Sunday, July 15, 2012


I've spent the last two weeks in southwest Montana; Dillon, to be exact.  The same area I spent a summer for my own field camp.  This time, I returned as one of two TA's with a group of 17 geology students and one professor.  Tomorrow I have to leave and I'm not looking forward to it.  This place does something to me, something intangible.  I don't know exactly what it is . . . but I like it.

 On the way to MT we camped in eastern Oregon, juggling happened.
and a nice sunset

It's not that there's anything particularly special about Dillon.  It's a rather typical small town with a twist of college atmosphere (University of Montana Western).  There are cowboys, rednecks and rowdy college kids; every night at the bar there is a row of weathered men with thousand yard stares.  Most of us out of towner's stick out like a sore thumb.

No, it's not Dillon, but Montana as a whole.  The times I've spent here have been some of the most memorable, but even that isn't why I love it so much.  When I'm here I feel at home.  Maybe its the rolling hills of sagebrush that reminds me of eastern Washington, maybe it's doing what I love every day.  In Montana I feel a pull, tugging me out of the cities I've lived in and filling me with the urge to run away.  I could tuck myself into the foothills between scrub desert and the Rocky Mountains and wander the hills forever.  The first night here, the bartender who checked my ID told me how she was from Seattle, "Lived on Capitol Hill for 5 years."  When asked how she ended up in Dillon, she only could shrug and say, "I don't exactly know."  I think I know that feeling.

During field camp the days are busy, but they seem to move at a gentle pace.  Breakfast at 7am, vans leaving at 8, work in the field until 4, dinner at 5:30.  For a few hours the halls are quiet while the students work on projects.  One by one they trickle out into the hallway, passing between rooms for a cribbage game or a few minutes of juggling.  Sometimes we go to the local bars for shuffleboard, pool and $2 well drinks.  Over the summer these bars are overrun with college geologists- tired and sunburned- welcoming the chance to look away from a map for a few hours.

 The students checking out an outcrop. Dinwoody Formation.

 James examining something . . .

 Amy taking notes

 You have to watch out for the cacti!

 Becky teaching. Blackleaf formation.
James helps Kelsey take a strike and dip.

The field areas in which we work are vast and open.  Some days I walked the 1.5 miles from end to end without seeing a soul.  Somehow the 19 other people get swallowed up in the rocky ridges and sage choked valleys so it's just me, the rabbits and an occasional wary rattlesnake.  From a high ridge I can see for miles to green coated mountains surrounding the high desert valley.  Every day around 2 or 3 the clear, blue skies grow dark as a thunderhead builds over the west hills.  It could pass by only emitting ominous rumblings; or, if we are lucky a few minute downpour that douses our burning skin but leaves the students scrambling to protect their precious maps.

 Abby and Audrey taking strikes and dips.

One day we had a break and took a trip to the Lewis and Clark Caverns.  Spending an hour and a half in the sub 50 degree caves was a welcome relief from the balmy hot days in the field.  The tour was lead by an enthusiastic girl with horribly corny jokes that she's probably had to tell hundreds of times.  With a group of twenty-somethings surrounded by provocatively shaped stalactites and stalagmites, the tour was decidedly family UN-friendly.

Aside from the endlessly beautiful landscape, this trip was amazing because I have had the pleasure of working with a top notch group of students.  This has been as much a learning experience for me as them because it is my first time teaching in the field.  Every day I got to spend running from group to group was a joy.  I'm thankful for their willingness to listen and learn as much as for their patience with me as I figured out how to do this for the first time.

 It's not all work and no play.

 Posed learning.

 Rain dance

Geo ladies!

Well now there is just a 15 hour drive between me and my next activity.  Bye for now, Montana!

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