A personal geography of landscape and place, art and geo-science.
In search of place, pattern, and process
Stories are out there, keep going (trails optional, take the other).
Photography, geography, and stories from the mountains of Nevada (USA).
The stories behind my landscape and wildlife imagery.
The TrailOption travel journal, images and words from near and far.
Video experience in geomorphology and geography; cartographic landform dictionary
Archaeologists ask questions about the technology and culture of people, past and present, to better understand changes in human adaptation and lifestyles across time and space. And yet, archaeological observations wrestle with geological problems. People leave traces of their passage on landforms shaped by natural processes–the dynamic landscape influences and alters people’s behavior and continues to alter and mask the materials and patterns left behind. We must understand these processes, along with the climatic and environmental conditions driving them, before we can find answers in the sample of artifacts and features we are fortunate to encounter and document.
The TrailOption Journal
Posts from TrailOption, LightOpt Photography, and Patterned Ground
I was on my way to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, to join a couple colleagues for fieldwork across the Bonneville Basin, choosing a traverse of Hwy 50 as my preferred and typical route. With days getting to summertime length, however, I had time for a diversion. The Currie Hills rise easily about halfway on a south-to-north line between Ely, Nevada, and Wendover, Utah; I was due for a high point.
I am headed toward the Pahsupp Mountains, where a prominent block rises above Trego Hot Springs at the playa margin, but the range’s high point is stretched out to the south as Dry Mountain (6,526’). As I turn away from the playa, the usual landmarks having long faded into the night, my view is confined to flashy, narrow strips of rabbitbrush bright at the dusty road margins. A jackrabbit darts through the high beams on occasion; hard to tell, but I don’t think it’s the same one each time.
The forecast for Winnemucca, Nevada, where our plan was to scour the dunes north of the Humboldt River for foreground leading to annularity, was accurate if not precise — mostly cloudy to mostly sunny. What could go wrong?
Occasionally, a highpoint excursion takes me into an area where our field teams are working, and this provides a good opportunity for a closer look at the landscape surrounding our project efforts. I left home early thinking I would get to the base of the Lodi Hills – my highpoint target on the day – to cover the relatively short, easy walk above Gabbs Valley in west-central Nevada; afterward I might check in with the crews to see how things are going.
The winter snows seem endless, the foothills of the Carson Range releasing the cold moisture from the lake effect that streams out of the Tahoe Basin. The Sierra snowpack is trending toward record depths, and we benefit from the overflow that has been prevalent this season. It does not look to be letting up as the atmospheric rivers remain productive. It means, however, that I must head farther south to find dry ground to explore. So, I am out early on Sunday morning – still a Second Friday weekend – and headed toward Tonopah where dirt will lead me into the General Thomas Hills, an easy-day outing.
Sitting at dinner in Beatty, after our nice afternoon in the Bullfrog Hills, Darren and I decided we would explore another small range on our drive home. The Goldfield Hills are a jumble of irregular hills around the mining town of – of course – Goldfield, Nevada. Mine tailings, head frames, and shacks mingle around prospects, some active, most not.
The thing about mining towns…
I have been turned away twice from Sawtooth Mountain, the high point of the Bullfrog Hills near Beatty, Nevada. Dressed in a crown of radio towers, the Bullfrogs do not seem a formidable obstacle; there is even a road heading up their western side. They are, however, a bit of a puzzle.
We missed a month – the move is complete, finally – but are in the Great Basin outback for December. It is another small set of hills as we head to Clayton Valley, a good winter excursion, to explore Paymaster Ridge. There is a cluster of named ranges here. In some ways the ranges are arbitrary; difficult to tell whether the named divisions are based on geologic structure, topographic prominence, or simply cartographic creativity.
I awoke well before sunrise and, with relief, drove east into the desert of the western Great Basin. One benefit of Nevada’s multitude of named ranges (325 on my list) is that there are many smaller sets of hills and relatively low mountains that I can save for quick approaches with relatively little planning.
It’s hot. The sky is clear, and a parched blue horizon rests abruptly on the dusty brown of the Nevada desert. It is August, of course, when desert landscape photography is a challenge. It’s difficult to think about photography or exploring another high point when the heat is so seemingly relentless. It also seemed I could not escape from work today, so my departure moved later and later, and I considered turning around for home even as I approached my turn-off along the southern margin of the Black Rock Desert playa. I cannot, however, let the noise of the day-to-day get so overbearing that I can’t find rest in the wild.
Motivation is hard to find in the long, repetitive days of summer. The Great Basin Desert seems to curl and fold within itself, even as hazy heatwaves dance across the expanse. The high-pressure domes that keep moisture at bay seem to press downward and inward, sapping energy and making the horizons of endless days barren of interest. I have been in a holding pattern of field days on projects, day-after-day, rarely home for any comfortable time; the repetition threatening to deplete much interest in pursuit of geodata, of photography (either documentarian or creative), and – I’m surprised to admit – of exploration.
With the wilds of Patagonia still fresh in our minds, Bill and I spent a short night in Santiago and then climbed on another Latam flight. We were headed north, working our way up the latitudinal expanse of Chile, exploring the regional extremes from glaciers to desert dry lakes, from sea level to the altiplano with volcano summits at 20,000 feet.