Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Badlands road trip 2007

In 2007 I took a special topics course on fossils in the Badlands. This required a road trip across a few states to Interior, SD., and accommodations/travel were the responsibility of the student. A few people were those who made the jaunt every year it (class) was offered, some bringing their older kids, so I arranged for my daughter Brittney to come along with me. She had never been on any previous geology trips, and when I posed the suggestion to her she was very excited about the idea.

The trip out there was a lot of fun. Britt took tons of pictures, as the scenery was far from boring! We passed giant sculptures of dinosaur bones and bulls in pastures, beautiful lakes and hills, and the weather was absolutely lovely. Upon reaching our destination there is an astonishing change in geology. My breath was taken away by the effect. I can only imagine what the early settlers thought when they came upon the barren landscape that I found so beautiful. It was surely the antithesis of what I felt upon seeing the colorful layers of earth exposed from years of erosion.

The town itself made me smile. It reminded me of my little village back home in Alaska. What really made me fall in love with the place was when we stepped into the little cafe and everyone stopped talking to turn and look at us. My daughter was horrified, but I belted out the biggest smile before I could stop myself. I felt so at home! It was all I could do to keep from chuckling at poor Britt, as she is a through and through city girl and wasn't used to their curiosity; instead interpreting their behavior to mean they didn't appreciate strangers. I had to explain to her that when you live in a small town and someone new arrives, you cannot help but stare. It's like drinking a cold glass of water after being parched. After getting directions to the campsite from them (and once they knew what I wanted they were pretty much falling all over themselves to offer help and were very chatty:) we were on our way to the campsite. I love small quirky towns!

I had reserved a cabin at the campsite the class was meeting at and it much nicer than we had anticipated! It was a bit secluded, so we weren't really included with the rest of the group a lot, but this also allowed for us to just enjoy our time together. The itinerary began with heading out early the next morning towards Wall. Speaking of Wall, this is another cool town- a MUST see for anyone! Britt and I had so much fun there, I think my side was splitting from laughing so hard. There is a big "Triassic Park"- like dinosaur that appears innocuous at first, only to light up growl and charge towards you. The normal person wouldn't have been bothered by it, but I about peed my pants because I was just standing there and didn't expect it to move. LOL. It was so silly of me I think the two of us laughed about that for a good 10 minutes. There were a lot of fun shops to browse through, and it was just generally a lot of fun. Very tourist-laden, but worth the trip!

Now back to that first morning in the field.. it was very cold and it had started to rain, so we had to park the vehicles at the top of the hill, limiting us to a small area. The rain saturated the upper crust of the hills (which were deceptively steep) so when you took a step and lifted your foot, a 3 inch rim of mud was clinging to it and increased with each step you took. While I didn't slip, quite a few others did, prompting the professor to cut the day short. Our second day out proved to be much more fruitful. It was still cold, but the rain stayed off in the distance. The earth dried into a crumbly texture, so care still had to be taken when walking up the steep slopes. Again, they were deceptive in how steep they were. It didn't seem steep until you were up on top of them looking down.

Britt stayed close to me, and helped me brush away dirt when we found a fossil here and there. (She pretty much just stayed crouched in one spot watching me work, re: picture, left).  At one point I had spied a tooth, but when I went to reach for it I started to slide down the embankment prompting her to yell at me "Use your rock hammer!", which I did, in order to stop myself. Once I came to a stop I just stayed there for a second, but looked over at that darned tooth! Knowing me as she does, Britt says in her best deadpan manner, "Don't do it." LOL. I had to chuckle to myself when she said that. I wouldn't have grabbed for it, but can't deny the thought hadn't run through my mind. The drop was a good 80-100ft. and were I to fall we were in a remote area that wasn't easily accessible. So I just scooted back up to where the ledge evened out a bit and then sat back up and forgot about the tooth.

During this trip, we were also able to visit a rose quartz mine, see a pegmatite, and a quick trip to Mount Rushmore. Additionally, we were able to browse through the SD School of Mines museum which had beautiful displays of rocks, minerals, and fossils. It was a trip we both really enjoyed, despite the wet and cold conditions. Since then Britt has become quite talented at knowing what types of outcrops I like pictures of, and she will click away as I drive. In fact, she took the picture of the main rock outcrop I used in the title logo of this blog. If you look closely you can see a bit of the reflection from the window (on the right). Being as I was driving 50-60 mph I thought that was a minor issue. :) Esp. since it (picture) was taken with an iPhone!

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