Tuesday, June 9, 2015

GEOLOGY FIELD CAMP: RITE OF PASSAGE 50 YEARS LATER



The year 2015 seems to be a year of reflection for me.  For one thing the recent knee replacement has provided an abundance of time to think, especially about aging and what I was doing 50 years ago.  Wow, the 50 years refers to my graduation from a university, well a college back them, and then life after that momentous event. 
 
Right about graduation time, as students were talking to each other about future plans, we begin to hear more (maybe we listened more closely) about Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Most of us had only the slightest idea about the location of Vietnam (from a world geography course), let along why US soldiers were being sent to the country.  As the previous 1964 semester started in August, we knew about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that gave President Johnson the authority to “punish” North Vietnam for ?attacking US Naval destroyers.  The initial “punishment” was to use war planes against the “enemy.”  Then came an increase in advisers (first sent in 1960 and now over 15,000) and by the end of the year, nearly 200,000 combat troops.  My friends who were not going to graduate school were beginning to worry somewhat about being drafted into the Armed Forces.  But, most of us thought that the “conflict” would be over in a few months and the world would return to “normal.”  The exception to this opinion came from friends who had graduated from a ROTC university and could not wait until deployment since that duty provided the shortest route to promotion!

A common “water cooler” talk was about the draft boards that made the final decision about individuals who were drafted.  Kansas has 105 counties and each had their own Draft Board making those decisions.  At that time when a male turned 18 years of ages, he had to head to the county court house and register with the Draft Board (Selective Service Act of 1940) and then came home with a “draft card” (I still have my original as I registered in June 1961) and orders to carry it at all times.  We also needed to inform our Board of any changes in eligibility such as getting married, or having children, or losing your arm in an auto accident.  From 1961 on, I begin to make frequent trips to the Board taking along my grades and proof of enrollment to keep my II-S (student) classification.  Any little slip up and boom, a reclassification to I-A (available for military service).  If that happened it was usually a bus ride to Kansas City for the infamous "medical physicals," a process most people passed (except my brothers), and then came induction, and finally a trip to Southeast Asia (mostly).  It is hard to explain to non-Vietnam War age persons the anxiety associated with the draft.  From about age 18-25 the lives of most males were simply put on hold.  I knew kids who moved to Canada, some who got married and started having children, and others who begged and pleaded (and perhaps bribed) to get into the National Guard.  I knew others who simply enlisted and took a three or four year commitment and hoped for a better placement than the two year draftees. And then sadly I had friends who came home in a box.  I was one of those geeks who thoroughly enjoyed school and just wanted to continue with my education. Fortunately I remained in school until I turned age 27, two years after the normal draft cutoff age.  I greatly respected those who served our country but was happy to opt out.
Even in rural western Kansas we had become more cognizant about the plight of Blacks, especially in the South.  The events at Selma with Martin Luther King Jr. and in Los Angeles (Watts District) were beginning to pull us out of our sheltered cocoon.  However, in western Kansas we thought that all of this trouble was far away and would never reach us.  After all, most of us personally knew maybe one or two Blacks as Western Kansas was pretty “lily white.” 
Patsy Cline II.jpg
Patsy Cline, 1957 photo. Mellow songstress. Public Domain.
I was able to observe, during my four years of undergraduate studies, a great change in popular music.  We went in with Patsy Cline, Ricky Nelson, The Highwaymen, Connie Francis and a host of other pretty mellow singers.  By graduation we had The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, The Byrds, Jr. Walker and the All Stars and a number of other bands that were far from mellow.  Rock and Roll was in full swing and had gone from When I was a little baby my mama would rock me in the cradle to I can't get no satisfaction, I can't get no girl reaction.
Stones members montage2.jpg
The Rolling Stones, raucous in 1962 and still touring in 2015.  Photo Public Domain.
This was also the age of radio station KOMA 1520 on your dial (AM) out of Oklahoma City.  It seems that the station was able to crank up their output after dark to 50,000 watts and Rock and Roll was beamed all over the Plains and Midwest.  I ran down my car battery down more than once listening to Charlie Tuna spinning the hits.

In late summer 1964 I and two friends took off for a small camping trip to Colorado---we needed a break from summer working before classes started at Labor Day. My father was not thrilled that I was leaving work early but off we went for our epic adventure---I was driving 1956 red and white Mercury pulling a borrowed very tiny camping trailer.  One night we were in a small bar in Golden, Colorado, having a brew (Coors I am certain) when the server asked why were not over at the concert in Red Rocks Amphitheater where the Beatles were playing?  We confessed that money was short and we were lucky to afford a $.25 draw.  However, we decided to drive over just to see what was going on.  We then made a decision to try and climb the rocks and sneak in to the concert.  OK, we were not the smartest kids on the block.  So off we went and ended up on some steps at the rear (back of the stage) part of the venue.  We ran into a policeman blocking our way and I simply explained to him that we were just three rural kids from western Kansas and could not afford tickets.  He told us we were much more polite than the screaming girls and let us pass.  We started to walk in and security yelled at us as were going to walk on to the stage (the concert had just started) so we simply trudged up a few more steps and squeezed into the third row and took in the concert.  Yah, just a few farm boys from rural Kansas lucking out!

One period of time after graduation in 1965 that I specifically remember was enrolling in a geology field camp, a geologist’s “rite of passage.” Unfortunately today, University budgets have severely restricted many traditional camps.  But in 1965 I borrowed a few dollars and enrolled at Colorado State University.  Why CSU?  I don’t really remember except that I, along with a fellow student, could drive to the camp and it was less expensive than some since we were camping rather than staying in a field station.  The camp consisted of 10 students, one instructor and a graduate student assistant, living in tents, and group cooking for morning and evening meals; lunch was usually peanut butter and jelly on bread with fruit.  I can attest to the fact that some really strange meals were prepared for the group by the “cooks” (consisting of two students rotating through the meal preparation).  In my case, no one told me, a flatlander from Kansas, that certain food items required extra cooking length at high altitudes (like dried beans!).  In another case someone forgot to tell two foreign exchange students that pancakes were not deep fried breads.  The other 8 students were from CSU so they returned to Ft. Collins late Saturday and returned the following evening with the cheapest beer they could locate.  Without many resources for a motel my colleague and I remained in camp.

We sort of lived in luxury, well not real luxury, but I had borrowed a very large center-pole army surplus tent from a friend.  The other students had University-issued small a-side tents.  We had ample room for two cots and a table and our packs.  Several all-nighters were pulled to finish maps and reports since I procrastinated by fishing in the evening, or sitting around the campfire spinning yarns.

We completed three major projects: 1) mapping, by plane table and alidade, the Sloan Diatreme northwest of Fort Collins; 2) mapping sedimentary rocks exposed around Steamboat Rock north of Ft. Collins; and 3) mapping complex igneous and metamorphic rocks near Cameron Pass and Mt. Richthofen west of Ft. Collins.

Most geology students today are unfamiliar with the plane table and alidade as modern mapping instruments use laser beams or satellite information to plot points and elevations.  However, the alidade was an ingenious instrument and senior geologists like me certainly have memories (some good, some bad) of plane tabling and we all carried around trigonometry tables in our back pocket.  The alidade consisted of a telescopic tube with a series of cross hairs visible for reading a stadia rod--a wooden stick with measurements every tenth of a foot.  In very simple form the instrument person knew the elevation of the plane table and was able to determine the elevation of the stick, and the distance to the stick (held by the rod man), by reading the angle on the calibrated alidade arc---the tube could be moved up or down---and then using the trig tables.  It was more complex than this explanation and old-time field books are filled with rows and columns of numbers; however, the elevations and distances were plotted on the plane table sheets and geologic contacts and topographic contours were drawn in by hand.  So, we spent our time at the Sloan Diatreme meticulously plotting elevations and contacts.  Life for field geologists seems easier today!
Plane table and alidade.  The surveyor/geologist is looking toward his partner holding a measuring stick (stadia rod).  Photo from sale items on EBAY.
I used a Gurley alidade where the geologist looked “down” into the eyepiece rather than ”straight ahead” toward the stick.  Angles were measured and trigonometry tables allowed the geologist to determine elevation (plus or minus from the station) and distance.  Distance to the stick was drawn along the ruler/base.  Photo from sale items on EBAY.
The Sloan Diatreme is an igneous intrusion sort of blown out of the Earth’s mantle similar to the diatremes in Arkansas and South Africa.  The diatremes contain minerals that are fairly rare in rocks of the Earth’s surface---things like chrome diopside and diamond.  Today several other diatremes or kimberlite pipes have been discovered in the area and are grouped together as the Colorado-Wyoming State Line Diamond District.  It is my understanding that over 100k diamonds have been commercially produced from this district.  Today I do not believe commercial mines are operating; however, all diatremes are under claim(I think).

In field camp one of our assignments was to complete a working proposal for extraction of diatreme diamonds—what would it cost, how would you do it, would there be a profit?  The assignment was prepared as a hypothetical business proposal for a mining company.  Of course at that time diamonds had not been discovered in the District and the students (smart as we were) laughed and giggled at the idea!  The instructor had the last laugh since in 1975 diamonds were located!

We then moved a bit further north and east of the Sloan and begin mapping several late Paleozoic rock units near a landmark called Steamboat Rock.  The rocks are mostly red and sit right on top of a Precambrian Granite so that much geologic time is missing in the unconformity.  Of course, this unconformity is due what geologists term the Ancestral Rockies Orogeny where large blocks of Precambrian rocks were “pushed up” into respectable mountain ranges in the Pennsylvanian Period.  Generic granite is normally composed of quartz, “feldspar” and iron-rich biotite and/or hornblende.  As the rocks erode, the quartz and feldspar break down into smaller and smaller pieces while the iron-rich minerals begin to oxidize (rust) and impart a red to orange color to silt and sand –size particles.  Hence red rocks on top of the granite.
Steamboat Rock exposing rocks of the Fountain Formation (I think).  Stream in the foreground exposes Precambrian rocks.  The unconformity between the Fountain and the Precambrian is due to the late Paleozoic mountain building event termed the Ancestral Rockies Orogeny.  Paleozoic rocks older than the Fountain were eroded away during the uplift.  The Fountain represents debris shed off the mountains.
The Steamboat Rock project was the first time that I had to seriously use a Jake Stick (Jacob Staff) to measure a stratigraphic section.  I suspect using such is a lost art today.  At its simplest form a Jake Stick was personalized as being the exact height as your eye, and with a bubble level attached to the top.  In measuring thickness of rocks exposed in a hillside one set the staff on the ground, level (by using the bubble), and looked over the top of the stick and picked a point on the hillside where you eye pointed.  If your eye height was 70 inches then that point on the hill was 70 inches higher than the bottom of the staff and you moved upward and sit the stick on the hillside point and do it all over again.
The more difficult scenario was where the beds were dipping and not flat.  You could check the dip and recalculate measurements back in camp.  But we learned to install an inclinometer or moveable protractor below the bubble that would allow us to make certain the Stick was perpendicular to the bedding.

You could do the same thing with a hand level or a Brunton Compass but it was faster with a Jake Stick.  At the same time you were keeping track in a field book and describing the rock layers.  A tedious process: however, lots of information was needed to complete maps and stratigraphic sections.

Finally the camp moved west into the high mountains around Cameron Pass along the gravel road (now paved) from Fort Collins to Walden.  The Pass separated the Never Summer Mountains trending south while the Medicine Bow Mountains trended north into Wyoming---we mapped in both ranges and that is where I gained my healthy respect for summer storms with nasty lightning strikes.  The final project was to map Mt. Richthofen with its igneous intrusion and the adjacent Pierre Shale cooked by the heat of the intrusion.  It was a tough job as Mt. Richthofen came in at 12,951 feet in elevation and the cooked shale (hornfels) created a really bad talus slope almost impossible to hike.  But we survived. 
The north end of the Never Summer Range taken from the summit of Diamond Peaks (11699’), Medicine Bow Range; looking south with Colorado 14 (unseen) in the valley between Diamond Peaks and the conifer forest. Nokhu Crags is an exposure of the Pierre Shale “cooked” to a low-grade metamorphic rock (hornfels) by igneous intrusions at Mt. Richthofen.
The other notable event of summer 1965 was the great Denver flood. As students, we were mapping in the rain but also listening to a transistor radio (all AM stations) describing the flooding in Denver.  I distinctly remember the announcer saying something like “here comes another house down the river (South Platte).  Oh my God it just crashed into the bridge.”

The Denver Post (recap by Joey Bunch, Denver Post, 2005) described the situation as:  With twisters in the foothills and a blizzard of hail, the great flood of 1965 announced its arrival with Old Testament fury. 

After lunchtime on June 16 [1965] the coal-black sky delivered a rainstorm so furious that people in Douglas County said they labored to breathe.
A rancher put a washtub in his yard to measure the rain, and it quickly overflowed. The National Weather Service recorded 14 inches - a year's worth of rain for the region - in a little more than three hours near Larkspur. 

The storm drove a 20-foot wall of water from Douglas County to downtown Denver that evening, taking at least 21 lives, devastating 15 counties and leaving mountains of mud and $540 million in damage - $3.2 billion in [2005] dollars

File photos from Denver Post.

In comparison, news agencies such as CNN and Business Week reported that losses in the recent Colorado floods of 2013 will exceed $2 billion.
Despite the rain and destruction in Colorado, I received a passing grade in field camp, returned to Kansas to work and play “townteam” baseball, and in the fall headed to South Dakota for graduate work.  Life is good at age 22 and after tromping all over those mountains I was in the best physical shape of my life!

As the years passed by, the stories and remembrances about field camp seemed to take on a life of their own---not only my experiences but those of other geologists at other camps.  I now remember sleeping on pine boughs, cooking with buffalo dung, and chawing down on bear jerky, mountain lion roasts, and drinking unfiltered water---with wild plums thrown in for dessert!  But it was a rite of passage into the adult world of geology and I would not have missed it for anything.