Last Post: Sunday Morning Creek and Ancient Ocean Floor

Dressing Like the Locals (Bow Hunting Season Started Sept. 1st)

Tomorrow, I head back home to Guilford, CT. Tonight, we’re staying in the same place we stayed my first night—the Trails End Motel in Sheridan, WY—where freight trains howl along the tracks at the edge of the lot.

Our last two days of sampling have been a mixed success. After drilling forty cores our first day in Casper, we meet with transportation problems. Though many historic roadways surround the city (including the famed Oregon Trail), the one that takes us to our site is unfit for even four-wheel drive. It’s called Sunday Morning Creek Road, but as we drive down it, Taylor quips that it will probably take a whole day to traverse.

Barbed Wire

Rounding a corner, two hunters in camo drive up on ATVs. They’re here to hunt elk, and they tell us that the best way to our destination is around the back of the hills, not through them.

We take their advice, but patches of private land intersect the roads, and the spiked barbed wire gates dissuade us from trespassing. Taylor will have to try again next year—hopefully with ATVs.

But the day is not wasted. Driving on one of the better roads, Taylor notices tall hills that have pushed up flat pieces of younger (approximately 20 million year old) sediments. After racing to the top, all of our throats hurt from the dry desert air. As he did in Crazy Woman Canyon, Taylor measures the horizontal and vertical orientation of the lifted rock in order to correct his data back to the pre-mountainous landscape.

Joe and I Pose for Scale

Looking at the layers of sedimentary rock, Taylor points out stripes of sandstone and limestone. These formations indicate that this arid region was once coved with water, and close inspection reveals trace fossils of worms and seashells. Now, swallows build mud nests where waves once pilled up sand.

That evening we camp by a current body of water—the Platte River—which I recognize from playing the Oregon Trail computer game as a kid. While I’m a little disappointed that we don’t have to caulk the wagon, I’m very glad that our view encompasses river rapids and the setting sun.

The Platte

On day two, we set out to sample five sites, but some of the dikes we’re looking for have been inferred into the map and are nowhere to be seen. At the second site of the day, Taylor and Joe let me use the Stihl, since Taylor says he can’t let me go back to Connecticut without drilling a rock. It’s my last site, and I’m happy to leave a mark on Wyoming’s geology.

During the past three weeks, I’ve driven ATVs, climbed over mountain passes, camped in the snow, and eaten waffles under a giant T-rex head. Though I’m very sad to leave, I’m lucky enough to be going to Peru for another Yale G&G research project. Thanks to Professors Bercovici and Long, soon I’ll be back in the field and blogging.

The new blog is singularsubduction.wordpress.com. Thank you Suzanne Taylor Muzzin for a great story about the trip at http://bulletin.yale.edu/article.aspx?id=7798&utm_source=ytw&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=9-27-10

Drilling

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Home on the Range

Sunset on the Sagebrush

Wyoming is a state with two landscapes. There are pine-covered mountains where patches of snow never melt, and there are miles of sagebrush and cactus where even big creeks go dry. Luckily for me, I get to see both, since the last part of the trip takes us south to cowboy country in the Seminoe Mountains.

To get there, we need to drive from Buffalo, WY (population 3,900) to Casper, WY (population 53,569). Along the way, we make two important stops for Taylor’s research—first sampling a site and second measuring the uplift of the younger Bighorn rocks.

The site we stop for is part of a huge dike that potentially runs all the way to our destination. Since the rock cools more slowly towards the center of a dike (away from the colder rock into which the magma intrudes) the rock has a coarser grain in the middle than at the edges. In the case of really wide dikes like this one, the magma separates so that it forms a different kind of rock in the middle of a site.

In Advance of a Bad Sunburn

Here, the rock is also similar to what Taylor looked at last summer in the Wind River Mountains, and he wants to test the site to see if dikes like this one actually run underground all the way across the state. By comparing this rock with the rock from sites down south, he hopes to demonstrate that these intrusions were part of the same geological event. Since earlier research shows that some of these southern sites are within the right date range for Taylor, similar northern sites are good contenders for determining the position of the Wyoming Craton 2.6-1.7 billion years ago.

At our second stop, Taylor takes the strike (the horizontal measurement) and the dip (the downward angle the rock relative to horizontal) of younger sedimentary rocks in Crazy Woman Canyon. Taylor needs these measurements so he can correct his data to tell what the landscape looked like in the time period he’s studying—before pieces of the Wyoming craton were pushed upwards 70 million years ago by later geological activity.

After working in the morning, we stop at a gas station in Kaycee, WY (population 249) where we acquire a big bag of beef jerky. I’ve never tried it before, but despite my initial suspicion (the brand, Tillamook, is also a brand of chewing tobacco), it’s pretty good.

Pre-fab Houses Overlook a Reservoir

The landscape outside the window is changing fast, and we drive for 30 miles without seeing any sign of human habitation on the road. On the outskirts of Casper, Wyoming’s second largest city, I see farm equipment for sale, and crumbling pre-fab houses sending bits of tar paper into the wind.

Downtown Casper is equally empty, although large bronze statues of famous cowboys decorate the street corners. Though we’ll be back tomorrow, our target tonight is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land around Casper.

Welcome to Casper

Reading the rules of conduct on BLM land, we learn that though camping is allowed, homesteading is not. I start to flash back to my AP US history textbook. Homesteading? Squatting on public land for so long the government can’t remove you? I’m surprised they still have to mention that this is no longer a possibility. Then I notice that homesteading has only been illegal in Wyoming since 1976.

As we pull over to check the maps for a good campsite, the county sheriff pulls up in his truck to check on us. Maybe he thinks that since we’re out here in the desert, we must be peyote-drugged vision questers. When he learns that we’re geologists, he decides to move along.

The sun sinks as we set up camp, and a warm breeze fills the air. After dinner, we watch the sky, trying to learn the constellations with Taylor’s Iphone. After a while, I give up and just stare, smelling the sharp scent of wild sage as shooting stars pass overhead.

BLM Land

The next day we set out and sample five sites, though bushwhacking through this country is not as easy as it was in the Bighorns. Cacti are everywhere, and we all have spines in our boots and fingers by the end of the day. Taylor jokes that the last people to come here must have been the geologists who made the map we’re using. I actually think he may be right—we don’t see any other people or cars all day.

As we drive back into Casper, herds of pronghorn antelope run across the road. Though it’s been a long time since I heard the song “Home on the Range,” I can’t seem to get it out of my head.

Pronghorns by the Road

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High Alpine

Misty Moon Lake, Day One

We’re camped at the highest point on the trip. This means the sun is strong, the pasta takes “high altitude” directions to cook, the temperature drops below freezing, and the sky at night is tangled with stars. This is our last hike in the Bighorn Mountains, and we make the most of it, climbing along a series of lakes to sites at 11,200 feet.

Setting out from Battle Creek, we spend two nights at Misty Moon Lake. Though there is neither mist nor moon, there is a sudden snowstorm that hits just as we pick a campsite. After racing to stake my tent with frozen fingers, I copy Joe and Taylor and crawl inside to wait it out. Later on, as we make dinner, the snowflakes (if they can be called that) rain down again as pellets of ice.

Snow Storm

Fortunately for us, the weather improves drastically on our first morning, and this hike turns out to be one of our most productive. We sample eight sites on the first day alone, working our way around Florence Lake until late in the day.

Working Late

One of those sites is an intersection, meaning that Taylor can measure away from the space where the dikes cross to test his data and make sure the magnetization of the area wasn’t re-set by a larger heating event (see The Chill).  Back in the lab, he will use the magnetic directions to conduct a Baked Contact Test (BCT), and compare the polarity of the baked rock (where the second dike intruded into the first) with the polarity of the unbaked rock (which was not re-heated by the later intrusion).

As we climb up into the rocks, we hear the shrill squeaks of pikas (small hamster-like mountain rodents) and see them scurrying on all sides. Apparently curious, one climbs into Taylor’s bag as we watch from up the slope. We practice making pika noises, but it scurries away before we get close.

Pika Attack!

Getting down from our sites is a bit challenging—at one point a little valley in the side of the cliff has collected two or three years worth of frozen snow. Since it’s too slippery to walk on, we slide down it, pretending our hiking boots are skis.

Leaving pika territory behind, we head back to camp as the sun drops behind the pass. After dark, it looks like every constellation is visible, and the Milky Way hangs in the sky like a line of clouds.

The next day is bright and warm, and we can see tents pitched all around the lake for Labor Day Weekend. Hiking out we sample two more sites for a total of ten—a record for any trip we’ve done. In fact, Taylor and Joe have almost doubled the total number of sites from last year, 72 to 37.

Misty Moon Lake, Day Two

One of the last sites has large white crystals in the rock which look almost like spots. Taylor tells Joe to make a note of this in the book, and Joe immediately looks up. “Is it a leopard?” he asks. While Taylor can’t yet determine if the dike is part of the leopard swarm, if it is, he will have more data to add to group of volcanic intrusions which were likely part of the same geological event. Any time Taylor can find a leopard, he can build on what he already knows about the magnetic directions of the other dikes in the set.

After this last site, we coast into town on the last bit of gas in the Jeep. Now equipped with internet, I see that Suzanne Taylor Muzzin at the Yale Office of Public Affairs has put a great story about the trip and the blog up on the OPA website:

http://opa.yale.edu/news/article.aspx?id=7714

Hiking in

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T-rex and Thunder Snow

T-rex at Pistol Pete's

After returning from a two night hike, all of us are in need of a good breakfast and clean laundry. Luckily for us, Pistol Pete’s Café (where waffles, jackalopes, and T-rex vie for attention) is right across the street from the Laundromat.

We also need to get the drill serviced, which is a difficult task in Buffalo, WY on a Sunday. Eventually, we find an Ace hardware store which advertises Stihl repair. Because the drill is a modified chain saw, they know how to tune it up, but even so, the diamond chip bit turns heads. Three employees look on as one carefully removes and replaces a broken screw.

Another tells us that he understands why we need to get the handle to stop shaking—he sells firewood and knows what it’s like to have your arms numb and your brain fried from gas fumes. At the end of the day, he says, “that’s what beer is for.”

We take his advice, and after spending the day sampling off of fire roads, we have a couple of beers ourselves.

The Storm Retreating over Lost Twin Lake

The next day we hike into the mountains again. The forecast predicts a slight chance of rain, but as we climb higher we notice a huge purple cloud at our backs. Before long, there is thunder and lightening, and it starts to snow on the trail. Fishermen and riders hurry out, looking at us like we’re crazy.

Because of the snow, the thunder is muted—more like breaking metal than cosmic static. But the lightening is up close. We hide out under Taylor’s tarp, but not for long. At a brief break in the storm we book it to a sheltered campsite and listen to the snow falling on the outside of our tents.

A "Bivy" under the Tarp

Around five, the snow passes, melting as soon as the sun comes out. We take advantage of the good weather and hike to the Lost Twin Lakes, where there are supposed to be sites along the shore.

The lake is flat and clear at the base of a cliff, even though a frigid breeze blows down the mountain. Taylor points out trout swimming a few feet deep, but they look like they’re right at the surface. However, the dikes are less easy to see, and one site on Taylors map has been plainly mislabeled. There are signs everywhere that the neighboring rock has been cooked—gem quality crystals and strange formations—but the volcanic intrusions that caused the heating are nowhere to be seen. We do find and sample one site that is practically in a stream before heading back to camp.

Lost Twin Lake

That night, the temperature is 30 degrees at the base of the mountain, so it’s even colder at high altitude. I’m wearing all the clothes I’ve brought—hoping that six layers qualify as a parka.

The next day is my 23rd birthday, and I wake up to see a thin crust of snow on the ground. With the frosted pines surrounding our camp, I feel like I’m waking up on Christmas instead.

Snow on My Birthday

Hiking out, we sample three sites that are right next to each other, but the other sites on the map look suspicious. Taylor and Joe think they may have been re-heated, re-setting the magnetization and making them less helpful for Taylor’s research. Instead of flat octagonal crystals, these rocks are full of mica and a little bit too sparkly to be useful. Taylor calls the rock a Leverite—and quotes his advisor, David Evans: “Leave ‘er right there.”

Our Much-Needed Campfire

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The Chill

I Fell In

There’s nothing like a clear, cold mountain stream. In Wyoming, they come straight down from patches of ice above the snow line, and they are filled with moose and brook trout. Our first two-night hike into the mountains gives us close proximity to these beautiful bodies of water. In my case, very close proximity, since I somehow manage to fall in. Luckily, my notebook and camera stay dry.

The rest of the trail takes us down a valley in between two barren slopes where we can see a different kind of alpine river. On the sides, dark stripes of volcanic rock flow down at intervals. These are dikes—volcanic intrusions into the lighter gray rocks. There are many dikes on Taylor’s map, but we’re limited by the number of samples we can carry in our packs. Taylor and Joe estimate that, between the three of us, we can carry samples from about eight sites.

When we’re travelling on foot instead of by car, we take hand samples rather than drilled cores. This means that when Taylor selects a usable rock, he has to break off a piece with a sledgehammer. Before he does, he uses the top of the orienter to measure the magnetic direction of the rock, and a compass to determine its horizontal and vertical location.

A Hand Sample

The reason we’ve hiked in to hand sample is that besides the large number of possible sites, these slopes have several places where the dikes intersect each other. These sites are especially important, because here Taylor can measure across the chill—the place where the dike cooled as it came into contact with the surrounding rock. If the surrounding rock is also a dike, it has the same high magnetic mineral content that makes it easier for Taylor to determine its magnetic direction.

Taylor Samples the Intersection

At an intersection, Taylor can see the difference in magnetization between the dike and the surrounding rock as it gets further and further from the chill. This change demonstrates that the magnetic direction of the dike is indeed different—meaning that the polarity of the rock was set by the molten dike cooling, and not by some external heating event that melted everything. If the volcanic intrusion of the dike caused the heating and cooling that set the magnetization, then the data is good, and can be used to reconstruct the ancient position of Wyoming.

A Long Way Down

In order to reach these sites, we have to leave the trail and clamber over boulders and lose stones. We’re basically mountaineering, except that our goal is not the summit but the plumbing of the mountain. There are many moss-covered rills, and Taylor says that the cracks between the dikes and the surrounding rocks often provide seep zones for tiny streams. The GPS tells us that our highest site is over ten thousand feet, which means we’re above the snow line. Our tents look like wildflowers in the valley below us.

Joe and Taylor Reach a Site

Hiking down, we can hear pika chirping in the rocks. We wait and see if they’ll appear, but they must be wary of rare human visitors.

All in all, we sample nine sites in two days—a group record. On our way out, we race a thunderstorm down the valley, our packs weighed down with dozens of helpful rocks. A cold wind pushes at our backs, but this time nobody falls in the stream.

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Red Rhino

The Rhino Tackles the Road

Wyoming has many ways of defining “road.” There are highways, dirt roads, fire roads, ranch roads, and last but not least, the jeep trail—a boulder strewn, washed out route over which no one in their right mind would drive a jeep. Fortunately, we’ve rented ATVs.

The two-seater, called a Rhino, drives sort of like a car, except that it can bounce over a 1.5 foot high rock, no problem. The blue Kodiak has less of a resemblance—a sticker on the front warns against driving the vehicle on pavement. The first time I try the Kodiak, it feels like it’ll tip at any moment, but Joe, who grew up driving a similar model, tells me that my center of gravity is bouncing much more than the vehicle’s.

I'm driving!

With the help of our new wheels, we navigate through spiky pines damaged by forest fire and swampy fields lined with aspens. After an hour and 45 minutes, we arrive at our campsite with our feet wet from splashing through puddles. As we take a look around, Taylor realizes that the jagged hill above us is actually a dike that wasn’t marked on the map. However, since we’re working backwards toward camp, it’s still a hike to our first sampling site.

There are six dikes in the area, not including one by the side of the road labeled “granite mafic dike,” which Taylor and Joe point out is neither mafic nor a dike.

Our first two real sites go smoothly, and Taylor christens them the “French Creek Swarm.” As Taylor uses his compass to measure the direction of the second dike, he notices that the rock is so magnetic, it’s throwing off the compass needle.

There is a ridge of rock at the third site, and though it is marked as a dike on the map, Taylor and his hammer aren’t fooled. The rock is green and metamorphosed, and though it might once have been useful, the slabs are no longer in their original position, meaning that their magnetic reading will not tell us anything about the position of the crust. Taylor explains that sometimes geological features like this one are grandfathered into maps without anybody actually checking the site. After the road to get here, I can’t say I blame them. The fourth dike on the map is nowhere to be found.

Aspen Trees

As we hike back to camp, we notice big paw prints in the ground. There are no nail marks, so it can’t be a coyote or a bear, but it could be some kind of cat. After the sun sets and the full moon rises, the temperature drops down almost to freezing. Walking back to my tent, I half expect to find a lynx or a bobcat curled in my sleeping bag.

We don’t encounter any cats, but our next target is covered with caterpillars. Black with orange tufts of hair on the back, they crawl all over us as we collect samples. Taylor decides to name the site after them, circling caterpillar dike on the map.

When we return the ATVs, the man who runs the rentals asks us what the research is hoping to find. Taylor explains that we’re looking for samples that can help to determine where Wyoming was 2.6-1.7 billion years ago. The man stops checking the ignition of the Rhino and looks at us again. “Well I’ll be,” he says.

Joe on the Kodiak

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Ranch Land and Horse Country

Clouds on the Mountains

Day two in the field has a few more challenges. The first site Taylor wants to sample is in a town called Story. Though the dike is supposedly on government owned land, the roads to reach it are all privately owned by ranchers. A friendly forest service official points us towards the ranch road that will take us there, but when we reach the house, the place is eerily deserted, and we can’t find anyone who could give us permission to drive through the property.

Even stranger are the signs in English and Arabic that warn trespassers and hunters to stay off the land. While we’re not exactly hunting for animals, the message is enough to turn us away. We spend the car ride back to the highway looking at pronghorn antelope out the window, and wondering why a rancher in Wyoming would post signs in a Middle Eastern language.

The second site is high in the mountains over Buffalo on a horse-trail covered piece of the Bighorn National Forest. The mountains are largely covered in open fields full of wildflowers, and we can see the shadows of clouds as they pass over the slopes.

Wildflowers

The road that Taylor wants turns off from the road to a horse breeding ranch operated by men in Stetsons, flannel shirts, and cowboy boots. We stop to ask directions from a group of similarly dressed people camped out with their trailers and dogs. They can’t help us find a way to the site, but they offer to rent us some horses.

The Horse Farm

We decide to stick with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but as it climbs over the rocky dirt road, we start to wonder if this track can take us all the way through to the site. When we climb out of the car to scout, we find that a creek is running over the road. This in itself is not a problem, but because the other side of the creek is steep and rocky, we decide we need a more serious off-roading vehicle.

Back in Buffalo, we find a place that will rent us ATVs. We’ll stay the night in town, and try again tomorrow.

A Moose by the Highway

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The Leopard Swarm

My first day in the field starts with biscuits and gravy at the Trails End Motel. After passing through Sheridan (a town which advertises karaoke, bingo, and tattoos all under one roof), we head up out of the plain and into the Bighorn Mountains. The cut out sides of earth along the switchbacks of the road already hold geological interest—exposed rifts reveal the layers of rock that were lifted up when the mountains formed.

Layers of Lifted Rock

After a short while, the paved routes give way to dirt, and Taylor expertly pilots the Jeep through tight curves and washouts.  We’re looking for dikes: vertical sheets of igneous rock which, when sampled, can provide snapshots of geological events that happened 2.6 to 1.7 billion years ago. Though we have a geological map that shows the locations of these dikes, they are by no means obviously apparent. Eventually we get out of the car and tramp through the brush. I ask graduate student Joe Panzik what I’m looking for, and he tells me that I want a rock that is darker grey than granite, with white flecks on the inside when you break off a piece.

As I walk through the pine woods, I can’t help noticing that the air smells like a Christmas wreath, and the sky is huge and blue. A hare bounces through the woods ahead of me, wary of my heavy boots.

At the top of a hill, I see a spiky outcropping of rock poking up through the ridge. It definitely doesn’t look like granite.

These reddish-grey rocks turn out to be the site for the day’s first sampling. We bring the gear up from the road: hammers, a chisel, a drill, a jug of water, and the orienter. The drill is a converted chain saw with a diamond-chip bit capable of cutting cores out of the rock. The water is pumped into the bit to cool it. The orienter determines the position of each core in space: both the north-south direction of the rock and its angle away from horizontal.

Joe and Taylor Drilling the Cores

After the cores are drilled, oriented, labeled, and packaged, Taylor takes them back to the lab where they will be heated at high temperatures to determine the primary direction each core was pointing relative to the North Pole when it formed. With this data, Taylor can compare events that were happening in this craton (this piece of the earth’s crust) with other cratons around the world. Eventually, he hopes to determine if this crust was shifting independently or if it was part of a larger supercontinent.

But in order to do this he needs lots of samples—preferably from dikes that formed in similar geological events. With that principle in mind, we move on to the next mark on the map, and the next. The last dike turns out to be less useful, as the rock has been changed and shifted by heat and pressure after it was formed. When Taylor cracks off a piece with his hammer, the inside is greenish, indicating fewer magnetic minerals. It’s getting close to 6:00, so we head back to the car and pick a campsite.

As we sit by the campfire, three owls come down out of the trees and swoop over our heads. There is a lot of wildlife here, and Taylor hands me a canister of bear spray—just, he assures me, for my peace of mind.

Bear Spray

The first thing I see when I wake up on day two is a mule deer munching grass outside my tent. As I turn on my camera to take a picture, it pricks up its ears and jumps away.

At the day’s first site, we find only piles of rubble—no rock that has not been shifted from its original orientation.

But later in the day we have more luck. By the side of an aborted mineshaft, a long outcrop of rock spans the crest of the ridge like a spinal cord. This is the longest dike I’ve seen so far, and as I take notes in the field book, Taylor tells me to add that this is possibly part of the leopard swarm. The what?

It turns out that swarms (dikes that run in parallel or close to parallel directions) are especially helpful to Taylor, because they are likely to have formed in similar geological events. This dike may be part of the leopard swarm because it runs parallel to another set of dikes that have distinctive white crystal spots. Many similar dikes mean more chances to sample, and a clearer picture of the way the craton was moving 2.6-1.7 billion years ago.

The Dike along the Top of the Ridge

As we start sampling, we realize we need to work fast because a huge thunderstorm is heading towards the ridge. It passes over as we reach the car, speckling the dusty hood with equally leopard-like spots.

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A Treasure Hunt for Magnetic Minerals

The positions of supercontinents are largely unknown for 95 percent of earth’s history. This means that the period which included the rise of life, an increase of oxygen, the formation of continents, and a number of dramatic climate changes, is not geologically well understood.

Professor David Evans’ research hopes to change that by expanding our understanding of earth’s history back to the Precambrian period. By studying patterns of global geodynamics, this research can help to create long term models of ancient climate change and evolution.

Through researching ancient crustal fragments called cratons, the project hopes to get a sense of what the world looked like 2.6 to 1.7 billion years ago.

Taylor Kilian, a graduate student working with Professor Evans, has the specific project of looking at the Wyoming craton (which lies underneath Wyoming and parts of Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, and Colorado) in order to determine its position during that time period. Once it is established, the position of the Wyoming craton can be compared to the position of other ancient fragments all over the world.

In Wyoming, we will be travelling to mountain ranges where the craton comes to the surface, and looking for dikes—sheets of igneous rock that were once part of volcanoes. As Taylor described it, these sheets of rock are not always easy to find or sample, so it can be “a bit of a treasure hunt.”

The reason Taylor is looking for igneous rocks has to with paleomagnetism—the magnetic direction the rock assumed when it cooled relative to the North or South Pole. Igneous rocks have a high percentage of magnetic minerals, so they provide the best measure of magnetic direction.

In next week Taylor’s group plans to travel to sites in the northeastern Bighorn Mountains, moving into the central Bighorns in the second week. In the third week, we will switch scenery and move into the Ferris and Seminoe Mountains in central Wyoming.

A Photo from the Wyoming State Highway Map

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From Crayons to Cratons

"Natural Disasters" with Professors Bercovici, Long, and Robinson at the Boiling Lake in Dominica

At the end of the week, I’m going on a Yale Geology Department field trip to Wyoming. To some of my friends this seems like the unlikeliest thing in the world, and though I resist an inward outcry when they say so, I can’t blame them for being surprised. After all, I majored in English. I took exactly two SC classes at Yale. I like to write poems.

However, if my seven-year-old self could talk to those friends, she would tell them that she loves learning about earthquakes and tidal waves, that her current favorite book is I Survived Mount St. Helens, and that she recently won a greeting card contest at the local toy store with a crayon drawing of a toy-spewing volcano.

So at the start of senior year, when I was frantically searching OCS for a much needed science credit, I stumbled upon a class called “Natural Disasters” and immediately started smiling. What’s more, as I flipped through the textbook in Barnes and Noble, I found a quote from Shakespeare’s King Henry IV in the chapter about earthquakes. So far, I thought, so good.

The page from Patrick L. Abbott's textbook for "Natural Disasters"

And it was great. Having somehow wriggled my way out of taking either calculus or physics in high school, I was suddenly doing homework problems involving velocity, viscosity, buoyancy—and I liked it.

Learning from Professor David Bercovici about the way the world works was fascinating, especially when learning about the “real world” of jobs was not working out so well. The areas where I had experience (writing, publishing, arts-nonprofit programming) had few jobs. My ideal post-college career of becoming a travel writer for Lonely Planet seemed far-fetched, I didn’t want to go to grad school yet, and my lack of calculus or interest in spreadsheets ruled out ibanking.

Then one day a recent graduate named Alex Kain visited the class. He talked about his experiences writing dispatches on an Ice Breaker in the Beaufort Sea as the public outreach coordinator for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He showed the class a slideshow of pictures from the trip, including buoys ripped by polar bear teeth, snowy owls, and delicate cores of sea ice. After class, I asked him how he had gotten involved with the project, and he pointed to Professor Bercovici who was answering questions about homework at the front of the room.

When I met with Professor Bercovici and explained my predicament about post-graduation, he was incredibly generous and helpful. After going on the “Natural Disasters” field trip to Dominica and Martinique, he dubbed me “field poet” and within a few weeks, he had arranged for me to meet with Professor Dave Evans and graduate student Taylor Kilian about going to Wyoming in August as a field assistant. The trip will use paleomagnetism to study the position of the Wyoming craton (an ancient fragment of the earth’s crust) 2 Billion years ago. “Did I really want to carry rocks around for three weeks?” Taylor asked. I did.

Now, as I pack and borrow backpacking equipment from friends, I realize that at this time of year packing feels very familiar. But if there is a shadow of nostalgia in not packing to return to Yale, it is overshadowed by the idea of packing for a field trip to the mountains. Thanks to Yale’s FOOT program, I own a pair of broken-in boots. The rest will be an adventure.

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