Saturday, May 21, 2011

Into the Field!

Spring, I think, has finally arrived and that can mean only one thing...geologists will be out crawling around the outcrops (for those of you who don't know what an outcrop is, it's a place where there are rocks exposing themselves for geologists to gawk at). I once took my daughter Leanna on a field trip with me to Rio de Janeiro. Leanna is not a geologist and so she found it amusing and a little disturbing to see a bunch of grown men sprawled out on the ground with tiny magnifying lenses looking intently at a slab of rock. It probably didn't help that we were sprawled out in a fairly busy tourist attraction with a lot of other people milling around.

Anyway, I am once again diverting from my main topic. Yesterday and today I have been "out in the field" with a bunch of geologists (actually most of them are paleontologists, a special brand of geologist). And it has been loads of fun. We started yesterday in Wyoming (what could be more fun than Wyoming?). Now, before I go to far with the fun, you should remember that for the past week it has rained almost every day. So, yesterday just to keep up appearances, it rained on us a bit and, of course, that meant that the rocks were wet. Wet rocks aren't necessarily a bad thing except with this group we weren't looking at the sort of things most people think of when they think of rocks. With a little water added, these rocks had turned into a very sticky and sometimes soupy mud.

But not to be deterred, our faithful trip leaders plunged on. At our first stop, I ended up sliding sideways down the hill so that, not only were my boots coated with mud, but so were my jeans and coat. Why, you might ask, was I wearing a coat in the lovely springtime weather. The answer is that I was wearing a coat because we were in Wyoming. Wyoming is our own local version of Siberia, except Siberia is warmer and has less wind. The wind, you see, never stops blowing in Wyoming. We could, I believe, power most of the United States energy needs if we would just cover the state in windmills. I understand that they've actually started to do that in a few places across the state.

Anyway we made it through the first day with some very interesting stops at Church Rocks and Jackson Ridge, sites of some of the most famous collections of Tertiary mammals just off the Oregon/Mormon Trail. Then this morning we headed out bright and early again.

Unfortunately, the mud hadn't disappeared overnight. This mud thing is pretty common with geology trips and is one of the main reasons you don't want to mention that you are a geologist to a rental car company. At our second or third stop, I forget exactly which one, we managed to get one of the vans stuck, which allowed us an hour of pleasant entertainment, something that is essential on a field trip. People were taking pictures of the stuck van, making stuck van jokes, and one of the leaders even got to roll in the mud in order to attach a tow rope to the van while the rest of us huddled together for warmth like penguins in the Antarctic. Then, because there were about 7 other vehicles lined up behind the one that got stuck, all the rest had fun backing up for about a half mile to a place that was safe to turn around. We didn't actually get to the outcrop at that stop, which was very unfortunate because I understand that it had a very nice layer of altered volcanic ash (altered volcanic ash is kind of my specialty).

The day finished, on a high note, however, as we were able to move south from Wyoming and into Utah where the sun was actually shining and the wind was only a light breeze. Then, late in the day someone found a carnivore skull that was about 45 million years old. If my daughter had only been there to see us all crowding around the find, I think she would have been proud of me, because after a quick look, I went off to hunt for volcanic ashes rather than sprawl out like most of the others gawking at the death scene of some 45-million-year-old animal.

(You can view pictures of this fun trip at


Anonymous said...

ok - this is the 3rd time (I keep submitting and it gets destroyed) ...Where's the carnivore pic? Well, hope you got some good ash shots. And Whew - Wyoming in May - looks like you had fun, but glad I wasn't there. jill

Urthman said...

Jill -- You would have loved it.