I first heard of this field school opportunity when Holly Steenkamp (CNGO Bedrock Geologist), Patricia Peyton (CNGO Geological Assistant), and the CNGO office gave a presentation to my first year Environmental Technology Program class at Nunavut Arctic College about a summer job opportunity. When I heard they were thinking of sending someone down to California with Patricia (who I hadn’t met at that time) I thought why not try for it. At that time, I already had a job offer in Resolute at the Polar Continental Shelf Program, but after talking to one of the second year students I realized that this was something I wanted to do since I was a kid, to be a geologist. After giving my resume to Holly, I was given an interview and was lucky enough to get a summer job with the office. Ever since I was a kid I would go searching for the prettiest and coolest looking rocks, having no idea what I was looking at.
Going to California made me understand how to tell the story of how the land (its rocks!) formed. I also learned how to map bedrock and determine the timing of events – what came first, like the deposition of sediments, a fold then a fault, erosion and more deposition of sediments and so on. Being able to know this just from looking at the rocks and putting them on a map was not easy but very interesting.
For a while I had a hard time believing I was actually going to California. The excitement finally sunk in when we flew over Mammoth Lakes, seeing the beautiful mountains with snow on the peaks, not surprisingly because it is in such high elevation. Once we landed we were greeted at the airport. Excited, Patricia and I were taking pictures of the scenery like tourists.
After eating at Big Pine we drove up the long, windy road to our camp. Everyone was busy working on their maps of Little Poleta, I caught a glimpse of someone’s map and thought to myself “I have to do that?!” I was a bit overwhelmed at the beginning, with no geology background except for a one-month earth science course with the Nunavut Arctic College Environmental Technology Program. Being with university students who had four years of classes behind them was also intimidating at first. But with the help of the instructors and their assistants I got up-to-speed quickly.
The first thing we did was stop by a Pumice quarry, I caught a bit of the explanation of how this sediment formed, but I wish I had the same background knowledge as the university students. Regardless, I found this kind of stuff interesting – learning how the sediments went from fine to coarse grained layers. The sample I took was so light compared to the actual rock size, it amazed me.
The next thing we did was visit a deep canyon with columnar jointed rhyolite, which again I didn’t understand fully how it formed but I had a basic understanding. This was one of the things that got me wanting to learn more, it made me want to know how rocks form by understanding the range of factors such as cooling, chemical composition and much more. I found I was becoming more interested in geology so I could understand more about how the land formed.
We also visited a hot spring. It was a neat experience to be able to sit in a river for once that is not numbing cold! Our instructor, Mike Young even told us that he saved this for our arrival. This made me feel special.
The next thing we did was go to Obsidian Dome. It was not as I thought it would be. I imagined it to be more of a glassy black rock like the sample I have seen here at work. However, it was very interesting to me.
The last thing we looked at was the Tufa towers at Mono Lake. It was explained to me that these towers formed because the lake level fluctuates and fresh water bubbling from the bottom mixes with the lake water making the towers – haha that’s all I can remember right now.
For most of the field school we were mapping Little Poleta with different instructors, all of whom had different ideas and their own way of mapping. Sometimes it got a little confusing, but we finished the map on time. Doing the cross section was a whole different story though. Before we started Mike gave us a “perfect world” cross section to complete. After being confused and erasing a lot of lines I finally saw the fault, and it all made sense to me. The fault messed me up for the first while, once I visualized it I caught on quickly. Now, that was a “perfect world” scenario.
It was a different story in the field. Trying to figure out a cross-section from up close was difficult for me. The cross sections were by far the hardest thing to do while I was in California, the visualization, plotting points and connecting everything is something I need to practice in order to get a good grasp of it.
Besides field trips and visiting many different rock formations we did lots of other fun things as well. We went swimming in a river, which was quite muddy, and happened to be the drinking water source for Los Angeles. A few of us got up super early one morning and drove up to higher elevation to watch the sunrise, which I am so happy I got to see! Seeing the sun rise from the top of a mountain with the moon still out was amazing, but it was cold waiting for this to happen.
The fluctuation between the day and night time temperature was crazy. From +30 during the day to at least -5 at night was such a difference. I’m from the north and I am use to minus temperatures but not when +30 degrees during the day. The sleeping bags we brought with us proved to be too cold, so the first night we froze! The students were so welcoming and friendly; I wish I had more time to get to know them. We even taught a couple of the student how to throat sing.
Overall, this trip was a great learning experience and has seriously got me thinking of getting into earth sciences, and maybe becoming a geologist for a career. I still have one more year to complete my diploma in the Environmental Technology Program. But by the end of the summer I will have hopefully chosen a university that I want to peruse a degree with, right now I am not sure what I will study, but I am leaning towards geology.