Monday, January 27, 2020

To the Unprepared, it is the Place of Death; For Scholars of Earth History, it's a Wonderland. Join us, February 13-17, in Death Valley!

Re-posting from 1/10/20. Our organizational meeting is on Thursday, January 30, at 5:30 PM in Science Community Center Room 326 (the Geology Lab). If you can't make the meeting but wish to join the class, contact me.
Some lands are harsh and lie at the limits of human survival...visiting or inhabiting these lands without preparation would be deadly, and if you are dying of thirst or exposure, you're hardly going to care about the rugged beauty around you.

People have lived in this place in small numbers for at least 10,000 years. Four distinct cultures are known, including the Timbisha Shoshone who still live in the region. They were able to live and thrive within the limits imposed by this extreme desert environment. The first Europeans to arrive during the Gold Rush era were not prepared for the conditions, and it was they who conferred the present-day name of the park: Death Valley.

We are privileged to live in a time and place where technology allows us to visit these lands with our basic needs fulfilled, allowing us to appreciate the landscape and story behind the scenery. This is not to minimize the risks involved when the technology (or basic intelligence) fails us. Death Valley continues to be a dangerous place for the unprepared and people get into serious predicaments every year.
But what a place it is! Death Valley National Park is the largest park in the lower 48 states, and it preserves upwards of 2 billion years of earth history. The story in the rocks is more complete than any other park in the country, including even the Grand Canyon. The Paleozoic sediments alone are 20,000 feet thick, and the late Proterozoic rocks add 15,000 feet more. There are metamorphic rocks that are among the oldest in the American west, and volcanic rocks that are among the youngest (perhaps only a few hundred years).
The landscape is spectacular as well. The floor of Death Valley is the lowest and driest place in North America, and the hottest place in the world. Elevations range from -286 feet to more than 11,000 feet. There are times when one can stand in the broiling sun at Badwater and look at snowbanks on Telescope Peak. There are faults and badlands, alluvial fans and barren salt flats. There are hundreds of plant and animal species, including four species of fish (seriously).

Does this sound intriguing, a kind of place that you might like to visit? You could be there in a few weeks, and learn the details of the geologic story of this unique and precious place. I'll be teaching a 2-unit course on the geology Death Valley through Modesto Junior College on Feb. 13-17, 2020. We'll be camping out and spending our days hiking and exploring this fascinating place. If this all sounds interesting, join us! If you live in the Modesto area, we'll have an informational meeting on Thursday, January 30 at 5:30 PM in Science Community Center Room 326. If you can't make the meeting, all the trip information is available at the class website  at: Information on registration for classes at Modesto Junior College can be found at

Come and join us!


Hollis said...

Sigh, would love to! ... one of these days. Actually there are tentative plans for late winter - early spring desert wanderings next year, we'll see. If so, I'll be relying on The Other California and your other great resources.

Anonymous said...

Hollis, me too! Garry gives fair warning about the long van rides in-between stops but I'd love to join one of these trips.

Cathy Crandall said...

Thanks, Garry for providing the basis for a wonderful trip for my husband and me. We are a little, umm, too mature to be roughing it in tents at Stovepipe Wells, but the weekend before you were there, we made our own visit to many of the places you identified for your trip, places we never would have known about on our own. And the book Geology Underfoot helped us find a few more. We also enjoyed a few sunny, glorious days in Anza-Borrego State Park. Love your blog!

Garry Hayes said...

Thanks for your kind comments!