Over the course of 12 days, we explored parts of Arizona, Utah and Nevada for the planetary field school. I took a range of photos for each stop and have/am posting each set on facebook. Here, I’ll pick one and offer a short description, but given the large number of sites, I’ll keep the descriptions short.
We began by taking a late bus to Detroit. The weather was dreary and not the best way to start the trip. Luckily, that didn’t last. We met up in the Las Vegas Airport around lunch before driving nearly 4 hours to Mather Campground. I won’t talk much about camping, but we changed location everyday, and I posted pics from all our stops on Facebook if you’re interested.
Grand Canyon Hike
We spent the first half of the day hiking down the Grand Canyon, maybe halfway down. The grand canyon doesn’t need much background. Its creation was related to a combination of fluvial erosion, uplift, and the types of rocks in the region.
Red mountain is a cinder cone that formed ~3/4 Ma.
Lava River Cave
My stop was the lava river cave. The cave is the result of cooling of the outer shell of a lava river encasing the lava and insulating it. This allows lava to flow further, posing increased risk on locals. These are particularly interesting because they’re capable of maintaining constant temperatures, humidity, and other environmental factors. This makes them a prime spot to search for life on worlds like Mars. They also make for a great base on Mars or the Moon to protect from cosmic rays.
Elden mountain is a silica volcanic dome in the SF peaks, close and perhaps a part of, the stratovolcano in the region. This stop came after LRC which was such an amazing experience. I remember thinking after the GC hike, why are we doing another stop, how can we compete with the GC? RM was more impressive than I expected. I had the same experience here. LRC was amazing, and in my opinion lava domes aren’t the most exciting features. That said, I think this was the stop I started to realize even the most mundane stops had a lot of awesome things to offer.
San Francisco Volcanic Field/ Peaks/ Glaciation
We saw a variety of formations such as cinder cones in the SFVF and even a stratovolcano (top right) thats responsible for the SF Peaks (bottom), and we ended day 3 but looking at evidence of glaciation in the region (top left).
Before the trip we had an unknown location that we had to map with a satellite image. This was a our chance to see how well we predicted what happened. Grand falls is a river that was a later altered by a lava flow that went into the river channel changing the region.
Rattle Snake Crater
RSC was a surprise stop, where we tried to repeat what we did at GF without the preliminary analysis. It isn’t really a crater. Its actually a heavily altered Maar Crater. A maar crater or volcano. A MC/MV is formed when a pocket of magma interacts with water, turning the water to vapor, creating a fast and large increase in pressure, exploding to create a crater like structure. There were two sides of this. I felt very proud to climb to the top of one side (and was the first :)). Of course, it was hardly the biggest hike we did, but I loved it nonetheless.
Meteor Crater is iconic, forming about 50ka. Just outside of Flagstaff, MC is an impact crater about 1.2 km in diameter and 170m deep. We saw a lot of craters that were not craters, so it was nice to see a confirmed crater. Gavin got to lead this talk (see pic).
SC is a cinder cone. At ~1ka old, it was one of the youngest structures that we saw. It’s a part of the San Francisco volcanic field, and you can see it in one of other photos.
We camped at SC, but we also had a chance to hike up it. SC is another cinder cone, not a crater. At over 300m, its a decent hike. I tried to hike up it, but I couldn’t keep up. I ended up hiking part way then going back, but a few others made it all the way to the top.
This is a volcanic plug or intrusion that feed some type of volcanic structure. Oz says we suspect it feed a Maar Volcano, but he was unable to explain why when I asked how we know.
Goosenecks State Park
This is one of the best examples we have of a meandering river.
Is it a complex impact crater or a salt diaper? At ~5km in diameter, its thought to be an impact crater, but it is indistinguishable from a salt diaper (where less dense salt makes its way up to the surface). Past authors have claimed to have found evidence of shock, but the evidence is scarce.
But aside from the science, we hiked in and it was exhausting. Just look at the stats (it was a little longer then it says because I accidentally paused it for a bit).
A confirmed salt diaper that we used to compare to upheaval dome.
Overlook at sapping valleys and paleochannels
A man made geyser due to drilling and creating excess pressure from CO2. It is a “cold” geyser but it looks just like a traditional geyser we associate with early life on earth and possibly on other worlds.
San Rafael Swell
Marscvale Volcanic Field
Coral Pink Sand Dunes
This was probably the best stop of the trip. It was like playing in a big sand box. Because we spent the night here we were able to take moonlight photos too!
Inverted Topography (St. George)
Water rich in minerals is pressurized in the ground and overtime forms these veins of gypsum.
Petrified Sand Dunes
Similar to the coral pink sand dunes, these are older, petrified into rock. This was a great contrast to the CPSD and was beautiful site to see. Although, I was careless, given that it was the last stop, and let myself get sunburnt :-/.
Day 12 and 13
Flight was canceled, so we got to rebook and planned an amazing trip in vegas! Went out and it was awesome. I gambled for the first time, and I stuck to my budget, spending half as much as I had allowed myself too. It was fantastic. I was so happy it turned out like this.