A Geology Field Study at Saddleback College

Elizabeth Ortiz

Stepping out into the dark at 4 a.m. to get on a bus with 30 students from Saddleback College for extra credit wasn’t exactly what Danica Sage, a communications major, had in mind when she first decided to take geology. She was only trying to fulfill a general college credit but ended up being challenged in the process of exploring Sierra Nevada, Owens Valley, Fossil Falls and Mt. Whitney.

“I never hike because I don’t exercise but it was definitely worth it to see the mountains up close and personal,” Sage said. “This was the first time I saw nature like this.”

Being part of the “earth system” is what science instructor Peter Borella has been teaching through these field studies for about 38 years. He says he has been on 140 trips.

“This is the fun part of the whole program at Saddleback College, where you get out and actually learn about the stuff, visualize it and when you get back to the classroom situation,” Borella said. “You’re not just listening but you can refer to the experience,” he said.

According to “A Pocket Naturalist Guide on Geology,” the subject is the study of the earth’s composition and the force that shapes the earth’s surface. The earth is essentially a large rock with a hot, molten center core.

The earth and ocean sciences department chair, Jim Repka discovered his passion on one of these trips when he was one of Borella’s students 30 years ago. At that time, he said with a laugh, he wanted a job like Borella’s.

“I got hired as a job opened up here at Saddleback and I love getting paid for something I love to talk about anyways,” Repka said.

“On the trip we will be studying the volcano process and studying the earth and the rocks put upon it helping us get a better understanding of earthquakes and how our earth moves,” Repka said.

Just past what the locals call “The Living Ghost Town of Ransburg,” students observed a major fault line called the Garlock Fault that crosses the 28-million-year-old San Andres Fault. Borella explained the faulting and shifting of the earth is caused by the San Andreas and Garlock faults running against each other creating the seismic activity. The Garlock Fault is located in the Owens Valley. This valley was formed due to the faults seismic activity.

“I learned a great deal about the geology of the Eastern Sierra Nevada and the Owens Valley,” said Matt Tolles, a 23-year-old geology major. “I learned about the granite makeup of the mountains, as well as the uplifting that caused them and the spreading that created the Owens Valley.”

Tolles said that he learned about volcanic activity in the area but has gained camping and hiking experience most of all.

“This trip has inspired me to continue with my love of coming here and to go on future field studies,” he said.

Fossil Falls, halfway between Ransburg and Mt. Whitney, was next on the itinerary before having to pitch tents for the night.

Black rock that is present today is the remains of a lava flow dating back 130,000 years ago. Indians used this material for spearheads.

Geologists from all over the world travel to study the caldera, which is a big piece of land sunken from the great eruption that took place, rock walls now exposed for sampling and measuring.

“People come here because it represents one single eruption that makes it easier to study geology in its entirety,” Repka said.

Borella ordered the group to sprawl out camping gear and gather for dinner before night came. It would be earlier to bed to assure the group stamina before a eight mile hike to Mt. Whitney the following day.

“Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the US, elevating at 14,000 and 15,000 feet,” Borella said. “So make sure and bring plenty of water, four bottles each!”

Eating breakfast, packing and gearing up for the hike in a timely manner gave Saddleback explorers a lesson in camping. No showers and brushing teeth using bottled water to rinse is not something most students do everyday.

“The Eastern Sierras are one of my favorite places to visit. The granite, colossal mountains are just awe inspiring, and personally that is one of my favorite parts of the field of geology, just being able to go to a place frequented by thousands of people and seeing something bigger than yourself and humanity,” said Ellyn, 19, geology.

During the hike, explorers went at different speeds so walking alone or with only a few seemed the norm on a skinny. Reports of feeling dizzy at an altitude increase occurs often so water and rest along the way are recommended.

According to Borella’s study guide, Mt. Whitney is predominantly granitic emplaced as a series of batholiths that have been exposed by weathering and recently uplifted. The granites are modified by glacial sculpturing and steep river cut canyons. Glacial moraines and alluvial fans are commonly observed along the eastern scarp. Metamorphic bedrock, containing gold bearing veins partly capped with tertiary volcanoes are found on the western flank and northern end of the Sierra.

“I learned that gold can be bound to sulfur and when it reaches the surface, it dissolves in the water, making the area desirable for mining. I enjoy geology because I like studying the different rocks and minerals on the planet we live on.” said Sean Johnson a 19-year-old biology major.

Big smiles await at top for those who made it. Mountain streams surround the area with rock piles and pictures are taken capturing the experience. About an hour is the average persons stay before their descent.

Coming down the mountain to get in the vans for dinner and a nights rest is welcomed by many.

The trip ended with a visit to Mammoth Hot Springs and onward to Devils Postpile.

These hot springs are studied because of geothermal activity.

“The geothermal activity results from the magma heating and encountering ground water that migrates towards in an area where the geothermal plant located,” Borella said. “Some of the things that trap water are caused by the landslides that occurred in the eruption and may lead us to believe that is how geothermal activity has come about.”

“If you sleep in Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort, an area where there is thermo activity, you most likely won’t wake up because the geothermal activity is thicker than oxygen in the air,” Borella said.

Borella also believes that gold wasn’t made from the earth but deposits can be found within and around these hot springs.

According to a University of Bristol study, Gold on earth is the result of a meteor bombardment that took place more than 200 million years ago after earth was formed.

“When the universe was created the temperature was so extreme that gold was created,” Borella Said.

Devils Postpile, a geological monument where people from all over the world travel to see it. Many thousands of years ago the fracture allowed for a release of a cool within the hot molten causing a formation of straight lines within it’s structure.

Last time to get into the vans and head out. Home again to shower and bath. Home again with insight of how the earth is formed and an extra unit on record.

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