Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Leadfield: Scams with a Side of Geology

I've personally run into several mining or exploration scams doing field work in the west; these were small-scale attempted hoaxes perpetrated by smalltime, would-be hucksters, most of whom lacked any finesse whatsoever and all of whom were technically outside the mining or exploration industry (most were posers trying to pass themselves off as prospectors, a few were lawyers or accountants, others were swindlers of unknown affinity). Stories about these scams are mostly unwritten and therefore unpublished. I’ve also heard rumors of a few other larger scale hustles or double-dealings effected by people in the mining or exploration business, people I usually knew only from a distance. The reports of these particular offenses have come to me by way of rumor and innuendo, so I don’t know enough about either the details or the truths behind the vague to extravagant allegations to write about them myself. Of the noteworthy historic scams I've lived through or read about, I’d have to say that the two that have impressed me the most have been the Bre-X scam and the Leadfield scam or swindle. One C.C (Courtney Chauncey) Julian was the main player at Leadfield.  More on that a little later.

As for our continuing Titus Canyon excursion, we had just barely arrived in the lower portion of the southeastern branch of Titus Canyon, sometimes known as Lost Canyon (Lengner and Troxel, 2008), where the ghost town of Leadfield sits.
A partly ruined "Cousin Jack" dugout sits right beside the road as we come to the main part of Leadfield.
Just beyond this first ruin, we come to a little pullout on the right. The Leadfield sign sits here, right in front of a fabulous polychrome bluff.
We're looking northwest, nearly straight down the Titus Canyon road. 
Let's look at a little geology before we read the sign. As in previous posts, the the geologic formation abbreviations and contacts below are mostly from Niemi (2012). I've sprayed a cyan line between the foreground and background because the two areas don't hook up completely due to viewing angle. The two faults I've drawn are not the same fault: Though they appear to hook up across the sprayed line, they don't. The fault in the foreground (thicker blue line) is a major fault, possibly what has been called the Lost Canyon Fault (Lengner and Troxel, 2008); the fault in the background (thinner blue line) is a fairly minor fault. Both faults are normal and down to the east (right).

The main branch of Titus Canyon, which is running entirely in front of us near the base of the bluff, heads about 5.25 miles north of our position. It comes into the photo on the right, runs behind the foreground colorful beds marked EOgtc and in front of the farther reddish beds, also marked EOgtc, then exits the photo on the left behind the gray slopes of Cb (so the main canyon is essentially behind my sprayed cyan line but this side of the bluff).
Same photo as before, with geologic labeling.
In this particular area, Niemi has shown two aerial photos in his report, with formation contacts drawn in some detail, so my contacts are pretty darned close to being at actual formational boundaries. We're looking at carbonate of the Cambrian Bonanza King Formation (Cb), which in the foreground is in fault contact with variegated sediments of the Eocene to Oligocene Titus Canyon Formation (EOgtc). The Titus Canyon Formation is overlain by greenish sediments of the Miocene Panuga Formation (Tg), which in this area contains three whitish marker horizons that may be tuffs. The Tg is overlain by the Miocene Wahguyhe Formation (Tw), which contains layers and masses of rhyodacite to latite flow rock correlating with the Rhyolite of Picture Rock (Trp). My contacts around the Trp are somewhat approximate. Above the Tw is a stack of several Miocene ash-flow tuff sheets that erupted from the southwestern Nevada volcanic field; Niemi lumps these sheets into the Crater Flat Group (Tc), the Paintbrush Group (Tp), and the Timber Mountain Group (Tm).

What about the Leadfield story?
Here we can read a simple version of the history of Leadfield.
A lot has been said about Leadfield—you can read a little about it at many many places online—so I won't tell the whole tale here. And I won't direct you to most of the websites, because in my opinion most throw in a few casual statements that are incorrect from either a mining or exploration standpoint. Beyond that, the easily available reports also don't agree about all the details, with the specifics of the scam or swindle being reported quite variably as to timing and even as to who did what, so that without accessing primary sources, one can't even be sure who started the Western Lead Mines Company (WLMC), a key entity in the story. Two major sources agree on most of the facts, Lingenfelter (1988) and Tygiel (19941996), and I've come to rely largely on these two books, one of which I bought, the other of which I was able to read most key points between two different online sources – Google and Amazon. I've wondered if some of the discrepancies I’ve seen in other sources are because of the Leadfield Chronicle (the Library of Congress lists Leadfield, CA, as its place of publication, when it was actually published or printed in Tonopah, NV, according to Lingenfelter, 1988 and Bryan and Tucker-Bryan, 2015). The reporting by the Leadfield Chronicle was apparently nearly as wild as C.C. Julian’s own advertisements, and according to some sources (Lingenfelter, 1988; Earl, 2002), its editor was appointed by Julian, so it shouldn’t necessarily be considered neutral.
The view of what I call "the main dump" at Leadfield, a couple of still-standing buildings, and a nice, broad fold in the carbonate rocks of the Bonanza King Formation as a backdrop. Also, a fault: Can you see it?
The basics of the Leadfield saga are clear and generally agreed upon by all sides, all parties, but remember, definite sides did develop, seemingly right from the start. The agreed upon bits go like this. Early in the 20th century a couple prospector types discovered what they claimed to be shipping grade lead ore in Titus Canyon, in the portion of the canyon where now sits the ghost town of Leadfield. The distance to market was too great—meaning that what they found was technically not ore—so they abandoned their claims in favor of other areas with better potential economics. Some years later, a couple more prospectors  (onetwo, or three) came into the area. They, apparently encouraged by what they saw, staked claims and formed the now well known Western Lead Mines Company (WLMC). Eventually they brought in the flashy, well-known though controversial, oil promoter C.C. Julian. Promoters often have, or end up with, a bad name, and this one had already run afoul of the California Corporation Commission (part of the DOC; now the DBO) for his alleged over-issuance of stock during his previous venture, the promotion and operation of the oil company, Julian Petroleum ("Julian Pete"). Promoters can be useful, however, and they can be necessary for raising the money needed for exploration or mine development.

It's about here where disagreements begin, mostly as to C.C.'s character and complicity in what really looks like quite a stock scam—or swindle, as it is often called—but also as to the character or worth of the mining camp of Leadfield itself. One side, essentially touting Julian as the victim of a serious grudge on the part of the Commissioner of Corporations, Edwin M. ("Mike") Daugherty, and also the victim of being scammed by the prospectors who brought him into the WLMC, is best exemplified here (Latschar, 1981; this article or section, part of a large historic inventory report, references a large number of original sources, although its specific citations are quite general). The other side, which I have to lean toward with all I've been able to read, is covered by the two books I mentioned earlier ( (Lingenfelter, 1988Tygiel, 19941996).

I think there are some things worth noting in all of this, and these issues can be grouped under a few main headings: 1) advertising, leading to 2) were there really handbills or ads showing the Amargosa River, with steamships, flowing to Leadfield or Titus Canyon?, 3) what was the nature of any ore present at Leadfield, as to composition (mineralogy), grade, and size, leading to 4) did Julian really salt the dumps—and with ore from Tonopah?!

As for C.C. Julian's ads, today we would generally consider them excessively promotional in nature and extremely over-the-top (OT) overall. I've found actual examples of these ads only in books. I'm not sure which of the several ads I've seen are the most absurd or OT, but you can see a few examples by following this link (Tygiel, 1994). One thing to note is that Julian had taken an "art form" that had been practiced in the oil boom of L.A. (still ongoing during the Leadfield frenzy)—where almost anything went in attracting prospective buyers, investors, or suckers, depending on who you listened to—and had added his own style. Tygiel explains it this way, "His talents lay in writing advertising copy that encapsulated the hopes and dispelled the fears of the small investor." And then he gives a perfect example of quintessential Julian from his early oil promotion days (1922):
Julian Refuses to Accept Your Money
Unless You Can Afford to Lose!
Widows and Orphans, This Is
No Investment for You!
C.C. Julian continued with this bold style during the Leadfield days.

Many have stated, or repeated, that Julian moved the Amargosa and filled it with more water than it rarely has, allowing steamships to load ore directly at Leadfield or from the lower reaches of Titus Canyon. This assertion seems to be from Tucker (1971), who lists no sources. Tygiel, citing a 1956 source I haven't been able to locate online, mentions the possibility of steamships in parentheses:
(In some instances, Julian allegedly took even greater liberties. His promotional literature for the East reportedly depicted ocean steamships laden with lead ore docked in Death Valley.)
And Earl (2002) states that Lingenfelter had doubts about steamships on the Amargosa, although it's not clear to me where Lingenfelter expressed such doubts. Darn, I really wanted to see a picture!

More than Julian's splashy style of advertising, however, I think what has to be considered is what was actually said about the ores or potential ores at Leadfield, whether it was accurate or exaggerated. Sure, investing in any kind of oil or mining venture carries risk. And as an exploration geologist, I might tend to get more financial backing from a company if I downplay any negatives, really talk up the positives, and inflate the likely size or grade of a favorite target of mine. I might, however, not last long in the business if every property I want to drill is the "best" or "largest" or "highest grade" — or if every single one of my projects is a supposed world beater. Julian brought in several so-called "experts," who according to Tygiel not only weren't really experts in the exploration, mining, or engineering fields, but who considerably distorted or overestimated the value of what might be at Leadfield. The Leadfield orebody was reported as "very large," "one of the largest deposits of the west," and "the largest lead discovery in the United States" (Tygiel, 1994; Latschar, 1981; Tygiel, 1994). And then there are some reports that practically have suggested that there is nothing at all at Leadfield. Which is it?
What lies on this dump? What did the oldtimers hit while digging in these hills? Enquiring minds want to know.
Lots of grade numbers have been thrown around with regard to Leadfield. Many of the numbers are really quite average; a few are fairly high. I'm going to run through them to see what can be discerned. One first note: lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn) assays are often historically given in dollars per ton ($/ton); they are also noted in percent (% Pb). With the first method, you have to know the price of lead on the day of the assay, or you won't know how much lead was present (this is also true for any commodity where the value is stated in dollars, e.g. "30-dollar rock"). Prices of lead and zinc are usually listed as dollars per pound ($/lb). One, therefore, might need to do a little calculating to know what the assay really means. I personally have little doubt that there was (and probably still is) some lead, silver, and zinc at Leadfield (given what I've read and the sources used by the three main writers: Tygiel, Lingenfelter, and Latschar).

1905: Samples of the original prospectors at Leadfield assayed "as high as" $40/ton when taken to nearby Rhyolite (Latschar, 1981). $40/ton is the same as 40% Pb at an approximate average 1905 price of $0.05 per pound, and 40% Pb is a number that would be considered ore grade in almost any time period. So here's a thing: "Ore grade" means that if the economics are right and there is also enough of this type of rock, it is ore. The size and economics are unknown to an assayer, so we say "ore grade" not "ore." That way, we aren't lying. And here's another thing: Were these higher numbers gotten from samples that were "high-graded" or sampled selectively? We don't really know. When I go out and sample something, I can take several kinds of representative samples, which when looking for gold will often come up with nothing or very low values. Or I can take a "high-grade" or "select" sample of some kind, maybe choosing only vein material, maybe choosing rock that contains visible galena or some other mineral or characteristic I consider a favorable indicator of ore. This type of sampling is necessary: I want to know if anything is there. If something (Pb, Au, Cu...) is there, then I can go about trying to figure out how much is there and what the average grade is (usually by drilling).

After 1905, there were several estimates, or statements, or results of assays given.

1926 Probably early in the year, Julian’s experts "obligingly found no ore specimens assaying less than $30 a ton" (Lingenfelter, 1988). Now this is nowhere near as high as what was supposedly found in 1905, unless the statement or assay was really 30% Pb, not $30/ton! Thirty dollars per ton would have been about 16.7% Pb, where I used the average price of lead for 1925 of $0.09/lb. An assay of 16.7% was nothing to sneeze at, but it may not have technically been ore. (The 1925 average price I used was higher by a little than the average price for 1926. Lead was on a slow, downhill slide. I don't know the daily, weekly, or monthly value of lead, and don't know when the $30 value was calculated. So the actual percent might be, maybe, 15% to 20%.)

1926 Probably February, the average Pb value in the WLMC tunnels was given at 8 to 30% Pb by Latschar (1981). Here's something to think about for this range of 8 to 30 percent: That's quite a range for supposedly "average" values, but maybe that indicates that the values were not "high-grade" samples, but were instead representative sample taken along the ribs (walls) of the drifts or tunnels. Another thing to note: Given that 8% Pb translates to about $14.40/ton in average 1925 prices, and given that it supposedly would cost about $18/ton to haul rock to the rail terminal in Beatty (Latschar, 1981; the only estimate or statement of shipping costs I could find), the lower values are not ore. The higher values of 30% Pb, which translates to about $54/ton in average 1925 values, would have likely been ore.

1926 In late February, Walter Abel, mining engineer with the California Corporations Department “predicted” that the actual ore found at Leadfield would not exceed 200 tons with a net value of $16,400 (Tygiel, 1994). Let's see what that means (other than his obvious implication that the ore deposit, if there really was one, would be quite small). What we know is that 200 tons of x% ore would generate $16,400. The rock, therefore, was $82-dollar rock; it would assay at $82 per ton. This is definitely ore grade, and depending on size of the deposit, it might be ore. As for the actual percentage of lead in the rock, let’s do the math. I don’t really know what price Abel used to come up with his $16,400 number, so we’ll use a high value of 0.1 lb/ton, a nice round number that is somewhat higher than the average 1925 price of Pb. Our ore is worth $82/ton, so at a price of $0.10 per pound, we have 82/0.1 or 820 pounds per ton, and 820 pounds in 2000 pounds (1 ton) equals 41% Pb. If we use the average price of $0.090/lb for 1925, we would get an value of 45.56% Pb; and at the average price of $0.084/lb for 1926, we would get 48.8%. Abel was therefore predicting, implying, or calculating a small ore deposit of relatively high grade: about 200 tons of something like 40 to 50% Pb.

1926 In September or Octobter, the Pacific Lead Mines, Inc. reported "lead assays" of 8% (Latschar, 1981) – again, this is about $14.40/ton using the higher 1925 average Pb price of $0.09/lb: not ore.

1926 In late October, once again according to Latschar, the WLMC hit their target ledge and it contained only 2% Pb; this "mineralized waste rock" (as we often say in the business) was worth ~$3.60/ton using average 1925 prices, probably less than that, given the slow slide in the price of lead.

1938 (From Weight, 1977) "Probably the best estimate of its surface value was made by the California Division of Mines in 1938: 'At various points for a distance of about two miles, galena is disseminated in hard blue limestone. The ore bodies exposed carry from five to seven percent lead, with five ounces of silver (per ton) and five to six percent zinc.'" Here's what our calculations will tell us: 6% Pb = $10.80 @ 0.09 $/lb (1925); 5 opt Ag = $3.45 @ 0.60 per ounce (1925); 5.5% Zn = $8.36 @ 0.76 $/lb (1925). This means the ore bodies noted in 1938 were worth about $22.61 per ton in average 1925 prices. With shipping to Beatty at $18/ton, and including other mining costs (development and driving tunnels, paying miners, blasting, milling and/or concentrating, and smelting) of at least $5/ton (my low-ball estimate, IANAE, I am not an engineer) these Pb-Zn-Ag orebodies did not likely qualify as ore.

It does sound for sure, to me, like the size of the projected, undeveloped deposit or unconnected deposits at Leadfield were overstated by Julian’s “experts,” but maybe not so much the grade. And, the advertising he put out was wild, but advertising and tours were expected. Did he salt the area with ore "from Tonopah"? The only secondary reference I can find for this assertion is Tucker (1971), again with no primary sources given. Other references to the salting appear to be quoting or paraphrasing her. Latschar goes so far as to say, "He in no way salted the mines [...]" when referring to the possibility. Earl (2002) once again states that Lingenfelter "feels" that Julian did not salt the area, but this is a reference I haven't been able to check. I just wonder why taking volcanic-hosted vein ore from the Ag-Au district of Tonopah into the carbonate-hosted, non-vein (manto? chimney? ledge?) Pb-Zn-Ag country at Leadfield would even be considered. The prospectors and miner-types driving the adits and trying to hit the ledges would have noticed the incongruous vein rock; perhaps the people that came up on the train from L.A. wouldn't have.

My conclusion: The area was worth prospecting and developing to the extent that one could find whether it was worth mining, but I wouldn't use my money for the project. This conclusion is similar to that of Ira B. Joralemon, a respected mining engineer, who said that WMLC was a prospect worthy of "careful development," provided that exploration expenses be kept at or below $100,000 (Tygiel, 1994).

Back to a bit of geology:
The main dump is on the left; the far west cabin is off-picture to the right.
The geology (next photo) is kind of simple: broadly folded carbonates of the Cambrian Bonanza King Formation (Cb) are in fault contact with poorly outcropping Titus Canyon Formation (EOgtc). The main adit above the main dump appears to be driving toward the carbonates or the fault itself. The yellowish-orange color on the left side of the dump might be from oxidation of sulfides. If sulfides were intersected when reaching a target ledge near the end of the tunnel or adit, they might be found way down at the lower outside edge of the dump (if any sulfides were hit).

The adit at the far west cabin appears to start in Tertiary megabreccia; that's what was mapped (Reynolds, in Lengner and Troxel, 2008), and it does look like a breccia in photos I have. We'll see those photos next time. Possibly that adit is driving for the carbonates or fault, or even for the orangey-looking ledge just above or along the trace of the fault.
Geology! Most of the foreground is Quaternary alluvium and colluvium.
The orangey rock, located between the main dump and the farthest west cabin, kind of above the adit at the far west cabin would be the sort of thing that might have looked attractive to the original prospectors.
Next time we'll walk out to the far west cabin.

Selected References:
Bryan, T.S., and Tucker-Bryan, Betty, 2015, The explorer's guide to Death Valley National Park, Third Edition: University Press of Colorado, 496 p. [ref for location of publication of the Leadfield Chronicle]

Earl, P.I., 2002, C.C. Julian and the great Leadfield swindle: Death Valley’s last mining rush, in Proceedings, Death Valley Conference on History and Prehistory (6th), p. 79-99. [ref that Leadfield Chronicle editor appointed by Julian; some speculations about the salting and steamships on the Amargosa]

Latschar, John, 1981, Leadfield, in Latschar, John, and Greene, Linda (eds.), Historic Resource Study: A History Mining in Death Valley National Monument, California - Nevada: National Park Service.

Lengner, K., and Troxel, B.W., 2008, Death Valley's Titus Canyon & Leadfield ghost town: Deep Enough Press, 175 p.

Lingenfelter, R.E., 1988, Death Valley and the Amargosa: A land of illusion: University of California Press, 622 p.

Niemi, N.A., 2012, Geologic Map of the Central Grapevine Mountains, Inyo County, California, and Esmeralda and Nye Counties, Nevada: Nevada, Geological Society of America Digital Maps and Charts Series, DMC12, 1:48,000, 28 p. text.

Tucker, B.J., 1971, Death Valley's Titus Canyon: Desert Magazine, v. 34, no. 4 (April), p. 26-27. [reference to salting, moving the Amargosa and using steamships to haul ore]

Tygiel, Jules, 1994, The great Los Angeles swindle: Oil, stocks, and scandal during the roaring twenties: University of California Press, 398 p. (The 1996 edition is the one I purchased, same pagination.)

Weight, H.O., 1977, Leadfield died of complications: Desert Magazine, v. 40, no. 11 (November), p. 34-38. [ref to 1938 CA Div Mines assessment]

Woodruff, D., 2013, Titus Canyon, in 2013 Death Valley Visitor's Guide: Golden Gate Media Group, p. 4-11. [nice pics, ref to a Julian expert stating 1 million tons of milling ore at $30 per ton; also to state engineer finding only 200 tons, etc.]

Location map

Related Posts:
The Approach to Titus Canyon: Tan Mountain
The Approach to Titus Canyon: Up and over White Pass
The Approach to Titus Canyon: To Red Pass
The Approach to Titus Canyon: Just Below Red Pass
A Hike at Red Pass, Titus Canyon Road, Death Valley, CA
Titus Canyon Road: A Little History and a Few Maps
Down into Titus Canyon: We Leave Red Pass Behind (Finally!)
Titus Canyon: The Upper Part of Lost Canyon

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tertiary Tuesday: Hoodoos along Old 8A in Northwestern Nevada

Last week we saw some hoodoo-ish rock formations on a hill behind the road maintenance station at Vya. Let's take a closer look:
When we zoom in on these particular hoodoos, we see that they are shaped much like the "tent rocks" in the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico, and though close to the ground, they also look a lot like the hoodoos, tent rocks, and "fairy chimneys" at Cappadocia in Turkey. Notice the softer, pinkish part of the section near the base of the the central and most fully exposed hoodoo, the white caprocks or "tents" all across the hill, and the darker-colored outcrops near the top of the hill. This outcrop pattern of light-colored rock beneath darker rock is typical of many ash-flow sheets in Nevada, and that's what this most likely is: a poorly welded (bottom) to maybe moderately welded (top) ash-flow-tuff cooling unit.

From Vya, as you remember, we drove south then west onto old Highway 8A (now a county road, possibly still called 8A), and started climbing over an unnamed pass through the Hays Canyon Range. MOH and I hoped we would see some of these hoodoos up close, and sure enough, when we rounded a bend one was sticking out right next to the road!
We pulled over quickly and walked up the hill.
These rock formations (above and below) have an incipient tent-rock shape, with a tiny capping of a harder, more weather-resistant layer near the top. I suspect that these budding hoodoos correlate with the "tent" part of the hill we saw near Vya, where more of the geologic section was exposed.

The weathered form above is similar to some shapes one might see in weathered granite. This particular type of shape—gently rounded or sub-spheroidal—is not uncommon in some ash-flow tuff units, hence the name "granite-weathering tuff" for part of at least one regional ash-flow sheet in south-central Nevada.

Let's get closer:
Here's a fairly large, subrounded lithic fragment within the tuff.
Zooming in a bit, we see that the matrix of the tuff is fairly fine-grained, fairly well-sorted, and some grains look sharp and appear to be interlocking.
It would be fairly easy from this one photo (above) to convince oneself that the matrix was pumiceous and glassy.
Here's another view of the rock: Rounded to sub-rounded lithic fragments and white pumice float in a fine-grained matrix.
I'm pointing to one of the white pumice fragments in this enlarged view.
I had a harder time, after looking at this second example of the exposure, convincing myself that this was unwelded or poorly welded pyroclastic flow rock (ash-flow tuff—same diff). The second closeup shows scattered rounded to subangular dark-colored and white lithic fragments and fairly small to fairly large white pumice in a dirt-colored matrix of subrounded, fine-grained pebbles, lithics, or pumice and glassy-looking particles. This photo could be of a reworked tuff or a lithic-rich or lapilli tuff of unknown origin. Are the pale orange, subrounded fragments pebbly lithics or rounded pumice? If pumice, are they primary, deposited in either an air-fall or ash-flow type of environment, or have they been rounded by reworking in some type of fluvial or colluvial environment? (Your thoughts are welcome.) The two photos, the first with the large lithic and the second with the white pumice, were taken within a few feet of each other.

Standing back and looking at the overall mien of the outcrop, I'm going to have to stick with poorly welded ash-flow tuff.
I tried to find out about the geology of the area and found this one geologic map by Egger (2010), a regional map focusing largely on the Warner Range to the west but also including part of the Hays Canyon Range. According to the map and accompanying text (both are available for download here), these hoodoos and rock formations occur in what has been called the Fortynine Tuff by Carmichael et al (2006) in an article I didn't access (paywall).
I noticed (after the fact) a couple intriguing joints within the tuff, including two that might have veins of some sort or slickensides (the upper, center one in shadow, and one just below it and to the right, also in shadow).
Egger references an age of 26.26 ± 0.13 Ma (Egger, 2010; Egger and Miller, 2011) for rock just a little north of this exposure, rock included in the Fortynine Tuff of Carmichael et al (2006) and mapped as unit Tovu by Egger (2010): This tuff is Oligocene in age.

A Few References:
Carmichael, I.S.E., Lange, R.A., Hall, C.M. and Renne, P.R., 2006. Faulted and tilted Pliocene olivine-tholeiite lavas near Alturas, NE California, and their bearing on the uplift of the Warner Range [abs link]: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 118, no. 9-10, p. 1196-1211.

Egger, A.E., 2010, Geological history and structural evolution of the Warner Range and Surprise Valley, northwestern margin of the Basin and Range Province [Ph.D. thesis]: Stanford University, 180 p. Plate1.

Egger, A.E., and Miller, E.L., 2011, Evolution of the northwestern margin of the Basin and Range: The geology and extensional history of the Warner Range and environs, northeastern California: Geosphere, v. 7, no. 3, p. 756-773.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

One Year Ago Today: A Short Trip on Highway 8A in northern Washoe County — and Hoodoos!

A year ago, MOH and I were out on a two-day road trip that was designed to take us to the section of old Nevada S.R. 8A that has long been rumored to still be signed, though it is no longer shown on state road maps as 8A, nor has it been since 1981. To accomplish our goal, we drove north out of Gerlach on old S.R. 34 (now Washoe County C.R. 34). It's about 85 miles from Gerlach to Vya, a small outpost consisting mostly of a Washoe County road department building or two and some private ranches.

Strangely enough, Google Maps won't let me make a connection from Gerlach to about 5 miles north of Gerlach on C.R. 34 without routing me either all the way over to Cedarville, CA, or taking me down an obscure and suspiciously narrow-looking dirt road.
The route above doesn't start in Gerlach, because it can't. The route below, starting in Gerlach, won't go exclusively on C.R. 34, because it won't.
After 3 hours of driving (driving and stopping, driving and stopping), we ended up at this junction with old 8A:
The junction of old S.R. 34 and old S.R. 8A in northern Washoe County.
At this point, we turned right to see what we might find.
An 8A sign, up ahead!
This is actually a "To 8A" sign! It's pretty well marked for a road that no longer exists, I'd say!

A little ways on, around a bend taking us back to the north, we came to another junction, one with several signs.
A small sign forest appears at the junction of conjoined 34+8A and 8A, which turns off to the east.
Here's another "To 8A" sign. Turn east just ahead.
Vya is now shown as being a mile to the north on continuing C.R. 34, and the sign says you will reach Denio or Winnemucca in many miles if you turn right.
The rest of the signs at the second junction are the back side of a yield sign, a BLM sign pointing to unreadable destinations, and a "To 34" sign beyond that.
We turn right, of course, so we will be able to say we drove onto the northern leg of old Highway 8A. Now, what do those signs say?
This is 8A. It's signed. The sign doesn't say it's a county road.
"Road not regularly maintained. Travel at your own risk. Closed during winter."
This warning sign was put in place sometime after the infamous Stolpa incident back in late 1992 – early 1993 (some links here).
There's the jeep, barely on 8A, back at the junction with 34. Oh, and look: hoodoos!
We drove north on C.R. 34 to the maintenance station at Vya. Apparently if we had driven a little farther north, we'd have been at the site of the old town of Vya, now a ghost town.
There's a good batch of hoodoos in volcanic rock on the hillside behind the maintenance station. Don't ever plan on getting gas at Vya! There isn't any!!
Having met our defined goal of reaching the northern portion of old Highway 8A, we turned back to the south. From the junction up ahead (the one we turned east on briefly), to the CA state line, we will be on old 8A, and for a short distance, also on old 34. Highway 34 wasn't even a marked road until sometime after 1939, whereas 8A was on maps as early as 1929 (a few maps and links here).
We head south on 34, which will turn into unmarked 8A (combined with 34) at the junction just ahead.
Now we've rounded that first bend and are back at our first junction. We'll head west on unmarked 8A. There may be hints of hoodoos on the far slope.
Now we've crossed over an unnamed pass in the Hays Canyon Range, and are nearing the NV-CA border.
There was a profusion of sign at the border, but no sign marking 8A going back into Nevada.
We stopped at the stateline to see if the sign that had marked 8A would still be there, but it wasn't. Gravel turned to pavement, old 8A became CA 299, and we drove on down into Surprise Valley, which wasn't looking very green a year ago today.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Titus Canyon: The Upper Part of Lost Canyon

As we descend the west side of Red Pass and enter the realm of Titus Canyon proper—as opposed to being just on the Titus Canyon road—the geology becomes a little more complex than the Tertiary-to-the-north–Cambrian-to-the-south scenario that we've been seeing since leaving Tan Mountain. Just for the heck of it, I’ve shown a little of the geologic complexity of the area below, although the contacts I’ve drawn, using Google Earth’s “Add Path” tool, are merely the ones I’ve felt the need to investigate during the course of writing these little blurbs about Titus Canyon: They by no means represent all the geology, nor are they guaranteed to be accurate or precise. And I’ll probably add a few more lines before we reach Titus Canyon’s alluvial fan!
Geologic contacts are in cyan and other colors; faults are thicker lines in dark blue, dark purple, and magenta. Geology is modified from Niemi (2012) and Reynolds (1974, also as seen in Lengner and Troxel, 2008).
On the last bit of our journey along the Titus Canyon road, we had stopped to briefly consider the geology of Tc Hill, and we had nearly reached the sharp turn at the western base of Red Pass. We have now fully entered the southeasternmost branch of upper Titus Canyon.

There are three branches to upper Titus Canyon. The longest branch, the northern or western, runs about 5 miles almost due south from its headwaters near Alkali Spring; this branch is labeled Titus Canyon on topo maps. The second longest branch, the southern or southeastern, runs about 2.5 miles northwest from Red Pass; though unnamed, we're calling this branch Lost Canyon after Lengner and Troxel (2008) and others. A third branch, the eastern or middle, runs about 2.4 miles southwest from headwaters in the volcanic hills near the California-Nevada border; this branch is also unnamed, and I'm not aware of any local or regional designations for it. The three branches meet just below Leadfield.
The three branches of upper Titus Canyon: The main, west or north branch, aka Titus Canyon, is in purple; the unnamed middle or east branch is in yellow; and the unnamed southeast or south branch, aka Lost Canyon, is in red.
At the western base of Red Pass, the road takes a tight curve and heads west-northwest, closely following the dry wash that cuts through this upper section of Lost Canyon. The gradually crumbling, oft-times slumping, but still-steep cliffs of colorful Tertiary beds dominate the skyline to the north. To the south, the rocks are a bit of a mishmash: Though most of the hilly slopes are underlain by several different Cambrian formations, a few irregular and nearly level reddish patches harbor the poorly exposed, lower Tertiary Titus Canyon Formation, and a batch of locally coalescing rocky knobs expose rugged masses of dark gray Tertiary megabreccia.
Beyond the gray Tertiary megabreccia immediately on our left (south), I spy the maroon color often indicative of Cambrian Zabriskie Quartzite (Cz).
Immediately ahead, the road abandons its close proximity to the wash and passes into a half-mile by quarter-mile upland plain painted red by the lower Titus Canyon Formation. It is at just about at this point in the road that I often become fascinated by the cliff to the north and have to stop to take a few more photos.
We've been calling this cliffy hill "Tc Hill" for the reddish brown formation that caps it, although we could have gone with "Tm Hill" for the Timber Mountain Group tuffs that we can't see beyond and above the upper, dark brown cliff.
This is a perfect spot to review the geology, which is basically a faulted stack of Eocene to Miocene sedimentary and volcanic units: Titus Canyon Formation (EOgtc), possible Panuga Formation (Tg?), Wahguyhe Formation (Tw), and one or two ash-flow tuff formations within the Crater Flat Group (Tc).  The contact between the Tw and the overlying Tc is unclear, but it's probably either right beneath the reddish brown cliff labeled Tc, or it's right below the uppermost, thin whitish layer just below that, or it lies below the cream to pale yellow cliffs below the whitish layer. It's too bad that contacts—which are inconstant constructs that can move with changes in stratigraphic nomenclature—aren't drawn across the land!
Tc Hill, with some geologic formations and a few contacts drawn in.
The dark cyan line between the Tg? and Tw might be one strand of the Fall Canyon Fault Zone (a more definite strand is in dark blue), or it might be a regular stratigraphic contact.
This part of the countryside reminds me of those wonderful desert paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe.
Red rocks on a pink, yellow, and green slope.
As we traverse this relatively flat area, the road will cross several rills and washes coming of the cliff to the north.

The road continues on. The contact between the lower Titus Canyon Formation and the underlying Cambrian units (that's quite an unconformity between the Cambrian and the Eocene!) is now almost immediately south of the road, between us and the main dry wash of upper Lost Canyon. As we cross several rills and washes coming off the cliff to the north, we'll pass low slopes of gray Carrara Formation and bulges of dark gray Bonanza King Formation. If we look closely, we might spot a few old workings dug into these older formations, hinting that we're getting close to the old mining camp at Leadfield.

Now, as we near the end of the reddish upland, the road swings wide and to the south, and we're suddenly aiming toward a lumpy hill of dark gray rock. This is one of several large bodies of megabreccia composed of limestone fragments and blocks (limestone and dolomite?), which lie at or near the base of the Titus Canyon Formation. Stock and Bode (1935), who described and defined the Titus Canyon Formation shortly after H. Donald Curry's discovery of a Titanothere in what became known as Titanothere Canyon (Protitanops curryinow part of the Brontothere family; read more about this story at Geotripper), included the "limestone breccia" as a basal part of the larger Titus Canyon Formation. In the many times I've driven by these breccia bodies, I've always assumed they were part of the Paleozoic section of the area! Next time...
The reddish road, pointing toward a jumble of dark gray rocks in this Google Earth ground-level view, is about to make a tight turn to the right.
This tight turn signals that we are about to descend into the Leadfield part of Lost Canyon, and that we are nigh onto the roughest part of the road.

Now that we've passed this tight curve, the road has a steep drop off to the dry wash immediately to the left. Across the wash, there's a great view of one of the larger dumps of the Leadfield mining camp.
A partly wash-eroded mine dump sits below a large, dark gray outcrop of Tertiary megabreccia. Cambrian Zabriskie Quartzite forms a maroon cliff in the upper part of the photo. 
I was a little surprised to find that the oldtimers were digging into what's long since been determined to be monolithologic breccia formed of angular clasts and blocks of Bonanza King Formation, that is, not the Bonanza King Formation itself. Although I haven't examined this working in the field, I'm going to note a few things from the photo as though I was looking at it from an exploration standpoint. First, a bit of a hedge: It's very hard to tell what the oldtimers were after without actually making a visit to the site (all I've ever done is drive by).

A first thing to note is that there is a fair amount of iron oxide on the dump—and on the rock outcrop immediately to the right of the dump, and also on the slope coming off of the Fe-oxide-barren dark gray carbonate breccia (reportedly the breccia might consist of both limestone and dolomite). The iron oxides consist of goethite, hematite, and jarosite based solely on the color seen in these photos (hopefully the color balance of the photos is good), the oxides are leaning toward goethite and jarosite. (Here, I'm using the old porphyry copper, Bear Creek–originated triad of hematite-goethite-jarosite, even though jarosite is technically a sulfate, not an iron oxide. Someday I'll have to try to do a color triangle to show what we used to use.)

Secondly, I'd like to note that someone took the time and effort to shore up the flat area in front of the adit feeding this dump with fairly cruddy hand rocking (left of the dump and best seen in my next photo).
Here you can see the dump and rock wall a little better. The adit opening is behind a largish creosote(?) bush.
Oldtimers were interested in a number of things, just like we are today. They would have been more attracted to the rocks with iron oxides, although iron oxides by themselves aren't indicative of anything besides the oxidation of iron, and iron oxides aren't necessarily all that uncommon in carbonate country. The oldtimers would have liked any quartz vein material they might have seen floating around, and they would have noticed any gossanous material that might indicate the weathering of sulfides. They also knew how to follow structures. Adits, like the one that created this mine dump, were often dug to either follow structures or to intersect them.

The biggest anomaly I see in the photo is the abrupt, semi-linear contact between the unoxidized, cliff-forming dark gray rocks and the oxide-bearing, slope-forming grayish orange rocks. It's possible that the oldtimers were trying to hit this contact. Maybe there was a little indication of "mineral" upslope, maybe not. It's a little hard to for me to imagine that this particular dump was created solely as part of a stock scam, as has often been claimed for nearly the entirety of the Leadfield camp.

That is, if I was doing any exploration in this area (I don't conduct exploration in National Parks or Monuments; it doesn't pay), I'd be remiss if I didn't take at least one sample from this dump, and if I didn't try to find something to sample either in the back or ribs at the adit opening, or on the hill above it. Maybe I'd only try to grab (select, or "high-grade") a sample of iron oxides in blebs, veinlets, or on fractures. I'd also be remiss if I didn't at least look for a "goodie pile" left by the last claimholders, although erosion by the wash might have taken it away.

So much for armchair exploration! Here's a bit of the geology near the adit:
Cbl = Cambrian Bonanza King Formation (should be "Cb or Cbk"); EOgtc = Eocene to Oligocene Titus Canyon Formation; Mbx = Tertiary/Paleogene, probably Eocene megabreccia in or at the base of the EOgtc.
After rounding the next bend, we'll be descending into the lower part of Lost Canyon...into the Leadfield basin. The road is on the side of a fairly steep, rocky hill, and we come to what is probably the worst part of the road overall: the part where you might get high-centered if your clearance isn't good enough or if you hit it at the wrong angle.
The road passes over a barely scraped, overhung exposure of Tertiary megabreccia.
We descend, switch back to the south, and there's a great pullout for hiking back to the mine dump and adit we just viewed.
From this trailhead you can hike the short distance to the mine dump we just viewed, and one or two other dumps along the way.
Most mine adits and shafts don't have all these hazards, but most have a few to several. Don't go in if you don't know what you are doing, and don't assume you know what you are doing. It's my humble opinion that you don't.
Well, there we are: We've arrived in the lower part of Lost Canyon, in the valley or basin that the ghost town of Leadfield occupies.

A Few References:
Lengner, K., and Troxel, B.W., 2008, Death Valley's Titus Canyon & Leadfield ghost town: Deep Enough Press, 175 p.

Niemi, N.A., 2012, Geologic Map of the Central Grapevine Mountains, Inyo County, California, and Esmeralda and Nye Counties, Nevada: Nevada, Geological Society of America Digital Maps and Charts Series, DMC12, 1:48,000, 28 p. text.

Reynolds, M.W., 1969, Stratigraphy and structural geology of the Titus andTitanothere canyons area, Death Valley, California [Ph.D. thesis; not available online]: Berkeley, University of California, 310 p.

Reynolds, M.W., 1974, Geology of the Grapevine Mountains, Death Valley,California; a summary, in Death Valley region, California and Nevada, Geological Society of America Cordilleran Section, Field Trip 1 Guidebook: Death Valley Publishing Company, Shoshone, California, p. 91–97.

Snow, J.K., and Lux, D.R., 1999, Tectono-sequence stratigraphy of Tertiaryrocks in the Cottonwood Mountain and northern Death Valley area, Californiaand Nevada, in Wright, L.A. and Troxel, B.W. eds., Cenozoic basinsof the Death Valley region: Geological Society of America Special Paper 333, p. 17–64.

Location map

Related Posts:
The Approach to Titus Canyon: Tan Mountain
The Approach to Titus Canyon: Up and over White Pass
The Approach to Titus Canyon: To Red Pass
The Approach to Titus Canyon: Just Below Red Pass
A Hike at Red Pass, Titus Canyon Road, Death Valley, CA
Titus Canyon Road: A Little History and a Few Maps
Down into Titus Canyon: We Leave Red Pass Behind (Finally!)