Monday, October 24, 2011

Valles Caldera Weekend

It's Monday, so I thought I'd get my writing juices flowing by giving a recap of my weekend.

I've been taking a Quaternary Paleoclimate Seminar all semester, and this weekend we had a field trip up to the Valles Caldera. The caldera formed as a result of two eruptions: one at 1.6 million years ago, and another at 1.2 million years ago. The graduate students in my class went on this trip to help out and act as mentors to a freshman class in the "Freshman Learning Community". They have been taking a first year writing class that is split between Earth and Planetary Science and English departments. Peter, the instructor for my class, has been spending the semester teaching them about some of the geology and past climate in areas of New Mexico.

The Valles Caldera is beautiful this time of the year, all the aspens and cottonwoods are changing to a brilliant yellow color. I saw some of the prettiest foliage this weekend on this trip. We checked out some of the areas that had burned severely this summer. The caldera is also just really cool in general. I collected some pumice samples from an outcrop, and we also collected some sediment samples which we later looked at under a microscope. Right after the caldera formed it filled up with water and formed a very large lake that persisted for several thousand years. The sediments preserve evidence for how climate changed, which is why Peter is interested in them. We saw some really cool stuff in the samples we collected, bits of charcoal and also diatoms. I was very excited to look at the microfossils, I hadn't done this kind of work in years. I'm happy to report that my field group collected a sample that had about 5 different diatom species, and we got some good pictures of them for Peter with the microscope camera.

The place we were staying was also really cool. It's a retreat center that used to be where they sent wayward priests for rehabilitation. Now it's used for a variety of purposes. Mary, our host, fed us very well and the accommodations were some of the most comfortable I've experienced for field work. We had a spectacular view of beautiful scenery from the dining area, and we did some star gazing Saturday evening. It was also really nice getting to spend extended time with the other graduate students in my class. They seemed like fun people from the little I see them in seminar. I had a really good time hanging out with them.

I don't have my pictures from the weekend downloaded off my camera yet. Check back later for picture updates in this post.

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