Monday, August 13, 2012

No Meteors, So Some Pictures of a Sunset Instead

The Great Valley is great sometimes, but not if you want to see astronomical phenomena. We have some of the worst air pollution in the nation, along with considerable light pollution. So most years when the Perseids Meteor Shower comes along, we try to find our way up the western slope of the Sierra Nevada for some really dark skies. Besides, it hit 106 degrees yesterday, and it just HAD to be a bit cooler if we could make it a few thousand feet up into the mountains.
The sun was dropping low towards the horizon when we found a wide spot on the highway near Pinecrest Lake. It offered a really fine view towards the Dardanelles country and westward down the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River (the opening picture of the post).

The mountains around the Dardanelles don't look like your typical Sierra Nevada peaks: they look more like flat-topped mesas in the picture above. They are not composed of granite, but instead are the remnants of lava flows and volcanic mudflow deposits that erupted from a volcanic center that was similar to today's Cascades. The difference? These eruptions were happening 9-10 million years ago, and the volcanic center died away. Erosion took over and stripped away most of the volcanic rocks except for these remnants.

We were getting a little concerned about the cloud cover. Huge thunderheads had been building over the eastern Sierra, and some clouds were starting to spill over the mountains towards the west. Lousy for looking at meteors, but maybe nice for sunset. Or a lightning show...
 The sun broke through and lit up the forest behind us and the sky to the west turned to fire.
There's not that much to say about it geologically. I suppose I could mention the sun pillar, caused by the sun's rays reflecting off ice particles in the clouds. Or I could just say enjoy the sunset...

I'm a real sucker for beautiful sunsets. Anyway, the clouds didn't clear and we didn't see a single meteor, or a flash of lightning. But I'm not complaining one little bit...
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