Day 84: November 6, 2007 In Salta

Trip Start Aug 15, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2008

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Day 84: November 6, 2007 In Salta

Elena didn't have school, again, so she slept in while I went down to the office to finalize plans for going into the field. Claudia and I ran off a bunch of aerial fotos from Google Earth. It dawned on me that, with one exception, this would be the first time I've gone into the field with decent aerial coverage since I started working in Argentina. Prior to Google Earth, the fotos were either too expensive or too difficult to find. Unlike the USGS, there is no central repository for government fotografy. Thank you Google! A lot of the coverage is still at satellite scale in Salta but the Angastaco area and part of the Chuñapampa area have high altitude aerial fotos. It was interesting to look at Río Metán. I don't think I had ever seen it from the air.

Toyo and I made a last check of our field equipment list. I made sure that Tuity was expecting to have Elena as a houseguest. After determining that all was in order, I wrote and posted my latest blog and spent the rest of the day on email, reading Patagonia papers, and enjoying the ambiance of the office and the beautiful day outside.

Elena and I went next door for dinner. I told Ramon that I would be out of town for a few days and he wished me good luck. We returned to the apartment and Elena went to bed. I stayed up talking with Bernardo and Toyo. We agreed to get on the road at 8:00.

I'll finish the tale of the 1987 fieldwork with Daniel Malizia and Guillermo Re. Actually, at the time, it was Daniel Malizzia. He dropped one of the z's from his Italian surname to Argentinize it in the early '90's. This caused a lot of confusion when we published our 1995 paper because none of the reviewers could understand why the lead author's name was Malizia but his referenced papers were all spelled Malizzia.

The three of us began collecting samples at the base of the section, not far from the campground. Daniel had spent some time with Noye Johnson and me the year before but it was the first time Guillermo had ever done any magnetostratigraphy sampling so I showed him the ropes. Noye had planned on being in Argentina with us this year but he had been diagnosed with cancer and was fighting for his life: a fight he would lose several months later.

There was some question in the literature as to whether the basal rocks were Triassic or Neogene. They were only a few hundred meters thick so we collected them and finally got into the known Neogene strata. The basal stuff was fine sandstone and rather difficult to sample using the block sampling technique that I used in those days. It was a relief to get into the known Neogene which was much easier to collect. We progressed, sampling every 45 meters of strata. It was great being able to work along the road and not having to walk in a stream like I usually did. Sampling progressed rapidly.

At the end of the day, we returned to camp. Daniel got his gear together and we took him into the bus station in town. I bought him a bus ticket to Buenos Aires. The economic turmoil was such that this was the only way he could afford to get into the field. It only cost about $20 so I didn't mind; I also gave him an extra rock hammer I had brought with me.

Guillermo and I returned to the Quebrada de la Troya, which the road traveled through. Guillermo was a self-avowed lousy driver so he insisted that I drive the unimog. I'd never driven anything that size but I quickly got the hang of it. I would be Mr. Unimog until I had to return to San Juan three days later.

I drove to where we had finished the day before and we began our work. It was a great day with very pleasant temperatures and rocks that were easy to sample. The next day, Guillermo and I continued progressing up the road. It was warm and sunny in the morning but as the day progressed, it got cooler and the wind started picking up. By early afternoon, I put on my windbreaker and the wind continued to strengthen under clear skies. It was a cold Antarctic wind coming out of the south-an extremely rare event at the latitude of Vinchina (~28°S). By mid-afternoon, the wind was nearing gale force and it was uncomfortably cool. Pebbles a half a centimeter across were skipping down the road and stinging our faces. We sought sample sites that were protected from the wind. At about 3:30, I looked at Guillermo and told him I had had it. He smiled and quickly agreed. After a day of successful block sampling, we both had heavy packs. We put them on and started walking back to the unimog, which was, by then, a couple of kilometers down the road.

The ferocious wind was at our back as we walked. Because our centers of gravity were fairly high with the heavy packs on our backs and because we were walking downhill, it was difficult to maintain our balance. The wind kept blowing us too far forward. We discovered that if we leaned slightly backward and then jumped, the wind would carry us forward a meter or so.

We continued down the road in this manner for several hundred meters. I jumped once as a huge gust of wind hit me. In spite of wearing a 15-20 kg pack, I felt the wind lift me a few cm higher. Since there was a 20 m dropoff on the right side of the road, I decided to fall rather than lose my balance and go over the side. I hit with a thud. Guillermo bounced next to me and helped me up. He asked where my glasses were. I hadn't noticed they were missing. We looked around but couldn't find them anywhere. I was supposed to give my first scientific paper in Spanish in ten days. I'd planned on reading it aloud but couldn't do so without my glasses.

We searched for ten minutes in the vicious, cold wind. We decided to leave our packs, return to the unimog, and return to pick up the packs and look some more. It was more than a kilometer to the vehicle. It felt so good to get into the cab and out of the wind. I drove back up to the packs. We put them in the back and searched, without success for my glasses, concluding that they popped off my head when I hit and were carried over the cliff to the stream below.

The road was too narrow to turn around so I drove up to the next bend. Its southern exposure put us head on into the full force of the wind. As I turned the truck around to the north, the forward-opening hood blew open and started banging up and down. Guillermo put his hand on the door handle to get out to stop it before it came loose and broke the windshield. He pushed it forward and instantly disappeared as the door flew open. The bend in the metal handle snagged his ring and yanked him out of the truck as the wind took the door and slammed it open. Had he been wearing a seatbelt, he would have lost his finger. Shaken, he got up and closed the hood before hopping back in. I eased the truck forward and slowly descended the several kilometers of road back to the campsite. We were both chilled to the bone, bordering on hypothermia.

Both of our tents had blown down. Trying to set them up again was useless. We grabbed some dry food and fruit and ate it in the cab. Making a fire was out of the question. We both crawled into the openings in our downed tents. My down sleeping bag never felt so good. It took me half an hour to warm up but once I did, falling asleep in the howling wind was not a problem.

The next morning was cool, clear, and beautiful with very little wind. I packed my gear and we drove into town to the bus station. All anyone could talk about was the windstorm. They had never seen one like it in the valley.

Guillermo was a little apprehensive about driving the 3 km back to the campsite but he knew that his mentor, Finco Vilas, would arrive on a bus later in the day and take over the driving duties. I wouldn't be surprised if he just waited at the bus station for him.
I got my bus and started the long trip back to San Juan, arriving about 4 AM the next morning after changing buses a couple of times en route. In San Juan I met up with Terry Jordan and Rick Allmendinger. We took a bus up to Tinogasta, Catamarca where we did a couple of days of work in another Quebrada de la Troya. From there, we went to Salta. I went on a three-day field trip on the Puna with a group attending the geological congress in Tucumán. By the time we got to the congress and I had to give my paper, I had rehearsed it enough to give it in Spanish without too much trouble.
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