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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