On Thursday June 9th I left for geology field camp in Dillon, MT for three weeks.
I have no idea when most of this will be posted as there is no Internet connection
here. I’ll be writing a lot as I have time up the wazoo, but it will be posted in
large chunks. There are photos accompanying most of the stuff I write about, but I
don’t know when I will be able to upload the images to Flickr.
Thursday, June 9th
We left Minneapolis about 8:30am, which was way later than we were supposed to
leave. We have 29 people on the trip total, including instructors and grad
students. We have 3, 15 passenger vans and a trailer (you can’t really get 15
people in a 15 passenger van on extended trips) Despite the fact I probably have
as much or more experience driving 15 passenger vans from debate, I can’t drive
because I am not a University employee. I’ll live.
I can well equipped for the trip as far as electronics go. Unfortunately, in my van
the cigarette lighters don’t work and I can’t get any power. That means no laptop
and no iPod charging. That seriously sucks.
Being gone for 3 weeks, I have packed extremely light. I have 2 pairs of pants,
and enough t-shirts and underwear to last for a week. I have a sweater, a
sweatshirt, a stocking hat, and socks. That’s about it for clothes. As of tonight
(Sunday) I haven’t showered since I left the Twin Cities. This is probably the
longest I’ve gone without showering in over a decade, if not longer.
The key to any extended trip like this is having the right mindset before you go.
If you accept that your going to smell and not be able to change your clothes from
the outset, you’ll be fine.
We stopped right on the South Dakota border to eat lunch. The university trips
I’ve been on so far have been very big on eating lunch. With one exception (see
below) we have never eaten at a restaurant. I understand why they do that (college
students are poor) and I really don’t object.
We stopped in the Badlands in the afternoon and I was able to get the Badlands
stamp for my National Park Passport. I’m trying to get every National Park (I have
about 100 of 385 so far). I have some photos of the Badlands, but like most of the
landscape photos I’ve taken on this trip, they do really do justice to what you
see. I don’t think I have the camera for landscape photography.
We drove through to Devils Tower, WY where we camped that evening. It got pretty
cold and in the morning there was an extreme amount of dew on everything. It was
pretty cool to wake up and have the first thing you see staring at you be a
gigantic stone monolith. The campsite had no showers and you couldn’t have fires
on the ground, which sucked. The KoA just outside the park boundary had better
facilities at a similar price. (score one for private enterprise).
Friday, June 10, 2005
In the morning we went to the tower itself and I was able to get the Devil’s Tower
stamp. I also walked around part of the base of the tower and took more photos.
We hit the road and drove across the Bighorn Mountains. The Bighorns are not the
most well known mountains, but the drive across was beautiful. We stopped for
lunch at Rush Creek, which was a stunning location. Its basically in a canyon with
where they river makes a waterfall. The mountains were created by a granite
intrusion which pushed up all the sedimentary layers above it. As such, as you
drive up the mountain, the rocks you drive pass get older and older. The oldest
pre-Cambrian granite is about 2.5ga.
The east side of the Bighorns was very green. The west side was a desert, with
very red soil. We stopped at a site run the the BLM which had fossilized dinosaur
tracks. I have some photos which will be up on Flickr eventually. They weren’t as
impressive as I thought they’d be.
After the dinosaur tracks, we drove to south of Thermopolis, WY and camped in the
Wind River Canyon. I have never heard of the Wind River Canyon before, but it was
really impressive. Out campground was right on the river just north of they Boyson
Resavouir. The collection of 20 tents made it look like a shanty town.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
We stayed put today and just drove up the canyon examining the rocks. Like the
Bighorn, as you drive up the canyon, the rocks get older. We stopped seven times
and looked at rock formations, sometimes for upto an hour. Some of the rock
formations in central Wyoming are the same ones we’ll be mapping in Montana.
I wont bore you with the details of the rock formations, but we ended the day at
the Thermopolis hot springs, which they go to great detail to point out are the
LARGEST MINERAL HOT SPRINGS IN THE WORLD.
I played ultimate Frisbee that evening, which is more exertion than I’ve had in a
long time. I crashed early that night. During the evening we had high winds and a
pretty strong rain which ended by morning.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
The rain ended just soon enough for us to pack up our tents and leave. We drove
through Cody, WY so we could drive through Yellowstone. Once we were packed the
rain started again and was with us for most of the day.
Once we hit Yellowstone, it started to snow. It was snowing in fucking June. I
realize this isn’t that big of a deal at high elevations, but I didn’t sign up for
We just drove through and stopped briefly at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and
for lunch. I finally got my Yellowstone stamp. While I didn’t get to see much of
Yellowstone due to time and weather, what I was was beautiful and I really want to
go back and do it proper. The park is huge, as you can tell if you just look at it
on the map. It’s 50 miles on each side (2500 sq/mi for those of you not adept at
math). In just the trip through the park from the road we saw several hot springs,
moose, bison, a bear, and elk.
The place we are staying at is the Birch Creek Center, which is owned and run by
the University of Western Montana. It seems to be a popular area for colleges to
run geology field camps. The accommodations are less than specular, but better
than what I’ll have to deal with at advanced camp next month. At least we get fed
and have some comforts.
Until June 30, I’ll have my sleeping bag on a saggy cot mattress as my home. I do
have electricity, so I can recharge my laptop, digital camera, and my iPod. I
don’t have a good way of playing the iPod sound however. I don’t foresee having
electricity at advanced camp.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Jesus Fucking Christ am I tired. I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired. Our
field area in Frying Pan Gulch is really big, about 6-7 square miles. The terrain
isn’t flat either. Its all rock, mud and hills that go from 5600 to 6100 feet
above sea level. I had a nice hat I got before the trip at REI, but I lost it on
the first day. My neck and face are pretty burnt. I’m assuming it will get better
as the days go on, but I wasn’t physically prepared for this. No one was really.
We had a thing where we had to find predetermined markers from locations given to
us on a map. The problem was one of them was wrong and that was the first one I
had to find. I spent all my time trying to find it and wound up only finding 1 out
of 5. It was a pretty crappy day.
The place we are staying is used by other educational groups. The University of
Arkansas just left and today came in like two dozen high school kids. They are
really fucking annoying, and we can’t use the good bathroom/shower since they’re
I have no idea what is going on in the world. No TV. No Radio. No newspaper. No
Internet. So far it really isn’t so bad. I’m going to try to get in a computer lab
in Dillon and post this, this week.
Tomorrow we are measuring stratigraphic levels in the field area. Hopefully it
shouldn’t involve as much walking as it did today.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Today was much easier than yesterday. We spent the entire day just a quarter/half
mile from the vans working on creating the stratigraphic column. The walking
wasn’t as intense and I think I’m developing better hiking legs. It was pretty
warm today and I was able to spend most of the day in short sleeves.
Our exercise today consisted of measuring different layers with a “Jacob Staff”
which is really nothing more than a wooden stick 1.5m long. In total, we measured
600m of layers, took the strike and dip measurements for most of the layers, and
then in the evening took all the data and made a chart showing the different
layers and the geologic periods they were laid down.
Tomorrow we begin 5 days of doing a geologic map of the area, which is the meat of
what we are doing at field camp. Once we are done with Frying Pan Gulch, we move
to another area to do more mapping.
After we were done in the field we went into town to buy groceries. Most of the
kids purchased beer….a lot of beer. Geologists drink a lot of beer, and I have
yet to find an exception to this rule. When our stay here overlapped with the
University of Arkansas, they had a lecture in the evening (11pm) and got fucking
hammered during it. Today, each person, save for me and a few others, purchased
multiple 6-12 packs each. I have no clue how much was consumed this evening, but
I assume quite a bit considering we have no way to chill anything.
I should be back for a brief stay in the Twin Cities on July 2.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
We began our first of six days of mapping today. We east while everyone else went
west, so we (mapping group of four) didn’t see anyone from the U of M all day. We
did run into a group from Cal Fullerton who was doing stratigraphic sections like we were doing the other day.
I don’t know why, but I was really tired after the end of the day. I went to bed
at 8pm. My face and arms are now well tanned. My lips are starting to chaff really
bad. We did make good progress on our map, which I hope to have available online
once its finished after camp.
Thursday, June 16, Morning
Its been one week since we’ve left. Two more weeks to go. Still haven’t had a day
off yet. My muscles are getting more used to the hiking and climbing, but its
still not easy work. My legs aren’t as sore as they were during the first day, but
still sort of sore.
We will go into town after the field today. We went in two days ago, but I didn’t
know we were going in so I didn’t bring any money or my phone. I’ll try to give
some people a call tonight. I need to buy lip balm, a hat, and some sunscreen.
When your stuck with a group of people for an extended period of time in close
proximities, things happen. So far, as far as I can tell, there has been no
clashes or romances. The sleeping quarters are mixed. In our cabin, we have 7 guys
and 1 girl.
Our lunches are made before breakfast and are usually just a sandwich and some
cookies/chips. If you don’t make the sandwich properly, you will get
mayo/mustard/pickle juice on your chips. You have to put all the wet stuff between
layers of meat and cheese.
It takes about 45 minutes to get from the Birch Creek Center to our field area.
Most of that is unpaved road. To say the road is bumpy is an understatement. I
think if they (I’m not sure who they is) knew of what they did to these 15
passenger vans, we’d no longer have 15 passenger vans.
My consumption of diet coke as gone to zero. Mostly because they serve Diet Pepsi
in the dining hall, but aslo because I’m limited to how much I can consume in a
day. If I wanted to, I guess I could totally withdraw from caffiene without any
side effects right now.
I should give some time talking about some of the people who are here are camp.
This is not intended to be gossip for slandar as all of them will have the ability
to read this. Its just biographical. I should have photos of most people, at least
in group shots available at some time.
Thursday, June 16, Evening
It was overcast with some rain during the morning, and the sun started to bake us
again in the afternoon. Blisters are starting to develop on my arms from sunburn
and my lips are super chapped. I was able to get into town after we were done in
the field and buy some sunscreen and lip balm finally.
We got done about a square mile today. With the other half of our foursome, we got
about 1/3 of the total mapping area complete. You might be interested in exactly
what we are mapping.
A geologic map takes note of what stratigraphic layers are found where and what
angles they lie at. In particular, the stratigraphic column for the area we are
studying is as follows:
KCU – Cretaceous, Colorado Upper
KCL – Cretaceous, Colorado Lower
KKG – Cretaceous, Kootanai Gastropod
KKU – Cretaceous, Kootanai Upper
KKM – Cretaceous, Kootanai Middle
KKL – Cretaceous, Kootanai Lower
JM – Jurassic Morrison
TRDU – Tertiary Dinwoody Upper
Stratigraphic layers are deposited over millions of years in flat beds, one on top
of the other. In this case, the TRDU is the oldest and on the bottom. The KCU is
the youngest and is on the top. In the case of our field area however, they aren’t
arranged top to bottom in a straight down column, they have all been pushed over
on their side so you can walk the length of the area and observe the formations as
you walk over them.
Most of the layers will have some sort of solid, cliff building substance somewhere
in the formation (sandstone or limestone). These rock outcrops will be tilted at
an angle. What we’re doing is walking all over the field area and noting where the
divisions are between the major units and the angles they are dipping. From this
you can then put together a decent interpretation of what happened to the area and
how it got the way it is. It can be much more complicated than I made it out to be
because there has been millions of years of thrusting, folding, and layers of
sediment which may have accumulated after beds have been folded. The geometry can
be very complicated sometimes.
The stratigraphy we saw in the Wind River Canyon included the formation we are
studying, but also had formation much younger and older, going back to the pre-
Cambrian more than 2.5ga (ma = mega annum=million years, ga=giga annum=billion
One of the things I’m getting out of field camp, is that I never want to do field
mapping. Its tedious and not of great interest to me. You learn skills in the
process, but outside of the USGS or other state geologic surveys, no one really
does it. There are useful skills you pick up in the process, but the act itself
is mind numbingly boring.
Geology seems a very tradition bound discipline. We use topographic maps and
Brunton compasses. Nothing wrong with them. They are tools you have to know how to
use. However, much of what we do would be much easier if we could track our
location on the map with a GPS. Given how ubiquitous they are, I can’t believe the
department doesn’t have any nor are they part of the curriculum. Likewise, I have yet to encounter any sort of mapping or geology software in my year of study.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Today sucked ass. I swear we walked about 15 miles today, and that is without any exaggeration. Unlike Monday however, only my feet hurt. My whole body isn’t exhausted. It was overcast for most of the day and began raining in the afternoon. Given how far we traveled from the rest of the group it took us about 1.5 hours to walk back to the vans.
My socks and boots are soaked as well are my pant legs. Thankfully, I can take my pant legs off. We will have to start a fire in the cabin just to dry stuff off tonight.
As I stated earlier, our field area is pretty big, especially at the level of a pedestrian. We walked farther west and north today than anyone else at camp had done so far. We didn’t get a ton of mapping data today, but we did get a good idea of how the rest of the field area is structured and how the entire field area might have been created.
As I have stated above, a small investment in GPS units and GMRS radios would help field work enormously. Our group used 2 GMRS radios I brought with me and it helped out a lot.
You’d think we’d get a day off this weekend, but we aren’t.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Have you ever had a weekday that felt like a weekend? Maybe on a three or four day holiday? Probably. Have you ever had a weekend feel like a Wednesday? That was today. There was nothing remotely weekend like about today. We went into the field again and did the same thing we’ve done the whole week. We get a day off next Thursday….two weeks after we left the Twin Cities. What do we do after our day off? Start mapping a whole new region.
Today was mostly overcast with occasional sun and sprinkles. Not enough rain to warrant getting my rain gear out and not enough sun to warrant getting the sun screen out. My feet hurt, but not as bad as yesterday when I found it hard to walk in sandals. On a positive note, the hat I lost on Monday was found, so I got that going for me.
Today would have been much much easier with a GPS. We were in a sort of valley most of the day and its really hard to find your exact location on a topographic map if you are not around any extreme topography. The department really, really, really needs to consider adding GPS’s to the curriculum.
We went into town briefly after we were done in the field. My cell phone works there, but I get no digital coverage. Using analog roam sucks my battery incredibly fast. People with Verison can get coverage way out here. People with Sprint get shit. I got Sprint. I’ve been seriously considering changing just due to the coverage differences I’ve seen from people using Verison.
This field camp is just an endurance test once you figure out what is happening on the ground and how mapping works. I can understand the educational benefits of repetition, but doing it for 8 hours a day at 5500 feet elevation, while walking up and down several hundred feet over and over…..in the hot sun…..or cold rain, can get old. Especially when you do over a week straight without a break.
What really sucks is that by the time you get back to camp and eat, its about 7-7:30 and you are probably in bed by 10:30. With work in the evening and maybe a lecture, you have next to no time to unwind.
I’m just bitching now, so I’ll end it for today.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Once again my feet hurt. I have taken steps (pun intended) to solve the problem. I have purchased gel insoles. The commercials I’ve seen for the Dr. Sholes gell insoles are some of the worst commercials I’ve ever seen. Why would I want to be gellin’ like a felon? What if the felony was child molestation?
Tomorrow is our last day of mapping in Frying Pan Gulch. Our group is mostly done already but we have part of one section to do. The big thing now is to create the geologic map and the cross section of the area (along with a host of other small things). On Tuesday we will have a day where we don’t have to go into the field and can work on stuff in camp.
I need to repeat how bad my feet hurt. I can totally sympathize with guys in the army and how they bitched about their feet in WWII.
Monday, June 20, 2005
This is the last day of mapping. It was hot out again with not a cloud in the sky and no shade to be found anywhere in the field area. We didn’t have a lot to do to finish the map everyone came in early. We then went into Dillon later in the evening to a bar, which was interesting.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Today is the first day we have not been in the field since we arrived in Montana. Its considered an â€œoffice dayâ€ were we have all day to work on our maps, cross sections, and structural interpretations. Most of the paperwork we have to do has to be in pen, not pencil. I’m not really sure why because we do everything in pencil first anyhow. It just adds another redundant step to the homework process.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Yesterday we had an office day when we had to work on our maps, cross sections, map legends, structural interpretation, and stratigraphic sections. We had the entire day to work on it and the earliest anyone finished was about 11pm. Some people were up all evening and didn’t sleep at all. I got done about midnight. Today we had about a half day in the field and didn’t have to do a whole lot of walking. We just walked through some of the more challenging parts of the field where there was faulting and the folds came together. We are now done with Frying Pan Gulch and begin mapping Block Mountain on Friday. We have 5 days mapping there then we do our field exam, which is one day in about 2/3 of a map section (which is about a mile square).
Tomorrow we have an official day off. I’m going with most of the group to Boseman for the day. Boseman is a hippie college town so I’m assuming I should have some sort of Internet access where I can update this and check my email. I think a lot of people will want to use my laptop for email assuming I can find a wireless connection.
Tonight we are going into town (Dillon) and I think I’m just going to try to see a movie rather than go to the bar. I don’t think they get first run movies in Dillon. I think Batman has been released, but I’m not sure. I’m not really clued in to what is going on in the world having had little access to any media whatsoever for the last two weeks.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Today is our first day off. I’m heading off to Bozeman to hopefully try and get Internet access and eat a restaurant meal. I’m actually doing this update at the HomePage Caffe.