Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Friday, May 29, 2009

Squids and toenails

Well. This is the first moment I've had to compose a blog entry since Sunday. They have kept us pretty busy... breakfast at 7, lecture at 8, field work till 5 or so, time for a shower, supper at 6, lecture or homework after that... plus we had our first project due this morning, and some students were up till 5 AM last night finishing it. People were falling asleep in the vans heading out into the field this morning. Somehow I missed the van into town tonight, which is fine, because I could use some time to just sit in a chair.

The field camp consists of several old buildings in what is currently a slightly soggy river valley just west of the Bighorn Mountains. There are maybe 35 people staying here now. There are 24 students here, 19 men and 5 women (which includes me), and a handful of professors, researchers and staff. Everyone is very nice... a few of the students are my age. Most of the students are from Iowa State University or the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, as these are the schools that run the camp, but there are other students from Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Morocco and Japan. The range of interests in the group is large, including paleontology, hydrology, geochemistry, volcanology, oil and mineral geology, and exoplanetary geology.

The five female students share this cabin, part of the original structure from the second world war:

My bunk is behind the blue tarp. I wanted my own room. I have to say that the hardest thing about field camp so far is just having to be around other people all the time. After screaming at my field partners all day, I really want to shut myself in a room and lock the door, but alas, this is impossible. Anyway I have my own crinkly blue regeneration chamber now. We have many amenities here:

Ten porta-potties, which I hear is a vast improvement over last year and all the years before, in which an (!) outhouse would be dug at the beginning of the field season, with the (sometimes vain) hope that the chosen spot wouldn't turn out to be the spot where a previous year's camp had chosen to file away their waste.

We also have a bath house:

It has two sinks and four small showers, which is nice. The problem is that they're all in the same space, which means that the men and women can't use them at the same time. After getting back from the field, the seven female students and professors may take about half an hour to all shower, after which the 22 men have half an hour to get all their showers in before supper. This has predictable results.

We also have recreation here:

I call this piece, "Horseshoe pit with cow patties." I will leave it to you to decide which is the recreation. Actually there is a very nice creek behind the camp for fishing or wading, and you can go on some nice walks or hikes from here. This leads us to our first day.

Our first exercise was to learn how to use a Brunton compass. This is an essential geology tool. It has a compass, two levels and clinometer, and costs hundreds of dollars, which is why I don't own one. But we are assigned one for field camp and we spent our first day learning how to get compass bearings and inclinations of, well, slanted things with it. Then we went to a place called Exercise Hill to practice.

Above is the view of camp (in the trees at the base of the red cliff on the left) from Exercise Hill. Below, Copeman's Tomb in the Bighorns, just some of the scenery that can be seen from the hill.

A student works with the landmark Chimney Rock in the background:

Students work on using triangulation to find their position on a map.

Having earlier measured our paces, we use the map to estimate how long it will take to walk to a landmark, then test it.

Meanwhile, check out the background:

Those are beds of rock that have been folded like rubber. We will be exploring this sort of thing later. For now, we were told that the rock layers that fold under there dive right into the earth and are some hundreds or thousands of feet below us on Exercise Hill.

Anyway, having learned how to do all that, the next day we embarked on our first project: mapping this area:

We have three days to describe, measure and map the rocks between the hill this picture was taken from and one somewhat beyond the last large ridge you can see. To do this we will use our topographic maps, bruntons, and a 5' stick called a Jacob's staff. Here are my teammates using the Jacob's staff:

The rock beds here are not horizontal, but dip into the ground at an angle of 25 degrees. To measure their true thickness, the Jacob's staff must be tilted to 25 degrees and the Brunton (on top) sighted through to a new spot on the ground. This will measure 5' of thickness.

We did this 451 times over the past three days, to measure 2255' of rock. At every change in rock type we had to stop, break off pieces with the rock hammer, pour acid on it, look at it under a hand lens, and/or chew on some of it to determine what it was so we could record it for our log. Here, teams cross one of the valleys:

We walked through time from the late Triassic to the middle Cretaceous, about 100 million years of history. We could see the evidence of sea level changes, uplift and volcanism to the west, and other environmental changes, which included changes in the kinds of fossils in the rock. Two of the more important types of fossils we found were "Devil's toenails," a kind of bivalve, and belemnites, a squidlike creature. Here is my fossil collection so far:

The belemnites are the bullet-shaped things, and the devil's toenail is the grey shell below and to the left of them. I also have some other interesting rocks and fossils. I will bore you all with these when I come back. If this is what I have after one week, I'm concerned that after 6 I'm going to be mailing stuff back rather than trying to take it on the plane.

Anyway, I'm exhausted, but I can't quite sleep because of the steroids I'm on for the arthritis. I have been feeling very healthy, but the steroids turn to cortisol in my body, which is the chemical that makes you feel awake in the morning (uh, if you're lucky). My roommates collapse in their beds and shout in their sleep, and I lie thinking about the devil's toenails.


Spinning Girl said...

Horrible and great, all at once. Much like Ogontz. There is so much BLEAH to contend with, and yet you are doing something so outside the mainstream that you will look back on it all and say ... wow, I did that.

Mom said...

Hi, Jo:

Your pictures are great!

Hope you're able to sleep now.



Anonymous said...

starting to investigate some exoplanetary geology topics in my free time, could use some pointers from enthusiasts of the field. could you forward me an email to which I might direct inquiries about related literature?

be in touch: