The GSA conference happened back when I was too caught in the whirl of
events to write about them. It's been a over month now, but I did want
to save a couple of impressions.
The field trips all started way too early. Sure, this is the whining
of a non-morning person: but really, when your field trip starts with
45 minutes of everybody standing around because the rental agency that
rents the vans isn't open yet, maybe that's a sign that starting a
little later might be a good idea. Even aside from the wisdom of
scheduling all your travel time for the height of rush hour.
The field trips were worthwhile, though. The most interesting
parts were often topics that hadn't sounded interesting at all
ahead of time.
The talks at the conference were terrific, total information overload,
with maybe six sessions going at once.
There are lots of people doing interesting research in geology,
often fairly junior people (grad students or postdocs),
and many of them are even able to talk enthusiastically about their
research using words that make sense to a mere student of the
subject. Dry jargon-laden talks did exist, but they were the
exception, not the rule.
Everybody was friendly, too, and very willing to talk to students
and explain their research or chat about other topics in geology.
I went to one of the "Roy J. Shlemon student mentoring lunches"
featuring a round-robin of geologists moving from one student table to
another to share insight and stories: very helpful and interesting!
The conference organizers obviously worship at the altar of Bill
Gates. There was apparently a conference-wide dictum that Thou Shalt
Use Powerpoint and Thou Shalt Display On Our Windows Boxen, Not Your
The unsurprising result was that roughly 80% of the talks had at least
some problems displaying
slides, resulting in cursing, then apologies, with the speaker
assuring the audience that it would make much more sense if only we
could see the slide the way it had been written. Perhaps half of these
followed up with a mutter about having to use Windows rather than a
Mac. Macs are clearly big with geologists (though alas there was no
sign of Linux use).
That said, the conference ran aggressively on time, each session
having an appointed watchdog to sit in front and remind the speaker
when time was running out. I've never seen a conference stick to a
schedule so well, especially when filled with short (20-minute) talks.
I had been prepared for the worst after problems getting schedule
information before the conference, but the organization on site
(except field trips) was flawless.
All in all, quite a good time.
I'm only sorry next year's conference isn't back in San Jose.
(It's in Alaska; I'd love to go, but finances will probably prevent it.)
[ 23:04 May 31, 2005
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I just finished writing up the final project for my field geology class.
The project involved discovering and mapping the geology of Red Rock
Canyon. I'll probably upload the paper and other documents later;
for now, just a few notes about the field trip, weekend before last.
Red Rock Canyon is in the Mojave desert, near Ridgecrest. I'd been
through a few times before, since it's more or less on the way to
Death Valley, but of course didn't know any of the geologic details,
other than "Ooh, look at the pretty red and white layers and the
Actually, it's not technically in the Mojave. One of the reasons Red
Rock Canyon is interesting is that it sits at the junction of three of
California's geomorphic provinces, at the junction of the Garlock
fault (dividing the Mojave from the Basin and Range) and the Sierra
Front fault (dividing the Sierra from the other two). The Mojave is
bounded on its south end by the transverse section of the San Andreas,
but Red Rock Canyon is north of the Garlock fault, in the Basin and Range.
Our four day camping trip (two days of hiking, measuring, and mapping,
two days devoted mostly to travel) covered a few square miles around
the visitor's center, but we ended up with a surprisingly complete map
and stratigraphy. Several people had trouble with the temperatures,
which were somewhere in the nineties, combined with the pace of the
hikes. That's not really all that hot, especially for desert, but
it's hot for a group of people coming out of a bay area winter
and an unusually rainy spring, especially the students unused to hiking.
(This was all rather ironic since we'd switched
our mapping project to Red Rock after being concerned about too much
snow at the first choice location, June Lake. Those concerns were
probably justified; it was snowing up until a few days before we left,
so despite the heat, Red Rock was the right choice.)
Nevertheless, Red Rock is a great location to learn geologic mapping.
The structure is fairly simple and easy to see (especially from the top
of Whistler's Peak), with a series of cuestas of sedimentary layers each
capped with basalt, and a couple of other interesting and distinctive
layers in between. Luckily for us, there isn't much complex folding,
just a fairly continuous tilt caused by uplift due to the El Paso
fault (a branch of the Garlock). The rocks themselves are interesting,
with lots of olivine and other crystals in one of the basalt layers,
and an area at the base of the other basalt layer containing lovely
rocks such as opals -- the area used to be an opal mine.
It's also a fairly nice place to camp, with campsites nestled back
among towering cliffs (of the Tr5 fluvial member of the Ricardo
formation, if you're curious for details) which provides a bit more
privacy and separation from other campers than a lot of parks allow.
I'm not really much of a camper (I'm a poor sleeper, and I do like my
morning shower) but out campsite converted even the timid non-campers
in the class.
White-throated swifts play in the turbulence along the face of the
cliffs, calling loudly to each other. Their calls woke me up at
daybreak each morning, but setting aside sleep deprivation, it wasn't
all bad. It's mating season for the swifts, and it turns out they mate
in midair. Two birds come together, and locked together they spiral
hundreds of feet downward, finally separating just short of the
ground. We have white throated swifts here in the bay area, but I'd
never seen anything like their aerial mating dance before; let alone
seen it set against towering desert cliffs in the stillness of dawn
Other interesting natural phenomena observed on the trip: a barn owl
flew over the campsite every night, visible against the campfire
light. Zebra-tailed lizards were ghostly white except for their
black-ringed tails and some ghostly markings on their backs.
We saw lots of jackrabbits and several alligator lizards (the
latter have been numerous in the bay area as well, this spring).
And we saw a lovely horizontal "rainbow" at mid-day of the first day
which turned out, after much research, to be a "circumhorizontal arc".
I took a telescope along, but we didn't have very good skies (haze,
thin clouds, and disturbed seeing, and with all the campfires it
was smoky and not even very dark) so we mostly looked at Jupiter,
Saturn, and the moon (we did get good seeing at dusk one night for the
moon, and we got a good look at the Mare Nectaris shock rings and
the beginnings of Rima Ariadaeus).
A few of our group were disturbed to learn on the way down that they
wouldn't have cellphone reception at Red Rock. Horrors! They rushed to
tie up loose ends, and managed it before we finally lost reception
passing by Mojave.
All in all, a very successful trip, although most of us were awfully
glad to get home and jump in the shower. I'm even gladder to have
my final report finished. Nevertheless, geologic mapping is fun:
I'm happy that I had the chance to complete a map of an area like
this. I may even be back to Red Rock some day, to try to trace out the
extent of that mystery fault at the north end of the pink tuff breccia
photos and report are up.
[ 19:11 May 23, 2005
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Updating the blog again after taking time off for various reasons,
including lack of time, homework, paying work, broken computer
motherboard and other hardware problems, illness, a hand injury,
and so on.
This afternoon, thanks to a very helpful Keir Mierle showing
up on #gimp, I finally got all the pieces sorted and I now have
a working tablet again. Hurrah!
I've put details of the setup that finally worked on my Linux and Wacom
[ 18:08 May 08, 2005
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