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1 Geology and Geomorphology on Fri Sep 10, 2010 11:35 pm

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Our third trip, first camping trip went wonderfully. The weather cooperated with us all weekend, favoring us with gorgeous sunsets, sunny sea views, and cool breezes to make the hiking more comfortable. Facilitators Greg Stock and Pete Adams helped the group cover a lot of ground, both physically and intellectually. Greg's encyclopedic knowledge of every pullout, every fire road, and every trail helped make this trip especially fun and well-tuned to the group. We were lucky to have Kelsey Jordahl, a researcher from MBARI, along. Kelsey is active in the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, a non-profit which works to preserve this wilderness area which encompasses much of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Kelsey's knowledge of the botany, geography, and geology of the wilderness added considerably to our experience. But maybe I should let the pictures tell the story...


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Our first stop was Garapata Beach on Hwy 1, where there's an awesome exposure of a vertical fault which juxtaposes Salinian granites against younger sandstones. The fault zone is full of gooey clay gouge and surrounding smaller shear zones in the sandstone offer great opportunities to look at cemented breccia and rock damage related to faulting. Facilitator Greg Stock led off the discussion, with Will Fox, Christie Rowe and Debbie Prinkey looking on and Matt Paulson somehow not looking on. (photo: P. Adams)


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We watched the sunset from this beach, which got us to Andrew Molera campground a little late, but I think it was worth it. (photo: P. Adams)

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The headland at the mouth of the Big Sur River, Andrew Molera State Park. The headland is composed of Franciscan Formation rocks, and is one of the few places along the Big Sur coastline where an old marine terrace can be observed. You can see the terrace surface at the same level (~12m above the ocean) looking across to the far shore. This view looking SW. (Photo: C. Rowe)

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Grad student Debbie Prinkey shows off the beautiful faulted pillow basalt structures in Franciscan greenstone. The pillows form when lava erupts underwater (see this USGS page for more explanation of pillows). (Photo: C.Rowe)


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The Franciscan Formation has what has been referred to as a "plum pudding" structure, that is that there are harder blocks in a softer matrix. The blocks can range in size from a grain of sand to the size of a large house, or a Big Sur bed and breakfast. When the sea cuts the soft cliffs back, sometimes a harder block might be left hanging offshore, like this one. All along the Big Sur coastline, it's very common to see big rocks near the shoreline when you're in Franciscan Formation. (Photo: C.Rowe)


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On the beach at the mouth of the Big Sur River, we observed another awesome Big Sur phenomenon: the sorting of garnet (+magnetite?) sand. (Photo: K. Jordahl)


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Pete Adams gave an excellent explanation of sea cliff formation, and current geomorphologic theories about how seacliffs retreat, particularly in an environment like Big Sur where there is a big contrast in erodability between rock types. It appears as if Greg Martin is seriously considering Pete's hypotheses. (Photo: C.Rowe)


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This awesome cliff overlooks a tiny indentation in the coastline called Seal Cove, where sea lions tend to gather and wave their fins in the air to regulate their body temperature. You can kind of make out a little cluster of them in the water at about 10 o'clock to the lupine in the foreground. The cliff itself, typical of Salinian block rocks, is very steep and very high. It's easy to see that big landslides can and do occur on slopes like this, and they can account for the erosion of a lot of rock material, even if they occur relatively rarely. (Photo: C.Rowe)


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Heading south from Andrew Molera, we hiked down a little switchbacked road at Partington Point. This is a unique spot along the coast because there's a submarine canyon which brings deep water right up to the cliff face, and therefore was the only place residents of Big Sur used to be able to bring a ship up to shore. The coastal access was built for the purpose of exporting Tan Oak bark for making leather. (Photo: C.Rowe)


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Never a dull moment with Hellatite. Half way down the path, earth science major Matt Paulson went diving into the bushes to retrieve this 5' gopher snake, christened "Chuck". Chuck turned out to be quite good natured and spent about an hour with us while we ate lunch and did some exploring. Will, Courtney and Greg aren't as horrified as they look - all three ended up holding Chuck for some cold-blooded quality time. (Photo: C.Rowe)


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An awesome sight awaited the group when we descended the path. Unfortunately this photographer failed to capture it effectively, but if you'll take my word for it, the girl in the red hat is watching three gray whales, two adults and a juvenile, passing by within about 50 feet of the shore. For two members of our group from inland states, this was their first whale sighting, and it was even exciting for the most jaded Californians among us. (Photo: C.Rowe)


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The hard-rock nerds got a treat at Partington Point, where the bedrock is Salinian Block diorite with a lot of felsic veins which have been highly faulted. Here's grad student Christie Rowe oggling a text-book quality microfault which offsets the planar felsic vein above her head. (Photo: P.Adams)


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Our next stop was Gamboa Point, just south of the University of California Big Creek Reserve. In fact, you can see the Big Creek Bridge in this northward view from Gamboa. Just north of the bridge, the steep rubbly slide face on the front of the mountain is a clear example of the type of giant landslides that dominate erosion in Big Sur. This is an area of massive sliding of Franciscan Formation rocks. On the south end of the bridge, toward us, the Sur-Nacimento fault outcrops in the cliff face and those light colored rock outcrops visible near the top of the cliff are Salinian block granites. These two slopes behave differently because of the relative strengths of their rocks. Offshore of the Franciscan slope you can see the famous "Square Black Rock" which makes a good landmark to help locate yourself if you happen to be mapping in the Big Creek Reserve. (Photo: C.Rowe)


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Greg Stock does an amazing job of describing the kind of processes which move material around in Big Sur, and the current theories and research work about the uplift of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the general study of geomorphology. It seems intuitive when looking at the Big Sur coastline that it must be rising very quickly out of the ocean, so quickly that the ocean and rivers haven't had time to smooth it out and cut it down. However, actually figuring out how long and how fast the range has been rising is another matter. Will Fox and Judy Marks - geologists in training - may have the answers someday. (Photo: C.Rowe)


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Unfortunately due to the Easter weekend, we lost some of our number on Saturday before the capstone experience of the weekend, the hike to the summit of 5152' Cone Peak. Here's a view from the trail, looking down across the wide Pacific. Limekiln Creek, one of the western drainages of Cone Peak, is the steepest mountain slope in the Lower 48. Its plummeting descent to the ocean over the distance of only a few miles is steeper than the precipitous plunge from Mt. Whitney to Death Valley, the amazingly adjacent highest and lowest points in the Lower 48. (Photo: C.Rowe)


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Here's the part of the group who summitted on Saturday afternoon:
That's Greg Stock standing in the back, sitting in front of him left to right are Debbie Prinkey, Kelsey Jordahl, Will Fox and Courtney Grisman, and in the front are Christie Rowe, Matt "Paulson" Paulson, and Pedro Adams. I wish I had a close-up of the beautiful garnet granulite we were sitting on. Come by my office if you want to see it (E&MS A109). (Photo: P. Adams)


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Greg Stock picked out a legendary campsite for us Saturday night at Pruitt Ridge. We were fortunate to be joined by Sarah Hamilton, the Coordinator of Big Sur Ornithology Lab at Andrew Molera State Park. BSOL had a record weekend, capturing 60 migratory birds for tagging and release. (Photo: P. Adams)


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Our own reptile charmer Matt Paulson captured this male Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) using the grass noose in his hand. Quite a crafty guy. We were glad to see (and catch) many of these little guys since the NYT reported in 1998 that they actually reduce the incidence of Lyme disease in their home range by killing the disease in the ticks that bite them! I'm not kidding! (Photo: C.Rowe)

We had one last fabulous stop at Jade Cove on Sunday - naturally I didn't take any pictures, so please send me some if you have any - Jade Cove is a major collection site for the famous Big Sur Jade, which occurs in Franciscan Rocks and has been mined for years. A 9000lb block was winched in from the subtidal zone at Jade Cove in 1971.]

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