Friday, November 2, 2012

Day 10-Meteor Crater-Sonoran Desert-Becker Abode

Meteor Crater

After a tearful goodbye to Meghan who was off to attend another UW-Eau Claire adventure in Puerto Rico and a quick bite to eat at Macy's European CoffeeHouse & Bakery a local establishment in Flagstaff, the team regrouped to take a look at Meteor Crater.
To start off our tour we took a quick hike around the crater where we learned that there has been some significant controversy regarding the origin of the crater. Although this crater is not the oldest recorded impact site it is the best preserved site in the world.
The crater was formed approximately 50,000 years ago when a meteorite, 150 feet wide, slammed into Earth traveling 26,000 mph. Scientists first suggested that Meteor Crater was the result of volcanism.
 In the early 20th century Daniel Barringer, a mining entrepreneur looking to strike it rich by mining out the meteoric iron deposits proposed that the crater formed due to an impact of a large meteorite. It was not until the 1960's that Barringer's impact theory was finally received as doctrine due to the work of geologist Eugene Shoemaker.

Creationists use the thrust fault on the crater's south rim to argue that geologists aging of stratigraphic layers is incorrect. The thrust fault was formed when the crater collided with Earth and flipped the rock layers upside down to put the oldest layer, the Coconino Sandstone formation on top.

We also learned a fun fact that in 1964 a plane flying low over the crater was unable to get out of the crater and subsequently crashed, parts of the airplane still remain in the crater today and can be seen in the photo above.
After our hike we toured the visitors center and reconvened in the parking lot to eat lunch and learn from Phil Larson about the San Francisco Volcano fields. After Phil's talk Joe presented his research project on solar plants and informed us on why solar energy is a good option for the desert southwest.

Next stop the Sonoran Desert
We arrived at 7:00 pm just in time to see the sunset.

The team also learned about biological soil crusts from Dave. Biological soil crusts are found in dry deserts and are important for the desert ecosystems because they take nitrogen out of the air and bring it into the soil where it is processed by other vegetation. They also retain water which is very important in areas with infrequent precipitation. Biological soil crusts help in soil stabilization and are very resistant to the desert heat. These crusts though are very fragile to human impacts. They are damaged by vehicles and footsteps very easily, so take care where you walk because these crusts are very much alive.
Next up Phil's dissertation research regarding the Salt River Terrace layers. According to Phil's research the oldest layer called the Stewart Mountain Terrace is on top due to what is called lake overflow. This overflow would have occurred during the Pliocene. The Stewart Mountain Terrace rocks are related to the other floodplain layers in origin. They clearly belong to the Salt River sediment load but are significantly different in lithology. This research does not prove that lake overflow was the process that created this unusual layering but it is compatible with the lake overflow theory. We also learned that this area is continuously changing due to fluvial processes because pediments are not relic landforms. 

Quick stop now off to Jackson's parents house for dinner and the last presentation of the trip.

After a nice dinner and a relaxing sit under a perfect little lighted tree it was Jackson's turn to present. Jackson presented information about alternative energy sources using bio-fuels converted from micro-algae. The argument presented was that fossil fuels greatly contribute to greenhouse gasses and this is a huge factor in global climate change. The use of soybean, corn and wheat to make fuel is also not the most efficient method due to the fact that these modes take up lots of land and drive food prices up because we also eat these plants. Algae only needs sunlight and water to grow and does not take up a huge amount of space. The biggest pitfall is that right now the process to convert micro-algae to bio-fuel using Photo Bio Reactors is quite costly. Convincing people that the benefits outweigh the costs is the on-going problem.
Aah, off to the airport to return home, what fun!!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 7: Zion National Park

Spent a restful evening at the
Bumbleberry Inn at Springdale, UT. 

View from the hotel balcony in the morning.
Shuttle Bus through Zion National Park.

The Three Patriarchs
Zion Canyon

Walking up Weeping Rock Trail was an amazing view. Spalling/delamination caused by erosional processes such as vegetation like algae, freeze/thaw processes of water, and mineral expansion can be seen in the photos above. Water running horizontally through the cracks in the rock precipitate out silica in the rock, creating the crystallization of silica on the rock surfaces.

The Virgin River running through Zion National Park was at a low level due to the end of the rainy season.

However, the power the river can produce is evident in the size of the rounded cobble and boulders seen strewn through the river and along its banks.

Undercutting of the banks is only slowed by the roots of trees holding.

After traveling through the canyon and tunnel, a slight change in scenery was observed.
Layering of the rock became tilted and much thinner.

The sloping layers observed had very similar grain size and covered almost the entire area of study, leading us to the conclusion this was an aeolian process and not fluvial.

What created these formations was hypothesized to be sand dunes and wind erosion.

The photo to the left shows the spectacular fall colors of the Zion Canyon.

After leaving Zion National Park we stopped at the Kaibab Overlook on Highway 89A. Looking at the Escalante, also known as the Grand Staircase, four formations of the Colorado Plateau could be seen. The cliffs seen in the distance: top layer being the Pink Cliffs, The middle the White Cliffs, and the bottom the Vermillion Cliffs. We were standing on the Kaibab uplift.

The last stop of the day was at the Navajo Bridge in Marble Canyon, AZ.

While at the Navajo Bridge, 6 California Condors were seen perched on the bridge and a nearby cliff. Each bird was tagged with a number: 02, 14, 30, 55, 73, 83.
Ending the day with a beautiful view of the Colorado River as we headed towards our next hotel  in  Tusayan, AZ.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 9: The Grand Canyon Hiking

It is our big day today. The breakfast in out hotel was amazing and we all packed up 4 liter bottles of water, sandwiches and snacks to get ready for the hiking at the Grand Canyon today. We met with Jon and his students from Arizona and we had a little 'lecture' together. He shared with us a couple of traditional ideas about the formation of the Grand Canyon and then gave us his theory that he worked on for his dissertation. It basically states that there was a large basin that filled to the point where it spilled over and the Colorado River formed and drained into the Colorado Plateau after the uplifting and cut through to form the canyons. Pretty soon after the lecture, we started our hike on the Grandview Trail. The trip one way was 4.31 miles long, which is together 8.62 miles (13.8 km) in total. The way down was relatively easy, and we were all hiking together except for Harry. Phil shared with us a lot of information about the different layers of rocks as we moved down the canyon and back in time through geologic history. The turnaround destination gave us an absolutely stunning view of the Grand Canyon from the inside. Phil gave us a small lecture on the geology and formation of the canyon after we ate lunch. From there, we packed up and headed back up the trail. Things got a lot more difficult for all of us on the way up. Pretty soon, the group became seperated and most of us got really tired of climbing up. People like Dave and Mary looked to be energetic and never got tired, but the majority of us were exhausted and the trail seemed endless and almost impossible for us to climb. The entire hike back up the canyon took 2-3 hours and we barely took any breaks. It was all worth it once we got to the top. Generally speaking, this 8.62 miles of hiking was amazing, great exercise and all in all, an experience of a lifetime. 
We drove directly to the Pizza House for dinner and then many of us went to the hot tub. Tomorrow will be our last day and we will be ending up in Phoenix and leave by midnight.
Picture Together
The Grand Canyon and the Colorado Basin

On the way down was a lot easier
I was exhausted and wet from climbing up the Grand Canyon

Friday, October 19, 2012

Day 5: Death Valley 10-17-2012

This is DAY 5 of our trip. We have been getting to know each other pretty well. The hotel in Stovepipe Wells was awesome, and we even lucky enough to find scorpions in our room! We had our free morning today, the time we left was 11:30 a.m.

There were many alluvial fans on the way to the Valley, we stopped few times to see the sand dunes, beaches, fans, and Harmony Borax mines. We were planing to go to the Salt Creek for Roy's Pupfish presentation, however, due to the construction we could not get to that location. Therefore, we moved the presentation into the visitor center. At that time, the temperature hit 102 F and marked the highest of the day.

Devil's Golf Course in the Death Valley Basin
 Devil's Golf Course, as part of the Salt Pan, shows a huge amount of cracked salt area. The intense heat and rapid evaporation caused the lakebed to buckle and create these formations as shown in the picture above.

Matt is tasting the salt to check if this is salty!
 As we went to the Bad Water, which is the lowest point on earth (elevation of 282 feet./ 85.5 meters), the salt there was smooth and white, and that is because of the spring still holds water to keep the area wet.
Picture taken at the peak of Death Valley (Elevation: 5449 ft.)
 The view on the top of the mountain was phenomenal!
We also saw a coyote on the way back to Zion.
When we left Death Valley, it was already late at night. The next day will be a good experience because we are going to do the rock climbing at Slot Canyon/Zion.

Warming up for the Grand Canyon with a little Mexican dinner!

Zion National Park!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Update: Thursday Oct 18th

After Yosemite, we traveled to Death Valley National Park. Upon arriving we hiked out to the mesquite sand dunes and spent the night looking at the stars. This has to be one of the best experiences we've had on this trip! We awoke in the morning in the heart of Death Valley and a few of us traveled to Ubehebe Crater, a large volcanic crater 600 ft deep and half a mile wide. Then, after meeting up with the rest of the group, we traveled across the valley and observed the many alluvial fans in this area. We stopped at Devil’s Golf Course, a vast plain of salt concretions, and then headed to Bad Water Basin, the lowest place in the western hemisphere (282 ft below sea level). Before ending the night in Mesquite, NV, we drove up to Dante’s View. This spot provided amazing views of Death Valley from 5000ft high.

This morning we’re going to Zion National Park to rappel into the canyon to experience Zion up close!  
Devil's Golf Course

The Crew at Bad Water Basin

Dante's View (Beautiful!)