Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Field Camp Memories

A Geologist friend commented on Facebook about the National Geographic show "Rock Stars", which I gather to be about engineers. She commented that it was about time that rocks made it to reality TV.

It brought to mind possibilities of an actual Geology-related reality TV series. If my UTEP Geology Field Camp of 1977 was typical, it would make for enough interesting stories for at least a short series - Geologists being the eccentric characters that they are.  [But the problem is, unless the participants forget that there is a camera, they will alter their behavior, i.e., the incidents described below were spontaneous, not scripted or exaggerated for the camera.]

Late next May will mark the 35th anniversary of that summer, the first summer I spent in El Paso. Damn, time flies.  Of note; the statutes of limitation have expired for any incidents described later.  Sadly, I didn't keep up with the names of those non-UTEP students.  One of which - from University of South Carolina - I gave a ride to as far as Atlanta afterward.  1,500 miles in 38 hours with a minimum of stops.

For those that have never experienced a Geology Field Camp, it is about learning and practicing different methods of Geologic Field Methods, mapping, measuring strikes and dips, measuring sections, estimated thickness of layers, etc..  Hours and hours outdoors.  By our last full week, daytime temps were reaching 105 degrees.

Dr. Earl M. P. Lovejoy was a certifiable character.  A big guy, he had a big, booming voice and a good sense of humor, including poking fun at himself.  It was said that he died laughing at a student's joke during a field trip in 1980 (or so).  A massive heart attack left him essentially dead by the time he hit the ground.  He had a wealth of interesting and humorous stories.  I miss those campfire conversations during the 10 day field trip.

An example of his sense of humor - during the 10 day field trip through the Four Corners States, someone found a bleached deer skull and tied it to the leading edge of the hood of one of the Chevy Suburbans.    Someone else took a Sharpie and labeled it "Earl".  Upon seeing it, Dr. Lovejoy pulled out his own Sharpie and added the initials "M.P." to the skull.

In no particular order of occurrence are some of the memories of that field camp and field trip:

Being beaten by the heat.

Spring semester 1977 was my first at UTEP.  I had done well in Dr. Lovejoy's Geomorphology class, making an "A".  He was expecting big things from me in field camp. 

Having grown up in Georgia, I was used to "dripping sweat" during the summer time and compensating for that.  I hated salt tablets and I didn't like Gatorade at the time.  I made do with water (and beer).  In the dry air of El Paso, one sweats without being aware of it, as evaporation keeps shirts dry - for the most part.  After a week or so outdoors, I became fatigued and was not able to recover the lost energy.  As I didn't complain, no one suggested salt tablets or Gatorade and I fell behind with the homework portion of the field camp assignments, turning in several of them late.  I wound up with a "C" in the course without even understanding why.  I just didn't have any energy.  I never got fatigued enough to pass out or to "get stupid" (as I did with later episodes of dehydration/lack of electrolytes), thus my issues were "below the radar" and didn't get resolved.

Dr. Lovejoy's Death March.

During our first week of getting to know the El Paso Geology, one of our excursions was into the western side of the Franklin Mts., north of Tom Mays Park (and Trans-Mountain Road).  I think most of our time was spent in the Ordovician, Pennsylvanian, and Permian sedimentary layers in the area, perhaps some of the Western Boundary Fault Zone was visited, also - as well as a probable discussion of the large landslide blocks in the area.

The problem was, it was a "two canteen" field trip - which I don't recall being announced and one canteen just wasn't enough.  I don't recall plastic water bottles being as prevalent as they are now, so one WWII-era aluminum canteen was all I had.  I wasn't the only one in this position.  It seemed that the last mile of the "death march" was uphill to the truck in the heat of the afternoon.  Again, no one collapsed, but it was one of those times when you could "see collapsing" from where you were.  The student assistants may have had extra water, but it was one of those deals that - if you had to ask for water, you were going to catch hell about it, later.  Rather, there would be much teasing about it. 

Don't know about the origin of the "Death March" name, not to take away from the Bataan Death March, it was simply a humorous was of dealing with it.  I don't know if it was a classmate of that time or someone earlier.

Don't ask me about "bugs".

Dr. Lovejoy's areas of expertise were Structural Geology, Geomorphology, Mapping, Landslides, and related things.  Not paleontology.  Not in the least.  We learned to ask each other, one of the student assistants, or the assisting professor - "What is this fossil?" - out of ear shot of Dr. Lovejoy.  If we lingered during a walk and he thought we were looking at fossils, he had something to say about that.  If we had been in igneous and metamorphic rocks, he might have tolerated questions about minerals, but not "bugs".

Encounters with cicadas.

Most folks - along the way in their lives - have some sort of encounters with cicadas.  In Georgia we have the "normal" Dog Days Cicadas that are active every July - September.  Then as happens every 17 years (or 13 years - whatever) we have the "17 year cicadas" which are more incessant with their droning.  As I didn't spend extensive time outdoors in El Paso during late-May/early June as I did in 1977, I don't know if the cicada "invasion" is the same every year or if 1977 was "special".  I do remember cicadas landing on every vertical object, including standing persons and stadia rods.  Nothing harmful about them, just annoying and their "singing" sounded like being at a jet airport.  It may have just been that special time and place on the west side of the southern Franklin Mts..

Getting yelled at.

Rule Number 1 for Dr. Lovejoy's Field Camp.  Everyone got yelled at along the way.  Just part of the deal.  Usually it was over our lack of plane table and alidade skills or something else that didn't meet with his approval.  Usually the statement was; "This map is terrible.  Why are you in Geology?  Why aren't you in Sociology?"

A little background, as an undergrad at Georgia Southern, in the second quarter there - Spring of 1973, due to a late registration time, Historical Geology was closed out and I was forced to get Sociology as a class.  Didn't want it, didn't need it, but most everything else was closed out.  I found out later that though I was a declared Geology major, the Department Chair didn't yet know me and I should have raised hell about not getting the Historical Geology class.  Too timid on my part.  I suffered through the Sociology class and "partied" a bit too much and had a 59 average going into the final.  I figured that some intense cramming would get me a grade in the 60s or 70s and I would at least pass.  Somehow, despite the earnest study time, I made a 19 on the final.  Out of that Freshman Sociology class of 35 people, there were 10 Ds and 7 Fs.  The teacher was never in her office the next quarter and left the college thereafter.  So instead of an A in Historical Geology, I got an F in Sociology my second quarter.  Seriously damaged my GPA.  Never thought that experience would come in handy, but...

When it came my time to be yelled at (with the standard line), I turned to Dr. Lovejoy and yelled back "Well, I flunked Sociology, what the hell was I supposed to do?"  Reportedly, almost no one ever rendered Dr. Lovejoy speechless, but I did (and became sort of a folk hero for doing so).  He shook his head and walked away, probably chuckling about it later.

Siestas.

The last full week of mapping in the El Paso area as at Mount Cerro de Cristo Rey, which straddles the Mexico/New Mexico border, just west of El Paso.  It is a small Tertiary porphyritic andesite intrusion surrounded by intensely-deformed Cretaceous sedimentary rocks.  There are several of these intrusions in the area, the UTEP campus is situated astride another one.  Whether these were eroded magma chambers for overlying volcanoes is unknown, due to the effects of erosion.

Dr. Lovejoy had spent 13 years mapping the area and he had us checking for errors in his map.  He was wise when he told us that "There is no such thing as a perfect Geologic map."  I have found errors in several maps and I am sure that there are errors in mine.  Anyway, by this time, daytime temps were reaching about 105 degrees. 

When we would check in to pick up our bag lunch, we would usually take a small cooler with Gatorade and/or water (and perhaps a can of beer or two) and go back our chosen mapping area.  Once there was some shade in the afternoon sun, we would often find a rock ledge under which to crawl to take a siesta.  Either Dr. Lovejoy knew student behavior or someone tipped him off as he started going out looking for those taking a siesta - catching several of them - again they got yelled at.  (BTW, I never got caught.)

Damned lechuguilla.

Lechuguilla is a member of the Agave genus and consists of essentially vertical spears vs. the usual radiating spears from a central stem of most yucca.  they are called "Shin daggers" as they are usually fairly low to the ground and not as noticeable as other yuccas.  They are also a hazard if you step over them and don't quite give them enough clearance, resulting in getting speared above your boot in the calf area.

The 10-day road trip.

Though we were expected to take some notes for a final exam, the 10-day road trip was a great relief from the field work just concluded.  Being young, it wasn't much of an issue that the Chevy Suburbans (or whatever they were called) had no air-conditioning at the time, we just kept the windows down.  I think there were 4 Suburbans and a supply truck.  Somehow, those of us of the "hippy" type (think of "That 70's Show") wound up in the last Suburban, which came to be known as the "mass-wasted" group.  We knew that for any stuff we did along the way, we had to be discrete. 

We initially followed the Rio Grande Rift through New Mexico and into central Colorado, then went westward to Utah, then southward through the Four Corners area through eastern Arizona, then back through southern New Mexico.  Stopped at a number of National Parks and Monuments along the way got some great photos - in most places.  Besides the rift, we saw a good bit of the Basin and Range Province, the southern Rocky Mts., parts of the eastern Colorado Plateau, and more...  [Photos will be in a separate post.] 

The forest fire.

I think it was the 2nd day of the trip, when we stopped in a forested area to camp out in northern New Mexico, after we had set up the tents and assigned the "Supper team", several of us went for a walk in the woods with a beer and a "doobie".  We made sure to ash the thing in an empty beer can as we knew the fire danger was high.  After the proper period of relaxation, we returned to the camp and enjoyed the evening meal and after-dinner conversation.  All was good as far as we knew.

The following morning, we packed up camp and left.  Some hours later, we heard a radio report that there was a forest fire in the area in which we had camped.  We knew we had been careful - in our "recreation", but there was that element of fear.  Over the next several days, we kept hearing reports from the fire - with that nagging doubt always there. 

Finally, on the third day of the fire, we heard a radio report that a motorcyclist had claimed responsibility for starting the fire.  He was working on his bike when the engine backfired and set the tall grass afire, spreading from there.  Talk about a collective sigh of relief - from something that we couldn't even talk about while it was happening.

So, what happened to that flaming car?

Somewhere on a mountain road in Colorado, we had taken a roadside break to observe the local Geology and the valley below.  To our amazement, a Ford Galaxie came down the road with a small fire in the area of the rear license plate (where the gas inlet probably was).  We didn't actually notice the flames until he was past us and there was no way to notify him of the problem.  We watched him travel down the road into the town below, never seeing any sign of an explosion or larger fire.  Weird.

That most painful hair-washing episode.

The third night of the field trip was spent in the vicinity of Spanish Peaks in southern Colorado.  After 3 days in the vans, without a shower, the sight of a small creek at least offered us the opportunity to at least wash our hair, if nothing else.  After putting shampoo in my hair, I dipped my head into the creek, not thinking about it being a snow-fed stream.  Immediately my scalp was pounded with temperatures that must have been about 40 degrees F.  It was exceedingly painful.  To make matters worse, shampoo is not formulated to rinse at cold temperatures, which meant that rinsing too even longer than normal.

Five minutes after finishing, it was refreshing, but the transition from "ball-peen hammer" pounding to refreshing was not fun.

The "f__king babies" incident.

This one was not "my experience" but I was a witness...  If memory serves me correctly, the driving chores were shared between the UTEP students and student assistants, with the lion's share of the driving of our Suburban being done by "Bob".  We were somewhere in Colorado, I think.  We were next to last - as usual - in the caravan.  As this was before the days of cell phones and compact walkie talkies, we pretty much had to keep within sight of the vehicles ahead and behind us.  As we had been driving for several hours with no significant breaks, except maybe to listen to a brief Geology lecture about an area, coming into a small town was generally expected to yield a gas/bathroom stop.

As we arrived at a "T" intersection and Bob waited for the chance to turn left, a line of 5 or 6 cars was approaching from the left.  All of them appeared to shift to the right turn lane, so Bob began to pull out.  One vehicle - a Dodge version of the Chevy Blazer (don't recall the vehicle name) did not go into the right turn lane, but continued on the street.  Bob accidentally pulled in front of this vehicle, forcing the driver to "stop short" (but without locking the wheels).  As Bob waved "sorry" to the driver, we noticed her - a very large woman - pound the steering wheel with disgust, but we assumed it was over.

We continued about 1/2 mile then turned into a gas station on the left.  Bob pulled up to one of the pumps and one of the students set the pump handle, then all but Bob walked into the store.  Bob turned and put his back to the vehicle window - to relax - as the offended driver was sliding to a stop in the gravel parking lot.  She spotted Bob and marched over to the Suburban and started screeching about "those are my f__king babies in that f__king truck" (within earshot of the elementary school-aged kids).  She repeated this line several times and was loud enough to capture the attention of most of the people in the store.

Other than apologizing several times, Bob covered his face with his hand and avoided arguing with her - which infuriated her even more.  [We thought she was going to reach in the window and physically drag Bob out - she was big enough.  And Bob was not a small guy.]  After shouting for several minutes (or so it seemed), she stormed off, spinning her tires and scattering gravel, "chirping" the tires as she reached the street.

After she left, Bob walked into the store, approached Dr. Lovejoy and said "I suppose you were wondering what that was all about.", to which Dr. Lovejoy deadpanned "Yeah, I was curious.".  After receiving an explanation, he issued the standard "Well, just be careful from hereon." - or something like that.

From then on, "f__king babies in a f__king truck" became a standing joke, for the rest of the road trip.

An interesting dichotomy.

At one of our camping stops, after dinner when we - the students - were seated around a campfire, several students from a very liberal San Francisco-area college asked if they could sit down at our fire, to which we affirmatively replied "Yeah, pull up a rock" or something like that.  They were on a field trip to study American Indian art.  To be hospitable, we offered them a beer and quietly asked if they wanted to "go for a short walk" - translated, to "share a smoke" with us, to which they affirmatively replied as one might expect.

Afterward, when we returned to the fire - the professors were at another fire, until later - they students commented on how they were warned not to "bring anything" on the field trip, lest they be sent home and flunk the class.

We immediately noticed - but did not comment on - this cultural contradiction.  Students from a liberal San Francisco college were warned to "not bring anything", while nothing was said to us, we were just expected to be discrete (as previously described).  Perhaps it was because the art students were more blatant on campus about their "consumption", but that is just a theory.

The field trip stops.

Without intensely reviewing a map and probably out-of-order, these are some of the places we visited:  Spanish Peaks, CO; Dinosaur National Monument; Canyonlands National Park; Arches National Monument; Mesa Verde National Park; Four Corners Monument; Canyon de Chelly, AZ National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison,...there are probably other places currently not remembered.  Getting a Geologic explanation at all of these stops was almost worth the price of the class itself.

Camera demons.

At the time of field camp, I had owned a Miranda Sensorex II 35 mm camera for about 2 1/2 years, with good results.  It was a pretty good camera for its day, comparable with the Minolta SRT 100 series.  I generally didn't carry it with me during mapping and hiking because of the extra weight, but on the field trip it was a necessity.  As this was 1977, the only choice was to shoot multiple rolls of slides and then get them processed upon return to El Paso.

All seemed well the entire trip, but for some reason, somewhere between Canyonlands National Park and Mesa Verde National Park, the shutter jammed.  It sounded normal, thus I had no idea of the problem at hand.  For some reason, it seemed to fixed itself, with the "lost slides" primarily in the Arches National Monument and Four Corners Monument areas - in both areas, I had no slides returned from the lab, just black, unexposed strips of film.  Thankfully, K-Mart (the cheapest way to get the slides done) didn't charge for those screwed up rolls.

[Because of the lost slides, when I had a summer job in Farmington two years later, I made a special trip to Arches and the same thing happened, except it didn't fix itself.  I got hundreds of good slides from the Bisti Badlands of New Mexico, areas around Silverton, CO, and other places, but once I went back to Arches, my camera was toast for the rest of the summer job.  I couldn't yet afford a "back-up camera".]

"It's the plague, it's the plague."

[Sorry, just had to do it.]  When we made one of our last stops, at Canyon de Chelly National Park in eastern Arizona, the first night I chose to sleep out on the ground in my sleeping bag (which I and others had done several times).  The next morning in the bathrooms, I noticed a flyer taped to the wall advising people not to pick up any "easily caught" squirrels, chipmunks, etc., as "the plague" was endemic to the area.  After sleeping out on the ground - with the normal paranoia about rattlesnakes sliding into the warm sleeping bag - you can't imagine how thrilled I was to think about - sleeping on the ground, subject to plague-ridden fleas, ticks, etc..  The next night I slept in one of the Suburbans.

There are probably other memories, I may relate them as they return.  If any readers have noteworthy stories, if the statutes of limitation have not expired, then perhaps change some of the names to "protect the guilty", hehe.

2 comments:

  1. My Dr. Lovejoy experience is so much like this post. However, mine came in 1971. I hope to have time when I fully retire to tell the "fossil story" so it won't be lost. In the mean time, here' s a photo I took on a "fishing" trip with my grandson. We fish with nikons in the early morning when the light is good. This photo has to do with structural geology. I'll let you guess who taught me about that...standing in exactly the same location about 40+ years ago.

    http://kenblystone.com/photo/mountain_tilt01.jpg

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    Replies
    1. Ken;

      Thanks. It is nice to hear from someone that remembers Dr. Lovejoy. You will have to refresh my memory. I gather your photo was Scenic Drive, correct?

      I moved away from El Paso in 1991 and went back for a few visits, the most recent in 2002 or 2003. The last trip I made a quick visit to Trans-Mountain Road to the Castner Marble roadcuts, but I didn't have much time to visit anywhere else. I don't think I have been on Scenic Drive since before I moved back to Georgia in '91.

      Oh, I have two Scenic Drive memories and one frustration. Dr. LeMone made it sound like anyone could find a complete trilobite across from Scenic Point. Not me, though. I have never found a complete trilobite.

      One Scenic Drive memory is losing the power steering on my Jeep Truck while on Scenic Drive. That was fun!

      The second one was a field trip during which I almost knocked Dr. Preston Cloud off of a boulder (or maybe it was a small cliff), don't remember. We were climbing down the slope after visiting some of Dr. LeMone's "mud-mounds" and Dr. Cloud stopped to take in the view. I was behind him and when I tried to stop one the slope, me feet went out from under me and I began to tumble. I ended up on my hands and knees a couple of inches from knocking Dr. Cloud over the edge. I think Dr. LeMone and myself were the only ones aware of what almost happened.

      I miss the place greatly.

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