Archive for the ‘geology’ Category

calf creek, utah   no comments

Posted at 8:34 am in geology,Utah

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

As promised, I’ll be writing a few more posts about Arizona and the time spent in southern Utah as we made our trek homeward to Ontario. I’d meant to finish this in time to submit to Carnival of the Arid #4, but have been so busy getting the house ready to sell, that it didn’t happen. However, please do wander over to Coyote Crossing to check out the latest edition. Now, back to our journey.

Enroute through Utah, the region between Escalante and Boulder totally blew me away. This map depicts the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Capitol Reef areas of southern Utah through which we passed.

From Escalante, route 12 winds downward into an area of immense, soft yellow domes of Navajo sandstone. The above image (click on it for a larger version), doesn’t even begin to convey the view and how this place feels when you’re above or moving through.

In places, the high domes are deeply cut by canyons through which meandering creeks flow. One of these is Calf Creek where Sabrina and I stopped to camp and hike (see above).

We arrived late in the afternoon, snagging the second-to-last site at this small BLM campground. Something should probably be said about my crappy timing for the return trip home. I had chosen to depart from Bisbee on March 15th, not realizing that we would be continously mobbed by crowds of campers during March Break. Needless to say, next year, I plan to at least look at a calendar from time to time.

My plan was to make dinner, retire early, then get up and hike the Lower Falls Trail to see the pictographs that are about half way to the falls. Sabrina had been doing fairly well on our day hikes, so I felt she would be up to the walk.

Our campsite and the next were backed by a redrock wall with many circular or oval cavities. While cooking our dinner, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation going on at the next site. The last camper to arrive wandered over to bother the lone male camper at the next site. I guess that’s the best way to describe what went on. In a booming voice, the late arrival asked if the fellow had ever camped at Calf Creek before, then went on to warn him that, after dark, droves of some kind of small rodents would pour out of the holes in the rock wall behind our campsites and swarm over everything looking for food crumbs. Next, he launched into a description of how dangerous our sites would be if a flash flood were to occur. He said he’d been camped here a couple of years ago when a flood hit and that it got real nasty. I listened to what was mainly a one-way conversation and wondered whether the late arrival was just trying to scare the lone male camper so that he would pack up and vacate his site, making way for the late comer who was stuck with a small and not-very-nice site even closer to the creek. Fortunately, he didn’t come over to bother me. Perhaps the sight of Sabrina tethered to the picnic table was enough to keep him away. All the more reason to travel with my dog, and a reminder of one of the many advantages to camping at dispersed sites in the back country.

Early the next morning, Sabrina and I set out on the Lower Falls Trail. Much of the way is winding but relatively easy walking, but with plenty of ups and downs. The hardest walking was over some patches of soft sand which Sabrina did not enjoy crossing. A few days before at Coral Pink Sand Dunes S.P., I had discovered that she really does not like to walk on any sand that gives way beneath her feet — no doubt, it bothers her arthritis at least a little. Fortunately, most of the sandy spots along this trail were short.

There were a few small scrambles, but most of the trail has been well constructed, with stone steps here and there. In the above photo, a set of these can be seen just behind Sabrina.

We took our time walking the trail, stopping many times to study the rock formations under the shifting light of early morning. The taller walls of rock are banded with yellow and red, but deeper in the canyon along the trail, the rock is predominantly red.

Water and wind have eroded the red rock into fantastic shapes and textures.

Of course, we had to stop at this formation to take the almost obligatory “Fred Flintsone” shot.

After about a mile and a half or so, we arrived at the spot where pictographs can be spotted on a high rock wall on the opposite shore of the creek. A set of binoculars would be a good thing to bring along if you want to study the rock paintings. With my cameras, I was able to zoom in to get a couple of decent shots. These pictographs are of the Fremont type in which human figures are trapezoidal in shape with elaborate decorations on the heads. Rock paintings of this type are seen throughout the Great Basin region and are dated to about 1000 years ago.

Our hike to the pictographs took us about two hours round trip. We could have gone on to see the falls, but I didn’t want to push Sabrina too much as she was still in the process of building up strength after the hardships of last year. We returned to our site at just about the time that the other campers were rising. I’d packed the van before leaving, so we headed off on our way toward Capitol Reef. I’ll write more about our travels in Utah in a further post or two.

Written by bev on May 5th, 2009

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chiricahua   9 comments

Posted at 1:47 pm in Arizona,geology,sabrina,trees

panorama view of the stone columns at Chiricahua National Monument – as seen from Masai Point

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

Where to start when writing about the winter that Sabrina and I have spent in southeast Arizona? We have wandered in many places, beginning with slow walks along the San Pedro River, then eventually moving up to hiking the higher elevation trails in the many mountain ranges of this region. Both of us needed to regain a lot of the strength that had been drained away through many months of stress before leaving on our trip across the continent.

Today, I thought I’d write a bit about Chiricahua National Monument as I’ve been there several times over the past four months. Each time family or friends have visited, this is the one place that I feel they cannot miss seeing. With that in mind, I felt it was something I should bring to all of you. I know that photographs cannot do it justice as the scale of this place is beyond imagining, but this is my attempt.

The Chiricahua Mountains are among several ranges of southeast Arizona, southwest New Mexico, and northwest Mexico, that are referred to as the Sky Islands. They rise up thousands of feet above the surrounding desert and grassland basins. Many are forested, and their canyons filled with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. It’s probably needless to say that, over the winter, I have spent many days walking among the canyons of several ranges.

Chiricahua National Monument is located on the northwest side of the Chiricahua Range. At some point, I will write about some other places in the range. Entering the park, a winding road leads through lower elevation forests of sycamore and live oaks along a canyon creek. Then the road begins to climb past massive “organ pipe” rock formations, eventually coming to a look-off at Masai Point. The panorama shot above (click on it to see a larger view) was taken from the look-off. The view defies description. You are looking out across a huge valley entirely filled with hundreds – well, perhaps more like thousands – of massive, tower-like columns. Many are said to be over 10 stories tall, and I believe the tallest stands almost 150 feet. The scale of what lies before you is perplexing. Tall trees seem diminutive, appearing more like small bushes clinging to the hillsides among the formations.

on the Echo Canyon Trail that leads through a section of the column-filled valley

There are trails leading down into the valley among the formations. I have hiked a section of the Echo Canyon Trail. Unfortunately, dogs are not permitted in the trails that enter the valley, so my time was limited as I left Sabrina with my brother during one of my visits. However, an hour spent among the columns was enough to get some feel for the place and make me hopeful to come back to hike more of the trail system some day.

a view off to the side of the trail where the columns stand in deeper sections of the valley

Rather than struggle to write an explanation of how these columns were formed, I’ll cheat a little and point you to these photos taken of interpretive signboards here and here. The huge volcanic crater mentioned on one of the signs is visible in the distance when you are standing at the top of Masai Point.

many of the columns are encrusted with brilliant lichen

There is life all around as you wander along the trail between the columns. Many are encrusted with brilliant lichens. Trees manage to find places to grow – Manzanita, Alligator Juniper, Border pinyon and others – but my favourite among them is the Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica). The scent of these trees fills the air along many sections of the trail. It’s an odd but, to me, pleasant enough smell, although I have read a reference where it is described as “fetid”. You be the judge. These trees produce the oddest cones – rather like small wooden balls with cracks running through. Here is a photo of a branch with a few cones. One of my field guides states that, “the old round, gray, female cones are about 1 inch in diameter and remain attached for several years on the ends of the branchlets.”

columns range in shape from spires to mushroom-shaped hoodoos

I couldn’t resist including a couple of more photos of columns taken at close range. These were taken in an area called “the grotto” – which is almost cavern-like due to the type of formations.

a massive boulder lodged between spires in the grotto area along the Echo Canyon Trail

A large “boulder” hangs suspended, lodged between columns within the grotto (click on all photos for larger views).

Sabrina with “Cochise Head” in the background

After leaving Echo Canyon, my brother then took his turn hiking the trail while Sabrina and I walked the section of roadway that leads between the Echo Canyon and Sugarloaf Mountain parking lots. It’s a great little walk – birds calling from either side of the roadway bordered by a wonderful variety of trees and bushes that grow at higher elevation. We stopped to rest at a spot where I photographed Sabrina sitting in front of a conspicuous rock formation on a distant peak. It’s known as Cochise Head. Here’s a clearer photo of the formation. You must agree that it is interesting, no?

Despite being a little rushed, I’m going to try to put up another post or two this week. After that, posts may be asporadic for while. Believe it or not, after taking all of this time to write about my journey to southeast Arizona, and then the months spent here, the time has come to pack up and leave to return to my farm. I have mixed feelings about the next part of my journey. I am trying to find the “positive” in traveling through the western states and then back across Canada as the land awakens to springtime. However, I am not feeling any of the “drive” that it took to get to my winter refuge. In large part, it’s because I don’t look forward to my return home. For me, life has taken an irreversible change in direction. The farm that once meant so much to Don and I, no longer holds any attraction. In fact, it is now a reminder of a great deal of pain and sadness. My winter away has confirmed one thing, and that is that I will not overly miss the place that has been my home for the past 32 years. There are sure to be some major changes in the works over the next couple of months, but more about that later. For now, please enjoy the Arizona posts as I have time to put them up.

Written by bev on March 11th, 2009

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strangers in a strange land – part 2   3 comments

Posted at 12:55 pm in california,geology,memory

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

After our aborted attempt to visit to Trona Pinnacles, I turned the van north up Hwy 178 to continue our explorations. Just a little up the road, I could see the most amazing rock formation — massive gray plates of rock thrust vertically as they swarmed over a great lump of a hill, putting me in mind the dorsal plates of a Stegosaurus. I cruised slowly by, searching for a safe place to park so that I could photograph the formation. However, as happens so often when you find something of great interest, there was no turnout or even a slice of shoulder to pull onto. In fact, there were “no parking” signs all along the road for some distance. I never mind walking a mile or two for a photo, but with it being so hot, I didn’t want to leave Sabrina in the van while I hiked back, and felt the roadway was too dangerous to bring her along. I might have tried a “drive-by shooting” if I could have poked along and braked for a second or two, but the traffic along this stretch of road was, to put it mildly, a little nuts — big transport trucks and squads of fat white pick-ups zooming back and forth from points on the Searle Dry Lake flats (seen above), and one of a couple of plant installations (see below — click on images for larger views). Perhaps some day I’ll have a chance to revisit and photograph the formation on a quiet Sunday morning. In the meantime, you’ll have to imagine a rocky hill that resembles a great sleeping Stegosaurus.

I continued along the highway which skirts the west side of the lake bed, past processing plants, and the towns of Argus and Trona. At a rest area across from the above installation, I found a pavillion displaying a number of posters explaining the geology and extraction methods employed at the lake bed, and others of the mineral products processed at the plants. I can only say that the scale of these operations is huge, and yet my guess is that similar and probably much larger operations must exist in such deserts around the world. In any case, I found myself feeling like an alien life form, emerging from my land roving vehicle, into some place where I seemed invisible to the ant-like residents who tore back and forth between the colony and their food source.

While in the pavillion, I studied a large map of the Panamint Valley, thinking to continue north to explore further, but decided to turn back and take care of a few things back in Ridgecrest as Sabrina and I would be pushing onward to Arizona in the morning. On the way back south along 178, we passed areas of sculptured blue hills that resembled scaled-down versions of Blue Basin in John Day Fossil Beds. Once again, I was reminded of how all places, all thoughts, all objects, are connected, to one degree or another.

Written by bev on February 13th, 2009

strangers in a strange land – part 1   11 comments

Posted at 5:06 pm in california,geology,loss,sabrina

Sabrina at the entrance area to Trona Pinnacles

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

After the previous day of very hard driving, Sabrina and I slept far beyond our normal rising time. Fumbling in the darkness of the motel room, I pulled back the heavy curtains just a little, then swiftly recoiled, practically blinded by sunlight reflecting off every hard surface in the courtyard. Later, as Sabrina and I emerged from our room for a morning walk, we must have resembled a pair of moles, squinting and stumbling about for the first minute or so after stepping outdoors. The air felt hot and the light searing, and yet the temperature was probably not exceptionally warm for that location. The problem was “us”. Such are the perils of moving across several climate zones in the space of a few weeks.

Today’s game plan was to get some rest and perhaps play at being tourists for a few hours. The previous morning, I had it in the back of my mind that we might make a detour into Death Valley at some point along our route. However, after several recent experiences with gross miscalculations in time and distance, I had enough good sense not to make such an attempt. Instead, after studying my maps, I decided to drive east into the Searles Valley with the intention of visiting the Trona Pinnacles. After loading up the van with water and food, I attempted to convince Sabrina that this was a worthy adventure. She ignored my words and gazed toward the motel room door. Torn between a shady, air-conditioned room, or the alternative of hopping into our sun-drenched van, it was fairly clear that she wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic about my plan. But, being the good sport that she is, she finally decided to come along for the ride.

Desert Holly (Atriplex hymenelytra) in the Searle Valley region

The trip east from Ridgecrest is short and easy. You pass by some part of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center. Don’t ask what goes on there for I have no idea. The installation seems to consist of several compact buildings baking in a parched valley with a hazy backdrop of mountains beyond.

We soon arrived at the entrance lane to Trona Pinnacles. Sabrina hopped out of the van and immediately began to inspect the rocks and plants while I read the interpretive sign boards. For an explanation of the geology of the pinnacles, see here and here. Turning from the sign, I caught sight of Sabrina carefully sniffing a white-leaved Desert Holly (Atriplex hymenelytra). She has her very own way inspecting plants — tilting her head to one side while studiously running her nose along the edges of leaves. This is a slow and tedious procedure. Her methodology causes me to wonder if she might have been a botanist in a past life. Once finished with her inspection, Sabrina gave me a sidelong “what the heck is this?” glance. I could see she wasn’t impressed with this place. I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that it’s probably not all that surprising that a predominantly black Rough Collie from Canada shouldn’t be enamoured with life on the desert. However, back to the Desert Holly. A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press), states that Atriplex, often referred to as saltbush, appears grayish “because they cope with saline soils by secreting excess salt into tiny hairs on the leaf surfaces. The hairs die from high salt concentration, leaving a deposit of salt crystals on the surface that reflects some of the intense light that would otherwise overload the photosynthetic system.” Further, “if water is available, these plants can photosynthesize on the hottest days, when most other plants are stressed and forced to shut down.” (pg 219-220).

Trona Pinnacles, as seen from a distance of about 4 miles

From the interpretive signboard, I could see the vague outline of the Trona Pinnacles wavering mirage-like in the light reflected by the saline sands of the dry lake bed (see above, click on all images for larger views). I felt both an attraction to, and a little uneasiness with, this place. While I had some desire to see the pinnacles up close, at the same time, I was acutely conscious of the intensity of the heat and dryness on this open plain. I scouted the area with my binoculars and saw no other vehicles. Although apprehensive, I decided to start down the road to see how it looked. The signs at the entrance mentioned that the road was passable by two-wheel drive vehicles most times, but could be impassable at others. Soon, the van was banging along over washboard. After the previous day’s expedition to Bodie, Sabrina was quicker and much more insistent with her nudging of my right arm in an attempt to convince me to abandon this mission. I pressed on a little longer, but the road grew increasingly worse.

Not much farther along, I decided to abort our little expedition. Turning the van in an open area next to a set of railway tracks, I caught sight of a sizable fissure in the road, one that could not be seen from the angle we had been traveling. It was wide and deep enough to have easily swallowed one of the van’s tires if I had unwittingly driven into it. I felt a brief jolt of panic as I realized just how serious it could be to find us stranded a few miles into this place — with me thinking more of Sabrina’s safety than of my own. Yes, this was a *bad* idea. If I was doing this trip with Don, I would have little fear. He and I had occasionally had to push or dig our truck out of a hole or rut from time to time. But alone with Sabrina, and in such an unforgiving environment. No. Not on this day. I drove us back up the lane. We would find some other less risky adventure to occupy the remainder of the day.

message in the sand at Trona Pinnacles

Shortly before reaching the entrance, I noticed the above message written in stones arranged on the sand. We got out of the van while I shot a few photos from various angles and distances. The artist in me has always found such ephemeral messages to be of visual interest. However, now they affect me in a different way — one that I am at a loss to explain. Maybe it’s the feeling that I am alone now and such messages are no longer part of my realm. Stepping closer to photograph the stone heart filled with fragments of broken glass (below), I thought, “This is the part of the message meant for me.”

We got back into the van, drove on up the lane and back out onto the highway to continue our exploration of the Searles Valley.

Written by bev on February 7th, 2009

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