Saddleback College Students go hiking to Sierra Nevada

Elizabeth Ortiz

Stepping out into the dark at 4a.m. to get on a bus with 30 explorers at Saddleback College for extra credit wasn’t exactly what Danica Sage, communications, 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 Saddleback’s science Instructor, Peter Borella, has been teaching through these field studies for about 38 years. He says he has been on a 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, you’re not just listening, but you can refer to the experience,” Borella said.

According to the “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, molton center core.

Science department chair Jim Repka, discovered his passion on one of these trips as a student with Borella, when he took a class 30 years ago. At that time he said that he wanted Borella’s job.

” Son of a gun, I got hired as a job opened up here at Saddleback and I love getting paid for something I love to talk about anyways,” Rebka said. ” The study of geology is about looking at how rocks were formed by what was taking place at the time,” Rebka said. ” On this 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.”

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. He explained the faulting and shifting of the earth is caused by the San Andres and Garlock faults running against each other creating the sizemic activity. The Garlock Fault is in the Owens Valley. Valleys are formed due to these faults.

” I learned a great deal about the geology of the Eastern Sierra Nevada and the Owens Valley. I learned about the granit make-up of the mountains, as well as the uplifting that caused them and the spreading that created the Owens Valley,” said Matt Tolles, 23 geology.

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,” Tolles said.

Fossil Falls, halfway between Ransburg and Mt. Whitney, was next on the agenda 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,” Borella said.

Geologist 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,” Rebka said.

Borella ordered the group to sprawl out camping gear and gather for dinner before night came. Seeing falling stars in the open air and getting to sleep before hiking eight miles to Mt. Whitney in the morning was something most in the group said they were experiencing for the first time.

“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. 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, 19, biology.

Big smiles await at the 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 Devils Post Pile. These hot springs are studied because of geo thermal activity.

“The geo-thermo activity results from the magma heating and encountering ground water that migrates towards in an area where the geo thermal 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 geo thermo activity has come about,” Borella said.

“If you sleep in Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort, an area where there is thermo activity, you most likely won’t wake up because the geo thermo activity is thicker then 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 Post Pile, 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 a extra unit on record.

” The trip was so much fun, I learned a lot and this trip rocks my socks off,” CJ, 26, geology.

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