Monday, November 18, 2013

Fossils in the Inyo Mountains

This is a great location in Inyo County for possible Ediacaran Period fossils, found between Cowhorn Valley and Little Cowhorn Valley. This is a new Period ratified in 2004...the first to be created in over 120 years.  The period ran for 93 million years ending 542 million years ago.  These are soft bodied animals that lived just before the great Cambrian Explosion, then they all apparently went extinct...

Inyo County Fossils - Ediacaran
Ediacaran Worm fossils.
Ediacaran worms that have been exposed showing a perpendicular cut across their body (the round images)

Inyo County Fossils - Ediacaran
More Ediacaran worms.

Below are from Google Images and represent additional fossils we found...

Inyo County Represented Fossils - Google Images
Ediacaran fossil - Cowhorn Ridge

Inyo County Represented Fossils - Google Images
Ediacaran fossil - Cowhorn Ridge

Inyo County Represented Fossils - Google Images
Ediacaran fossil - Cowhorn Ridge
Additional information on the Ediacaran Period, go to Wikipedia.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lava Bombs

Lava bombs are cool, check this out...
inyo county geology - lava bomb

This is about 12" long and was formed from high to moderately fluid magma erupting from a cinder cone, which are piles of cinders formed from gaseous magma that generally flies into little pieces and piles up along the edge forming a cone.  Larger blobs of magma are thrown high into the air by the explosive nature of the eruption; the molten magma forms into this aerodynamic shape, solidifies, and falls to the rim of the volcano. This example is among a group called Spindle, fusiform, or almond/rotational bombs.  More information can be found here.

Great examples have been found here on Red Mountain south of Crater Mountain south of Big Pine, CA...
inyo county geology - cinder cone
We recently took some friend to the cone and ended up finding a huge bomb imbedded in the consolidated cinders on the SW slope...
inyo county geology - lava bomb

 On the north side are some incredible collections of lichen set on a canvas of red.  I don't think I have ever seen so many colors of lichen together at one spot...
inyo county geology - lichen
The Eastern Sierra is home to textbook examples of volcanism.  Climbing these cones offers incredible vistas of the Sierra Nevada and the Owens Valley. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bishop Creek Lakes Show Historic Shorelines

These are Lake Sabrina and South Lake in the Bishop Creek Basin of the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains; they are at an historic low.  The light areas around the lake shores are usually under water.  This is a rare sight of the historic shorelines, the way they used to look before they were damned for power by Southern California Edison.  Lake Sabrina’s dam has been in existence since 1908 (Wikipedia).

Sierra Nevada - Lake Sabrina
Lake Sabrina, Sierra Nevada Mountains - Historic Shoreline

Sierra Nevada - southlake
South Lake, Sierra Nevada Mountains - Historic Shoreline

Years of drought have taken their toll on the watersheds that feed these lakes, as it has elsewhere. Generally, melting snow fields create runoff in the early summer, and then later melting ice takes over.  But with many years of drought, the ice has not been replenished...and it’s going away.  If we don’t get substantial precipitation over the next few years to reload the ice packs, we may see the lowest runoff in human memory.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hiking Eureka Valley’s Last Chance Range Canyons

Fall temperatures always invite us to explore new areas east of the Sierra this case, an invitation to the desert valleys east of Owens Valley.  Eureka Valley is just an hour’s drive from Bishop and is made up of some of the most beautiful mountains outside of Death Valley.  Recently we enjoyed our third exploration of the Last Chance Range with its series of sinuous canyons that make up the eastern portion of the valley.   Halfway to the Eureka Sand Dunes on Eureka Valley Road (about 5 miles) is a patch of white, which I assume to be the old staging area of material mined near the mouth of our target canyon.
Death Valley  Nationa Park - Last Chance Range

A half mile walk on faded dirt up an alluvial fan took us to the beginning of the gully. The twisted and contorted ocean sediments that make up the gulch produce some interesting rock formations.
Death Valley  Nationa Park - Last Chance Range - geology Death Valley  Nationa Park - Last Chance Range - geology Death Valley  Nationa Park - Last Chance Range - geology Death Valley  Nationa Park - Last Chance Range - geology Death valley national park - eureka valley
From the canyon entrance we walked another ½ mile until we hit a wall, halting our advance to the upper part of the gully.  Paula suggested we climb up the side of the steep canyon talus to the right to get around it.  We climbed 200’ higher and realized to get to the upper canyon, we’d have to drop back down a very steep 200’.  So we just enjoyed the view of Eureka Valley 1000’ below us.
Death valley national park - eureka valley

At the top, the exposed ancient seabed was eroded into sharp spines of limestone.  You couldn’t put any weight on it without puncturing our hands.   We seem to get to these high places by saying, “Let’s just go to that point right there;” We get to that point and then... say it again.
We stayed but a few minutes and headed back down admiring the steepness of our climb.  Even the “so-so” canyons produce memorable experiences.  It’s hard to beat the pristine landscapes and magnificent solitude of the desert valleys.

Death valley national park - last chance range
End of the line...or we thought.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Wild Flower Encore - Closed Roads - Fossils

We visited the northern Inyos (south of the White Mountain Range) to look for Pinion nuts in the typically generous Whippoorwill flat area.  There were lots of cones...but they were empty; and the few pine nuts we did find were just empty shells. That’s a bummer.

However, we did find something extraordinary...spring wildflowers in October - Lupine and Phacelia, an incredible number of Lupine, Apricot and Lavender mallow, Indian paint brush, and 3 unknown (to us) types of yellow flowers... 

Lavender Mallow - Marble Canyon, Inyo Mountains
Apricot Mallow - Wacoba/Saline Road


The spring-like day was complete with orange butterflies flittering between the flowers.  There were heavy thundershowers in late summer this year which might account for the second bloom; those rains definitely accounted for taking some of the roads out.

We drove around a “Road Closed Ahead” sign off of Westguard Pass road, then past a more insistent “Road Closed” sign, but only after we temporarily removed an orange cone.  I’ve never seen this road so badly impacted by thunderstorms.

Normally the Wacoba/Saline road would have little dips in the road where water trickles over, barely noticeable.  Not this time.  Thanks to work by the Inyo County Road Department, we were able to get around this one and others like it to reach our destination.  The road from Whippoorwill Flat to Saline Valley snakes through a deep & steep canyon which is washed out on occasion.  We didn’t even try for that one.

The day ended up on a ridge where very old fossil are exposed.  These trace fossils are around ½ a billion years old, mostly worms.  Exquisite ripples from moving water are on display as well.  I believe this from the Ediacaran Period just before the Cambrian explosion, a so-called mini explosion. The Ediacaran Period's status as an official geological period was ratified in 2004 by the International Union of Geological Sciences, making it the first new geological period declared in 120 years.  We accidently found this area a few years ago.  It was not apparent at first they were fossils because geologic possesses can be deceiving; but the accumulation of evidence was convincing. Later we researched the area and confirmed they were indeed very old fossils.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Attempt at Black Mountain

Black Mountain is the southernmost peak in California’s White Mount Range. It is a prominent mountain seen from the Owens Valley and is definitely black. An unnamed peak behind and to the east is only 40’ lower and is flanked on its east slope by a lead/silver mine. This unnamed peak is Black Mountain’s first line of defense.

From the White Mountain Rd we took a 5 mile dirt road to the mine site. The narrow road on the way there clung to side of steep mountain slopes and offered just enough width for one vehicle. You never want to meet another vehicle head on because someone is going to have to back up.
We parked near the mine, looked up the left side of the unnamed mountain and saw an intimidating angle of loose shale, sharp angular boulders and a false summit that lead to a false sense of easy achievement. According to Google Earth, the right side of the mountain looked like the best approach...wrong. It was loaded with mini cliffs and loose pieces of mountainside. So went back to the left and started there.

We didn’t hike up...we crawled. If the loose shale was at any greater angle, gravity would have pulled it off the mountainside. In fact in some areas where we stepped, patches of hillside would move under our feet; it was very unstable. On our way up, with pounding hearts and seeking breath, our feet were placed in faint divots in the shale left by someone else who attempted the climb. They were surprisingly useful since they stabilized small patches of shale, but they were there for just a short distance.

The mountainside became even steeper and we were forced to consider climbing on unbroken shale topped and surrounded by broken pieces. Hands couldn’t be used to climb because the rocks were piercingly sharp. This was insane. The false summit was passed, and we were discouraged by the distance still ahead of us. Our goal changed from reaching Black Mountain to simply getting to the top of this mountain. Looking up, we saw no acceptable route but we went ahead anyway; our planned course of action was to take a step...then choose our next step.

The rhythm of the climb briefly took our minds off the steepness, but a compulsive downward glance erased any thought of any fun we might have retreating down the mountain.

Thankfully the angle of the slope began to decrease; the top was near. We anticipated a good view... but a great view was coming. Looking towards the summit we saw blue sky, and the tip of Black Mountain; each step up revealed more of the peak. Then there it was, Black Mountain, framed by the backdrop of the Southern Sierra Nevada range with its 200 miles of towering granite peaks. The entire Owens Valley was within our view. To the east were row after row of mountain ranges way into Nevada; to the south was the undulating relief of the mountains of the northern Inyos; and turning to the north revealed views of the front range of the White Mountain range all the way to White Mountain Peak.

Black Mountain was just a half mile ahead and dared us to continue. But it was 3pm, and a quick calculation of time and distance, and the fact there would be a lot of scrambling over rocks, meant we’d return to the unnamed peak by sundown. The prospect of a possible night time descent back down what we just came up was alarming. Black Mountain could dare all it wanted.

After soaking in the view, we left the peak. We saw no safe way down...cliffs, sharp rocks, and unstable shale gave us no obvious choice of a path, so we placed one sliding foot in front of the other. Since no path was better than another, we pointed ourselves towards a dirt road in the distance where the truck was hopefully parked and avoided the most dangerous parts.

The slope decreased, the shale turned to softer ground, and the road met us at the bottom. We unlocked the truck, opened a bottle of cold bubble water, and started the engine. Looking at each other I said, “Did we actually do that?”


Monday, September 23, 2013

A Wintery Day to Celebrate The Last Day of Summer

The equinox was celebrated on the way to Lower Lamarck Lakes Saturday with snow pellets dotting the trail. But it was the wind that was most incredible...

We touched the shore around 3pm but quickly retreated as the winds began to increase exponentially. The wind hissed through the pine needles, then began to roar...but then it really started to increase. We began to hear sounds we never heard before...a hollow low-pitched whistle. Not a moan, but an incongruent combination of low pitched vibrations, hissing, and rumbling; we began to crouch as there seemed no end to its escalation. Then it leveled out, and heard it slowly fade behind us as we hastily made our way down to a lower elevation.

The sound gave us an idea of the terror one might have felt if they were present during the 150-200mph winds that blew down thousands of 4’ diameter trees a few years ago in the area. We saw those downed trees a few months earlier and tried to imaging what it must have sounded we have an idea.

The fall colors we enjoyed on the way down were a little more vibrant since we had our senses heighten by the experience. Fall is definitely here and looks like a great year for splashes of gold and yellow soon to be painted through the green conifers in the high country.

We were surprised to see heather still blooming in late September.  They usually end their display near the end of July.  Paula guessed its was because of a consistently warm summer and most likely the result of numerous summer rains.

2011 Historic Windstorm...


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Glass Creek Meadow

Glass Creek Meadows September 7th 2013

Looking for a place to hike last weekend, we decided to visit an old friend - Glass Creek Meadow. The trailhead is near the western edge of Obsidian Dome in Mono County just off highway 395. This giant feature was formed around 600 years ago by a slow-motion eruption of oozing rhyolite. The whole area is a volcanic feature.

The beginning of the hike takes you up the side of a small crater formed by a phreatic eruption, a steam explosion that resulted from molten rock hitting groundwater and instantly flashing to steam. There really are no switchbacks so there is a whole lotta up in the beginning. This is fine since it gets the climb over with quick.

You then enter a valley made entirely of pumice. You definitely can’t sneak up on anybody while you’re walking on this stuff. The contrasts are stunning as we passed golden fall willows that snake through the white pumice. The elevation gain is very small and the 1.4 miles walk is pleasant. After that, you soon behold the 3/4 mile long meadow.

In the spring it is a flower garden, in the fall you can enjoy the absence of insects. Lots of birds eating dried seeds along the way. Oregon Juncos took to the sky in flocks of 30 as we approached a single bush. Hawk and accipiter patrolled the air, and we saw a large and small coyote at the end of the meadow trotting together with a purpose heading out.

On our way out, we walked along a distinct edge where forest meets meadow. Along the way we came across the essence of small camp with 3 disintegrating shovels laid against a collapsing tin shed.

It wasn’t the usual 5 mile 1,300’ elevation gain hike we try to accomplish each weekend, but it was just as fulfilling to our souls. After 5 days of computer-watching, it is always great to feel expended after a hike that melts way the tensions of life in the 21st century.
Turn at Obsidian Dome Rd, 48 miles north of Bishop.

For more information on Obsidian Dome click here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lake Sabrina - A Peek into the Past

Lake Sabrina, up Bishop Creek near Bishop California, is one of three lakes in this drainage dammed for the better part of a 100 years for power and flood control (mostly power).  The lake level has been very low due to drought, but the situation has been exacerbated by the fact Edison partially drained it for needed work on the aging dam; it has never recovered  We took friends there over the Labor Day weekend to kayak knowing it would be low...but not this low.

We ended up having to drive nearly a 1/4 mile to the waters edge.  The diminished lake revealed its old shoreline tree stumps, providing a rare glimpse of the lake before human intervention.  It was actually pretty neat to experience a launch from an historic shoreline. 

Hopefully the lake will reach the dam next year, which will have meant a wet winter...we really need a wet winter.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Another Monsoon Coming and What is Dew Point?

This is at least the 4th major monsoon entering the Owens Vally this year.  This moring (Tuesday 8/27) clouds were forming below the Sierra peaks.  This is usually reserved for after rain has occurred in the valley of the moisture has been around for a while.  Very unusual.  The dew points have but a little elevated the past few days with no real sign of clouds which is unusual as well.

Dew point is the best indicator of moisture in the air.  Dew point is the temperature at which air becomes saturated.  IF the air temp is 70 and the dew point is 70, its probably foggy.  IF the temp is 70 and the dew point is 17, then its pretty darn dry. 

Relative humidity, which is the most common indicator, goes up and down with the air temp.  The higher the air temp, usually the low the relative humidity which explains why its called "relative" humidity, or just humidity.

Dew point doesn't care what the temperature is for the most part and stays rather constant, so its an easy to read indicator of the amount of water that is really in the air.

Todays monsoon is coming form the remnants of tropical storms in the eastern pacific along with the regular monsoon moisture that resides over Mexico (the meaning of monsoon comes from the movement of air from one place to another).  Hope lightning storms accompany this latest surge of moisture.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Third Monsoon Wave - Spectacular lightning (and I've seen alot)

Third monsoon wave of the season began around Saturday July 20th 2013.  Monday night was the first nighttime thunderstorm in a long time.  Lightning over the Whites east of Bishop moved from north to south and was close enough to hear thunder.  Around 9pm one came overhead. This lightning was not powerful as is with most in-cloud lighting, but it had many arms and tentacles; two in particular were magnificent. 

The first fibrous bolt began to our right, progressing to the left, but before it reached the far left, it abruptly turn directly down to earth towards us; and looked like it was going to grab our face with its spindly
witch-like fingers.  Embarrassingly I ducked as it  pulse towards us with no end in site until it stopped abruptly.
The second overhead bolt was a spectacular display of dendritic lighting.  The bolt was first directed straight towards us creating a circle or dot of intense light; it then exploded into a radiating spoke of lightning that filled the sky above us.  It looked like a perfect circle.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Granite Mountain

Granite comes in many textures - from smooth hard glacial polish, to rough and crumbly “old” granite. “Old” because it looks old, but may in fact be the same age as its regional brother “hard granite”, it’s a matter of different environmental conditions. Over time as water creeps into granite, one of its components, feldspar, turns to clay and weakens the rock. The granite eventually crumbles into smaller fragments called DG (decomposed Granite).

This granite, before it crumbles completely, can be sculpted by wind and rain into a beautiful undulating landscape of secret coves, miniature caves, arches and hideaways.   Some of the best known are the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, the Buttermilk rocks near Bishop, and the little known Granite Mountain.

Very little is written about Granite Mountain near the southeast corner of Mono Lake.  I didn’t even know it existed until it became California’s newest Wildernesses a few years ago.  Paula and I wanted to see it, so we drove to a spot and started walking; we chose the right spot.

Tall rounded spires and roller-coaster silhouettes grew out of mounds of DG and sagebrush.  Faces carved by wind, miniature ravines, and sand dunes turned to stone enveloped us and dropped us in a place that had no time.

No human foot prints except our own; nothing but isolated growing, dying and dead trees that presented their life cycle in a single view.  We did see one lone animal track with large padded feet that extended over a distant rise. 

The only sound was from of a light breeze blowing across our ears; when that subsided, we experienced all the nuances of seclusion. Granite Mountain is one of the finest examples of what “old” granite can be.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Glacial Polish - A Tactile Experience

A giant perpetual wave of granite, ready to crash onto the Owens Valley floor; this is the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, a huge block of granite, a batholith, hundreds of miles long and up to 2 miles high.  

Sierra Nevada Escarpment Seen From Owens Valley   courtesy Wikipedia

Its daunting height has changed the US western interior from a Miocene grassland savanna to the desiccated rock strewn deserts of today.  This mountain wall blocks the westward march of Pacific rainstorms called the "rain shadow."   The Sierra keeps nearly all the water for itself and rarely shares. But this selfish act has a consequence …erosion by glaciers.

The Sculptor

Ted & Paula WilliansFrom tens to hundreds of thousands of years, glaciers have waxed and waned and sculpted the Sierra granite into u-shaped and hanging valleys, moraines, and polished granite.  It’s the polished granite where you can actually touch and feel the results of this process.

The process of erosion by glaciers is the grinding of granite from gravel and sand under tons of ice, like sandpaper.  A lot of rounded granite surfaces, like those in Yosemite, are appreciated from a distance; but as you get closer they look and feel relatively rough…relative to polished granite.

One of the finest places to see polished granite is near Pine Lake out of Pine Creek Canyon behind Mt Tom west of Bishop, Ca.  Elsewhere in the Sierra are small remnant crusts of shiny rock, but here you'll find whole slabs of burnished rock. 

The Hike

A number of years ago, Paula and I hiked the strenuous trail to Pine Lake.  We were nearly at the lake when we saw glistening rocks lit up by the late afternoon sun. We didn’t stop to inspect since we didn’t want to squander our efforts to reach the lake.  On our way back we allowed a few minutes to inspect the shiny slabs.  Good thing we waited; we would never have reached the lake. It was an astonishing display of polished granite  smooth enough to sit and slide onl. Our stay was short since the sun was setting and we had a long journey back. Years later we returned, this time with cameras.

 The Pix

A lapidary’s rock tumbler uses a series of smaller and smaller grit to shape rock and eventually polish to a shine.  Its incredible to think this has been done on such an enormous scale.
Just off the trail are these blocks of granite, one of hundreds that have retained smooth undulating surfaces despite being shattered by unknown forces and strewn across the hillside.

These are Chatter Marks, a series of marks made by vibratory chipping of a bedrock surface by rock fragments carried in the base of a glacier.


These images are from an iPhone.  Additional images taken with a Canon  in the near future