Friday, July 15, 2011

Geology Prank at Amboy Crater - Repost

I posted this last weekend, but apparently notifications of my posts were down due to some yet to be determined problem with post feeder and location tags. Hence, not very may people saw this earlier post.

I was recently in central Oregon where I got a great view of the Oregon Cascades. In Oregon the range is a gentle rise with an alignment of large snow and ice clad strato volcanoes and a large number of cinder cones. Whenever I am in the Bend, Oregon area I am amazed at the number of volcanic peaks and cones. Perhaps it is a lesson in geologic time that an area that is so clearly an active volcanic center has not had an eruption over the past 100 years. Evidence of past eruptions is everywhere.

The character of the Cascades in Oregon extends into southern Washington with Mount Adams rising hugely above the area surrounded by much lesser cinder cones and eruptive vents. Several large lava flows in this area have yet to develop soil with trees growing out of the cracks and joints and small pockets of soil.

Traveling through this area and seeing all the cinder cones reminded me of a geologic prank pulled off by a group of high school kids in the desert of southern California. I first heard about it directly from someone that claimed to be one of perpetrators of the deed. He had a fair bit of credibility as a park ranger. He told the story of growing up in Amboy, California back when salts were still being mined on the nearby desert lake bed.

It is a remote area, but at the time was located along the famous Route 66. This highway crossing the desert was the scene of many a car break down and many, many flat tires. A rail line in the area had recently changed out a stretch of track and had left the old weathered timber ties along the track. Deserts are places where debris and waste sits around for a long time and is visible. The tires, old railroad timbers and other desert garbage was an eyesore.

The high school kids at the small town of Amboy got an idea of what to do with this desert flotsam. They headed out on excursion after excursion filling pickup trucks with old tires and collecting other wastes. They did this over a period of many months. I like to think they were providing a public service and imagine that they told there parents they were cleaning up the highway and their parents being pleased at the civic duty being displayed by the the next generation.

Just outside of the town of Amboy rises a black cinder cone. This cone along with nearby lava flows is one of the youngest volcanic centers in the United States. It is located along the boundary between the Sonora and Mojave tectonic blocks and is in an area with some very cool lava flows including some to the north that have some much iron and magnesium they ring like a bell when you try to knock a sample off of them.

The Amboy scholars gathered the tires, railroad ties and other garbage over many months and piled it all into the Amboy Crater. One early morning before dawn they lit the pile on fire. For at least a few hours word spread that the Amboy Crater was erupting. A great geology prank with no harm done to the science.


Steve said...

The story is partially correct. Only tires were used and it was done inquiry only a couple of days with one old pickup that we used at the Texaco station/general store/hotel/garage for hauling trash to a dump in the desert. A couple of people have claimed credit but we never met these people. We were really from LA and Orange Counties and worked there for the summer, and a couple of us worked there during the holidays. This was the route to the river in those days. I don't believe any of us told our parents until we were older. The main people that were upset with us were the Native Americans living in Cadiz who worked for Santa Fe and Roy's restaurant. Business in the town slowed down for a couple of hours.

Dan McShane said...

Steve: Thanks for the clarification. I always thought this was a great story from the first time I heard about it.

Eric Rife said...

Does anyone have an exact date when this happened? Or at the very least, the year it happened?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Steve said...

I believe I was 17 so it must have been in the summer of 1970.

Steve said...

I may have been wrong about the date. Another friend involved said he believes it was around the 4th of July in 1971.

Arch said...

I first heard about this from a waitress in Amboy in what I am sure was the summer of '72. She said it had occurred "a couple of years ago."