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June 19, 2017

Dispatches from field camp: Wrapping up

Dispatches from field camp: Wrapping up

We spent the last week on a large-scale mapping project covering several miles in distance. Just before that started, I took 35 students on a 1-day trip through Yellowstone National Park, and I’m told that people in the park were asking if I was an official tour guide since I was walking the students through the geology at various stops.

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June 15, 2017

A wilderness feel along an industrial path

A wilderness feel along an industrial path

This clear waterway running through boreal swampland marks the farthest Cora and I will be from a highway during our summer hike along the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. If we chose to bust overland southwest toward Banner Creek, we would have to cover at least nine boggy miles before we reached the Richardson Highway. Backtracking to the nearest pipeline access road would require a hike of 20 miles.

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June 14, 2017

Roadhouse provides a rest along the trail

Roadhouse provides a rest along the trail

Sitting in the shade of a poplar, I watch the Tanana River flow by. It’s flat and tan, dimpled by eddies and darted over by swallows that sound like they are chewing rubber bands. I slept last night with my wife, daughter and dog in the upstairs of a handsome, two-story log structure that has stood since before World War I. Tonight, Cora and I will sleep there again.

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June 13, 2017

Dispatches from field camp: Our mini shiprock

Dispatches from field camp: Our mini shiprock

Shiprock in New Mexico is a classic example of a volcanic neck. It is a vertical column of volcanic rock that sticks up around the surrounding landscape, with dikes that radiate from the central core. Although ours isn’t as high, we have a literal version of Shiprock in our field area.

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June 12, 2017

Dispatches from field camp: The Big Sky rocks

Dispatches from field camp: The Big Sky rocks

In my last post, I showed off some of the metamorphic rocks we can see that formed about 1.8 billion years ago during a mountain building event known as the Big Sky Orogeny. The textures in these rocks are fascinating. They contained a variety of protolith lithologies, making them immediately complicated. They are highly deformed; so one lithology bends into another very rapidly.

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June 8, 2017

Dispatches from Field Camp: How about some rocks?

Dispatches from Field Camp: How about some rocks?

Here’s an intro to some of the rocks we’re actually mapping. On our first day in the field, we walked the section of rocks exposed in this area from oldest to the youngest rocks we had time to get to. Students were literally standing on 2.5 billion years or so of Earth’s history – more than half the time this planet has existed.

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June 7, 2017

Dispatches from field camp: Meeting local wildlife

Dispatches from field camp: Meeting local wildlife

Although the area where we’ve been mapping is pretty dry, dealing with wildlife in various forms has been pretty constant. This is potentially on my mind as today I set my personal best by peeling 6 ticks off of me. Our camp is pretty large and has broken into separate groups, each group shifting between different areas.

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Dispatches from Field Camp – the Montana Sky

Dispatches from Field Camp – the Montana Sky

One of the things you can’t help but notice once you come to Montana is the sky. According to my daily topo maps, most of my time is spent in-between contours 5600 and 5800, so literally 1 mile (1.8 kilometers) above sea level. I haven’t traveled enough myself to know if you get the same effect around the world, but once you come to a field camp here the phrase “big sky country,” one of the official nicknames for Montana, definitely fits.

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June 6, 2017

Dispatches from Field Camp

Dispatches from Field Camp

My name is Brian Balta and I’m a visiting professor of petrology at Texas A&M University. I’m writing this post today and a few others I hope to share this week from the University of Montana Western, which has served as home to me and about 80 other students from Texas A&M for the past 2 weeks.

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June 1, 2017

High school students in the field, monitoring streams

The Nichols College Pipeline program has completed the 18th consecutive year of field work on streamflow and water quality in the same streams at the same time of year with high school students. Our most useful measurements have proved to be the combination of the aesthetic underwater view of clarity and substrate covering.

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