Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Resolution Recommendation: See the World. See as Much of the World as You Can

Grapevine Mountains in Death Valley National Park
When I first began to think about what I wanted to do with my life sometime in my teens, I knew I wanted a job that would take me outdoors for much of the time. When I was in high school, "earth science" or "geology" didn't exist as a course choice. So far as I knew, the "outdoor" major was to be a wildlife biologist, and I started heading that way. But in my first semester at community college, all the classes were full, so I took some course called "earth materials". The next semester I took "earth history", and a field course to the Grand Canyon. And by then I was hooked. I wanted to teach geology (many thanks to my first teachers, Marlin Dickey and Rod Parcel).
Death Valley National Park
My journey to a degree in geology was not an easy one. I did okay in my community college courses, achieving a pretty good GPA, enough to get me into a quality program at Pomona College, where I found the limitations of lazy study skills. I spent three years getting my act together, and another two working for the department before I started the graduate program at the University of Nevada, Reno. Once again I was challenged to the limits of my abilities, especially with a young family to support. But I made it through, holding a crying baby at two in the morning while typing my thesis on a Commodore 64 computer with a daisy wheel printer.
The Trona Pinnacles in the California Desert at Searles Lake
Somehow, I made the cut for a position as a laboratory teaching assistant, and later adjunct faculty at Santa Barbara City College. I worked there for four wonderful years before I was fortunate enough to be chosen as an instructor of geology at Modesto Junior College, where I've been teaching for 31 years and counting.
The 2019 "Super-bloom" in the Mojave Desert of California
Geology provided my one of the greatest gifts of my life. A doctor explores the human body. A computer programmer explores the circuitry of processors. A chemical engineer explores atoms and compounds. But a geologist explores the earth. And I can't imagine a greater privilege. The greater privilege though has been that I have spent a third of a century introducing students to a world outside the confines of their home cities. There is nothing quite like seeing the response of a student seeing the Grand Canyon or Yosemite Valley for the first time in their life.
Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley National Park
Our world, despite our horrible abuses, is a wonderous place, still full of beauty and adventures. Seeing it is a marvelous journey, but having some understanding of how it came to be gives the adventure deeper meaning. Even the plainest of landscapes, say the Central Valley (to us the Great Valley) has a fascinating story, one filled with oceans full of mosasaurs and plesiosaurs, gigantic sharks, and savannas full of mammoths, giant sloths and sabertooth cats.
A Five-spot in Death Valley National Park
Not everyone can travel and explore the planet, for lots and lots of reasons. When digital cameras became widespread, and this thing called the blogosphere appeared some time back in the cyber-early Pleistocene, I finally realized I had another tool with which to share the world. In 2008 I started this blog, with the idea of posting lots of pictures of the beautiful places of the planet. It became a way of introducing the wonders of the planet with people far beyond the confines of my college. I never dreamed I would still be doing it twelve years (and more than 2,100 posts) later. I have always appreciated those who have read and responded over the years.
Yosemite Falls, the 5th or 7th highest waterfall in the world.
In any case, this post is sort of a year-end gift of images from the journeys this year of myself, Mrs. Geotripper, and my wonderful students. If you live in California, a lot of these places are within a day's drive. I took students to Death Valley National Park in February, and Mrs. Geotripper and I made another trip there in March to seek out flowers.
"Mirror" Lake, a seasonal pond on Tenaya Creek in Yosemite Valley. Mt. Washburn in the distance.
Yosemite is close enough to Modesto for a day trip, and I managed to get there on four different occasions this year, mainly in the fall and in the spring. It's a different place with every visit, with new discoveries to be made every time.
The Gateway in Yosemite Valley, with El Capitan on the left and the Cathedral Rocks on the right.
We had the occasion of my grandmother's 100th birthday as a reason to spend a few days camping in the Coast Redwoods of Northern California
Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Northern California
Our summer field studies class gave us the chance to explore the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Use the search engine at the top left to check out "Travels in Cascadia" for the detailed stories of the places in the pictures that follow.
Mt. Shasta, the largest (but only second highest) stratovolcano in the lower 48 states.

Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of the lower 48 states, near Neah Bay, Washington

The Olympic Mountains from Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Lupines in Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Washington

The upper end of Howe Sound, the southernmost glacial fjord on the west coast of North America, British Columbia from near the summit of Stawamus Chief near Squamish

Black Bear in Whistler, British Columbia in Canada

Rainy Lake near North Cascades National Park in Washington

North Cascades National Park in Washington
In September, we carried on an exploration of the eastern Sierra Nevada, traveling over Sonora Pass. We base-camped in Bishop for three days while we explored the High Sierra near Mammoth and June Lake, Mono Lake, and the White Mountains.
Sunrise out of Bishop, California, east of the Sierra Nevada
The White Mountains are an immense range reaching more than 14,000 feet, and containing one of the most unusual forests on the planet: the Bristlecone Pines. The trees live where almost nothing else can thrive, and they live for incredible lengths of time, as much as 5,000 years. From the Bristlecone Forest, one can take in more than a hundred miles of the Sierra Nevada crest, from Mt. Whitney to the Mammoth Lakes area.
The Sierra Nevada crest as seen from the White Mountains
The eastern Sierra Nevada is also a land of volcanism. We explored Devils Postpile, the Long Valley Caldera, the Bishop Tuff, and other features of recent volcanic activity.
Devils Postpile in the central Sierra Nevada
The Sierra Nevada is also one of the finest places in the world to study the effects of the Pleistocene glaciations. The June Lake Loop is an awesome valley that also serves as a gateway to the higher alpine parts of the Sierra.
Silver Lake on the June Lake Loop of the Eastern Sierra Nevada
Mono Lake is an enclosed basin filled by a saline inland sea. It is one of the most important stops on the migratory bird flyway, and the story of its preservation from the schemes of the LA Department of Water and Power is a rare (but still ongoing) environmental victory.
Mono Lake, near Lee Vining, California, east of the Sierra Nevada
Our journey home took us over Tioga Pass and through the high country of Yosemite National Park including Tuolumne Meadows and Tenaya Lake.
Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park
Our journeys weren't always on the surface. An October field studies class took us underground at Black Chasm Caves in the Sierra Nevada Mother Lode. There are more than a thousand limestone and marble caverns in California!
Black Chasm Cavern near Jackson, California in the Sierra Nevada Mother Lode
Our last journey of the year took us north to visit family in Oregon and Washington. The weather was not optimal, but I had a brief view of Mt. Rainier from the shores of Lake Washington one morning. The mountain looms over the Pacific Northwest in more than one way. The volcano is close enough to threaten urban areas on the Puget Sound.
Mt. Rainier from Lake Washington, near Seattle.
But in the end, don't forget about the most important place of all: home. There is a bit of nature hanging on anywhere you might live, even in the midst of the biggest cities on Earth. Find that place you can get to without too much trouble and expense, and get to know it well, maybe know it better than anyone else. Learn the birds, the mammals, the bugs, the reptiles. Get to know the rocks and plants. Watch them change over the course of the year. Your life will be richer for it.
The Tuolumne River in Waterford California, my home place
I wish for you the most wonderful of new years and new beginnings, even with the challenges that face us all. Thanks for reading!
The Tuolumne River in Waterford, California.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. I've been to a lot of the places pictured so I consider myself fortunate, but I was struck at your appreciation for bringing new students to beautiful places they may never have seen except for having enrolled in your classes. That must be a great joy.

Chas in Albuquerque said...

Thanks for another great year of interesting posts and photos! Your prose is always informative and often enlightening. I’ve been fortunate to see many of these places and feel the same awe and wonder. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Yet another fantastic post, thank you. I thought of my 5-1/2 year old grandson when I read your early career challenges; he often starts talking about volcanoes and that "people's houses are crushed". Your enthusiasm for nature's voluminous beauty, indeed for seeing deeply what most people just call "the view" is heartfelt. I plan to encourage his love of the outdoors.

Your photography is stunning; the bare mountains above that lake are so clear this reader felt a bit of straining would provide me with a look at scrapings from glaciations. And the columnar basalt photo made my heart pound with excitement.

Silica-rich magmas lead to explosive volcanoes; is Mt. Rainier--which threatens Puget Sound--in that category? And I've wondered why there's little written about Yellowstone, perhaps because it's always "venting"? If Yellowstone erupts, populated areas from the midwest to the Pacific would be devastated.

Happy 2020, Healthy Geotripping from the Okanagan, B.C.

William said...

Thank you for sharing.