Saturday, October 29, 2016

The "Blue Monarch" Mine

This is a copper mine that had been worked by one miner, Homer Struck, for over thirty years between 1969 and 1999. Before then, its history is not really known well, and what remains of its camp is sparse and largely uninteresting. On the other hand, the road gradually changes in color as the main mine is approached; it gradually becomes bluer and bluer as the tailings spill down the gulch. For centuries, explorers searched for the city of gold; this is the road of copper.

This mine followed a vein of quartz about six feet wide and about 100 feet long, extracting most of this vein to leave behind a tall, narrow slot braced by timber. Some of the logs are native piñon timber, others are newer lumber, clean cut. The vein itself is a mineralogical treasure trove, graced with paint-strokes of chrysocolla, malachite, limonite, quartz, jasper, and hematite, and many more I can't identify! These minerals were all deposited by rising superheated water that rose along a fault or crack in the rock and left behind these streaks and pockets of brilliant color.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Golden Gate Stamp Mill

High up in the Sierras above Walker Valley, outside Bridgeport, is a dilapidated old stamp mill. It is the last stamp mill managed by the Bishop BLM office, and is a remarkable site because of its scale. Only ten stamps were ever used here, and ten remain, but they are the largest stamps I have ever seen, and the beams that are used to build the mill are colossal old growth wood, 11x22 inches. Each stamp (it's said) weighs 900 pounds, and is at least ten inches in diameter.

The mill was destroyed by avalanches numerous times over the last hundred years, and this structure was built around 1900. It has suffered significant structural damage, and stabilization work took place over three months in 2005 in hopes of keeping it standing through more heavy Sierra winters. Not much else remains besides the mill, cookhouse, and bunkhouse. The arial tramway's remains lay close by, but the mine openings are nearly inaccessible without great tenacity, as they sit 2300 feet above on the mountainside. There were three tunnels, totaling a couple thousand feet of workings. The outbuildings were destroyed in the fatal avalanches in 1911, and everything was rebuilt a few hundred feet away below a lesser slope.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument is in the far northeast corner of California, just miles away from the border with Oregon. Boundless plains of grasslands, basalt boulder fields, volcanoes, and the densest concentration of lava tubes in North America (over 700 caves) make this a special place. Beyond the mystic beauty that surrounds this place is a bloody and ancient history. The Modoc Wars that finally displaced the ancient Modoc tribes placed an eventual total of 930 US soldiers against 53 Modoc warriors led by Captian Jack, Kintpuash. Eventually 73 lives were lost, including General Canby and Captain Jack and his four accomplices were captured and hanged at Fort Klamath. Remaining Modoc were moved as prisoners of war to land in what is now Oklahoma. More about the Modoc War can be read about here, Wikipedia, and at the park website for Lava Beds NM.

On a lighter note, the geology of the area is rather interesting. The park is on the fringes of the basin and range province, part of the Great Basin Desert, and at the southern end of the active Cascade Arc. It lies on the slope of the Medicine Lake Volcano, the largest (by volume) of the cascade volcanoes. Mt. Shasta is the most voluminous of the big cones, but lavas from Medicine Lake are estimated to fill at least 140 cubic miles. It is a large basaltic shield volcano with numerous cinder cones and basalt floes along its slopes, perfect conditions for lava tubes. Beneath the recent Cascade volcanism is the southern extent of some of the Columbia River Basalt Flows, namely Steens Mountain Basalt and Painted Mountain Basalt flows.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Petroglyph Point, Lava Beds NM

Tule Lake was a large lake on the border of California and Oregon that mostly dried up in the last
Some of the best carvings
 few hundred years and now contains much bird refuge and agricultural land. It once contained a handful of islands and peninsulas, former tuff rings and small volcanic vents, and one island in particular became a hotbed for Modoc spiritual activity. They would paddle out to this island in their cedar dugout canoes and carve on the soft rock their symbols and musings. As the lake level dropped, more lake standlines were cut into the island, and more petroglyphs were carved. The former island called Petroglyph Point was handed over to the NPS some time ago, and now, in an effort to curb the vandalism that so often plagues rock art sites, a large chainlink and barbed wire fence has been erected around the site. As you view these pictures, imagine that the rock is surrounded by meter deep water and swaying reeds, with windswept plains mantling the far distance and waterfowl crowding the sky. Imagine the carvings are fresh, crisp, and exactly as they were so many centuries ago. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cave Rock Spring

Looking out to the Bullfrog Hills, camp at left, from the cave.
The eastern part of Death Valley National Park is an empty triangle jutting into the state of Nevada, and it is lovely for many reasons, but perhaps most of all for its isolation. Most of the roads in this Nevada Triangle are seldom travelled more than a few times a year, and wherever you go, your tire tracks are likely to be among the first in quite some time, even on busy weekends. If you camp out here, the closest people are likely to be in the ghost town of Rhyolite, which has several full time residents.

This spring is a bygone remnant of centuries of occupation by natives and prospectors, but most recently as hosting the workers of the Happy Hooligan Mine nearby. I didn't do any exploration of this mine on this trip, it was just too windy to persuade us to do an in-depth exploration, but that just leaves a reason to return. This corner of the park is so rarely visited that during this week of prolific flower blooms and incredible greenery throughout the region the road was in places completely overgrown with fresh sprouts, and at times we had to get out and find the road alignment out of the greenery. We set up camp after momentarily getting lost in the maze of roads below and found a naturally windproof cave in the cliff nearby and saw it as an opportunity to get out of said extreme winds for a while. We brought the stove and our chairs and enjoyed the solace and solitude of a peaceful evening surrounded by the fire-blackened cave walls used by centuries of people before us. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Death Valley Petroglyphs: "Spectre Wash"

Spirit Bighorn
Once again out in the remote wild lands that compose most of Western Death Valley, we stumbled upon a site I have found little documentation on. Interestingly, it currently has no vandalism anywhere, though equally interesting was the lack of lithic scatter at the site, or flecks from point making by the natives.

The rock here is a porous basalt/andesite, and the petroglyphs here were very deep, and many were also clearly very very old. Many of them were completely varnished over, detectable only by standing at the right angle with the sun glare exposing the divots where the glyph is. 

Panels here were largely Coso in style, with a few bighorns and a few anthropomorphic people in the mix as well. More recent glyphs are probably from the Timbisha Shoshone, a few hundred to over a thousand years, while the oldest are likely at least 8,000 years old.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Death Valley Petroglyphs: "Lithos Canyon"

One of many large panels in the canyon.
Perched in a remote canyon in the high deserts above Death Valley National Park is a stunning remnant of peoples who were here long before us. This is one of the most impressive petroglyph sites I have visited; with the quiet, dark canyon walls backed by the towering granite mountains behind. Entire herds of pecked-in bighorn sheep of the Coso style, and endless anthropomorphs (human-like) and abstract designs, punctuated by spirals and sunbursts. The petroglyphs are peppered with signs of much later life; miner and rancher graffiti also appears in this canyon, and most of it is quite old, though overshadowed by the tremendous age and complexity of these ancient drawings whose meaning will probably never be known for certain.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hot Springs Canyon

3rd falls
A popular campground, a dry climate, huge springs, and a rarely visited canyon. Hot Springs Canyon is a unique canyon in this part of the Santa Ana mountains. Deep, twisting narrows harboring a nearly year-round stream with a rich riparian habitat that is paralleled only to the north at Harding Canyon, and to the south beyond the Santa Margarita River, but is unique in the Ortega Corridor. I've been here several times, and every time I find it more amazing. There are four waterfalls before a large impassable fall down about 20 feet into a deep pool that would require rock climbing to bypass, each one a demonstration of the beauty of water. Once I was even here when the depths of the summer drowned this idyllic location and followed a muddy trough until the first deep pool and turned back due to the heat. Not even this horrific dryness took away from the amazing island of verdancy this canyon boasts. These pictures are from three trips; one on December 24, one in January, and one in August.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Trabuco Canyon to Los Piños Peak

 I continue to rave about the wonderful jewel of California the Santa Ana Mountains are, and Trabuco canyon continues to remain a center of beauty and exploration for many of the range's visitors. On this visit, I made a long slog from the end of the road all the way up to the crest of the mountains at Los Piños Peak, the fourth highest in the area. It was a drizzly December day, and with a late start, we set out for 10.7 miles with about 2800 feet of elevation gain.

The weather was drizzly and windy, the clouds brushing the tops of the peaks and enveloping us at the top. Small amounts of hail and rain were a stark contrast to the heat we had endured last time on Los Piños peak. Instead of a sweeping view across California, I was treated with a mystic, almost forbidding dome of cloud shrouding the view from me. It was surreal.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Devil's Postpile National Monument

The Devil's Postpile

It's one of California's most unique landmarks: the towering columns of columnar basalt looming high over the valley floor is a postcard image for California and the National Park system. Devil's Postpile is a national monument in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains and is a hotspot for tourism between May and November. But enough introduction now, and on to the really interesting part: the geology!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Return to Marble Canyon

The famous crossroads sign at Marble Canyon
My most recent trip was mostly return visits, and since I've written on the exploration of Marble Canyon before, I figured I could now write the Informing part of it. This part of the Cottonwoods, including Marble and Cottonwood Canyons, is almost entirely end-paleozoic era limestones and marbles between 350 and 290 million years old. A lot of the rock along the canyon includes black balls and lumps of a microcrystalline chert. These result from colonies of algae that have fossilized and stand out prominently against the grey limestone.