Monday, March 30, 2009

Desert Destination: Owl Creek Campground--Speleo-Ed 2009

Every Monday I feature a Desert Destination.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to Speleo-Ed, a weekend seminar highlighting cave education. It was held at Rainbow Basin north of Barstow, California. I arrived late Friday night and couldn't really see much of the Owl Canyon campground, but the next morning I got up before sunrise and climbed up some of the surrounding hills. The large tan tent was the gathering place for the 100 attendees.

Saturday morning we spent inside the tent, listening to a variety of interesting talks. Everyone brought there own folding chair. The tent made it dark enough so we could use powerpoint. Being cavers, we felt very comfortable inside the dark environment.

The screen was a quilt tied up to a makeshift rafter. It was a wonderfully rustic setting.

After lunch there were several field trips. I chose to go on the geology one, which was a popular one. We stopped to listen about the Barstow syncline. The syncline is the folding of the earth into a basin (as opposed to an anticline, where a dome is formed). There's a rather good entry on geology of the Rainbow Basin here if you're interested.

The syncline is a spectacular geologic feature and so easy to see. Many field geology classes come out to study it and measure the angles of the dip. (I think that's the correct terminology--I'm working on beefing up my geologic knowledge, but right now it's rather scanty.)

This geologic feature caught my eye. You can see if it from the same overlook as the syncline, just turn around 180 degrees. 

It's obvious why Rainbow Basin got its name. The different colors are apparently due to iron. When the iron is oxidized, it makes reddish colors and when it is reduced, it makes greenish colors.

We started hiking up one of the washes to explore more in the Rainbow Basin.

There were lots of interesting rock formations, and the clouds even became rather interesting to watch.

As we headed up one gully, it got narrower and narrower, and we had to go in single file. Our group stretched on and on...

The gully walls got steeper and steeper. It definitely would not be a good place to be during a flash flood.

And then, up ahead, we saw the gully go into a dark hole. Oooh. We were all cavers, so we were very excited. 

This is called a soil pipe cave, and is basically formed by water washing away the sediments and eroding the rather soft limestones, dolomites, and conglomerates. There are little mud and dirt formations in parts of the cave, and bat droppings on the floor.

The cave was short, but it was long enough we had to turn on our headlamps.

The entrance on the uphill side was quite a bit smaller, requiring stoop walking and a little climb. We went further up the gully until a tall dry waterfall stopped up. Then we turned around and got to go through the cave again. Hurray! We did some more hiking and went to another cave, this one even requiring crawling. 

When we got back to the campground in the late afternoon, there was another talk. This one was about paleontology and was put on by Bob Reynolds of LSA & Associates and Bob Hilburn of Mojave River Valley Museum. They showed us bones and casts from some of the interesting creatures that have been found in the  area. 

The Barstow formation is called "highly fossiliferous," meaning that there are lots of fossils in it. In this area, a permit is required to collect fossils from BLM lands. Many different animals are preserved in this area, which was a combination of lakes and rivers and uplands. Many lived during the Barstovian North America Stage, during the Miocene about 13.6 to 16.3 million years before the present. I couldn't find a good website about the fossils, but this dissertation abstract gives a little more info about ages and some of the megafauna found.

We took a walk down a nearby wash, where one of the paleontologist pointed out the fossilized track of a camel. It's on the wall of the wash, because it was made before the rock had been tilted upward. I would have never noticed it if it hadn't been pointed out to me.

Here's a closeup of the fossil. The fossil is in relief, meaning that instead of the track being depressed like a recent track in mud, the fossil is raised. You can sort of make out the toes of the camel.

That night we had a yummy dinner, a fun night hike (except for the people who went to the business meeting), and relaxing talks around campfires. The wind was strong and I didn't stay up too late. (I live on a ranch, anything past 9 p.m. is late for me!!)

Going to bed early meant I got up early and had time the next morning to hike around and explore more before the Sunday field trip (which will be featured next Monday). I loved looking at all the different washes and gullies and rock formations next to the campground. 

The Owl Canyon campground is called primitive, but it has limited drinking water, picnic tables, fire grilles, outhouses, and swingsets and playground equipment! It is a super place for kids. And it only costs $6 a night to camp.

On my wanderings, I went up one gully and encountered this little rock waterfall with two holes near the base of it. Yep, those are cave entrances! I was by myself so I didn't go in, but I did check out the entrances and saw that some human garbage had washed in, and I couldn't see the end of the cave. I guess I'll just have to go back. Want to go with me?

2 comments:

The Incredible Woody said...

What a great place! I'm in for exploring those caves!

A said...

Yes, I'd love to go back with you!!

Someday...the kids are getting bigger and soon we'll take them in.

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