Monday, January 26, 2009

The Sump Canyon paradise

The sump with bert 1/24/09

The word has a sound and a meaning that reverberates in my brain, a place, a concept and calls for an exploratory with bert. I hear too much from bert and katy about this place, and darcy the teacher at the local school wants to do a field trip with Katys class in the spring and this sounds ideal. Gotta check it out, another canyon, a bowl of canyons, petrified wood, opals, adventure close by. I gather maps, books, gear, forget the gps and return for that. Bert is game, after looking at maps and discussing the possibilities in the living/party trailer sinking into a soft couch, turning down a beer, that just happens to be sitting there, we forge out into the stormy, in and out day. Clouds, rain coming and going, the mts obscured, snow flurries on the northern basalt plateau, a rainbow, katy points out a double rainbow high in the mists, pot of gold in Montgomery canyon.

Bert brings his cane in case we have to walk, and hoists himself awkwardly in to the passenger seat, struggles with the safety belt and settles into the soft hand of the sheepskin seat cover. We cruise up queen valley, over the pass past the abandoned casino/cathouse and motel and down in to the outback of Nevada and fish lake valley. We pass the sign with an image of a horse, the wild horses of Montgomery pass are legendary, we hung with them above queen saddle last fall, 20 of them, beautiful and well fed, tiny grasses poking up thru the scrub at 10,000 feet. Past the diatomite mine, where berts dad used to work, and over the hill to the south into fish lake. This is a monster valley, a few ranches and a big real estate scam development, 20 ac for 80k, a deal for L.A. retirees, but no power, water, expensive to develop and a gamble.

We cut back on the Tonopah road about a mile and spot the road in, a seldom used track past a gravel pile on the right. I put the red rocket into 4wd and we fall off a steep bank into the wash and cruise on the solid ground into a narrowing canyon with promising glimpses of badlands ahead. The canyon narrows to a slot, with a tower of mudstone with a brilliant white cap on one side and I check it out:

volcanic ash bed, continuous, with small fragments of pumice, a white streak across the landscape ahead. The layers are tilted and eroded into millions of tiny canyons, badlands topograph y, it gets better and better as we go past a used campsite, clean, just a remains of a campfire.

The track goes right up the wash, and turns into cliffs, winding and bumping up over a ledge under an overhang, great little jumpup, the Tacoma handles it easily. Now for more, we find a pile of eroded layers and look closely, hcl fizzes, and I intone, Calcite, in man y forms, small crystals, etched surfaces of bladed forms, mineral heaven, kid heaven. We continue into the natural bowl, the sump, actually 2 different canyons with different aspects, to the left, a dipslope with a zillion little mini canyons, and to the right, a cliff with several slot canyons. I head for the biggest one, cross country, no roads, but the area has been molested by quads and dirt bikers, and is blm land, so no worries about environment. We park, Bert flops out of the car, and immediately stoops down on all fours, coming up with what looks like a weed, but is petrified, I test it on my teeth and sure enough, we got pwood. His has little stubs of branches, and is 4 cm long and less than 1 cm in diameter. I look up stream in the little gulley, and spy a layer with more wood chips in it, a perfect place to show source and deposit of a fossil.

Head up the right gully to a promising slot canyon, and enter, vertical walls soar to 50 m, exposing crossbedded dirty sandstones and I enter the sacred cathedral, and revel deep in the rock. Looking vertically, a jagged piece of sky is framed by dark rock, the path of erosion, must be a 50 m or so waterfall here in the rain.

We keep an eye on the clouds, flurrys obscuring the white mts to the west like cotton wads, we don’t want to be here in a downpour, but that doesn’t look likely at this time of year.

Bert is still crawling around, looking for more treasures, more wood, I pickup a piece and pocket it, no permit needed here. Cross-country back to the track down the wash more pictures of badlands, an angular unconformity with tilted layers under horizontal layer s perfectly exposed example of one of the major principles of geology, mountain building, erosion and exposure of the pages of geological history.

I collect some curious green sandstone, reduced iron, very dirty sands with all kinds of weird stuff in it. Tom and cathy would have a blast with this stuff, all kinds of weird geo stories to be told. This is a perfect field trip spot, Katy was right, and my intuition has paid off again. OK, no problem, a field trip in spring looks like a winner. The kids will really be impressed and can be safely left to wander and observe. I would treat it as a geologic field problem, whats going on the surface? What are the rocks, landforms and their history? I am excited at the prospect of another great place to take people, maybe combine with a trip to the hot springs in Fish lake. Just down the road a piece.

We follow a 4wd track out of the wash to the northwest, onto the shoulder with views into the canyons, and to the high point. Bert slides out and picks up a shiny piece, angular, hard: “Opal, not gem quality, but nonetheless, a crystal. Kids will love this” we have already seen samples the girls have collected, and I determine this is another place we should try to get to, an overview, down the canyons from above, maybe we can do a hike with some from bottom to here and have the cars drive around and meet us. Ill try that one out on Darlene on Thursday.

We cast a wary eye on the weather, but now we are on a dirt superhighway, leading to a relay tower for phone, tv etc at the far end of this ridge, a sparse power line leading out like a silver chain in the low sunlight. The white mts look like they are battling for dear life to emerge from swirling mists, and snow flurries, the sun dancing through the changing scene. We explore around and drive to the east ridge, looking down and seeing fish lake in the distance and the grandeur of the high desert valley stretching into the distance.

Back directly to the paved road, past a silver pickup and camper with a person in sleeping bag snoozing on the ground beside, “I wonder if he’s dead” I say, but the foot of the bag moves, and whatever is in there doesn’t seem in too bad shape. We gain the pavement, back to the main hiway with a blinking red light at the stop sign. I comment, “solar powered, a great thing for out here”. Bert responds with a story about how the hiway dept had discovered a pile of money at the end of the year, and had to spend it on something, or lose it, so now we have blinking red lights, solar powered, at all desert intersections. A good thing, you might miss the stop sign if blind or drunk, which half the people out here are anyways.

Past the diatomite mine, bert points out the old road that branches off to a ghost town back in the hills. His dad used to commute from Benton, and came down this road in the early morning to find an unexpected pile of gravel in the middle, crashing the old Plymouth sedan and busting the radiator in the process. He walked to work andcalled bert for rescue, and he came up in another truck, and sealed up the radiator, filled it with more fluids, and used bailing wire to fasten down the hood and fired her up. H could see that it was still leaking and heat rising as he headed up toward the pass. Pushing it to double nickels (100 mph) he is about to make it when the hood cuts loose and folds itself up over the roof. Bert sees it coming so his head goes out the window, just as the hood ornament, the masts and sails of the boat, penetrate the roof and jam down into the space where his head just was. “Death by hood ornament” is my comment as we marvel at the little weird things that happen, the near misses, in the desert.

Into the blinding setting sun poking with god rays through the cloud cover, down the hill, wave at the lady in the bug station, she recognizes us and doesn’t rip my vehicle apart looking for stray orange. Pull up to the junkyard, katy comes running out, What did you see? Whats up there? She is bubbling with enthusiasm. We do our best to throw a wet blanket over the bouncing girl “theres nothing there, they filled it in, part of a road construction project” she doesn’t believe us, but bert persists: “no really, we cant go back, theres no sump left.” Part of the banter, the way of approaching lifes events humorously, a dry funny off the wall way of relating, and I like that.

Copyright 2009, Terry Wright


lee woo said...

I believe in running through the rain and crashing into the person you love and having your lips bleed on each other. See the link below for more info.


Nathalie Uy said...

Good vibes. Everyday, all day. God Bless :)