The Accretionary Wedge #14: Favorite Places for Field Work


Dave over at the Geology News blog hosted the November 2008 installment of The Accretionary Wedge geoscience blog carnival. Check it out on his site here.

Apologies for getting the post up late this week. I’ve been quite busy working on a big project for this weekend in San Francisco. Let’s not even talk about how I forgot about the Accretionary Wedge last month…

Source: The Plesiosaur Site

Alright, it’s time for the next installment of the monthly geoblog carnival, known as the Accretionary Wedge. Remember, this is the first of two Accretionary Wedge posts this month. Enjoy!

For this Accretionary Wedge, I asked, “whether you’re a student, researcher, or in the industry, what is your absolute favorite place that you’ve done field work in? Where and why? What were you working on and what made it so great?”

We’ve had some great submissions. Let’s take a look!
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Near the Northumberland Caldera by Silver Fox.

First off, Silver Fox from Looking for Detachment talks about her favorite field area. It’s simple! Wherever she happens to be working at that moment in time. She goes on to explain some more specific areas she particularly remembers:

I spent a lot of time here, first doing some stream-sediment and rock sampling, walking around here and there, mostly from the tops of drainages to the bottoms, looking for high scintillometer readings to indicate the presence of uranium. Later, I spent quite a bit of time mapping parts of the caldera: the northern, central, and southern parts – bits and pieces, here and there, a lot of interesting rocks, formations, faults, ring-fractures, flow-domes, slide blocks, and rocks younger and older than the caldera itself. After that, I was given a fairly large budget for the time, and we started drilling like crazy, at one time having 3 core rigs and 1 or 2 rotary rigs drilling at once (way too many at once, but fortunately 2 were about to leave). That was the first year.

Chris Rowan of Highly Allochthonous shares a similar point of view regarding his favorite places.

So, does this make North Wales my favourite field area? Well, no. Because my fond memories are not so much due to the particular rocks there, as they are due to the pleasure I took in puzzling out, and understanding, the geological stories that they held. It’s been exactly the same in similar instances since; the rocks in New Zealand, or South Africa, may have been pretty cool in themselves, but my best memories are always associated with the spark of insight, the moment of “Oh, I see!” Because of that, I generally find myself looking forward to the place I’m going next, and the next geological puzzle to solve. So, in answer to Dave’s question for the next Accretionary Wedge, I have to say that my favorite field area is the next one. And the one after that, ad infinitum. Or, at least, a darn big finitum.

Big Bend National Park and Glacier National Park

Big Bend National Park by ReBecca.

ReBecca from DinoChick Blogs shares two of her favorite spots in Big Bend National Park and Glacier National Park. Here is an excerpt about her thoughts on Big Bend.

Big Bend is just a wonder – its such an odd place. Every plant there wants to poke, prick or stick you, and with the intention of making you bleed. Its hot. Not just hot. It can be ungodly hot – its awesome. There is really no shade there, so it is all sun, all the time, which is great! It does rain every now and then, that is true. Its remote, which it nice because it keeps your normal human away – you really have to want to go there to go there, because there is really no other reason to be in that part of the world. The general lack of humans can be nice (avoid spring break season however). All of the areas in the park I have worked are nice and off the beaten path so encounters with humans is at a nice all time low, which is always a plus. The geology though of Big Bend is just spectacular! It is everywhere and just so in your face (just like at Glacier). I think that may be one of the things that really caught my heart. Every way you look you just wonder – “now why is that there” or “what does this mean” – it really keeps your mind working IMO.

Colorado Plateau

Sunset at Yellowstone by Garry Hayes
Sunset at Yellowstone by Garry Hayes

Garry Hayes from Geotripper shared a few of his favorite spots for field work on the Colorado Plateau. These include the Cedar Mountain formation, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone.

In his series of posts, Garry recounts some interesting tales that happened while in the field.

What happened that particular evening became one of our department legends for the ages. One our students had a knack for fomenting trouble with the powers-that-be in the Universe. On various previous trips he had speculated about what it would be like to get stung by a scorpion, and within a day, he had been (unwillingly) stung by a scorpion. At a stop, he asked if we would see any rattlesnakes. He stepped on one moments later. There was a karma that hung about Craig like a hangman’s noose.

Dolomite Mountains

Dolomite Mountains by David Bressan.

David Bressan of Cryology and Co. gives us a detailed look at his favorite field spot in the Dolomite Mountains.

An approximate bipartition in the eastern Alps is caused by a mayor fault system, the Periadriatic Line, separating the Austroalpine in the North, predominated by metamorphic rocks, from the Southalpine, mainly magmatic and sedimentary rocks. The basement of the Southalpine unit consists predominantly of a monoton succession of quartz phyllites of the Paleozoic era.

Towards the end of the Paleozoic increasing magmatic activity started, one part of the melts remained struck in 12 km depth where it solidified; the other part reached the surface and covered enormous areas with volcanic deposits. This “Permian Athesian Volcanic Group” forms a solid fundament for the Mesozoic sediments that build up the “Pale Mountains”.

Fish Lake Plateau

An outcrop on the Fish Lake Plateau by Tuff Cookie.

Tuff Cookie from Magma Cum Laude shares one of her favorite areas on the Fish Lake Plateau.

I haven’t done a whole lot of research yet, but I always enjoy a good chance to get out in the field. For my undergraduate thesis, this meant spending a few weeks in south-central Utah, on the High Plateaus. The work was part of the 2006 NSF Fish Lake Research Experience for Undergraduates, a joint effort between the College of William & Mary and Coastal Carolina University. The project was in its second year, and had been inspired by past W&M field trips to Fish Lake.

My first visit to Fish Lake was on one of those trips – I had just finished my freshman year, and I was still struggling to learn all the basic skills of field mapping. As I remember, we had a discussion about whether Fish Lake was formed by glacial or tectonic processes (and I was on the glacial side, which ended up being not a great choice). Shortly after that, however, my advisor mentioned that the REU would be doing research there, and (dropping a blatant hint to get me interested) that there might be some volcanology I could work on.

Green River

Green River by Ed Adams.

Ed Adams from Geology Happens shares one of his favorite spots in a course he teaches.

My favorite class I have been teaching is the Geology of the Green River by Canoe through the Colorado School of Mines. Its nothing more than a “teacher enhancement” course meaning that the credit is only good for re-certification of the state teacher license. That said…we do some fun science on the river. The first image shows the river coming around BowKnot Bend. This entrenched meander takes 7 river miles to go less than 1/2 mile of a straight line. For Earth Science teachers who have taught river meanders, oxbow lakes and simple river mechanics in a classroom, the real thing helps them immensely in the next school year.

New Zealand

Dave at the Summit
On top of Mt. Roberts, South Island, New Zealand by Dave Schumaker.

Like many others have said, I have a list of multiple favorite places. Really, I just enjoy being out in the field. However, if I had to pick one place, it would be New Zealand. It is where I did my field camp through Massey University. We looked at a lot of various problems relating to structural geology, tectonic geomorphology, tephra stratigraphy, and glaciology.

I’ve just arrived in the town of Westport, which is on the western coast of the South Island. The last few days have been relatively laid back. We finally left the hippy conclave of Takaka (which admittedly is a nice town) to journey southwards to St. Arnaud… a small ski village located on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. We spent two days in St. Arnaud, looking at various things of geologic significance.

Among the interesting sights we got to experience, was a brisk hike up Mt. Robert yesterday (which was also my birthday), which overlooks Lake Rotoiti. After arriving at the top, we were caught in a short snow flurry, but were able to take cover in a shelter along the trail. The views from the top were quite dramatic and fascinating. However, clouds quickly moved in and it began to rain on our way down. The last few days have actually been rather rainy too, which is somewhat disappointing. I’ve never been to a place where the weather changes so fast though.


Crossing Rio Zamora (photo from JAC via Clastic Detritus.)

Brian Romans of Clastic Detritus brought us an older post on the field area for his PhD thesis, Carro Divasadero in Patagonia, Chile.

The gauchos would drop us and all our gear off and then head back to civilization (i.e., a ranch in the middle of nowhere). For this particular excursion, we were staying for 11 nights. Basically, we set up the date for them to come back and get us … and that’s how it worked (we had a sat phone in case we needed to get out earlier than planned). In the photo above, that’s Chechin and Luis riding off with all the horses … leaving the four of us … in the middle of nowhere … for 12 days.

Finally! We’re there … after 20 hours of flying, a 3 hour drive to Natales, another 3 hour drive to meet the gauchos, and then 3-4 hours on horseback (and a lot of planning before and in between all these steps).


Quartzville Creek from Lockwood DeWitt.

Lockwood DeWitt from Outside the Interzone said his favorite place for field work was Quartzville.

I first visited this area in spring of 1982 with the OSU Geology Club- more of a sight-seeing tour than anything else, but soon afterward I found this field guide (7 Mb PDF) at the library, and returned frequently. The thing that makes the Quartzville area particularly interesting is that a late-stage intrusion (about 18 Ma) emplaced a granodiorite pluton that set up a hydrothermal system. So not only can you see the guts of an arc volcanic system, you can see a range of mineralization from unaltered to complete replacement with quartz. This is not a rich district: 30 years of on-and-off mining in the late 1800’s produced about $200 thousand worth of gold and silver. But that means that no great blocks have been removed or left unsafe to investigate.

Sierra Nevada

Eastern Gem Lake in the Sierra Nevada by Callan Bentley.

Callan Bentley at the NOVA Geoblog says that his favorite spot is the Sierra Nevada in California.

My favorite place to do field work is in California’s “range of light,” the Sierra Nevada.

I did my geology master’s field work in the eastern Sierra, along the Sierra Crest Shear Zone, a major high-strain zone which parallels the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Batholith through older meta-sedimentary and meta-volcanic host rocks.

In 2003, I spent the summer out there, starting with my first field area at lovely Gem Lake.

Spanish Pyrenees

The Spanish Pyrenes from Ian Stimpson.

Ian Stimpson from hypo-theses also contributed his favorite place to do field work – The Spanish Pyrenees.

I am extremely lucky having a job that allows me out into the field occasionally, even if at the minute it is just down the road. In my top five I would have to include the Atacama Desert of Chile, Iceland, Colorado and the Alps but at number one has to be the Spanish Pyrenees.

I’ve been many times, as a postgraduate demonstrator and lecturer on undergraduate field courses and twice as a field assistant to a Ph.D. student. However, I’ve not been back in a long time, so apologies in advance for the scans of twenty year old slides.

The Spanish Pyrenees is a classic place to teach geology. The Spanish side (unlike the French side) is arid so there is excellent exposure, and, unlike the Alps, they are not too high and much of the geology is accessible from the roadside (with a suitable loose definition of road).


Middle Mountain from Kim Hannula.

Kim Hannula from All of My Faults Are Stress Related shares one of her favorite field locations in Vermont and remembers some of her experiences there.

love field work. No, really, I do. But when I tell stories about it, they always end up being about running out of food or wrecking vans or collecting samples of giant mosquitoes by slamming a field notebook shut or not being able to find a single sample of high-pressure metamorphic minerals except trapped as inclusions in a garnet. (And that was just my PhD area.) I’ve thrashed through ice-storm-damaged woods, taking an hour to walk a mile, in search of non-existent staurolites. I’ve fallen into streams. I’ve broken a canoe paddle while trying to cross a melt-swollen river. I’ve post-holed through snow banks. I come back from the field covered in mud, sweat, scratches, bruises, and occasionally blood from where my hammer missed the chisel and slammed the back of my hand.

One Response to “The Accretionary Wedge #14: Favorite Places for Field Work”

  1. Shams.(S60) Says:

    A very Nice Website Ive seen Uptill. Excellent post. Keep it up! Good day!

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