Saturday, March 31, 2012

Trilobites and Petroglyphs

Over spring break, we went to Nevada to go check out different parts of the state. We had hot springs on our mind and aimed to visit as many natural hot springs as possible, but we also wanted to check out other natural sites. We didn't really have a plan, which is Romy's favorite way of going. We just looked at the map as we drove along to find things that were nearby, or stopped at places as we passed them.

Toquima Caves
Cave paintings inside the Toquima Cave, in central Nevada.

Nevada is full of archeological sites. One of the first ones we saw during our trip were the cave paintings in Toquima Cave, just west of Monitor Valley in central Nevada. There was a cool mini campground (with about 5 spots and 1 picnic bench) next to the cave area. It was high up in the mountains, about 7,000 or 8,000 feet. We thought the cave would be a lot bigger, but it turned out to be an overhung area in the cliffs where the ancient native people painted things like animals and such. The paint was very vivid and colorful. It was only a short hike from the campground.

Hickison Petroglyphs
The Hickison Petroglyph site in central Nevada.

Another place we saw, off of Hwy 50 near Austin, was the Hickison Petroglyph site. Here there were carved petroglyphs in the soft stone. There was a little informational trail that went to all of the major petroglyph locations. They looked really old and a bunch of them were pretty abstract. There were even more modern carvings of old visitors from the late 1800s and early 1900s. I didn't know it at the time we were there, but there were a few letterboxes hidden below many of the petroglyph sites. Man, I wish I had know! Next time I will find them and stamp them!!!!

Trilobite Hunting!
Trilobite hunting in the shale.

One of the places we saw as we passed by in the far eastern and central part of the state was a trilobite fossil site. It was just off the road that goes into Caliente, NV near the Utah border. We thought that there might be some cool fossils on display, but when we pulled into the parking lot, there was only a map and a few brochures. On the map, it said that you could go fossil hunting, and it showed all of the good locations! We didn't expect that we could actually look for the fossils ourselves, so that was cool! The brochure also gave some info about what/where to look, and gave some hunting techniques. It also said that you could take the fossils that you find with you!

Trilobite Hunting!
We found some decent trilobite fossils!

We set off on the short foot trail to the hunting grounds. We were in a small mountain range, and it was made almost entirely of shale. On the ground in large and small patches were broken up slabs of shale. They looked like stone roof tiles all broken into pieces. These patches were where the trilobites would be found. Trilobites were ancient aquatic organisms with a hard shell, like a rolly-polly, but it was in the water and much bigger. Their hard shells left imprints in the muddy bottoms of the water they lived in and then when the mud turned to rock, the shell imprints became permanent. We were digging for a little over an hour. Well, we weren't really digging, we were more rummaging through the broken shale pieces, and breaking up the larger shale into smaller pieces, to see if we could see a trilobite in the freshly broken shale. To our surprise, we found quite a few fossils! Most were fragments of the head only, and most were pretty small (less than the size of our thumb). But it was really fun trying to see who could find the biggest and the most complete.

Pit Stop
Stopping for a pit stop to relax in the desert sun.

Most of the non- hot spring stuff we did in Nevada was in the southern part of the state. We don't gamble, or anything like that, so Vegas didn't really interest us (except for stopping at one of the local microbreweries). But there were some cool state parks near Vegas, which we stopped at. We wanted to go to both Valley of Fire State Park and Red Rocks, but we only had time for Valley of Fire, since we spent one whole day there. We arrived early in the morning, and drove through Moapa Valley from the north. As is the tradition, I was looking for a place to get a good cappuccino in the morning, but apparently this area was very Mormon. That meant that a coffee shop just didn't exist! The only option was the local McDonald's, which had some shitty drip coffee. Oh well, at least it was something. Anyways, soon enough we were entering the state park and so began our adventure for the day exploring the red rocks of southern Nevada.

Valley of Fire
Taking a hike in a slot canyon. It was getting hot!

We stopped at the visitor center first, where we learned about the reason for the unique rock formations. It was because of tectonic folding, which exposed a section of red sandstone. It reminded us of being in Utah. The rock was very similar. We decided that we wanted to get out of the bus and hike around a little, so we found a few short hikes that we could do. The first one we went to was a petroglyph trail, which went to some natural water tank in the rocks. People supposedly hiked to this natural holding tank to get water, where it remained for some time after it rained. Along the trail, we saw so many petroglyphs! Some were obvious, but others were high up on the rocks, and you had to climb a little to get a better look. There were some petroglyphs that looked like spirals, and were doodles of the sun or a hand. Others were kind of strange, like animals or hybrids between animals and people figures, and the informational sign gave suggestions on what they meant. The scientists who study them say that the local native people don't know what they mean either.

Valley of Fire
The beautiful rocks in Valley of Fire State Park.

The next place in the park that we went to was called Fire Canyon. It was a part of the park where the red color of the rock was particularly strong and bright. Not many people were on this trail. It was getting really hot! The entire time we were in Nevada for our trip, it was very cold, but now we were kind of shocked with this hot weather! It was so hot, we were stripping down into shorts and t-shirt, and we were still too hot!

Petroglyphs in Valley of Fire State Park.

The rest of the day, we continued to do all of the short hikes throughout the park. One of my favorite hikes was the last one we did, where part of it want through a narrow slot canyon. There were also a lot of sandstone color veins through the rock here. All kinds of pinks, yellows, oranges, and purples! They were like somebody swirled some berry sauce in vanilla ice cream. Geologists don't know if the colors were there as the sand got originally deposited, or if the color came from water seeping in the cracks and diffusing. In some places it looks like the color were obviously deposited with the sand, but in others, it looks like fluid carried it in through cracks. Some boundaries are sharp, and others are fuzzy. It's a mystery!

Sun and hand spiral design petroglyphs at Valley of Fire State Park.

As we drove out of the park, the bus started acting up. It was getting really hot, and it was losing power. We decided to try and do a valve adjustment, but the engine had to cool down to do that. So we decided to try the beer at a local microbrewery called Tenaya Creek Brewing Company north of Vegas. When we got there, we saw all of the brewing equipment, but the inside of the 'brew pub' was a video poker place with a bar and people were smoking inside. It was nasty! But they did have outdoor seating and so we sat outside in the relatively fresh air. The beer wasn't too expensive, so we tried almost all of the ones they brewed. The place only served drinks, no food, but we later discovered that it was BYOF (bring your own food)! After the people sitting at the next table had a whole pizza delivered to them, we decided to go out to the bus and grab some chips and hummus that we bought earlier and some other snacks to go with our beer. It made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable and much cheaper than if we had to order food off a menu. All in all, the pub began on a weird note, but we liked it a lot in the end. The beer was good, and the outside seating and BYOF was great. Oh, and we managed to do the valves that evening after a few beers, and we were on our way back north, out of Vegas. It was time to start heading back home!