Friday, March 21, 2014

Evolution of a Geology Student

A few years ago I enrolled in a Death Valley geology trip with my professor (Garry Hayes) while attending Modesto Junior College. Our trip began a trip down the California Central Valley on Highway 99 South to Bakersfield. We spend the first evening camping near the Kern River Campground.  The second day we traveled to nearby Sharktooth Hill for some fun fossil finding time.

Sharktooth found at "the hill" outside of Bakersfield

We then continued our trip to 58 East past Tehachapi and onto Highway 14 to Red Rock Canyon State Park north of Cantil.  It was my first time at Red Rock Canyon. My first thought was OMG (yeah I just did that)  it is so beautiful. I immediately saw stratigraphic layers, but at the time I just thought simply that I saw colors in layers and knew that there must be different things occurring in the rocks to make them different colors.

All the students piled out of the college white Ford vans, grabbing our notebooks as we KNEW this is one of Garry's "note stops" - It HAD to be because this place was too geologically beautiful NOT to be one.

Garry did his lecture as he always does on stops to discuss what the nearby geology "tells us."

Honestly, I had NO clue whatsoever as to what geologically happened here and what the time span must have been...but I did know that it took significant time as the layers dictated through my common sense. We learned of "ancient lake deposits" and fossils that were discovered here which included weird Latin names. They included animals like the "bear-dog" and the four-tusked elephant. Garry introduced me to a world I never imagined. A world where prehistoric time involved flood plains, stream beds, weird animals and cool geology places. He taught us carefully.

What I mean by this is that he took great care in feeding us baby food as new geology students so that we didn't choke, and walk away from it. He taught us carefully and precisely what we needed to know as first or second year geology students.

I am forever grateful for that geology stop at Red Rock Canyon, and thankful to drive college vans for him on following trips to Death Valley. On March 14-18th I spent my third trip at Red Rock not as a geology stop but as a Intro to Field Geology Mapping for UNR geology and geological engineering students.

Snow covered Sierra Nevada

It was like coming back to a place similar but yet strange to me as we camped at the campground there instead of just passing through. I set up my tent on Friday after me and my classmate and fellow geology major Rick Kauffman arrived. We drove in my XTerra and enjoyed a nice 6-hour drive down 395 to 14 from Reno. Seeing snow covered mountains along the way made for a picturesque adventure. Rick being from Phillie was introduced to Schat's Bakkery, Obsidian Dome, and talks about the Mono-Inyo Craters and the Ancient Bristlecones. It was a nice trip to our final destination - Red Rock Canyon.

Joshua Trees,Mohave Desert CA
By 7 PM the rest of my peers arrived from Reno. We enjoyed a wonderful campfire together laughing and getting to know one another a little beyond our previous classroom lectures. These young men and women were bright and full of life, they were exciting to get to know on a more personal basis under the stars at a beautiful desert geological site.

On Saturday morning we started mapping for our final.

My notebook had been replaced with a plastic mapbook made two 9x12 plastic sheets taped together with bright orange (go Giants) duct tape. My daypack was replaced with a GeigerRig Backpack. The backpack contained TWO Nalgene bottles filled with ice and water for the 8-hour hike. I also filled the Geigerig bladder with water as a reserve. We all had our hand lens strapped to our necks, hats, sunglasses, hiking boots, walking sticks, colored pencils, maps and Bruntons ready to go...

The next three days were spent climbing ridges, precariously straddling ridges, and looking for geological structures such as contacts and measuring strikes and dips with our Bruntons. It was hard, hot, tiring, and fun. We walked until I could barely move. The first day out was extremely hard on my aging body. It was not happy with the hiking and my knees, ankles and hips screamed painfully at me. I had the time of my life though. I hated and loved each moment.

Teritary sediments (Ts2) near the bake zone of Tertiary basalt layer (Tb1)

The "beautifully colored layers" became lacustrine and stream sediments with crossbedding and volcanics with different mineralogy. I realized on the afternoon of Day Two that I was actually becoming a real geologist. I was measuring the grain size, percentages, and grading in the sedimentary layers. Using my Brunton to gain strikes and dips to later add to my map and making notes in my "Rite in the Rain" All-Weather Geological Field Book" became a reality that I was actually learning about being a geologist...

Lacustrine and stream sedimentary layers

My dreams were coming true. I feel that my transformation from a few years ago to now has been a great adventure. I have learned so much from Garry and so grateful for his lessons at Red Rock. I am glad I took good notes, as I was able to share what I learned a few years ago with those who have never been to Red Rock. I am grateful for my education at Modesto Junior College and the University of Nevada.

I am especially grateful to those students and teachers who understand my disability and allow me the same opportunities as the other students in seeing as much geology as I physically can.

Thanks to Rick Kauffman, Dimitri Hiyood, Gerry Meneses, Big Mike, Mariah and those who "hang out with me" and go slower than normal to make sure I get from point A to point B. You guys are the best! I will NEVER forget your help in making sure that I get the best geological experience I can get as  an ol' gal with crappy knee replacements and back pain. I feel so blessed to have you all beside me in my geological adventures. You all will never realize just how important you are or how grateful I am for you.


  1. I have to admit, Becca, I am really enjoying your posts. It sounds very interesting and I can live vicariously through you. We are actually living in a geologically famous area near the John Day Fossil Beds. Keep up the good writing!

  2. Thanks for the kind words. I don't deserve them because that's what you do for your team mates. Miss you.

    1. I sure miss you too. I play Black Licorice and Jerry was a Race Car Driver and makes me miss you more! You ARE awesome Gerry...and I mean it when I say thanks for looking out for me. It meant so much to me.