Wednesday, March 23, 2016
A Living Kaleidoscope in the Red Hills of the Sierra Nevada Foothills
The rocks that are ultimately responsible for this wonderful scenery were once important for a different color: gold. The ultramafic rocks were closely associated with the Melones and related fault zones that were the conduits for highly mineralized fluids that worked their way towards the surface around 140 million years ago. As the chemical-rich water approached the surface, minerals precipitated out as quartz veins that hosted the gold that was so eagerly sought by miners. These rocks didn't have the gold, but it was near by. When the ores gave out, this landscape was abandoned and left behind for a century. It was the realm of garbage piles, shot-up abandoned automobiles, and off-road vehicle trackways.
It wasn't until the 1990s that people began to recognize the true value of this unique ecosystem. Volunteers cleaned up the messes, and the Bureau of Land Management reclassified the landscape as an "area of critical environmental concern", which is effectively a park designation. The "goldfields" today are the Goldfields flowers that appear after the rain falls. And all of the other wonderful colors that come just a few weeks later.