Lessons From the Field #2: Always keep the cooler latched shut

In November of 2008 I had the pleasure of going on a field trip to Arkansas as part of an undergraduate mineralogy course.  We camped at Lake Ouachita State Park near Hot Springs.  This area is a great place to find a variety of minerals thanks to the Ouachita Orogeny and the Magnet Cove ring-dike intrusion.  It’s also a great place to have your food stolen by animals.

Lake Ouachita from Blakely Mountain Dam

The Ouachita Orogeny was a mountain-building event caused by a collision between North and South America around 300 million years ago.  Over millions of years the pressure of the colliding tectonic plates caused intense folding and faulting of the sedimentary rocks and the uplift of the Ouachita Mountains.  Many fractures that formed in the rock were flooded with mineral-rich water, allowing for the formation of large euhedral crystals of quartz.

The Magnet Cove ring dike intrusion occurred later, around 90 million  years ago.  Here magma from the earth’s mantle ascended and melted its way up into the crust, but never reached the surface.  The intense heat and unique chemical elements contained in the magma helped form some of the interesting minerals beneath the surface.

Since then the Ouachita Mountains have been eroding for tens of millions of years, and many of the minerals formed by these two geologic events have been exposed at the surface.   While there are many locations to search and minerals to be found, here are some highlights:

Intense folding formed during the Ouachita Orogeny, located near Blakely Mountain Dam. From left to right: Shawn Spilak, Aaron Snow, and Dr. Sarah Hanson.

The author searching for quartz in the Fiddler's Ridge quartz quarry. Photo courtesy of Sarah Hanson.

Beautiful euhedral quartz sample, caked with the local red mud since I never got around to cleaning it with acid.

The author face-down in the dirt in search of tiny brookite crystals. Photo courtesy of Sarah Hanson.

One product of the above search: a nicely euhedral brookite crystal.

Carbonatite, a rare IGNEOUS calcite (the vast majority of calcite occurs in limestone, a sedimentary rock).

We hunted for pyrite along a creek near Magnet Cove. From left to right: Students Shawn Spilak, Aaron Snow, and Jeremy Sell with professor Sarah Hanson. Photo courtesy of Sarah Hanson.

We found a lot of small pyrite crystals. Here's a nice euhedral sample exhibiting twinning.

Smoky quartz from the above creek.

Here we are along another creek bed in search of phlogopite. From left to right: Heather Piehl, Dr. Sarah Hanson, Jeremy Sell, and Aaron Snow. Photo courtesy of Sarah Hanson.

A phlogopite sample from the above search.

The author searching for wavellite in a quarry near Mt. Ida. Photo courtesy of Sarah Hanson.

A wavellite sample from the above search.

After long days of driving and hiking to these various destinations, hunting for mineral samples, and answering field questions, the evenings were a welcome break in the action.  We spent the nights crowded around a campfire (it got below freezing), telling stories, and asking questions.  Unfortunately after it gets dark and you get tired you tend to forget small details, like making sure the cooler full of meat is latched shut.  Scavengers from opossums (Didelphis virginiana, Didelphidae) to raccoons (Procyon lotor, Procyonidae) to even black bears (Ursus americanus, Ursidae) roam at night, seeking the prized foodstuffs of campers.  I awoke one morning to find our cooler pilfered by one such scavenger:

Various lunch meats strewn out across the ground, pulled from the cooler by some unknown animal (probably a raccoon) overnight.

At least it was probably only a raccoon.  A black bear might have made for a more interesting night.

Camping tip:  Stick some food in the bottom of a friend’s sleeping bag.  Hilarity will ensure.  Or death.  But probably only hilarity.  Or nothing.  It’s worth a shot though.


About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Geology, Lessons From the Field, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Lessons From the Field #2: Always keep the cooler latched shut

  1. Jim Martin says:

    Class trip (a 600 level biogeography class at Texas A&M with Merrill Sweet) …we we’re camping out at Big Bend, up in the Chisos, one of our group put some beef or chicken under one of the other party member’s tent. The peccaries did come….

    The next day, the guy who did the meat placing spent a lot of time defending himself. Literally.

    I looked up Dr. Sweet just now:


    it was his son that placed the meat under the other student’s tent…


  2. Jeremy Sell says:

    I’ve heard some entertaining stories about the peccaries (javalinas) in Big Bend. They apparently flock to campsites like moths to a flame.


  3. Jim Martin says:

    that and the foxes. I think the locals called them silver or blue – one of them ran up one of my legs and down the other. Cute little guys.


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