Wahoo! 4-A Rock is a Rock

This is the fourth part in a short series from my time at field camp in college. You can read previous parts here. The last part will be posted next week. 


I was alone, and things could have been better.  Like if Doug was here. But it could have been worse too.  Like if I had to work with anyone else.  Last week during field camp, our field partners had been assigned, and while I liked the three guys I’d been assigned, let’s just say we had different work philosophies.

Doug’s hint during the mid term had cured my inability to read a map, and the last week had cured my desire for self-preservation. Since I had last heard Doug’s wahoo, I had nearly fallen off a cliff, been seconds away from being swept away by a swollen stream, bordered on heat exhaustion, and pushed the limits of my mental distress until it came close to breaking. (Or maybe it actually did break.) I hadn’t heard a single wahoo the whole time. Doug shouted from the mountain tops plenty, we just weren’t together. We weren’t even in the same canyon.

This week, I was glad to be working totally alone. Everyday, the TA would drop me off in the morning along a dirt road. Everyday, in the evening he’d be back on the road waiting. In-between it was all up to me. I didn’t see a single person. Continue reading

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Wahoo!-3 The Test

This is the third part in a short series from my time at field camp in college. Look for the next parts in the coming weeks. You can read previous parts here


I sat on a rock on the side of a dirt road sucking breaths in my mouth and out my nose, trying not to panic. It was the midterm of field camp, a test where all the students wandered the same map area inscribing the rock formations onto their paper topo maps. We were all together, but also alone. I was alone.

I had no idea where I was. Geologically, I knew I was sitting in the middle of the Banded Formation, a red shaly unit, but that didn’t help me with the test, since I could have been anywhere on the map I held in my hand, and therefore didn’t know where to scribble a note about this rock unit. I heard a couple students exchange pleasantries around the nearby hill, and put my head down as if I was deep into map making mode, and not trying desperately to hide my water-filled eyes.

Just in case you weren’t clear on this, you have to be able to read a map to be a geologist. So far, I’d spent my entire undergrad faking it, pretending I could do this, and now the reckoning had come. Not only was I going to fail this test, I was going to get lost in this desolate wilderness and die. That was the consequence of pretending you had what it takes. I had even seen a wooden cross stuck in the ground earlier in my aimless map-illiterate wandering. I thougt about finding it and laying down to die. No one would even have to— Continue reading

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Wahoo!-2 Iron Springs Sandstone

This is the second part in a short series from my time at field camp in college. Look for the next parts in the coming weeks. You can read part one here

410 106-PANOIt was lunchtime and we were no longer in a van in Pilot Valley.  Now we were sitting above a small open pit mine about a half an hour out of Cedar City, Utah.  The abandoned pit used to be mined for magnetite, Fe2O3, an iron ore.  Besides mapping the sedimentary rocks in the area, we were responsible for figuring out why there were magnetite veins in the igneous quartz monzonite. (Monzonite is a lot like granite, only with less quartz.  Think of your granite countertops.  It looks like that only not smooth and polished.) I was sitting in the sun, warm against the cold wind.

“WAHOOOOOO!!!!”  Doug shouted into the sage covered desert.  Then, without explanation, Doug joined me for lunch.  I, of course, peeled the orange we shared.  Doug hated peeling oranges.  We ate and watched for other students crawling along the outcrops. Despite the fact that there were twenty of us all wandering around this same stretch of desert, no one else was visible. We could have been the only two people left in the world.  “Do you want a whale?”

“Sure,” I said, taking a few whale shaped crackers, cheap knock offs of the fish shaped cheese crackers we all know and love. Doug and I were monetary soul mates, which is to say we were both severe scrooges and would not waste money on brand name imitation cheese snacks.

The quartz monzonite had once been a whole bunch of dang hot magma, sitting below the surface of the earth.  It domed up on top, while staying flat on the bottom, until it was shaped something like a mushroom the size of Wendover, Utah/Nevada. As it domed, it pushed the sedimentary rocks layers around it up. The sedimentary rocks started their lives as oceans and rivers before getting cemented into solid rock and then cooked by the magma.

The magma hadn’t been deep, and as someone who has lunched next to a lava field, I can attest to the fact that lava and magma are hot. The magma heated the ground water around it, allowing the water to dissolve iron along all the little cracks where it resided. The hot, heavy magma below served to crack the layers it pushed even more, and the water traveled away through these cracks, taking its newly acquire iron with it. Later it dropped the iron, forming black magnetite crystals, which are, as you might guess, magnetic.

But we didn’t know that yet, because we were still mapping and there was a lot of shale and a lot of limestone among the sedimentary layers we had to map.  Now, I like sedimentary rocks, but shale and limestone get  old after too long.  Wow it fizzes when I put acid on it.  It must be limestone– again.

It was toward the end of the day and it had been awhile since the Wahoo at lunch.  We discovered another outcrop of rock.  The rock was greenish grey and it fizzed when you dropped diluted hydrochloric acid on it .  Sigh, limestone. I sat down and picked up a piece.  It scratched easily.

“So is it the Homestake?” Doug asked.

I laughed. “No. This would be the lower Iron Springs.”  Doug wasn’t great at identifying the rocks.  “Now where are we?” I said studying the mysterious squiggly lines that make a topographic map. I wasn’t great at finding myself on a map. Doug quickly pointed out our location. I started to write notes in my notebook.

My field partner wandered up the hill to see if he could find any other outcrops of rock.  The Homestake and Iron Springs were two rock formations in the area.  The lower Iron Springs and the Homestake were both limestone, but telling them apart wasn’t really that hard.  I was sure this was lower Iron Springs.  Which meant next we should find the middle Iron Springs…a sandstone.

“Welcome to Heaven.” Doug called down to me.  I scrambled up the hill.  I like sedimentary rocks, but sandstone is my real passion.  Doug was standing on top of a coarse grained, poorly sorted, dirty, cross bedded, beautiful sandstone.

“Wow!”  Middle Iron Springs. It was breath-taking.

Doug climbed down to pin point our place on the map.  I climbed up until I was standing at the highest point anywhere around.  The cold wind had turned into a cool breeze.  I felt it then.  I felt the Wahoo.  It sat in my stomach wanting so badly to break free.  But I couldn’t do it.  I didn’t remember ever yelling like that.  I didn’t know how.  I couldn’t let that Wahoo out.

“Doug,” I called. “This spot needs a Wahoo.”

He smiled and climbed up. “WAHOOOOO!!”

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Wahoo!-1 Pilot Valley

This is the first part in a short series from my time at field camp in college. Look for the next parts in the coming weeks.

pilot valley

The first time I heard Doug “Wahoo” we were driving in a twelve-seat van.  It was just the two of us.  We were looking for springs, the kind where water leaks/gushes/bubbles out of the ground.  We were looking for springs in Pilot Valley, Utah.

Pilot Valley sits underneath snowcapped Pilot Peak, and even most people in Utah would give you a quizzical look if you asked them where it was.  One of the springs we had found earlier was called Donner Springs, as in the infamous Donner Party that stopped here on their way west.  Believe me, if they’d traveled through Pilot Valley, they’d been miserable long before they made it to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and starved to death. If there ever was a center to the middle-of-nowhere, Pilot Valley was it.  Besides a small, sad farm and a thriving metropolis for lizards, there was nothing that would bring any sane individual to this place.

But then we were geologists.

Continue reading

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A New Olympic Sport

This may or may not be inspired by an actual conversation. I’m not admitting to anything, except that my husband is a drainage engineer.


The man dribbled the basketball dejectedly as his wife pulled her car up next to the court. “How did the game go?”

He shot the ball and missed. It went bouncing away down the court. “About like that.”

His wife laughed. “It couldn’t have been that bad. How many points did you score?”

“Zero.” He slowly chased down the ball and walked to the car, where his wife was smirking at him. “It’s not my fault. I don’t have the right genetics. If I had been taller I could have gone pro. I could have been a champion,” he whined.

Her smirk didn’t fade. “Yes, we could have decorated our house with trophies and gold medals. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you sit at a desk all day. It must be your DNA’s fault.” The man slumped into the passenger seat. “Maybe you should aim for a more reachable dream,” his wife added.

“What, in engineering? They don’t give out gold medals for engineering.”

The wife laughed. “Maybe they should,” she teased.

“I could win gold in water drainage design—with my eyes closed,” the man shot back.

“Let’s call the Olympic committee. You could be a national hero.”

The man smiled and his wife pulled the car away from the empty basketball court. He may not have won the game, but at least he knew the the court would never puddle. His excellent drainage plan had taken care of that.

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Bear Spray, Princesses, and the Wandering Mind

I recently took an amazing vacation to Alaska. We hiked (to glaciers, lakes, waterfalls), fished at the break of dawn (which is REALLY early in Alaska in the summer), flew to the wilderness, and generally spent our time doing, moving, and going, not resting and relaxing. But despite this, my mind felt like it was being completely renewed after a long brain marathon that started before I can remember.

I realized this near the end of our trip as we hiked back from a lake where my husband had skipped rocks surrounded by snow topped mountains, green forests, sparkling water, and no people. (I posted a picture just so you could see what I mean.) DSC00820I had just passed another indigo wildflower, which led my mind to ponder on the abundance of blue wildflowers in Alaska. They seemed to be more common than at home. And you know what, my brain said, utility vehicles have blue lights here, unlike at home. I wonder why. Is there a reason that there are more blue flowers and blue lights? Are there really more blue flowers, or is it the season, or my bias? My brain just kept going. By the time we reached the end of the hike, I had come up with a citizen science wildflower database idea that could span the continent and provide me with the means to answer all my wildflower questions. Also, I like databases, which is weird, but I’m weird, so there you go. Continue reading

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Pretty Girls in Dirty Jeans

To all my loyal readers (a.k.a. Beth and Dad), I will be taking a break from blogging for a couple weeks. Lots of summer fun coming up. Don’t worry I’ll be back soon.

I wrote this story about something that really happened to me during field camp in college, but from someone else’s perspective.  I used all facts available to me including what the rancher’s son later said to his father who repeated it to the professor. It was really fun to write from this perspective. Can you guess who I am in the story?


In the far northeast of the state of Utah there is a rural town that sits on the border between two places that have the same name. To the south, the Uinta Basin stretches down and away, a desert good for oil drilling, ATVing, and slowly dying of thirst. It is not the picturesque type of desert one sees in the movies, but rather the kind you sleep through on a road trip, secure in the fact that you will not miss anything significant as the miles roll by. To the north, the Uinta Mountains rise, billions of years in the making. They start imperceptibly in the desert, dusty, with hardly the fertility to support the gnarled sage brush and juniper trees whose lot it is to grow where no other flora would. As the elevation rises on the bones of ancient seashores, the sage mixes with lusher vegetation. Meadows of wild flowers, moist with dew, carpet the soil.  Sparkling streams and peaceful lakes are more beautiful for the lack of water just down the slope in the basin below. Up higher, proper trees grow straight and tall unlike the hunchbacked junipers; pines and aspen who have scares in their trunks that almost tell a story if you only knew the language. Finally, the trees give way, and at the very top where, again, almost nothing can grow, are the lichen cover rocks. Everywhere there are the rocks. Continue reading

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