Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Sunday, 21 May 2006

Geologic Deposits in Amsmis

I did this last year, and decided to brave it again. Actually, what I really wanted to do for the 2nd field trip in Physical Science was to take them to one of the two locations in Morocco where you can see the entire geologic record in one place. See, there are people out there who claim this doesn't exist. So it's pretty cool that there are actually two locations in Morocco where you can see it- in the Essouaria Basin and the Beni Mellal Basin. Not that it's all that important- you wouldn't expect to have the whole geologic column in one place that often, due to continual sediment transport. And the definitions of eras and periods are rather random- not a set time period, but rather the time between important events, like meteor hits or mass extinctions. So the accumulation of soil for a particular time period in the geologic column isn't considered necessary by scientists to indicate that there has been a continual accumulation over the years. In fact, most of the time you would expect whole layers to be transported away.

But since it is claimed that there is no complete geologic record in situ, and because it is an easy didactic tool to use to show students all the layers of the Earth and how they variously formed, it would be nice to go. Unfortunately, the best I could get on was a longitude and latitude, which according to Google Earth was somewhere in the middle of the mountains. This would therefore require a visit of a few days to determine where exactly the geologic column was. And once found, it would probably be too far into the mountains to make a viable field trip for the students in a short period of time.

But in the process of researching and determining that I wouldn't be able to go, it became too late to get the Center in Amsmis that I had used the previous year for a trip into the countryside around Marraksh to observe geologic formations and analyze rocks. The Center is run by a British couple in a small Berber town, and is very convenient as they are very hospitable. But now they were booked up. So I contacted a hotel, Funduq Sefarrin, Hotel des Vooyageurs, and stopped by to see them the weekend of the concert in Marraksh. I arranged reservations and how we'd pay, and planned for the big event this weekend that just passed. It was with some trepidation, as the taxi and minibus reservation, as well as the hotel reservation, were done all in Arabic, and I'm never sure of my Arabic that it's good enough to get everything straight, especially when I'm responsible for 19 kids and 3 other adults.

The trip down was uneventful, and almost all the students came- two had excuses, one didn't, and just didn't bother to show up. The hotel was however not quite up to snuff, even at 80 Dirhams ($8) per day. Don't get me wrong- really nice propieters, eager to help out, make a good name for their hotel, and even allowing us to store our stuff there all day while we went hiking. But...there were bugs. The beds sloped in the middle. Some rooms had water coming out of the bathroom all night. There were 2 kids to a bed in some rooms. The boys floors were on the first and third floor, making it a bit of a concern policing where they showed up. (Thankfully Lindsey and Heather, two GWA teachers, had come along and were on the 2nd floor, helping out immensely.) And my shower had only a bare trickle of water coming out. Not a hotel I can recommend, sadly- I've stayed in better here, for less money.

The drivers showed up, even early, hamdillallah! And we were off. Only to discover that the students hadn't brought the requisite forms they needed for rock identification on the trip. So as soon as we got to the Berber village of Amismis, I got my bearings, we all bought packed sandwiches for eating lunch, and made lots and lots of copies of the forms they needed. Being a conservative area, we did a doublecheck on the clothing- no shorts for either gender, chest fully covered for girls, plus a butt cover.

The countryside there is beautiful, with some amazing geologic formations. The weather report had increased at the last moment, up to 36 degrees Celcius- but thankfully that was more for Marraksh. In the mountains, in Amsmis, it felt more like only 27- a bit hot, but doable for an all day hike. And I was very gratified to see our gamble of not hiring the same guides as last year paid off. High Country is a great company that takes people on outdoor trips around this area, but they were a bit too pricey for us, so I hoped I would remember where we went last year and not get us all lost. I did remember, mostly.

Now, it must be stressed what I mean by hike. It was more of a walk in the mountains, with an occasional scramble through side trails when I didn't quite remember the right path. And yet, though I am over 30, had a stroke recently, and until the stroke did not exercise really at all, I was easily outpacing most of the students. These guys need a more rigourous exercise program.

We arrived at our first station, an igneous rock formation laid down a few million years ago. Subsequently softer sedimentary rock had been laid down on top of it. But the rock layers are exposed horizontally, so by the Principle of Original Horizontality, we can determine that the entire area was shifted by tectonic forces to lie on it's side. This entire area is beautiful because of all the tectonic activity here. Later the softer sedimentary rock was worn away by wind and water, leaving the harder igneous exposed. Then a river came through and over 100s of 1000s of years wore away the center of the deposit, leaving two halves separated by a valley with a narrow seasonal wadi. Here we drew pictures of rock formations and analyzed rocks, using HCl, the taste test (not in that order), scratch pads, magnets, magnifying glasses, and the rock charts the students had.

From the igneous rock it was down to the neighboring sedimentary deposits with mudstone in formation, and a quick lunch. And some students ignoring our stern warnings to drink 3 liters of water and no soda so as not to develop headaches and heat exhaustion.

We walked down the wadi to observe sediment transport and it's effects on the rounding of rocks in the river bed, down to our final location, with Joe Canner, the other teacher chaperoning, bringing up the rear. Here the rocks have been shifted by plate tectonics not once but twice, so that they were moved on their side, had more layers laid down, and then were moved on their side once again. Unfortunately, a number of students had a work slowdown, and so missed out on the beauty and amazing geology of this site.

I was excited to find a shortcut home, going right past Shelob, so that we arrived right in time for our minibus. As we neared Marraksh to go to McDonalds and then the train, directly on the outskirts of the 2nd largest city in Morocco a massive heat-island induced heat wave began, going up to the predicted 36 degrees. And coincidently, despite drinking over 3 liters of water that day, so did my migraine. I don't know if it was actually a migraine; I do know it was the worst headache I've ever had in my life. I could barely stand- I had to tell our driver to come into the hotel with me while I laid my head down on the table and weakly handed over his fee plus tip. The students were quite concerned for me, but no aspirin or Doliprin helped, until Joe prayed for me. As soon as he did so, the headache went away, albeit with some lingering weariness. The students asked if I was okay, what they could do, and I told them I was just fine now- Mr. Canner had prayed for me.

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