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
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.
With basin-and-range faulting, several small ranges form the rough bounds of the much older caldera. Obsidian that formed during the eruption drapes many area landforms, so I have been gouging around this area for several decades mapping the natural distribution of this traditionally important toolstone to provide geographic setting for archaeological study of the technology, movement, and economy of people who have called northern Nevada and the larger Great Basin home for millennia – the geochemistry of obsidian provides direct connection to these things.
There is something in the Slumbering Hills. The unnamed high point is below 7000 feet in elevation and there are few riparian areas, only scattered springs, and absolutely no trees. Cheat grass and desiccated plants of sagebrush and saltbush communities show the struggles of fire and scabby recovery; mining pits and piles pock the numerous roads and tracks that traverse the range. It seems unappealing and easily unassuming from the highways where one glimpses higher, snow-capped mountains that rise in the distance, drawing sightlines to obviously higher horizons.
Big, round numbers are cool, and here I am at High Point #100. It is simply a step on the journey, but it is also a great measure of motivation and experience in getting here. I started this quest in 1995 visiting high points in earnest for a couple years until, some would say, bigger responsibilities got in the way. But like the 100-mile ultraruns I have completed, the long experience takes time and consists of many unique steps on many different trails. It is the process that matters.