The Sierra Nevada Geology Trip

By. Nic Fiszman, Science 

Once upon a time…

Rocks tell stories. Origin stories about what they were formed from and where they were formed. Coming of age stories about their tribulations from the time they were born to the time we found them, and their transformations along the way. Stories of riches and bust. Even stories about us. Bay’s Geology class set out to the Sierra Nevada mountains to explore some of these stories.

The purpose of the trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains was two-fold. We first wanted to investigate the story of the making of Northern California, from the rise of the pre-Sierras during the Antler orogeny–over where Nevada is today– 580 million years ago, to the latest tremors of the earth crust during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. We also wanted to explore the rich history of interactions we have had with the Earth’s crust as exemplified by the mining for gold in the Sierras as well as the mining for coal and white sandstone in Antioch in the East Bay.

The outcome of this field trip, besides a heap of memories, is a field guide that students designed. They were charged with selecting stops along the way that they wanted to investigate. At each stop, students were required to research what rocks we would find there, what the rocks were made of, and what story the rocks would tell about the making of Northern California. You are welcome to take a look at the field guide that we developed.

The larger context for this trip was the overall class project we embarked on 8 weeks ago where students were asked to pick a prospectable resource, identify the next “motherlode” for their resource and finally take a position as to whether this motherlode should be prospected or not. Between studying the Bougainville Island copper wars, looking at banks of the Yuba River by Marysville and visiting Malakoff Diggins State Park, students now have a more nuanced understanding of prospecting. They understand the importance of the resources for the development of the human population and the potential dangers of extracting these resources.

At the end of the day, whether you are for or against prospecting, to quote our East Bay California State Park naturalist Eddie Willis, “whatever it is that you have around you, chances are you either had to grow it or mine it.”