My trip down to eastern California & southern Nevada for the CNGO-Dalhousie University northern geoscience training program was one of the most memorable educational experiences of my lifetime. I went down with only a couple weeks of geology training, from my first year studies in the Environmental Technology Program (ETP) at the Nunavut Arctic College (NAC) in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Myself (Kugluktuk, NU), Eddy Long (Whitehorse, YT), Karlene Napayok (Rankin Inlet, NU), Joanna Panipak (Clyde River, NU) were the participants from Canada’s northern Territories (see photo 1). This field school ran from May 18-31, 2014.
At first I was quite nervous & excited about travelling outside of Canada, for this was my first time! I didn’t know what to expect when going through customs or when arriving at some of the largest & busiest airports in the world… such as LAX international airport! All went perfectly well for our flights and connections.
When we arrived at Mammoth lakes, CA we were greeted by Gabe Creason (see photo 2), who was one of the three teaching assistants (TA’s) we had during our course. On our way to camp we stopped in the town of Bishop, CA for supper. We then drove to camp through the Westgard Pass area at Camp Nelson, to meet up with the rest of the teaching staff & students.
On our first day we toured the Long Valley Caldera including the Bishop Tuff near the town of Bishop, CA. Here we learned about a super volcano that once existed in the region and how it violently erupted 760,000 years ago, spreading hot ash & pyroclastic volcanic flow over thousands of square kilometers, burning and burying all the surrounding land. We then went to Lookout Mountain (see photo 3) to oversee most of the surrounding Long Valley Caldera. At this location both Mike & John explained the rifting that separated the White Mountains and the Sierra Nevada.
Then we went to the Obsidian Dome (see photo 4) which erupted 600 years ago and there is still hot, liquid magma below the surface that hasn’t reached the surface yet, but gas is slowly seeping out through veins and cracks in the ground. We ended the field trip by going to Hot Springs Creek near Bishop, CA. This was a great experience, for I have never been to a hot springs before.
Over the next few days we learned how to take strike & dip measurements using Brunton compasses, layer width measurements using Jacobs Staff’s (plastic tube pipes with taping set at 10cm intervals), identifying various types of folds (anticline, syncline, overturned anticline & overturned syncline), faults (normal, reverse/thrust, strike-slip & undetermined) and determining contacts between different layers and rock types.
With all that we learned, we worked on making a geologic map and cross-section of the Little Poleta map area with the help & direction of our teaching staff; Mike, Rachel, Leigh & Gabe. It took a few days to really get a good, solid idea of how you connect all the strike & dip measurements, contacts, folds & faults to create a 3D image of the area using the map and cross-section.
During our last morning in the Westgard Pass, Gabe and James took us up higher in the mountains to watch the early morning sunrise on the Sierra Nevada, it was a spectacular & beautiful view to witness (see photo 5).
During our stay at Camp Nelson in the Westgard Pass, we experienced varying temperatures, from -5 to +30 degrees Celsius and weather conditions from snow/hail, rain and clear & hot beautiful days.
We then packed up camp and headed for Furnace Creek, CA in Death Valley National Park. We arrived to +40-45 degree Celsius temperatures and a relative humidity of about 2-3%. It was crazy hot for us Northerners at first, but most of us did what we could to bear the intense temperature and help setup camp.
During our stay in Furnace Creek, we visited Monarch Canyon where we learned about metamorphism and erosion. We visited the Sterling Gold Mine, located about 14 km SE of the town of Beatty, NV which included logging drill core and reviewing assay results, exploring the portal and open pits, and touring the heap-leach pad and processing plant. We went to Red Wall Canyon Falls with John & Rachel and looked at an active right-lateral strike-slip fault, which records approximately 260m of offset since 70,000 years ago. Then we went to Wild Rose Canyon where we looked at an active normal fault with horizontal extension of approximately 124m. On our drive back to Death Valley, John gave us a surprise visit to see some petroglyphs (see photo 6). Our last visit was at the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley.
We then packed up camp again and started our road trip to Las Vegas, NV, on the way we stopped at Badwater Basin; the lowest point in North America, at 282ft/85.5m below sea level. Then we drove the Artists’ Drive (see photos 7, 8 and 9).
I would like to thank the staff and office of the CNGO in Iqaluit, NU and the staff & students of Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS for this wonderful and eventful field school experience. It certainly was a once in a lifetime opportunity! I have learned a great deal about the geology down in California/Nevada, and I must say that being taught in the field and seeing it all first-hand really makes it so much easier to learn and have it etched in my memory for a lifetime! I would greatly recommend this experience and great career opportunity to all Inuit and First Nation’s across the northern territories. It really has taught me the millions and billions of years of Earth’s history and that we as the human race have only been around for a blink of an eye in our planets history!