September 27, 2011 by Chuck Bailey
As I’ve noted in these posts before, Geology Departmental field trips are unique as they bring together the W&M geologic community in a way that staying on campus never could. The Fall Field trip took an enthusiastic crew of students and faculty to the Blue Ridge Mountains for a weekend getaway. Our timing was just right as an on-shore flow of moist air brought rain and a dreary Saturday to Williamsburg. The mountain mayhem began at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. We savored the irony that Big Meadows, one of Virginia’s wettest locales with a yearly precipitation average of 130 cm (50”) per year, was dry while Williamsburg was wet.
Professors Greg Hancock and Jim Kaste got the discussion started as we pondered the flattish landscape of Big Meadows, and hiked into Hogcamp Branch to consider stream dynamics and the role that bedrock plays in water chemistry. The ascent of Bearfence Mountain took us from the basement complex (always my favorite), up through outcrops of sandstone in the Swift Run Formation, to a rocky spine of greenstone exposed along the crest of the ridge. At Rockytop Overlook we basked in late afternoon sunbeams. The scene was so sublime that some faculty broke into song, songs extolling the virtues of steep slopes and rocky tops. We made camp in the twilight, devoured bowls of chili, and reveled by the fire long into the evening.
To get a better sense of the mayhem- Check out video snippets from the field trip
On Sunday morning we shook off the dew and began with a jaunt along the Appalachian Trail to exposures of sandstones, conglomerates, and siltstones in the Weverton Formation—its depositional environment, way back in the early Cambrian period (~540 million years ago), was vigorously debated. Another hike took us to Calvary Rocks, where well-cemented quartz sandstones of the Antietam Formation revealed their secrets. Our last debate focused on the landscape—are the Blue Ridge Mountains growing, shrinking, or in some long-term steady-state? Any thoughts? (comments welcomed)
Our weekend excursion to the Blue Ridge was uplifting (pun intended!). For an old mountain range the Blue Ridge is more dynamic than you might think.