Scenes from a drill campaign

The past couple of days, I’ve been in the field, collecting samples with Dr. Fatim Hankard, a post-doctoral researcher from the University of Michigan, and Matt Domeier, a PhD candidate from that same fine school. We’re interested in using Virginia’s wealth of Catoctin formation feeder dikes to do paleomagnetism measurements that might help us constrain the latitude of Virginia during the emplacement of these dikes during the Neoproterozoic.

More later on the drilling technique and goals, but here’s a small batch of funny photos from Robin R., one of three Honors students who joined the researchers yesterday for drilling of Catoctin dikes along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park*. The other two students were Elysia H. and Aaron Barth, former NOVA Honors student and now a George Mason University geology major. Thanks for the photos, Robin!


So here I am as a bad-ass driller. The reason I was feeling so aggressive was I was drilling out a beautiful core, when suddenly the rock face I was drilling in detached and the chunk of rock stuck to the drill, spinning around in the air. We all had a good laugh at that. It’s testament to what a nice core this would have been that you can see water burbling through the sample and dribbling down into the air behind it. Here, I’ll outline the sample (hard to see the dark rock against the dark background) and the water for you:


Another funny moment occurred when we fired up the drill while the bit was still lying in the tall grass. Instantly, it would up a nice mantle of grass into a tube, like a fork twirled in spaghetti:


Lastly, I’d like to demonstrate how far I have advanced in my own arachnophobia by showing how close I got my finger to this fat orb weaver spider that was crawling over the basement complex adjacent to one of the dikes:


…Okay, I’ll admit it: at one point, the spider changed direction, and brushed up against my finger, and I shrieked like a little girl. This prompted another round of laughs at my expense.

Great times, hopefully to yield great data… Stay tuned.


* Yes, we had a permit to collect in the park. It is illegal to remove rocks or other natural resources from national parks without explicit written permission from the National Park Service.


Field gear that I loved this summer

Here’s some stuff that I used this summer and found to be awesome and well worth investing in.

MSR WindPro camp stove – Unlike most MSR isopro stoves, where the stove screws on top of the squat fuel canister, in this one, there is a little hose that connects the two, side by side. This means it’s MUCH more stable. Having a campstove that’s not tippy is super important — getting scalded by a pot of boiling water is no fun, especially when you’re camped in the backcountry or some other site far from a hospital. Highly recommended. Cheap and lightweight, too!

GSI Pinnacle dualist cook set – A backpacking cook set designed by clever folks who also go backpacking. Everything is high-quality and nests together, with thought given to insulation on the bowls, a dependable handle for manipulating hot pots, and a lid that doubles as a strainer. I was really impressed with this. There is even a rubberized carrying case that can double as a “sink” (or a dog dish, if you take the pooch camping with you?). GSI also offers a “soloist” (smaller cook set) if you go camping by yourself. Highly recommended. The only thing that doesn’t quite measure up are the “sporks” that come with it. I stuck with my Nalgene spoon and fork, and my Swiss Army knife instead.

Belomo 10x triplet hand lens – A huge improvement over the hand lenses I grew up with. It’s bigger and clearer, and if you buy it from, they include a brilliant neck strap that has a detachable clip. We’ve all been on field trips where people don’t bring their hand lens — this makes the sharing of a lens so much easier — just unclip and pass it over! I also prefer it to my 30x hand lens — which achieves high magnification at the expense of distortion of the image everywhere except the middle. Go get one; you won’t ever look back. Highly recommended.

Have you discovered any new gear lately that you would recommend to others? Let’s hear about it!

Hand lens + iPhone → Macrocamera

Ever since I saw this at Microecos and Myrmecos, the staff here at “Mountainecos” have been wanting to try it out. Behold my first three iPhone photos supplemented by a hand lens (Belomo triplet, at a distance of about 1.5 cm from the subjects):




That’s a trilobite and a penny, by the way. Try it out; post your results!