Sunday, May 18, 2014

Checking Out Mount Diablo's Biologic Overburden

Mt. Diablo is one of California's most spectacular state parks. Rising 3,847 feet above the Bay Area, the mountain is one of the most prominent in the state. It served as the starting point for surveying property line across Central California and Nevada. And it has marvelous geology: thrust faults, ocean crust, Franciscan chert, thick sequences of sandstone and coal, and a rich paleontological record. It also has some living overburden as well.

"Overburden" is a term used for the dirt and rock that overlies some valuable mineral or ore, like coal. Such rock (and all the living stuff on it) is quarried away and discarded. We geologists (and me especially) can sometimes miss the stuff that gets between us and our rocks. On field trips sometimes, I chafe a little when the attention of my students is drawn towards a squirrel or a deer instead of the incredibly important rock exposure that I'm talking about. But sometimes I get distracted too.

I see raccoons fairly often as I drive home across the creek that runs north of my town, but usually at night. Before today I had only one decent photograph of one, but as we got out to explore the Rock City at Mount Diablo, some of our students spied one. He was clearly a camp raccoon, as he didn't seem to bothered by all the cameras that were snapping.
The semester is over at my college, but the Geology Club never managed to schedule a field trip during the semester as is our tradition. Now that finals are over, the stress levels dropped, and our geology students were ready to hit the road and have a bit of fun. We headed west into the Coast Ranges for a tour of California's largest coal mine (and think about that for a moment; did you know that California once had coal mines?). It's called the Black Diamond Mine, and is part of a regional park above the town of Antioch in the Sacramento Delta. That tour was spectacular, and will also be part of a future blog post.

We had time after the tour, so we headed up nearby Mount Diablo. Despite the incredibly dry conditions this year (the state is still suffering an exceptional and unprecedented drought), there were some gorgeous wildflowers around the summit trail.
I don't know wildflowers anything like I know minerals, but I can buy books in the park visitor center! The yellow flower above is endemic to Mt. Diablo, and not too surprisingly is called the the Mt. Diablo Globe Lily ( Calochortus pulchellus).
 The orange flower above is the Wind Poppy (Papaver heterophylla). Below is a Red Larkspur (Delphinium species).
The flower below really caught my eye. It's a Butterfly Tulip (Calochortus venustus). I realized today that I have been visiting Mount Diablo in the summer or fall, and I've been missing some real flower shows of species I've never seen before, including a number of those in the post
I think the one below is a Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum), but I accept corrections.

It was a beautiful day in the Coast Ranges!
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