Friday, February 13, 2009

CAMN Bus Trip

This is the fourth entry about the wonderful Capital Area Master Naturalist program that I am working my way through with a class of about 35 other nature enthusiasts. Last Saturday we spent the day with Geologist, humorist and teacher extraordinaire (if I could bottle this guy's enthusiasm I'd become an addict quick) Carter Keairns PHd. The day began at UT, we all parked and piled onto a lovely luxury bus for a trip around our fair city. I thought I was being plagued by allergies at the onset, but quickly realized that sickness was setting in. My memory of the day is slightly fuzzy...there was so much information to take in and a slow rising fever made it seem like a dream. So, thank goodness I had my camera as this will be more of a photo essay than story.

Look familiar? This is the view looking down while hiking up Mt. Bonnell
When I first moved to Austin, I would take every visitor here, and my energetic kiddo's if I needed to run them up and down the mountain to slow the sheer giddiness of little girls.

I hadn't been in about 7 years and was a little in shock by the development and radical wealth. It's amazing that another world lies just east of I35.

I had to put this shot in, just one of Carters expressions that I managed to catch more than any other look! He was so livid and engaging...people were joining our group because he demanded attention...not intentionally of course.


I can't tell you how many different maps of Texas we saw...from every age as far back as the story goes and has been interpreted by geologists. This was the beginning of what made this day seem unreal...Austin the former location of 11-12 ancient volcanoes...I had no idea!

There wasn't a moment of silence, the lecture continued from site to site...

Over Penny Backer Bridge looking south.
We didn't get out of the bus, but pulled up right next to this geological map of the ages...HWY360 cut through a hill...the yellow strip at the bottom, being the oldest layer is the Glen Rose Formation, going up from there is the Bull Creek Member, the Bee Cave Member, Cedar Park Member and on top the Edwards Formation...all representing time passing as the shallow ocean rose and fell.

We had a pit stop at Barton Springs and out came the maps to explain the magic of the Edwards Aquifer...we will be spending more time here on a future visit.
This map was amazing as it showed images from space through the times (computer generated of course) and Carter had outlined Texas in red to help clarify when and how the landmass looked when we (Texas) were underwater. The description made me think that I'd moved here a few million years too late...mmm a shallow clear warm ocean.
Next stop was Travis High School...what? I had no idea that Travis H.S. was on the edge of a preserve. How many times had I driven this road and missed this sign?

The gate was locked. That didn't phase our leader, who strolled up the road, found an exposed area and began the lesson in the street. What looks like dirt behind Carter here is actually chalk with a little settlement on top, so shallow that the kids had carved their names exposing the white lettering. Also embedded were tons, and I mean tons of fossils.

Chalk wall with fossils.
Part of the path looking toward St. Ed's in the distance.

Apparently the Admin. building at St. Ed's sits atop an ancient volcano...snicker, snicker...mumble mumble...hot air-heheheheh.

We finally hit the teachable moment that clearly explained it all...exposed layers of weathered limestone, indicating time when the clear shallow ocean was home to healthy algae, which remain as the calcium carbonate white layers, spaced between some 5 or 6 clear red volcanic layers! It's all coming alive now!


Just down this slope we looked back to see clearly what the cartoon picture explained.
You have to look carefully, but the red volcanic layer lies about an inch above the boulder at the bottom of the picture...

The next stop was in the middle of an empty field...what's going on here?

Meet Jon Brandt, soil expert with USDA-NRCWS Texas Soil Survey explaining...what is soil? The product of old rocks...naturally...but why such an ugly field? Well, this field is an example of vertisol...the most amazing breathable soil that is rich and self mulching, as it has the ability to expand and shrink slowly turning itself over...a builders nightmare, a gardeners dream. There are 12 types of soil in the world, vertisol comprises only 13 million acres...6 million in Texas...beautiful living soil!

Here's a plug of what this soil looks like deep down, chunky black gumbo...this time of year, just before our lovely rain earlier this week...the cracks in the soil were nearly an inch wide...but the bluebonnets were profuse in spite of the drought...you gotta love 'em!
One square meter of soil is the required amount for a thorough sampling. We were looking at a description of what we were standing on. Five factors explain soil, they are:
1. what is there? Parent material
2. living organisims, plants, animals, insects and microbes
3. climate/weather
4. landscape relief, topography
5. time.

Here we split into two groups for our exercise, which I had seen done several times now over the past few years of garden classes...where you take a handful of soil, add a squirt of water and work it into a ball, then you pinch a ribbon between your fingers, seeing how long it can get before it splits off and breaks... it's a pretty accurate account of the soil make-up...
sandy, loam, clay or silt.

Dove scat...why are they all together...probably nesting.
Deer scat, old and new...everywhere! The next class is on scat! Yea!
This is the last image I shot...the most obvious remains of the largest volcano...Pilots Knob. We didn't even get off the bus...this was as close as we could get because it's now privately owned. Apparently, this 79 million year old bump in the ground, give or take a million years on either side...is solid black basalt...just like the ocean floor.
The story of Austin beneith us is amazing. As I'm driving around town I'm drawn to the simple rise and fall of the landscape, and feel blessed to have a yard full of rich black gumbo...a pain in the butt sometimes, but what a marvelous story to tell!
I have to give a shout out to Carter and suggest that anyone living in the San Antonio area check out his class at UTSA, I'm sure it's hard as hell but man, you will learn! He's a master teacher...and not because of his education necessarily...he's that captivating. Way to go CAMN curriculum planners...we gotta keep him, and Jon both!
Happy Gardening!

6 comments:

trelotrick said...

Great field trip teacher... geological foundational understanding... an ancient historical root science of regular ol' gardening. Keep it up... Can't wait 'till the next trip.

Bob said...

I thought all women called animal droppings--poop. Oh well, I think your picture of bird droppings was probably quail. They roost on the ground, with their butts packed together. That way if any thing disturbs them they burst out in every direction, surprizing predators and aidding their getaway.

It can be scary to walk onto a covey in the dark and might make you leave some scat for some one else to examine.

ConsciousGardener said...

Thanks for the tip Bob...I'm not "all" women...that's for sure:)
Learnin' scat is a new hobby, are you a birder?

~Deirdre said...

That was a fun read. I enjoyed seeing what you were learning. I got my Master Gardener certification 2 years ago here in Fort Worth and have been wanting to do the Master Naturalist class.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

We used to live next to the Storm Tract, aka Blunn Creek Preserve, so my son grew up playing there--us taking walks (before they made off-trail walking off limits. I still go there sometimes.

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