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.
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.
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.
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.
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: