the rock, these are all part of the story of a single rounded chunk of gray rock. It is a fascinating story, but the value of this book extends much further than providing a few hours of entertaining reading.

We have a problem with "belief" these days. As has been discussed in some of my previous blogposts on the subject, many a story about scientific discovery begins with the statement "scientists believe". The word "believe" has many meanings, but in today's society (American, anyway), it has religious connotations, and is opinion-based in usage. We pick the facts we believe in the same way we choose food in a buffet line. If a scientific finding is uncomfortable to us, or challenges our assumptions, we choose not to believe it. What is missing in most media reports is a full understanding about how researchers arrive at the conclusions (or tentative conclusions) that they have made. Because of this fundamental misunderstanding we have controversies in our society that should not be happening: political conflicts over global warming and its human origin is one example, and the prevalance of belief in creation-science and intelligent design is another.

Therein lies the great value of Zalasiewicz's book: pretty much every statement he makes about the history of the pebble (and by extension, the Earth and the Universe) is backed up with a cogent description of how we know each fact. From a simple magnifying glass to the most technically advanced "atom-counting machines" as he calls them, the story of the Earth is told with data, not conjecture and preconceptions. If this sounds like dry reading, I assure you it is not. How I wish textbooks could flow the way Jan's prose does; I dream of the day that students want to pick up their texts and read about the wonders of earth processes.

I've noticed some blogposts recently remarked on the passing of Carl Sagan fourteen years ago. He was a translator of science, one who understood the wonders of the cosmos and could communicate them to the society at large. We need more people like him today, and authors like Jan Zalasiewicz are doing a great job, if this book is any measure.

The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey into Earth’s Deep History
By Jan Zalasiewicz
Oxford University Press, 234 pp.
ISBN 978-0-19-956970-0

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The San Timoteo Badlands: Where'd All That Mud Come From?

A small postscript to our journey these holidays that took us across the southwest. We seemed to be chasing the intense, even if not totally unusual storms that left a mess of mud everywhere. As we drove along State Highway 60 between Banning and Moreno Valley, I noticed one of the reasons that mud appeared in at least some places. It doesn't always involve areas that have been burned in wildfires. Sometimes the slopes are unstable to start with, especially in badlands topography.

The San Timoteo Badlands are an underappreciated bit of Southern California scenery. Most people see the hills at 65 mph (as we did; these shots from Mrs. Geotripper are from a fast moving car, and she deserves credit just for getting a couple of clear ones!). The hills are composed of Pliocene and early Pleistocene terrestrial sediments. The loosely consolidated sedimentary rocks preserve a rich record of life from about 3.5 million to 700,000 years, including a cache of more than 1,000 bones from the excavations for a power station earlier this year, including camels, horses, giant ground sloths, and sabertooth cats.
The rocks were stressed and deformed by movements of the nearby San Jacinto fault, one of the most active in California, and were uplifted into the rugged hills between Redlands and Moreno Valley. The rapid uplift and steep hillsides lead to slope failure, lots of it. Though surrounded by intense urban development, the badlands remain wild because there is no good way to build a stable foundation on such weak rocks. Around 8,000 landslides are mapped within a half-mile of the freeway. Many formed during intense storms in 1969 and 1998, and more formed this week. We passed dozens of new debris flows as we drove through the other day.

For more info:

Manson, M.W., C.W. Davenport, K.D. Brown, C.J. Wills, and C.J. Domrose, 2002, Landslides in the Highway 60 Corridor, San Timoteo Badlands, Riverside, California: Special Report 186, California Department of Transportation, New Technology and Research Program, Office of Infrastructure Research, Project F99TL34

Monday, December 27, 2010

12 Months of Geotripper Blogging

I love year-end lists! Chris and Ann at Highly Allochthonous have listed their first posts of each month, and I couldn't resist joining in the game. I'm breaking the unstated rules by posting the first substantive post that wasn't just linking to something else, and instead of writing the first line, I am sometimes using an excerpt from the post. It's been a busy year for blogging, with nearly 300 posts and counting...

January: The Other California: The Prairies of the Past
A colleague of mine in an earlier phase of my life at Santa Barbara City College was fond of saying to field trippers that "I wouldn't take you JUST anywhere!" And a great Peanuts cartoon talked about a field trip the kids went on, and how they went and saw...a field. And that's what we have today: not just anyplace, and it is ... a field. And not just a field, it's a real dump. Well, ok, more like a municipal solid waste landfill...

February: The Other California: Chaos! And Jumbles Aren't Always Word Puzzles
We are in Lassen Volcanic National Park, a place that is on all the postcards, but the park receives roughly a tenth the visitation of a place like Yosemite, somewhere around 350,000 people a year. In the last post, we visited the volcano that isn't there...

March: Words That Have Meaning: False Alarm and Warning (A Tsunami Wrap-up)
Two situations:

In the first, it's a school day, and some kid pulls the fire alarm. Bells ring and students have to evacuate even though there is no evidence of a fire and everyone knows it was a prank. This is a false alarm.

In the second, a teller pushes the alarm button. There's a man demanding money. No one knows if the man is armed or not. The police evacuate the neighborhood, surround the bank, and ultimately arrest the man. If the man turns out to be unarmed, it makes the whole thing a false alarm, right? No? I don't think so either. The police and the people of the neighborhood were warned of a possible dangerous situation. There could have been a deadly shootout. Will anyone fault the police for doing their job?

April: Happy April 1st!
Toads Predict Earthquakes!

Democratic President opens up vast areas for offshore drilling!

Senator criticizes federal government for taking over federal program!

Radio talk show host says of tanning salon tax: "...I feel the pain of racism"!

Decade of 2000-2009 hottest on record!

Sooo.....which of these is your April Fools headline????

May: Dispatches from the Road: Far Western Section Conference in Bishop, California

A few preliminary views from the road at the joint NAGT/CalESTA field conference at Bishop California. One of our stops: the Mono Lake Tufa Towers. The tufa is made of calcium carbonate, and forms near freshwater springs in the intensely salty and alkaline lake...

June: Secrets of the Trade: How Geologists Find Features in the Field

Ever wonder how geologists find those really cool features and faults that we are always discovering? Here, from a few cherished trips to the Hawaiian Islands, are the trade secrets....

July: Something Doesn't Feel Right About This: The Serpentine Issue in California
The more I read about this, the more disturbed I become. Andrew Alden gets right to the point about the very strange goings-on in the California legislature while they avoid working out the state budget. Senate Bill 624 would remove serpentine as the California State Rock, and declare in effect that serpentine is a dangerous mineral...

August: Serpentine: An Update on the State Rock Debate in California

...The issue of raising awareness of asbestos and the role it has in causing lung cancer and mesothelioma was the stated reason for the bill. As I read editorials from across the state (see the excellent compilation by Silver Fox at Looking for Detachment, or check my incomplete list below), the only message in the media seems to be that many scientists and teachers object to the bill because of the inaccurate scientific language, and that there are more important problems faced by the state of California. The bill will not save anyone from getting mesothelioma...

September: Dispatches from the Road (the one I wish I was still on): The Nu'uanu Pali and a bit of Hawaiian History

It's been a few weeks since I was enjoying a visit to the Hawaiian Islands, and school has begun in earnest, but I had a few more dispatches that I hoped to complete before academic matters overwhelm me. We've visited Pillbox Hill, stepped over molten lava, searched for native bird species, found invasive species, and explored two kipukas on the Big Island. We explored one other trail, the Old Highway on the Nu'uanu Pali near Highway 61 where it passes through the Ko'olau Range between Honolulu and Kailua. It's a place of mysterious stories and tragic history...

October: The Other California: A Mystery Photo for a Saturday

I hope you are having a nice Saturday! Here's a photo mystery along the lines of the Silver Fox "Where in the West?" series (and no, I don't know where her picture was shot). What is in the photo, where was the photographer, what are some of the meteorological and geological circumstances?

November: "There is No Reason For Optimism"

The age of oil is ending. "Can the political order face up to the challenge? There is no reason for optimism." I don't usually do a lot of politics in this blog, but regarding the elections tomorrow, think about who might represent you, and who represents Big Oil ("drill, baby, drill"). Oil is running out worldwide...

December: A Lucious Churn....

My students who are new to geology often have a great deal of trouble with terminology and spelling, and so I get a lot of weird misspellings and interpretations of common geologic terms. Baslat, continental margarines, and mantle plums are common errors. I've had to navigate through seduction zones, excretionary wedges and abnormal faults, but I can usually figure out what a student was trying to say...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Last Christmas Gift: A Joshua Tree

A last Christmas scene...

Some of my family lives in the desert near Joshua Tree National Park. We hadn't been there in the past, and expected one of those California-style cookie cutter housing developments imposed on a desert landscape that doesn't really reflect the nature of the desert. Arriving late in the day, I was delighted to find that there was an unspoiled Joshua Tree forest adjacent to their lot. The sun was setting, so I took off across the desert to get a few pictures.

Joshua Trees are a species almost unique to California (I think a few spill over into Arizona and Nevada), and they are a semi-tropical holdover from a different climate and ecosystem. Their seeds do not have a readily available method of dispersal so the tree isn't invading new habitats as the climate grows warmer. It has been suggested that prior to 13,000 years before the present their seeds were spread by giant ground sloths, who were known to eat the fruits of the tree. No animal performs the task today.
The tree got its name from the early Mormon colonizers in the region, who likened the branches to the arms of Joshua of the Bible raised in prayer. They are a unique part of the flora that defines the Mojave Desert.

Have a good Christmas night!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Gift: Storm Passes in Grand Canyon

Christmas gifts come in many different forms. The storm that engulfed the Grand Canyon the previous evening gave way to a new morning, and hints emerged that this day would be different. The rain and cold wind had stopped, and on the far rim there were signs that the clouds might be clearing a little.
We walked to the rim of the abyss and looked into what had been darkness, and saw instead that walls and ridges were emerging from the mist. And just like that, the veil was lifted and the canyon filled with light and color.

Christmas has many meanings to many people; it is the solstice, the cycling of the seasons, it is the birth of a saviour, it is a time of family, it is the high season of the economic cycle when profits are made. To me it is also a reminder that our existence is a gift to be cherished and that there is much that is beautiful in the world. The rocks exposed in the Grand Canyon tell a long and ancient story, a story in which humans are but the smallest blip, yet in 2 billion years of time, there is this short and unique moment when the entire story has been laid bare by erosion in the most spectacular fashion possible. But rock by falling rock, the canyon is being removed and in a few more million years, the story will be lost in the mists of time. We are here together to share this brief moment, and these moments of life are the most precious gift I can imagine.
Stay safe in your travels and have a most joyous Christmas and New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Christmas Gift: A Storm in the Grand Canyon

We journeyed across three states for the opportunity to see the precious treasure that is the Grand Canyon. Our trip happened to coincide with the arrival of an intense series of storms that have wreaked havoc across California and the southwest, and we reached the rim just in time to see the storm reach the Grand Canyon area. It was cold and windy, and darkness was spreading across the North Rim, about 14 miles away as the raven flies, but ravens weren't out and about on a day like this one. We were, though.
In a matter of minutes, all that was beautiful about the canyon was obscured by the growing darkness. The colorful formations that record some 2 billion years of Earth history disappeared under the shadow of the present moment in time.
At numerous points, rain and clouds started pouring over the rim, and nothing could be seen through the impenetrable fog. The sign at the canyon overlook became an ironic commentary (which reminded me of another sign that I saw at the entrance station: "Bad weather predicted; visibility impaired; no refunds).
The rain came hard, cold and fast, and we had to retreat from the edge, seeking comfort in warmer and drier places. The storm was in control, and we had no way of knowing what was coming next. The future was obscured...
There are gifts of many kinds; even in the darkest moments, there is sometimes beauty and optimism. Next...the hope of morning.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Other California: Hemming and Hawing on the Hogback

The nearly unprecedented deluge in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah reminds me that I need to finish up some old business. Piling up a foot or more of rain on slopes that were burned in the last few years is a dangerous situation that can lead to mudflows and other slope failures problems on the steep slopes surrounding the L.A. Basin and California's Inland Empire. But such events have long been part of the history of the mountains, dating to long before humans entered the picture.

On Friday I posted a question about the Hogback in San Antonio Canyon in the Transverse Ranges of Southern California: what is it? It was an imposing barrier to my little VW Bug when I drove up the canyon decades ago, and it looks out of place, but it fits in very well with the dominant geological processes in the steepest of mountain ranges, the San Gabriel Mountains. That process is mass wasting, the failure of slopes and rock masses under the influence of gravity. Rock falls, debris avalanches, slumps, earthflows and soil creep are all common forms of mass wasting.
A view of the hogback from upstream (this shot is from Cow Canyon Saddle) gives a better view of what happened. A large mass of rock slid from the slope on the right, breaking up as it covered the canyon floor. It dammed San Antonio Creek, forming a temporary lake. Within a few centuries the lake filled with rock and debris, forming one of the few flat areas in the canyon, which much later allowed for a small village to be developed on the canyon floor. Ironically, many of the developments in the San Gabriels are built on mass wasting deposits (Wrightwood is built on mudflow debris and is sited atop the San Andreas fault for good measure, and Crystal Lake is an avalanche deposit as well).

The rock slide is nicely exposed along the old highway, with a clear delineation between the lighter colored slide breccia on the left and brownish river gravels on the right. In retrospect, placing a highway at the toe of a huge rock slide next to a volatile stream seemed a less than bright idea. As noted before, the current highway goes over the top of the slide.
San Antonio Creek was forced into the left wall of the canyon (from the upstream side), and it started to carve directly through the solid bedrock, forming a deep gorge with a 30 foot waterfall. The sheer cliffs below the waterfall are used as a practice wall by technical rock climbers.
Once you know what to look for, many instances of mass wasting become obvious throughout the canyon. The rock mass above lies near the entrance of Icehouse Canyon, and drivers must climb a series of steep switchbacks to reach Manker Flats and the ski area in the canyon above. Another rock mass, at Cow Canyon Saddle, tells a very interesting story about the formation of San Antonio Canyon (below).
The upper part of San Antonio Canyon abruptly changes direction near Baldy Village, and Cow Canyon Saddle is situated at the turn. To the west, Cow Canyon drains into the larger and deeper San Gabriel River system. Before the landslide took place, upper San Antonio Canyon probably drained to the west into the San Gabriel River. The slide at Cow Canyon Saddle blocked the ancestral canyon, and diverted the drainage into the lower San Antonio gorge (or headward erosion quickly captured the dammed up drainage).

It will be interesting to see if any major changes took place in the canyon after the events of this week...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010, The Year of Traveling Dangerously (Storms in California)

Water in California is always a proposition of too much or too little, and sometimes those problems occur at the same time (the north-south dichotomy is striking sometimes). This week we are experiencing the biggest series of storms in five years, and some localities in the Los Angeles region have received 12 inches or more, and the storms are continuing this evening.

I had occasion to tour a large swath of California yesterday, through the southern San Joaquin Valley, over the southernmost Sierra Nevada at Tehachapi, and across the Mojave Desert to the Colorado River near Needles. On the 500 mile journey, the rain did not stop. I did not see the most intense problems (apparently the entire town of McFarland was evacuated, for instance), but I saw plenty of water where I've never seen water before. I have been over Tehachapi Pass perhaps 80 times in the last 20 years, and I have never seen water in the channel of Caliente Creek where it flows into the Central Valley near Bakersfield. That's it above...
Dry Creek near Modesto is actually rarely dry because of irrigation runoff, but it also rarely looks like a river. I've seen it worse, but then the Modesto area was one of the areas least affected by the current storms.

The desert was simply soaked. The western Mojave Desert has an internal drainage system (doesn't flow to the ocean) and is exceedingly flat. The ground was already saturated by the time we came through, and water was ponding everywhere, including our highway near Barstow. Greenery was already showing through, and the additional moisture means there is potential for a spectacular wildflower display in another month or two. I have my fingers crossed for our Death Valley trip in February!

Some pretty serious problems cropped up in western national parks. Road damage closed Sequoia National Park in California, and Zion National Park in Utah (Zion may not reopen until January). The normal flow of the Virgin River in Zion is 40-50 cubic feet per second; today it reached 5,000 cfs in the morning and was continuing to rise.

Thanks to Susan for the first and third pictures!

Monday, December 20, 2010

2010, The Year of Traveling Dangerously (The Postscript)

Lessee....after reading of the travel travails of my many geoblogging and tweeting geologists during the AGU meeting last week, after blogging repeatedly about the threats and hazards of living underneath very high and steep mountains in Southern California, and after making a modest attempt at humor about "traveling dangerously", guess who's leaving today on a journey through the Central Valley and Mojave Desert? They've had more than 7 inches of rain in a few places in SoCal in the biggest storm series to hit the state in at least 5 years (and possibly more than that). The conditions are reminiscent of some of our most famous flood years, like 1969 or 1938. I will keep my camera handy if anything interesting happens!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

2010, The Year of Traveling Dangerously (Geology Meme!)

OK, now Silver Fox at Looking For Detachment started it this year, and others are picking up the theme; the question is where you have traveled this year? It's always dangerous to ask a geologist about their travels. They do it a lot, whether for their jobs in industry, or as teachers leading field trips, or just for the fun of it. And they are always glad to expound on their experiences and show LOTS of pictures. And that, poor reader, is what is happening to you now. Some of our destinations will seem similar to those of last year, as I lead field trips to the same places, but a few new spots show up on the itinerary every year. I like seeing new places whenever I can, but I also like to return some haunts over and over, getting to know them intimately, and through their seasonal changes (note the Yosemite pictures that follow).

As usual, I did travel a lot, for a lot of reasons. Traveling dangerously? It felt that way a few times, but mostly it was just a lot of fun exploring.

Our holiday travels brought us to within a four-hour drive of the South Rim of Grand Canyon, so we headed to one of our favorite winter destinations...icy roads, shivering cold temperatures, and no crowds. And a beautiful covering of snow to offset the intense reds and yellows of the Permian formations (the Kaibab, Toroweap, and Hermit Formation and the Supai Group).

A few days later, we got caught in a scary dust storm outside of Tucson. Four or five people died in a massive chain reaction accident in the southbound lanes. Visibility was as bad as I have ever seen, worse even than our Tule Fogs in the Central Valley. Apparently the dust was caused by agricultural fields being plowed, but I have heard that dust storms in the Four Corners region have been getting worse lately with the intense drought (apparently the worst in 1,000 years according to Ken Salazar).

February brought the big field studies journey to Death Valley National Park. We saw water in the Amargosa River (if you aren't from around here, the word 'river' is tricky; most years, very little water flows, but this year the river was almost navigable in a canoe). There were a number of road closures that stymied our efforts to see some of the popular overlooks, but we did get to see something unique: The Devils Hole Pupfish in Ash Meadows. OK, we didn't see the actual fish; a fence protects the extremely endangered species in their cavern entrance home.
March was our day tour of the southern Mother Lode between Mariposa and Sonora. I snapped a shot of a chunk of ultramafic rock in the serpentine exposures in the Bagby Grade area. Serpentine...I had no idea what was about to happen with that rock this year!
A week or two later, I was exploring the Red Rocks Area of Critical Environmental Concern, caught an interesting moonrise, and wrote about life on serpentine-based soils. Again, I didn't know what was about to happen with serpentine, our state rock.
I made some April trips to Yosemite Valley and found the park still in the grip of winter. It was a cold spring this year, and the snow runoff was delayed by weeks. The valley floor was showing just a hint of greenery, and the waterfalls were modest.
A few weeks later, the Geology Club at the school hiked down to a pair of natural bridges in the karst topography of the Mother Lode near Columbia in the Sierra Nevada foothills. They are imaginatively called "Natural Bridges", and are actually a pair of marble caverns that have been breached by Coyote Creek. They are a fascinating place to explore.
The National Association of Geoscience Teachers, Far Western Section had a conference at the beginning of May, and we explored the eastern Sierra Nevada and Owens Valley. We drove over Carson Pass which was still encased in snow, and had a wonderful time exploring Mono Lake and the Long Valley Caldera.
Later in May, we managed to pay a visit to Yosemite Valley on the peak day of runoff from the long delayed snowmelt. The river hit around 7,000 cubic feet per second, and there was some minor flooding of the meadows (yes, the wood pathway goes into the water in the picture below).
In August, we headed out to the Hawaiian Islands, for a bit of personal exploration instead of a class. The lava was starting to flow again in Kalapana, and I had a brief moment at the edge of the lava flow.
In June, July and August, California's state rock turned into a nationwide news story, and I had a brief career as a hand model on the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle. I was glad I had a store of pictures of the serpentine landscapes in our Coast Ranges and Sierra foothills so I could participate in the efforts to retain the rock as one of our state symbols.
Fall arrived, and it was time for some more field trips with my students. We spent five days exploring the eastern Sierra, the Owens Valley, and the White Mountains. We were searching for amazonite and aquamarine when I snapped the shot above of the Owens Lake depression.

In October the NAGT--FWS had their fall conference, sponsored by CSU Fresno, with explorations of the Carrizo Plains, Yosemite, the Sierra foothills, and one of the deepest canyons on North America, Kings Canyon (above).
A week or two later, we took a day trip to the Mother Lode near Jackson and Angels Camp. Our journey included an underground tour of the Sutter Gold Mine (Sutter Creek), and Black Chasm Cavern outside the village of Volcano.

In November, we made one more trip into Yosemite Valley, and saw some glorious fall colors. There had been enough early rain to have a bit of water flowing over the falls. It was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen.
OK, wake up now, the slide show is done! Have some more eggnog!