Planetary Field School

Over the course of 12 days, we explored parts of Arizona, Utah and Nevada for the planetary field school. I took a range of photos for each stop and have/am posting each set on facebook. Here, I’ll pick one and offer a short description, but given the large number of sites, I’ll keep the descriptions short.

Day 1


We began by taking a late bus to Detroit. The weather was dreary and not the best way to start the trip. Luckily, that didn’t last. We met up in the Las Vegas Airport around lunch before driving nearly 4 hours to Mather Campground. I won’t talk much about camping, but we changed location everyday, and I posted pics from all our stops on Facebook if you’re interested.

Las Vegas Airport
d2 PANO_20170501_193413
Mather Campground


Day 2

Grand Canyon Hike

We spent the first half of the day hiking down the Grand Canyon, maybe halfway down. The grand canyon doesn’t need much background. Its creation was related to a combination of fluvial erosion, uplift, and the types of rocks in the region.

gc PANO_20170502_094612

Red Mountain

Red mountain is a cinder cone that formed ~3/4 Ma.

rm PANO_20170502_164313

Day 3

Lava River Cave

My stop was the lava river cave. The cave is the result of cooling of the outer shell of a lava river encasing the lava and insulating it. This allows lava to flow further, posing increased risk on locals. These are particularly interesting because they’re capable of maintaining constant temperatures, humidity, and other environmental factors. This makes them a prime spot to search for life on worlds like Mars. They also make for a great base on Mars or the Moon to protect from cosmic rays.


Elden Mountain

Elden mountain is a silica volcanic dome in the SF peaks, close and perhaps a part of, the stratovolcano in the region. This stop came after LRC which was such an amazing experience. I remember thinking after the GC hike, why are we doing another stop, how can we compete with the GC? RM was more impressive than I expected. I had the same experience here. LRC was amazing, and in my opinion lava domes aren’t the most exciting features. That said, I think this was the stop I started to realize even the most mundane stops had a lot of awesome things to offer.

em PANO_20170503_162756

San Francisco Volcanic Field/ Peaks/ Glaciation

We saw a variety of formations such as cinder cones in the SFVF and even a stratovolcano (top right) thats responsible for the SF Peaks (bottom), and we ended day 3 but looking at evidence of glaciation in the region (top left).



Day 4

Grand Falls

Before the trip we had an unknown location that we had to map with a satellite image. This was a our chance to see how well we predicted what happened. Grand falls is a river that was a later altered by a lava flow that went into the river channel changing the region.

gf PANO_20170504_123031
after the water fall
gf IMG_20170504_120126
before the water fall

Rattle Snake Crater

RSC was a surprise stop, where we tried to repeat what we did at GF without the preliminary analysis. It isn’t really a crater. Its actually a heavily altered Maar Crater. A maar crater or volcano. A MC/MV is formed when a pocket of magma interacts with water, turning the water to vapor, creating a fast and large increase in pressure, exploding to create a crater like structure. There were two sides of this. I felt very proud to climb to the top of one side (and was the first :)). Of course, it was hardly the biggest hike we did, but I loved it nonetheless.


Day 5

Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater is iconic, forming about 50ka. Just outside of Flagstaff, MC is an impact crater about 1.2 km in diameter and 170m deep. We saw a lot of craters that were not craters, so it was nice to see a confirmed crater. Gavin got to lead this talk (see pic).


Sunset Crater

SC is a cinder cone. At ~1ka old, it was one of the youngest structures that we saw. It’s a part of the San Francisco volcanic field, and you can see it in one of other photos.


Strawberry Crater

We camped at SC, but we also had a chance to hike up it. SC is another cinder cone, not a crater. At over 300m, its a decent hike. I tried to hike up it, but I couldn’t keep up. I ended up hiking part way then going back, but a few others made it all the way to the top.


Day 6

Agathla Peak

This is a volcanic plug or intrusion that feed some type of volcanic structure. Oz says we suspect it feed a Maar Volcano, but he was unable to explain why when I asked how we know.

AP IMG_20170506_123936.jpg

Goosenecks State Park

This is one of the best examples we have of a meandering river.


Day 7

Upheaval Dome

Is it a complex impact crater or a salt diaper? At ~5km in diameter, its thought to be an impact crater, but it is indistinguishable from a salt diaper (where less dense salt makes its way up to the surface). Past authors have claimed to have found evidence of shock, but the evidence is scarce.

But aside from the science, we hiked in and it was exhausting. Just look at the stats (it was a little longer then it says because I accidentally paused it for a bit).


Day 8

Day 9

Onion Creek

A confirmed salt diaper that we used to compare to upheaval dome.

oc IMG_20170509_104341

Green River

Overlook at sapping valleys and paleochannels

Crystal Geyser

A man made geyser due to drilling and creating excess pressure from CO2. It is a “cold” geyser but it looks just like a traditional geyser we associate with early life on earth and possibly on other worlds.


San Rafael Swell

SRS IMG_20170509_161037srs IMG_20170509_161235

Day 10

Marscvale Volcanic Field

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

This was probably the best stop of the trip. It was like playing in a big sand box. Because we spent the night here we were able to take moonlight photos too!


moon IMG_20170510_225930
CPSX formed in the moonlight

Day 11

Inverted Topography (St. George)

IT IMG_20170511_103812

Gypsum Veins

Water rich in minerals is pressurized in the ground and overtime forms these veins of gypsum.

Petrified Sand Dunes

Similar to the coral pink sand dunes, these are older, petrified into rock. This was a great contrast to the CPSD and was  beautiful site to see. Although, I was careless, given that it was the last stop, and let myself get sunburnt :-/.


Day 12 and 13


Flight was canceled, so we got to rebook and planned an amazing trip in vegas! Went out and it was awesome. I gambled for the first time, and I stuck to my budget, spending half as much as I had allowed myself too. It was fantastic. I was so happy it turned out like this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s