Geological Wonders of California Essay

Abstract

The article starts with a brief meaning and origin of the name California and progresses gradually to a few geological wonders starting with tour of Mammoth Mountain followed by following further destinations such as Long Valley Caldera, Mount Shasta, and wonderful caves such as California Caverns, Moaning Caverns and Half Moon Bay. Lastly a brief discussion of ground water and its occurrence in the Himalayas and the Andes is also discussed.
Geological Wonders of California

According to Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, State of California spans the southern half of the west coast of United States covering an area of 158,402 square miles (410,000 km²) being the third largest area wise and ranking first population wise. The Spanish explorers entered from the southern regions and referred the place as California, meaning “hot as an oven.” Thus California is interpreted as follows: “cali means hot, fornus -> forno means oven and ‘ia’ for a place; or with cal -> lime” (2006).

Geological tours can be conducted in California starting from Mammoth Mountain Lakes; which lies in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California geomorphic provinces.

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The official site of Mammoth Mountain states that Mammoth Mountains were formed due to a series of volcanic eruptions about 200,000 years before with the recent volcanic eruption being 50,000 years ago. There existed Mono Lake Paiute in the Mammoth area for about 1,000 to 1,500 years ago prior to the movement of mining pioneers in search of new minerals in the area. In the year 1857 German miners who lost their way in the mountains (named as Lost Cement Mine) found a ledge of gold at the headwaters of the Owens Valley River attracted thousands of people following rumors.

Mammoth Lakes City Concierge stated in 1877 four prospectors organized the Lakes Mining District on Mineral Hill near Lake Mary, later in 1878 General George Dodge of San Francisco bought and owned largest of the corporations named as Mammoth Mining Company.

 The official site of Mammoth Mountain stated in 1879 Mammoth witnessed population and economic boom with the town having hotels, saloons and two newspapers. But by 1888 everything was lost due to poor yields, embezzlements, fires and severe winters leaving just a few business establishments.

Further, Mammoth Lakes City Concierge stated that the Mammoth Company shut down in early 1889 and all its properties were sold at a sheriff’s sale. In 1900’s the old Mammoth was born and different breed of pioneers descended. “The large meadow area bordering Mammoth Creek is known as Old Mammoth even to this day, through the small village that was there disappeared long ago”(2002).

According to the official site of Mammoth Mountain, the place experienced a dramatic changes in early twentieth century with fishing, camping, hiking, mountaineering and horseback riding, but the determined hard skiers with portable rope tows made significant contributions for the development of Mammoth’s growth. Ford model truck motors helped the rope tow skiers in experiencing a rush in alpine skiing and the skiers could be pulled off Highway 395 and move up the Mc Gee Mountain, Deadman Summit and Conway Summit with high propulsion. Rights to build a permanent rope tow were obtained in 1945 by Dave McCoy, a hydrographer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. With good knowledge of snowpack and snowfall pattern Dave installed the mountain’s first chairlift on the Thanksgiving Day in 1955. With these humble beginnings Mammoth has evolved into a favorite world class mountain resort with skiers enjoying its snow and in summer mountain bikers enjoying the extensive trail network of Mammoth.

The official website for Mammoth lakes stated that some of the Mammoths fascinating geologic sites are as follows:

1.      Devils Postpile National Monument

2.      Rainbow falls

3.      Inyo Craters

4.      Obsidian Dome, Wilson Butte, Devils Punchbowl

5.      Lookout Mountain

6.      Hot Creek Geological Site

7.      Mono Lake and Mono Craters

Next destination in our tour is Long Valley Caldera. Volcanoworld stated in the outreach project administered by the Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University, Long Valley Caldera “is one of the largest Quaternary rhyolithic volcanic centers in North America” situated between Sierra Nevada and basin and Range Province. The elevation of the floor Caldera being 6500 feet in the east, 8500 feet in the west with an elliptical shape and 15 by 30 km in size.

Volcanic activity started in the region about 3.6 million years back with trachybasalt and trachyandesite lava covering about 1,500 square miles and shortly rhyodacite erupted as flows and domes (Geologists these silica rich compositions as initial eruptive products of an enlarging magma chamber below).

A catastrophic eruption about 730,000 years ago resulted into Long Valley caldera. The magma chamber roof collapsed forcing about 150 cubic miles of rhyolitic magma on to the surface as Plinian ash columns with associated air falls and ash flows. Volcanism continued on the floor of caldera leading to the formation of rhyolitic tephra and lava, an increase in pressure inside the magma chamber resulted in the formation of a resurgent dome due to movement of overlying rocks upwards. The eruptions about 500,000, 300,000 and 100,000 years ago on the periphery of resurgent domes produced thick, steep-sided rhyolitic lava flows and domes.

The basalt columns at Devils Postpile National Monument are trachybasalt eruptions between 200,000 and 100,000 years back southwest of the caldera rim. “The lava ponded behind a ridge of glacial deposits and cooled to produce spectacular columns.”

The next place to visit in our Geological will be California Caverns and Moaning Caverns. Megan Sever stated that California Caverns are located 70 miles from Sacramento  beneath the Sierra Nevada foothills in limestone beds. According to Steve Fairchild, president and founder of underground adventures, hot brine pools dissolved much of the limestone leaving behind giant caverns about Ten million years ago. The limestone than metamorphosed into marble with present stalactite and stalagmite growth rings left behind.

The California caves were opened for public from 1850, it takes about three to four hours to undertake this Middle Earth expedition covering a distance of more than one mile. The first hour of the trip involves crawling and wiggling through passages connecting 13 chambers of the Mammoth Cave area, and then is the Middle Earth a major cave connecting Mammoth Cave to the Cave of Quills consisting of rare speleotherms and knee deep clay muck, rest of the journey involves negotiating through horizontal fissures in the cave of Quills and underground rafting across 200 foot deep lake in one of the caves.

Moaning Caverns also situated near California Caverns were discovered by gold miners in 1851 and abandoned. Later rediscovered in 1919, it is a largest single chamber public cavern with a total depth of 410 feet and the Cavern was christened by early explorers noticing a distinct moan emitting due echoes of water drops falling into holes in flowstone formation with a bottle-like shape. According legendary versions the tourists would be lowered with into the cavern in ore buckets with candles or whale oil lamps to light their way. Bones of about 100 humans found at the bottom of the cave date back to 13,000 years.

Next we move on to Mount Shasta. According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Mount Shasta described as stratovolcano is located in Siskiyou County reaching a height of 14,179 feet and is second highest in the Cascade Range being also the fifth highest peak in California. A lesser summit at a height of 12,300 feet is called Shastina. Significant to note is the point that Shasta’s surface is free of glacial erosion.

Eruption of andesitic lava took place on the present western flank near McBride Spring about 593,000 years back. Over a period of time i.e., between 300,000 to 360,000 years back a stratovolcano built and the entire north side of the volcano collapsed leading to enormous landslide or debris avalanche, 6.5 mile³ in volume with the slide flowing northwestward into Shasta Valley.

On an average the Shasta has erupted 800 times in the last 10,000 years, but 600 times in last 4,500 years. “The United States Geological Survey considers Shasta a dormant volcano, which may erupt any time and most likely in next several hundred years.”

As mentioned in the Siskiyou College Library sources, Associate vulcanologist, R.H. Finch of Lassen Volcano laboratory first published in 1930 proposing the eruption of volcano on Mt Shasta or Mt Lassen in 1786. The postulated article stated that French explorer Jean-François Galaup de Lapérouse observed on September 7, 1786, from on board ship sailing along California’s Mendocino coast. Though the ship never returned, Lapérouse had intermittently sent reports to France from various ports of call. Lapérouse’s original manuscript map presently kept in Paris at the French National Archives depicts a full purple color smoke of the volcano.

First Euro-American to use the Native American tribe name “Shasta” was Peter Skene Ogden (1826-1827 journal) though not spelt as in the present fashion. Mt Shasta is a very famous summer and winter resort attracting tourists from various walks of life. Modern geologists study petrology, glaciations, mineralogy, magnetization, ancient avalanches, mud slides, volcanic hazard potentials, soils, geothermal activity, earthquakes, gravity, radiometric dating of the rocks and water resources at Mt Shasta. The lavas of Mt Shasta give important indications to the composition of the inner earth.

Next destination in our tour is Half Moon Bay. According to The Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce ; Visitors’ Bureau, the Half Moon Bay is located in a serene environment with green Santa Cruz Mountains to the east and blue-green Pacific Ocean to the west.

Half Moon Bay is the oldest town in San Mateo County dating back to 1840. The first part of the Peninsula i.e., the Coastside was discovered by foreign explorers and in 1776 San Francisco’s Mission Dolores was founded by Captain Gaspar de Portola and shortly after “the Coastside became a grazing land for mission cattle, horses, and oxen” and even to this day the land is used for the same purposes. In 1800’s the Half Moon Bay was a thriving community, the earthquake of 1906 destroyed the last Spanish adobe but the wooden structures are still visible. In 1908 a railroad was constructed from San Francisco to Tunitas Glen and the passengers enjoyed on the sandy beaches, kite flying, horseback riding and exploring. But the railroad ceased its operations in 1920 due to financial problems and increase in popularity of horseless carriages.

As stated by June Morrall, Francisco Gali sailed across Half Moon Bay in 1585 and reported a sharp outline of Pillar Point with the crew marveling at Sail Rock and then at “islet five hundred feet long two towering peaks stretching 150 feet high.”

Later a military expedition was led by eminent explorer Gaspar de Portola’ on the directions of King of Spain before discovering San Francisco Bay.

According to the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce ; Visitors’ Bureau, the Pillar Point Harbor and Princeton-by-the-Sea used by the rumrunners and prohibition agents is now being used by commercial fishermen and recreational boaters.

Wikipedia the free encyclopedia states that, Half Moon Bay is the only known big wave surfing spot in the United States outside Hawaii and the surfing contest is held every winter.

In this geologic study tour we have discussed and seen Mammoth Mountain, Long Valley Caldera, Mount Shasta, wonderful caves such as California Caverns, Moaning Caverns and Half Moon Bay, but we have not discussed the issue of ground water. Thus it would be appropriate to discuss the subject of groundwater in the Himalayas and the Andes before signing off.

According to United Nations Environment Programme, ground water is described as follows:

It is a part of the Earth’s water or hydrological cycle. When rain falls, a part infiltrates the soil and the remainder evaporates or runs off into rivers. The roots of plants will take up a proportion of this moisture and then lose it through transpiration to the atmosphere, but some will infiltrate more deeply, eventually accumulating above an impermeable bed, saturating available pore space and forming an underground reservoir (United Nations Environment Programme – year not mentioned).

As mentioned in Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, world’s two highest peaks are the Himalayas and the Andes. The Himalayas are the youngest mountain range yet tallest and formed due to collision between two landmasses with the Indian subcontinent moving in north-easterly direction. Many of the rocks are sedimentary rocks or metamorphic rocks.

The Andes are similar to Himalayas in the sense that they lie at the intersection of two of earth’s plates; however the plates are oceanic plate and continental plate. The Andes are the longest range of although narrow.

United Nations Environment Programme mentioned that, “the underground strata can store and transmit accumulated groundwater to outlets in rivers, springs and the sea and termed as aquifers.” The glacial deposits and fluvioglacial origin consist of important aquifers in temperate zones and also at altitudes in mountain ranges of Andes and Himalayas.

“Ice-transported sediments are commonly unsorted mixtures of all grain sizes from clay to boulders; typically,they have low permeabilities, acting as aquitards or aquicludes” (United Nations Environment Programme – year not mentioned). Their distribution depends on the erosion, thus in Himalayas it is known that erosion is minimal and thus permeability may be higher as compared to the Andes. Thus the percolation of water may be relatively higher in the Himalayas.

Concluding the tour please note the similarities of volcanic eruptions and rock structures in the California and also the similarities of California Caverns with the Moaning Cavern and finally the differences in ground water in the Andes and the Himalayas basically due to lesser percolation. But the glacial storms too play a significant role in the water percolation.

References

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. California (2006). Retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California

Mammoth Past ; Future. Official site of Mammoth Mountain. Retrieved on October 01, 2006 from: http://www.mammothmountain.com/company_info/history/past_future/

Town History. Mammoth Lakes City Concierge (2002). Retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://www.cityconcierge.com/travel/town_history.shtml

Official Website for Mammoth Lakes. Geology (2006). Retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://www.visitmammoth.com/static/index.cfm?contentID=30

Volcanoworld an outreach project administered by the Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University. Long Valley Caldera and Mono-Inyo Craters Volcanic Field, California. Retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://volcano.und.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/north_america/california/ long_valley.html

Megan Sever. California cavernous treasures. Geotimes (2003). Page retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://www.agiweb.org/geotimes/nov03/Travels110103.html

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Mount Shasta (2006). Retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Shasta

Siskiyou College Library sources. Mount Shasta Companion History. Page retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://www.siskiyous.edu/shasta/his/index.htm

Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce ; Visitors’ Bureau. Coastside History (2006). Retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://www.halfmoonbaychamber.org/community_info/coastside_history.html

June Morrall. The Coastal People. City of Pacifica (2001). Retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://pacifica.ca.us/HISTORY/coastal.html

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.Half Moon Bay, California (2006). Page retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Half_Moon_Bay,_California

United Nations Environment Programme. Hydrogeological Environments. Page retrieved October 02, 2006 from:                                                         http://www-esd.worldbank.org/esd/ard/groundwater/pdfreports/   Hygeological_environments.pdf

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Geology of the Himalaya (2006). Page retrieved on October02, 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology_of_the_Himalayas

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Andes (2006).  Page retrieved on October 02, 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_andes

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