Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Slip and a Fall [Original Post Date 1/23/06]

In the news is a story from Utah about a small hiking party, wherein one member slipped and knocked two other hikers about 60 feet down the mountainside, resulting in significant injuries to the two. They and the others have been rescued, so hopefully all will be well after the healing process.

It just reminded me of one of the few times I have really fallen while doing geologic work and how that fall might have changed geologic history (not my contributions, but someone much more important).

During the late 1970s or perhaps early 1980s, there was a geologic convention in El Paso, where academic papers were presented and field trips took place. One of the attendees was Dr. Preston Cloud (1912 - 1991), the 1977 recipient of the Charles Doolittle Walcott Award, from the National Academy of Sciences. [Dr. Walcott discovered the Burgess Shale fauna in 1909.] Dr. Cloud's NAS citation was for:

"In recognition of eminence and distinguished achievement in the advancement of sciences in pre-Cambrian paleontology and the early history of life on the primitive earth."

Here is one of Dr. Cloud's photographs along with an explanation of some of the material that he studied. Here from is a listing of references to Dr. Cloud in other science books. "The Garden of Ediacara" (in which there were nine references) is about the Precambrian Ediacaran fauna of Australia, the most important, discovered fauna from the time before the Cambrian Explosion. Here are a few more web links about Dr. Cloud.

One of the convention field trips was into the southern end of the Franklin Mountains to observe large, fossil algal structures (I know, only geologists dig this stuff) that had been studied by one of the UT El Paso geology professors. Dr. Cloud was one of the guests of honor on the field trip and I was tagging along with the rest of the geology grad students.

After observing the algal structures, we returned down the mountainside to the vehicles to go elsewhere on the field trip. On the way back down, Dr. Cloud paused at the top of a small cliff (perhaps only 10 - 15 feet high), to observe the scenic view of the Hueco Bolson and the Rio Grande River Valley southeast of El Paso. I was a few yards upslope and behind Dr. Cloud and when I saw him stop to take in the view, I attempted to stop my downslope steps. But instead, I stepped on some loose pebbles and started tumbling. I ended up on my hands and knees scant inches (4 to 6 inches) behind Dr. Cloud, scant inches from knocking a world-famous geologist off of a small cliff in the Franklin Mountains.

Maybe I am slightly over-dramatizing this event, but to this day I thank God that my legacy as a geologist wasn't written that day. True, the vertical distance wasn't that much, but below there were boulders and numerous cacti on the mountain slope. I am not even sure if Dr. Cloud knew how close I came to knocking him over the edge. I am not even sure that the lead professor knew and I never told him until I emailed the story to be part of his retirement party 3 or 4 years ago. He didn't reply, though I can imagine him slapping his forehead and saying "OMG" at the thought of what almost happened.

It was such an "OMG moment", I don't even remember the rest of the field trip. I don't even remember if I was driving one of the vehicles later or not.

Maybe a guardian angel stopped my tumbling or maybe it was shear dumb luck.

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