Robert – Fairbanks, Alaska

Dinosaur print

The first dinosaur footprint discovered in the Alaska range.

Robert in the mountains

Robert at work in the mountains.

Mountain view

The view from the Denali mapping area.


Wild, wild life: A caribou roams the hills, while a lone wolf hits the road (inset).

Map of Alaska

Fairbanks hostel

Robert's hostel in Fairbanks.

Robert and fellow students

Robert (left) and fellow students in a hostel common room, 1:30 a.m.


University of Alaska


Robert is a double major in dance and geological sciences and will graduate in December. He is attending Geology Field Camp at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

July 8, 2005

I got to see the dinosaur print. TA and I hiked down to see it. It's crazy. The footprint is on the underside of an outcrop of the Cantwell Formation. After they found it, they marked it with pink flagging so it was easy enough to find, apart from the brambles. Ryan (the TA) and I clung to the cutbank of the stream and took turns turning over and taking a look. Although I'd seen a picture, and knew what to expect, it shook me to see it. I'd never seen a print before. Also, knowing that I'd never get a chance to do it in a museum, I rested my hand against it and imagined the dinosaur stepping at that same moment. Scores of millions of years collapsing to an instant. The location is visible from the road. All you have to do is cross a creek.

Suzi, Paul, and Jeremiah attended a press conference. It was front page news in Fairbanks, and radio stations across the state (NPR, etc.) mentioned the discovery.

I didn't get to experience any of the hubbub, being out in the field. I did notice some differences, though. After the news got out, people in the tour buses, instead of averting their eyes from the earthy, rock hammer-bearing geology students, smiled and waved.

July 2, 2005

At Geos-11.

We just got back from a week in Denali and are returning tomorrow. Denali has been beautiful. You know, dramatic mountain slopes, pristine wilderness, tour busses. Had a close encounter with a caribou. We stared at one another from about ten feet away for a few seconds. I raised my hands above my head and expressed that I was human and all that. It trotted off. Phew. I thought that was awesome. I was all ready to share my tale with the rest of the group expecting praise, but when I returned to camp, the bear encounter, lightning near-miss, and 1st find of dinosaur footprint (in all of the Alaska range) stories all totally aced my brush with the caribou.

That's cool, though. I've been working hard. We wake up at 6:30, hike, map all day, work on maps, get to bed around 10:30, 11. 12. You know. But we've got a cook. Seriously. I can't even believe it. I eat better out there than in town. Sheesh. I thought I was gonna be roughing it. She's a geologist as well. Studies glaciers. Each geologist I've been out in the field with has different information than the others. Sometimes that's helpful. Sometimes not. It's no use hiking around in the volcanics with the sedimentologist. Or the sediments with the volcanologist. He calls sediment "dirt." Which it is. I guess.

I met a couple native kids yesterday, one from Nome and one from Barrow. Barrow is the "top of the world." And it's cold. The kid from Nome is my age (21) and has an ex-girlfriend who "had his baby." The baby has fetal alcohol syndrome. He seemed pretty down about the whole thing. As I would be.

So I'm typing in the warmth right now, and I finally got a shower this morning. And today is laundry day.


Yeah, it's been pretty tiring, but I've been learning and learning, and my legs are strong, but the arms have been weakening. Haven't been lifting. I think I've finally got the managing field book, brunton, HCl, estwing, color pencils, maps, food, etc. all down. The boots I took up here are now destroyed so I need to buy more. Today. Gah. And some bear spray. I saw a bear for the first time while out mapping a few days ago. Wild. A true GRIZZLY. It saw us a moment after I pointed it out to my group. Seriously. My heart raced, locking eyes with that massive creature. It was well within range of catching us and tearing us apart, but it seemed more interested in digging up ground squirrels than pursuing humans. Although a couple, last week, were eaten by a "predatory" grizzly. Rare but real.

Off tomorrow again. Back in a few days with probably more of the same.


June 23, 2005

This computer's name is Caribou.

I am covered in ash. For the past three days, we have been mapping in a burn area. Where the ground is not black, it is thick with moss, and the ground springs with all sorts of odd types of life. Other than that, the terrain was quite friendly today: few thorns and little gravel. Yesterday, we bushwhacked through waist-high grass on a steep incline. A few of the less daring were quite critical of the leadership, but I kept my mouth shut, not really caring one way or the other. Much of the landscape reminds me of a rainforest (apart from the canopy -- the trees here rarely touch forty feet). Another fun adventure today was learning to cross a river. It's pretty simple: put on rubber boots and rain pants, find an area that looks shallow with relatively slow moving water, and move with assurance, rock to rock. It's also good to be careful of finding the shortest path, as deceivingly quick moving water may accompany it. We've had all sorts of fun today: finding contacts, coarse-grained granites intruding fine-grained granites (or granodiorites), dacite dikes: the works.

Sleep has been rare, as the amount of work to be done is great. But I'm getting tons of great feedback from the profs. My papers come back covered in red, but full of knowledge.

I am also learning of the darker side of this wilder-paradise. Apparently a couple years ago, a girl was shot to death then dragged into a dorm and dumped in a bathtub. Seems rather strange to me. Suzi told me that although Fairbanks attracts many people who are friendly and easygoing, it also brings in people who are violent and antisocial. For instance, one of her friend's sons was picked up hitchhiking, then stabbed eighty times, and found in the forest. Sounds pretty dismal to me.

There are many native people here. That culture is sort of, well, nonexistent at SMU, learning about the interworkings of reservations is like candy to my cultural appetite.

Vincent, for instance, lived on a reservation just north of Seattle. This is the only place in America where whaling is legal. A couple years back, he was not allowed to leave the reservation because a renegade faction of Greenpeace (that Greenpeace does not officially endorse) was waiting around with assault rifles, apparently to thin the population of whale killers.


Well, I'm leaving Saturday for Denali and won't be back for ten days. I'll have another update then.


June 19, 2005

I'm typing at Geos-11.

The past couple days have been quite tiring, but I've been feeling alright. Some people from Dublin were staying in the room with me, a 23 year old student and her dad. She'd just graduated with a Comp. Sci. Degree (Java), and was thinking about going back to school. She said she'd had jobs before, but didn't like the 9-5 bit. There is also Shane, who works at the Wood Center (student center). Originally he's from California. I ask him what he was doing up here, and he said something equivalent to "killing time." Another guy, who looks about 19, is staying the hostel had to leave the army for some reason, and said he was going back as soon at some time, but that there was no rush. He said, "My goal is to stay alive. If I make it to Christmas, it's been a successful year."

On Thursday, I learned how to operate a 12 gauge shotgun for use in "Bear Safety." Apparently, everyone in Fairbanks has seen a bear or two, and some of them have had to spray or shoot them. I was under the impression that all the bears had been wiped out long ago. Not so. Apparently, if you see a bear coming toward you, you should stand your ground, make yourself look as big as possible, and talk to the bear in whatever human language you want saying things like, "You really don't want to come over here, mr. or mrs. bear, because I'll have to put a good amount of pepper spray in your eyes, and you'll be very unhappy." The last thing you should do is run. If you do not run, the bear doesn't know if you're food or not, but if you do, it sends a message at you are prey. For a Black Bear, if you are attacked, you should play dead. For a Grizzly, you have to fight. With a Polar Bear...well with a Polar Bear you're dead.

Two days ago we went out to a basalt mine. I learned how to use a magnetometer and avoid lightning while doing so.

Yesterday I saw my first gold mines. Some were small and along a creek digging out placer deposits, and one used to be a mountain.

Last night it got dark for the first time since I got to town. The thick black clouds thwarted visibility. After finishing up work at 2 am, I slept in the Geology lab. I woke up after everyone had left. Missing a day makes me feel guilty. I hope the group doesn't ostracize me for indolence.

June 15, 2005

I'm typing at a computer named RABBIT in the Rasmussen Library at UAF. Fairbanks is beautiful. We've spent the whole day working. The first half was spent reviewing much of what I've learned the past few years: aquiring strikes and dips, distinguishing between wackes and conglomerates, etc.

The people I'm working with all seem pretty peaceful and have interesting origin stories of their own. One woman, originally from Germany, settled here two decades ago and has an eighteen year old son, but her husband died soon after he was born. She is letting me borrow a bike. The people at the hostel seem alright. They are a chilled, silent bunch from what I can tell so far. There really isn't anywhere to store any of my stuff, so Bill Witte, the organizer of the camp, is letting me store some things at the school. The facilities here are beautiful. The architecture is lovely as well.

I left Salt Lake City at 8 pm local time, and the sun looked about to set, but dusk never ended. It doesn't get dark here during the summer time. The longest day is over 21 hours. Spruce, Aspen, Birch, and maybe some form of cottonwood swarm across the landscape, but rain is scarce and although the temperature range during the summer is around 50-80 deg (F), the permafrost stays permafrost. (But it is slowly melting, especially in cleared areas. Houses are being swallowed.) Something about the foliage cover protects water from evaporating allowing a rain-shadow desert-like climate, while allowing trees to stay alive. If that wasn't enough, the elevation here is only 400 ft, which is surprising to me considering the elevation of the mountains we'll visit.

It is a quiet town, and I hope to explore it thoroughly. Tomorrow I get to learn how to use a gun and how to fight off bears. Yippie.

June 7, 2005

Next Monday, I am flying to Fairbanks to attend field camp for six weeks. I am living in a backpacker's hostel for the first three weeks, and for the final three, I will be living in a tent. Until then, I'm reading up on the geology of the area and trying desperately to get equipment together. I will keep you updated on all interesting developments.



Lone wolf