Ge121c: Advanced Field Geology


Instructor: Michael Lamb


TA: Ajay Limaye


Goal: In this course we will employ geomorphic mapping, topographic surveying, sediment size measurements, and sediment transport calculations to investigate landform evolution. The first half of the class will focus on the record of climate change preserved by channel entrenchment on pediments and alluvial fans in the Mojave Desert and Death Valley. The second half of the class will focus on the record of tectonics recorded in drainage basins of the Dragons Back Ridge, Carrizo Plain. We will focus on addressing the following questions: 1) Why are pediments and fans different? 2) Why are alluvial fans entrenched? Is this a signature of the climate change? 3) How do hillslopes and channels respond to a change in uplift?


Trip Itinerary




(Day 1)

Depart Caltech 8 am

Food Store

Drive to Mojave Preserve (~ 3 hrs)

Map channels on Granite Mountains

Primitive camping Mojave Preserve (no facilities)


(Day 2)


Map channels on Cima Dome

Evening: Drive to Death Valley (~ 3 hrs)

Camp Stove-Pipe Wells Campground


(Day 3-4)

Geomorphic mapping of alluvial fans along badwater road

Camp Stove-Pipe Wells Campground


(Day 5)

Map canyon fills in Mosaic Canyon

Hotel Stove Pipe Wells


(Day 6)

Drive to Carrizo Plain National Monument (~ 5 hrs)

Stop: Fossil Falls

Food Store Bakersfield

Camp KCL Campground (no water)


(Day 7-8)

Geomorphic mapping of Dragons Back Ridge

Camp KCL Campground (no water)


(Day 9)

Channel surveys of Wallace Creek

Depart at dark

Drive to Caltech (~ 3 hrs)


Post trip activities: We will meet once per week spring quarter to work through the analysis of data collected in the field. Tentative meeting time is Friday 3-5 pm, 267 Arms.


Deliverables: 1) Field notebooks. 2) Geomorphic maps from Death Valley and Dragonís Back Ridge. 3) Digitized data (Excel) from channel and sediment-size surveys. 4) Data analysis results (to be completed as a group after the trip).




Driving Route Map



Google Earth File of Mapping Areas (Please look at landscapes before trip)


Required Readings (read before trip and bring on trip!):


Controls on alluvial fans long profile (Stock et al., 2007)


Holocene hydrological changes inferred from alluvial stream entrenchment in North Tian Shan, (Poisson and Avouac, 2004).


Nicholas and Quine, Modeling alluvial landform change in the absence of external environmental forcing, 2007


Hilley and Arrowsmith, Geomorphic response to uplift along the Dragons Back pressure ridge, Carrizo Plain, California, 2008


Hilley and Arrowsmith - Supplement


Wallace Creek Trail Guide


Other useful Readings:


Alluvial Fan and Pediment Reading List


Hilley and Arrowsmith Dragons Back Field Guide


Arrowsmith Wallace Creek Exercises


Sieh and Janns, Holocene activity of the San Andreas Fault at Wallace Creek, CA


Zielke et al., 2010 and Supplement


Sharp, 1957, Cima Dome

Logistics: We will map for a total of 9 days. The first night will be camping in a remote area of the desert with no facilities. Day 2-5 will be in a campground with toilets and water. Days 6-9 will be in a campground with toilets but no water.

The GPS Division will provide group camp gear (stoves, lanterns, tables, chairs, water jugs, ice chests, pots & pans, dishes). We also will bring measurement gear (hand levels, measuring tapes, pebble count tapes, stadia rods, shovel, field books, maps, gps, laptops, colored pencils). We will shop for food together on Day 1.

Students are responsible for their own field equipment. Please also bring your personal copies of the required readings. You may choose to bring your own laptop for calculations.

Alcohol Policy

Useful Websites and Maps:

Mojave Preserve

Carrizo Plain

Death Valley