Thursday, 13 June 2013

Here We Go Again

I will be commencing my 2013 field season on July 5. This year I will be focusing on southeastern Rocky Mountains of Alberta and British Columbia. Compared to last year I am essentially exploring my backyard. I am currently finalising my itinerary, making some preparations to Grover and organising field assistants. Next week I will start posting regularly as I make preparations and then into the field season. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Trip Statistics and a Final Word

As promised here's a summary of the trip's statistics. In total I drove 4800 miles and stopped to do geology in 8 states including Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. I was gone for 20 days with only 2 days off for vehicle repairs.

I crossed the continental divide a total of 10 times (twice through Ute Pass, CO) and they are highlighted in red in the chart below. The highest elevation crossing was at 11 939' in Hargerman Pass, Colorado, the lowest at 5922' in Deer Lodge Pass, Montana. I went through numerous other passes along the way and the noteworthy ones are listed below.

Grover achieved a fuel economy of 16.3 MPG (US gallon) or 15 L/100km. This is about average for a Land Rover with a 2.25L petrol engine. In total I burned a total of nearly 300 US gallons of gasoline emitting approximately 2.6 metric tonnes of CO2. To make myself feel better I calculated the emissions for a flight from Calgary to Toronto and on to Argentina, another area students from my department work. This would emit 4.0 metric tons of CO2.

Of the 17 sample locations 9 were within national forests, 5 were on Bureau of Land Management land, 1 was on Bureau of Reclamation land and 2 were on county or private land. I only missed one sample which I had firmly planned to get, the Ladore Sandstone in the eastern Uinta Mountains.

Here's a list of the National Forests I worked in.
  • Lewis and Clarke (Montana)
  • White River (Colorado)
  • San Juan (Colorado)
  • Gila (New Mexico)
  • Tonto (Arizona)
  • Toiyabe (Nevada)
  • Fishlake (Utah)
  • Wasatch-Cache (Utah)
  • Helena (Montana)
In the end I collected 40 samples averaging around 20 lbs per sample. 39 were for my research with 1 sample collected for a collaborator.

What were some of the highlights? I think the people I met were one. The folks at 4x4 and More in Durango, CO. The French cyclist in Nevada. The Gordon Lightfoot fan and the drum maker in Colorado. The old couple with the rock collection in Utah.

Overall I found people to be very warm, welcoming and helpful. Grover was a great way to meet people as numerous strangers approached me to ask questions about the truck. I must have been asked 100 times "What year is your Jeep?"

In terms of scenery I think Colorado may be my favourite state. The desert is okay but I like trees and high altitudes so Colorado was great. Western Montana may also compete for my favourite.

Would I do it again? Of course! I wiil likely do nearly the same thing next summer as I head north from Calgary to collect the remainder of my sample suite through Alberta, British Columbia and into Yukon. Look for a part 2 to this blog around July 2013. Thanks for reading.

    What worked well..... and not so well!

    I thought I would do a "lessons learned" post to review what went well and what didn't go so well.

    First what went well:
    • Scientific preplanning
      • I spent a lot of time planning out the science behind this trip (where to go and why). This time was well spent as I had absolutely no issues identifying which rocks to sample or finding appropriate exposures. I attribute this success to the extensive use of Google Earth and Street View to visualize the geology and the terrain and to overlay the former on the latter to identify outcrops. This made the work very efficient. Despite having some vehicular issues I managed to collect 17 of my 19 sample locations in just 3 weeks.
    • Vehicle Preparation
      • Dual fuel tanks were very handy when driving long miles. I never worried about whether I would make it to the next gas station.
      • The auxilliary battery and split charge system was also invaluable as I could run my computer and satellite phone continuously and never worried about running the battery down and getting stuck. This allowed me to do things like blog, listen to music and talk to the family.
      • Several months ago I installed new Rocky Mountain Parabolics springs and shocks, which have less interleaf friction than a standard leaf spring, giving a more comfortable ride. The suspension worked flawlessly and my decision to use a heavier set of rear spring proved valuable in carrying the heavy load of rocks.
      • My bed was fantastic. Very comfortable, particularly in the colder climates.
    Things that went not so well
    • Navigation software
      • I am not entirely enamoured with Microsoft Streets and Trips. The software had a difficult to use interface and often would lose a hundred miles between the route planning and navigation interfaces. For instance, route planner told me it was about 380 miles from Helena to Calgary, a number I directionally agree with. However, when you started navigation the distance to end was immediately 270 miles. Where the 110 miles was lost I don't know.
    • Vehicle Preparation
      • I should have taken more time to address the persistent miss I had in Calgary before departing. It got worse as the trip went on and caused me stress until the guys in Durango helped me fix it.
      • The swivel balls were a known weakness and I should have, sometime in the last 6 years, fixed them before departing on this trip. Other than missing one sample location and a bit of stress this turned out not be big issue.
      • Sleeping in the truck in hot climates was not great. A tent would have been preferred at some of my hottest stops as the heat capacity of the truck and its contents kept it pretty warm long after the air outside and cooled off. Perhaps this speaks to the popularity of roof tents in Africa.
    Overall I think it went very well. I don't think driving a classic Land Rover around to do this type of sampling is for everybody. However, given the truck is 53 years old and was carrying far more than it was ever designed to I think it went quite well. Now I just have to figure out how to get those two samples I missed.

    Helena, Montana to HOME!

    Today (Saturday, June 16) I arrived home to an empty house. After driving 380 miles to see my family it turns out they went to the mountains for the day. Oh well.

    The drive from Helena, Montana to Calgary, Alberta was uneventful. I no issues at the border, they didn't even ask what I had in the truck, and the mechanical situation did not worsen.

    I will take a few days to get reacquainted with the family and then I will do a wrap up of the trip early next week.

    High Creek, Utah and the Drive to Helena, MT

    Today I drove from Huntsville, Utah to Helena, Montana and on my way I collected samples of the Mutual Formation and the Geersten Canyon Formation along High Creek in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. This was the longest driving day of the entire trip at ~470 miles and 8 hours. Thankfully as I've driven north the temperatures have cooled off and made the driving much more pleasant.

    Here's a shot of High Creek Valley. The Land Rover can just be seen at the bottom of the valley.

    The road to access these samples was a little rougher than I would have preferred given the state of my steering but I persevered, drove slowly and got the samples anyways. The Geersten Canyon Formation has truly remarkable cross lamination which creates a texture akin to that of wood. Here's a shot of a beautiful piece in a rubble slope beneath the sample location.

    I arrived at Canyon Ferry, Montana (near Helena) fairly late but still managed to collect my last sample, the Tintic Sandstone inside Helena National Forest just before sunset. Helena National Forest lies within the Big Belt Mountains and just west of my first sample location at Neihart within the Lewis and Clarke National Forest (Neihart). At it was already quite late I decided to randomly camp on the edge of Canyon Ferry Lake. Here's a shot of my final campsite.

    I don't know for sure but I suspect the Land Rover is now carrying ~800 lbs of rock (40 samples at about 20 lbs/sample) plus all my tools, spares, camping gear and water. It is going down by the stern a bit at this point and the acceleration is uninspiring. No major deterioration in the swivel pins situation. They are clunking a bit more than they did yesterday but they seem to be holding together okay on the highways. Tomorrow I will be heading for Canada and home to the family. Here's hoping Canada Customs doesn't object to rocks covered in lichen!

    Monday, 18 June 2012

    Fillmore, Utah and New Vehicular Issues

    I guess you should never embark on a long drive in a vehicle with a known issue. Before leaving Calgary, Trish and I discusssed the possible vehicular failures that could occur given the known and potential issues with the vehicle. One thing we discussed was the condition of Grover's swivel balls. Swivel balls are part of the mechanism which allows the front wheels, brakes and hubs to turn relative to the axle which is attached, via the springs, the frame. Grover's swivel balls are 53 years old, corroded, pitted and leak oil like seives.

    I knew prior to the trip that the condition of the swivel balls was an issues as anything that leaks oil can also allow in water leading to corrosion and eventual failure. However, I had neither the money to get somebody else to fix them (it is a very time intesive job to fix) or the time to fix them myself before my departure. Today they started to show the first signs of wear and tear with the upper swivel pins, the parts that actually allow the front tires to steer, exhibiting significant play. I guess several thousand miles of driving and the 60 or so miles of corrugated roads yesterday did them in.

    I decided today to drive to Salt Lake City, instead of to my next sample location in Vernal, Utah to discuss the issue with a Rover shop there called Great Basin Rovers. They agreed with my diagnosis and we discussed the potential failure modes. Having decided that none of the possible failures were particularly dangerous I elected not to fix the swivels at this time and continue my journey. It is highly likely that the I won't have any problems getting back to Calgary as long as I don't do anything to stress the swivel pins futher. This means that offroading is out of the question, unfortunately precluding me from collecting my eastern Uinta Mountains sample. This sample location was just not meant to be. It was the location I skipped on my journey south due to issues with White River National Forest.

    Today I managed to collect samples of the Tintic Sanstone up Chalk Creek Canyon within Fishlake National Forest and samples of the Tintic and underlying crystalline rocks in Ogden Canyon, near Ogden Utah. Ogden Canyon was by far my most dangerous sample location being on a narrow road through the canyon with no shoulders and bordered by shear cliffs. Here's a shot looking to the east up the canyon.

    The Tintic Sandstone itself was quite pretty with large and small scale cross bedding and conglomeratic beds. Here's a panorama of the Tintic exposed on the northern side of the canyon.

    The pipeline running through the panorama is the Ogden Canyon Conduit, a 75" pipeline with connects the Pineview Dam to several irrigation canals near Ogden city.

    After collecting my samples from Ogden Canyon I headed east toward Huntsville, Utah and I am camped at the Andersone Cove Campground.Tomorrow I head north to a sample location within the Wasatch-Cache National Forest near High Creek and on to Helena, Montana.

    Cricket Range, Utah

    Today was a big day. I drove 350 miles from Lake Mead up to Fillmore, Utah with a stop for geology in the Cricket Range just north of Milford, Utah. I don't know how the Cricket Range got its name. However, this being Utah and ground zero for Mormoninsm, I like to think that it has to do with folklore surrounding the "Miracle of the Gulls".

    As I mentioned in a previous post (Young family), in 1847 Brigham Young had recently ascended to the presidency of the LDS church. In an effort to escape religious persecution in the eastern United States, Young lead the first band of Mormons west to settle in the Salt Lake Valley, which was not yet part of the United States. The settlers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1947, a date now celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah, and under Young's guidance strove to become a self sufficient colony. In 1848, after suffering some earlier minor setbacks due to a late frost, a plague of crickets descended on the settlers crops causing severe damage and threatening the survival of the settlers. On June 9, 1948 legions of gulls are said to have appeared, gobbling up the hordes of crickets and saving the settlers remaining crops. Many mormons viewed the arrival of the gulls as a miracle and the incident is prominent in Mormon folklore. To ths day the Califonia Gull is the state bird of Utah.

    I don't know if the Miracle of the Gulls has anything to do with the naming of the Cricket Range but crickets are clearly important in Mormon early history.

    Of course I was in the Cricket Range to look at rocks. At this location I was looking, for the first time, at the Cambrian Prospect Mountain Formation and the underlying Mutual Formation. These units had been mapped in the area and I found them precisely where they had been mapped. Here's a shot of the Mutual Formation (foreground) with the overlying Prospect Mountain in the background.

    Immediately west of the Cricket Range is Sevier Lake, an endorheic lake. Endorheic lakes are lakes with no outflow where all the water that enters the lake basin either evaporates or seeps into theground. Some of the worlds largest inland water bodies such as the Aral and Caspian seas are endorheic. Sevier Lake has, for the majority of recorded history, been a dry lake bed but occasionally during periods of higher than average rainfall the lake temporarily fills. I didn't note any water while I was there.

    The majority of the land within the Cricket Range is BLM land (see explanation here: Summary of US Land Administrators) and therefore the peoples land. You are permitted to camp almost anywhere with a few restrictions regarding proximity to water sources. I met a very interesting and older couple who were camping near my sample location. It is not unusual for people, once the find out you're a geologist, to want to have you look at their rock collections. Normally I try to express some enthusiasm for the rocks in the collection as I try to support the general public's interest in the geosciences whenever I can. However, the first rock I was handed was about as boring a sandstone as you could imagine. Part of me wanted to ask "what exactly possessed you to pick up this rock?". However, I dutifully pulled out my hand lens and went about describing the mineraology and texture of the rock. Thanfully the next rock in the collection was a limestone with abundant bivalve shells and I was saved the awkwardness of having to feign interst in rocks that are uninteresting.

    One last piece of geology before I move on from the Cricket Range. Unlike my earlier stops in the eastern part of my thesis area, these western mountains are not the direct result of contractional or compressive plate tectonic processes (a.k.a mountain building). These mountains were formed as part of Basin and Range extension which began in this area around the Early Miocene (~23 million years ago) and are therefore much younger than the mountains to the west which formed in the late Cretaceous and early Paleocene (>55 million years ago). One fo the faults associated with this recent extensional phase of deformation occurs immediately west of the sample area and is the reason Sevier Lake exists. This fault clearly affected the rocks in the sample area and several smaller faults were present in the section. Here's a cataclastic rock or a rock that has been shattered by stress associated with the nearby faulting. The right side of the boulder is undeformed Mutual Formation. The left side is the same formation but broken up by the stresses associated with the fault.

    After finishing my work in the Cricket Range I headed over to Fillmore, Utah for the night. I am staying in a KOA and will go sample some rocks near here tomorrow before heading to the eastern Uinta Mountains tomorrow.