Wednesday, November 23, 2011

High School Honors Earth Science and the University of California

Notice to California High School teachers and staff

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce that a high school course, entitled Honors Earth Science, has been approved by the UC Academic Senate Board on Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), and also by the UC Office of the President. The course was designed principally by Wendy Van Norden with help from the rest of us. It is listed on, under the listings for Harvard Westlake School, North Hollywood, CA. The course outline appears on the website of Harvard Westlake School, at There is also an Honors Geology curriculum available at Harvard-Westlake that also has "d" certification at

The Honors Earth Science course is intended for high school juniors and seniors. It has received an “honors” designation by the UC, so it confers and extra point to a student’s GPA. The course has the same level of rigor as most AP science courses, and it is possible to work with a local university to turn it into a dual credit course. Honors Earth Science has prerequisites of algebra, biology, and chemistry. In principle, any high school that adopts this course should receive UC's "d" Laboratory Science credit for it. Widespread adoption of this course in CA high schools should significantly increase the awareness of Earth Science by CA high school graduates, UC's entering students, and the public at large.

This course does not conflict with existing 9th grade Earth science classes. It is intended as a third-year science class for college-bound students. BOARS has made clear that 9th grade Earth science classes will not receive "d" certification.

There are, of course, several advantages for students to take a third science course in high school, for several reasons:
  • UC's "d" laboratory science requirements states "two and preferably three years" of high laboratory science are required"; Three years are better than two; nearly all (more than 90%) entering first-year UC students have 3 or even 4 years of science in high school
  • In this increasingly technically oriented world, students will benefit from as much science as they can get;'
  • Earth science underlies any understanding of the landscape, agricultural patterns , the location and character of towns cities, and resource and economic issues, and earth hazards. Especially in California, all people need a background in Earth science in order to become informed citizens because of California's Earth hazards, including earthquakes, landslides, floods, and tsunamis.
  • In this increasingly crowded world, resource and hazard issues are at the forefront of many events and conditions on Earth, e.g. the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the Thailand and Pakistan floods, the East African droughts, the climate crisis. A knowledge of Earth science is essential for every citizen, including those that attend UC!
We hope that this new development will encourage high schools throughout California to offer this course, and thus better prepare their students to function as informed citizens in the 21st century.

We encourage you to look at this course outline carefully, and we encourage you to consider adopting the course in your own school. Widespread adoption of this course would go far towards the spread of Earth Science courses eligible for "d" Laboratory Science credit at UC throughout California. It would benefit all present and future Californians.


Wendy Van Norden, Harvard-Westlake School, North Hollywood, CA
Ray Ingersoll, Earth and Space Sciences, UCLA,
Bruce Luyendyk, Geological Sciences, UCSB,
Tom Traeger, La Canada High School, La Canada High School
Eldridge Moores, Geology, UCD

Monday, November 21, 2011

More Scenes from the Joshua Tree Conference

Some more scenes from the recently concluded fall meeting of the Far Western Section. Thanks to Randy Adsit for these great photos (comments are his)! And thanks again to Bruce Bridenbecker and Copper Mountain College for sponsoring...
My new ride! An abandoned car near the Wall Street Mine.

There are 3 plutons visible in this scene from near the Wall Street Mill. The White Tank "monzogranite" is the easiest to pick out -- it's the light colored unit making boulders in the middle ground on the left.

The interior of the Wall Street Mill. A two stamp mill is in the back. The tray in the middle originally had a copper sheet covered with mercury, for separating gold from the crushed rock. In the foreground is a shaker table, which separates ore minerals from non-ores based on specific gravity.

A "green" water pump, powered by renewable wind energy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Past issues of "California Geology" Available for Free Download!

(From a post on Geotripper)
How many of you remember or know of a publication by the California Geological survey called California Geology? It was a marvelous magazine written mostly for lay people, and it always had great articles on all aspects of the wonderful geology of our fair state. It was an early victim of our state budget troubles, and ceased publication in 2001 after a 53 year run (originally as the Mineral Information Service).

I especially appreciated the field guides they occasionally published including an excellent series on the geology of the Sierra Nevada Mother Lode in 1997. They also had plenty of articles about the teaching of the earth sciences that were handy for classroom exercises.

Cynthia Pridmore of the California Geological Survey has notified me that the entire 53 year inventory of California Geology issues is now available for free download as PDF files from the CGS site (click here for the search page). If you are at all interested in the geology of our state, check it out. There is some good stuff here!

Many thanks to the California Geological Survey for making the database available!

A Soggy Day in Joshua Tree National Park: On the road with the NAGT

(Cross posted from Geotripper)
I spent the last weekend geotripping in Joshua Tree National Park with fellow members of the Far Western Section of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. We hold these meetings twice a year at locations throughout California, Nevada and Hawaii. They are a great way to share teaching ideas and to collect samples and photos of some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet.

Part of our trip was an exploration of the Geology Road Tour in the middle of the park. The road is an unpaved track that is recommended for four-wheel drive vehicles. We would try to see if that was true on a rainy day!
It was only sprinkling at first, as we crossed the Queen Valley pediment. Here and there inselbergs rose from the flat valley floor. These 'islands' of rocks that are remnants of mountain ridges that eroded away long ago.

The process of erosion continues into the present day. Can you see the horizontal scars across the boulders in the pictures above and below? These are areas of intense chemical weathering that formed when the soil levels were about 6-7 feet higher than today. The soils have eroded away within the last 20,000 years or so.
Another interesting form of erosion on these granite boulders is the development of tafoni, the hollows and honeycomb pits that occur on some boulders. The origin of the pits is somewhat unclear, but is no doubt a phenomenon of chemical weathering, possibly when the rock was still buried in the soil.
The hollow above was big enough to sit in. Others have had the idea of using the hole for shelter, as there was a grinding hole in the floor of the shallow cave. I also noticed a lot of charcoal in the soil at the site, meaning that the site was also utilized as a campsite by the local Native Americans.

We passed Malapai Hill, a 400 foot high basaltic intrusion. The volcanism resulted from decompression and partial melting of mantle material during a "reorganization" of the crust of southern California as the San Andreas fault system was taking shape. We didn't have time to check it out, but a climb of the hill reveals some nice examples of columnar jointing and fragments of mantle materials in the basalt.
Malapai Hill, photo by Mrs. Geotripper
We dropped down into Pleasant Valley, although with the building storm it was looking less and less pleasant by the moment. The abrupt valley wall marks the trace of the Blue Cut fault, a left lateral strike-slip fault that trends eastward through the park.
We stopped for a look at the Gold Coin Mine (not much equipment left), and searched for a few petroglyphs on the dark metamorphic rocks at the mine site.
At the contact with the granite, I saw a very nice example of a xenolith ('alien stone'), a piece of older rock that was incorporated into the granite when it was still molten. The xenolith was more resistant to erosion, and now stands out.
The weather was getting nastier by the second. The road crossed a playa surface in the center of Pleasant Valley. After the first eight cars passed through, the surface had become 'unstable', for lack of a better term. For the first time in five years of driving my Subaru, I went fishtailing on a road. My car has been stable on all manner of icy and snowy surfaces, but this When we left two hours later, other cars were driving down the one way road. I wonder how they fared.
At the other end of the valley we found some of the most interesting rocks, a series of aplite dikes cutting across the Proterozoic Pinto Gneiss. These rocks are part of a complex that includes the oldest rocks in California (and part of an extensive belt of mountains that once extended across the southern United States).
The rocks have been intricately folded and intruded by small granite veins. The complex chemical interactions have resulted in mineralization, leading many miners to seek out valuable ores in these rocks, mostly without success.
We continued around the one-way loop, on not too unreasonable roads while the rain continued to pour down on us. Luckily the playa surface did not extend to the other end of the loop, and we had no problems crossing the valley.
The view across the valley was interesting...our road out could be seen meandering up the alluvial slope. The inselbergs from the first part of the road tour can be seen on the skyline through the falling rain.
We made it back to the paved highway without incident, but the trip was cut a bit short because our last destination was Key's View. On a normal desert day, the view is incredible, looking across the Coachella Valley to Salton Sea, the San Andreas fault, and the San Jacinto Mountains. But not on this particular afternoon. The 30% chance of showers had turned into a full-fledged storm, so we headed back to town.

A trip spoiled by rain? Absolutely not. There is nothing quite like the sights and smells of a rainstorm in the desert. It was a great day!

If you would like to join us on another exploration of the Mojave Desert, you have an opportunity on March 2-4 when El Camino College sponsors a meeting at Zzyzx near the Mojave National Scenic Area. Information on the meeting can be found here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Scenes from the Far Western Section meeting at Joshua Tree National Park

We will be happy to post pictures from attendees at the fall meeting at Joshua Tree National Park. Thanks to Randall Adsit for the first of the pictures below! If you want to learn more about the geology of Joshua Tree National Park, watch for an announcement about the availability of the meeting guidebook in a few days.
White Tank granodiorite and yucca. Photo by Randy Adsit

Yucca blooms by Randy Adsit

Pyrolusite dendrites in the mineralized zone of the Desert Queen Mine. Photo by Randy Adsit

"Polka dots" from the Desert Queen Mine. Photo by Randy Adsit


Rattlesnake Canyon area in Indian Cove, Joshua Tree. Photo by Garry Hayes

Exploring Rattlesnake Canyon near Indian Cove, photo by Garry Hayes

Porphyritic granitic rock at Indian Cove in Joshua Tree National Park, photo by Garry Hayes

Exploring Rattlesnake Canyon. Photo by Garry Hayes

Exploring the Skull Rock area at Joshua Tree. Photo by Garry Hayes

Trip leader Bruce Bridenbecker discusses Skull Rock weathering. Photo by Garry Hayes

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bizzaro Rocks Day and a Roadrunner: an update from the Fall Meeting of the Far Western Section

(Cross-posted from Geotripper)

We were on the road this weekend, attending the fall meeting of the Far Western Section of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. When geologist-teachers get together, we may talk about teaching, but we make sure our activities revolve around geology. We explore.

The sponsor of our meeting was Copper Mountain College, which serves the towns of Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. The towns are right next to Joshua Tree National Park which sits astride the boundary between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts in Southern California. One group explored the scarps produced by the 1992 Landers Earthquake, a 7.6 temblor that produced a prominent scarp that is still visible today. The other trip was a tour of a park named for an odd tree, but whose other distinction is the bizarro rocks it has. Joshua Tree is a showcase for plutonic processes, with thousands of acres of weirdly weathered granitic boulders.
This is a brief post before I hit the long road home, but here are a smattering of photos of my favorite outcrops. They include the very colorful lichens I found in sheltered spots. Lichens are an entire ecosystem of lifeforms in miniature, a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungi.
And then there was the Triassic megacrystic Twentynine Palms quartz monzonite. I've seen plenty of porphyritic granitic rocks before, but a canyon filled with giant boulders of this stuff was just extraordinary.
I could swear I heard a little "beep-beep", and there it was, a little roadrunner wondering what we were up to. More pics later!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Don't Take Joshua Tree for Granite: The Fall Meeting of the Far Western Section of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers

There is still time to see one of California's most unique national parks!
(Reposted from October 1: Registration forms and more information available at the Far Western Section website)

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most unique desert environments to be found anywhere in North America (See a representative journey with Geotripper here). Sitting astride the boundary zone between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, the park displays a startling variety of plant and animal species, and stunning displays of a Proterozoic metamorphic complex and Mesozoic plutonic rocks. It is a great place to learn about geology.

Copper Mountain College will be the host for the Fall 2011 meeting, which will include explorations of the park, and a journey to the interior of the Mojave to see the scarps from the 1992 Landers earthquake, still starkly obvious after two decades. The magnitude 7.3 quake killed two and produced a fracture that crossed fifty miles of desert.

The Far Western Section of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers invites anyone interested in the geological sciences to join them, including students (especially students!). Membership in NAGT is not required. This is a wonderful opportunity to see a fascinating corner of California's geology, and a chance to meet earth science teachers from all over California and Nevada (Hawaii is in our section too). It is an exciting and economic way to see some of southern California's most incredible geology.

Friday November 11, 2011
6:00 PM Meet at Copper Mountain College Bell Center Community Room for Registration 
(On-site registration cost estimate is $50.)
7:00 PM NAGT Far Western Section Board Meeting
8:00 - 9:00 PM Registration
Saturday November 12, 2011
8:00 - 10:00 AM Meet at the Bell Center Community Room for Registration
10:00 AM – 5:00 PM Field Trips (Choose One)
Field Trip Number 1
Landers Earthquake: Scarps still visible after 20 years plus Pioneer Town: Dating of a Miocene(?) erosional surface – Bob Reynolds
Field Trip Number 2 
Geology of Joshua Tree National Park – Bruce Bridenbecker

Presentation: 6:00 – 9:00 PM Evening Social with Lecture on Mines and Mining in Joshua Tree National Park - Dee Trent
Sunday November 13, 2011
8:00 AM Meet at Bell Center Parking Lot for Field Trip to Desert Queen Mine – Dee Trent
Field Trip should conclude by 2:00 or 3:00 PM.                                           

Joshua Tree Area Services
For a directory of area motels and restaurants visit the Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce Web Site at
Joshua Tree Area Camping
Indian Cove is located 13 miles east of Joshua Tree Village and 10 miles west of Twentynine Palms on the north side of the Wonderland of Rocks. Indian Cove Road dead-ends at this secluded area. Campers register at the ranger station located at the entrance to the Indian Cove area. Water is also available there.

Contact Bruce Bridenbecker for additional information.