Geology Adventures in California: Winter Break 2012

I’m back! As I mentioned in a previous post, I traveled to the West Coast for vacation in December. While there, I visited Southern California and Nevada. This post is about California. In California, we visited Joshua Tree National Park, Thousand Palms Wildlife Refuge, and went hiking in various canyons and trails near the Salton Sea.

Some of the many windmills near the San Andreas Fault Line

Because I took a class with Dr. Richard Alley (defined by Wikipedia as a “highly cited researcher” in the relationship between the Earth’s cryosphere and climate change, and also a geologist), I was interested more in the geology of the mountains, desert, and surrounding beauty of California and Nevada.  Of course, to tie this in with social media, I tweeted throughout the trip and Instagrammed just about everything. You will be seeing Instagram pictures throughout this post!

Big Bear Lake, California

After our drive over the Hoover Dam, we headed to Big Bear Lake, California. Because of the treacherous road to get to the town, my uncle had to pick us up at the bottom of the mountain. On the way to the town, we  noticed Baldwin Lake, which is an alkali lake which is seasonal. “Alakaline lake” is defined by Wikipedia as a lake with the pH value above 7. They include high values of salts, and are very productive ecosystems, including large algae blooms and bacteria. For those of you who would like a better geological definition, click here. It seems as if the lake is seasonal, and in this photo, it appears mostly dried up.

Baldwin Lake (Big Bear, California)

After a short visit to Big Bear, we headed back down to the valley near the San Andreas Fault line to Sky Valley California.  (in the Coachella Valley). While visiting here, we went to the Coachella Valley Preserve, the Salton Sea, countless canyons/hikes, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Mud Pots.

San Bernadino Mountains, Sky Valley, California

One of our first stops was the Painted Canyon in Mecca, California. Here, the rocks are turned almost 90 degrees due to movement over geologic time (due to the shifting fault line).

Rocks turned 90 degrees in the Painted Canyon. Mecca, California

It is called the painted canyon because of the formation of the rocks. It looks as if someone painted on the layers of rock, creating a brush-stroke-looking scenery. Here is a picture of the winding canyon with my sister for scale.

Painted Canyon. Mecca, California

Next, we headed to the Salton Sea. First of all, this is the most disgusting landmark I have ever visited! It was filled with dead fish and pelican poop. Here is a photo of some of the fish. Look at the skeletons!

Fish Skeletons at the Salton Sea

In case you didn’t know anything about the Salton Sea, it is a lake which formed from agricultural run-off and run-off from the Colorado River. The Sea is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, but less salty than the Great Salt Lake. Because of it’s hypersalinity, organisms fail to survive in the water, but pelicans thrive there (hense the large amount of pelican poop).

Salton Sea, California

For more information on the geology of the area, click here. It is also below sea level, which is a large contrast to the mountains surrounding it.

Broken mud at the Mud Pots. Brawley, California

Next on our long journey through the Coachella Valley was the Mut Pots in Brawley, California, just south of the Salton Sea. Other names for these formations are “Mud Volcanos”, the “Salton Sea Seep Field” or more formally, the “Davis-Schrimpf Seep Field”. These mounds are literally piles of mud, but the mud gurgles and bubbles to the top of the peaks and pools. Geology defines this area as such: “Here carbon dioxide gas bubbles up from a zone about a kilometer deep where magma cooks the gas out of carbonate minerals.” The noises they make are spectacular, and the air coming up is scorching hot. The photo below shows a mud bubble in mid-pop.

Bubbling mud pot. Brawley, California

Over the next couple days, we visited other hiking areas and parks. One highlight of the trip for me was a stroll we took in the Coachella Valley Preserve. Last November 2011, a couple of teenagers went into the preserve and set a group of palm trees on fire. Because of the untamed nature of the trees (the dead fronds lay down on the trunk of the tree all the way to the ground, creating a fire hazard). However, the palms did not perish. Because of the pourous trunks, only the dead fronds and the outer bark of the tree burned. I was amazed at the resilience of these trees. As you can see from the picture, the trunks are back with ash, but the gree fronds perservered.

Burned Palms in Coachella Valley Preserve. Palm Desert, California

Lastly, we headed to Joshua Tree National Park. The Mojave Desert, Colorado Desert, and the San Bernadino mountains meet to create a diverse landscape, and throughout are Dr. Suess-like trees. Every rock formation is different. The ecosystem is complex in order to balance trees, animals, and the lack of rainfall. You can find people climbing boulders in the park, and the Hidden Canyon was my favorite hike. Below is a picture of the Joshua Tree. For more information on this National Park, please click here.

Joshua Tree in JT National Park. Twentynine Palms, California

So, after a long couple of posts, there is the geology of my trip in December. I really enjoy the desert and the mountains, but I would love to FINALLY go to the Grand Canyon some day. Yes, that’s right, I’ve been to 41 states and countless State and National Parks, yet never to the Grand Canyon. That is my next stop hopefully! Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed my travels.

Rock formation in Joshua Tree NP. Twentynine Palms, California
(Disclaimer – All photos are my own, and can be found on my Flickr page or viewed from my Instagram profile!)

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