Talking Rocks
Week-long Tours in the Desert Southwest

Talking Rocks 2019, Fall Tour

Seven Days

October 27-November 3, 2019

Death Valley National Park


Basin and Range Geology

Great blocks of the earth’s surface heaved up on edge, displaced thirty thousand feet in places, with valleys between the ridges filled with up to 20,000 feet of sediment. It is a grand, stupendous story, waiting to be read. The movement of the earth’s crust has created fantastic exposures of  “happenings” below the surface. We will be able to see–right in front of our eyes–faults and folds, cliffs sliding up! and gravity flows sliding down. Salt beds, limestone, lava flows, gold-bearing ore bodies, and stromatolites are all on display in the Death Valley region. It is a geologist’s paradise.

Willow Tank Thrust Sheet

There are places where thick layers of earth’s surface have been shoved up and over other layers. In Valley of Fire State Park, we will examine an example of this kind of shoving: the Willow Tank Thrust Sheet where Jurassic Aztec Sandstone has been heaved up over the Cretaceous Baseline Sandstone.

Fossil Water

We’ll visit Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge where pup fish thrive in a small oasis. Both the fish and the water are relics, remnants of another era when vast lakes populated richly with fish filled many of the valleys in Nevada. The oasis was nearly eliminated by ground water pumping before being stopped by environmental activists.


This tour will feature more rigorous hiking than our spring tours. The highlight will be the 14 mile hike to the top of Telescope Peak where we can look down directly to Badwater at -279 feet. The immensity of the vista from Telescope Peak strains one’s capacity for comprehension. Participants are welcome even if they cannot do the longer hikes, but the long hikes are a special feature of this tour.

Contemplation and Conversation

Given the grandeur and stupendous forces on display in the rocks of this region, it is easy to give oneself to contemplation. It is natural for conversation around the campfire to turn to grand themes. A particular source for spiritual pondering is the question of scale and meaning. Given the time it takes for a mountain to rise tens of thousands of feet out of the ground, what is the significance of a human life time? Given the vast, sweeping expanses open to our eyes here, how do we think about our place?


Our chef for this trip will be the legendary Robert Johnston. (At least he is legendary among those who have participated in prior Talking Rocks Tours.)


Below is an initial itinerary that includes features that appealed to me when I first began planning this trip. Let it whet your appetite. However, four geologists are planning to join us. This itinerary will be altered to allow us to examine the outcrops recommended by these professionals. Stay tuned.

  1. Sunday. Arrive Las Vegas by 1p. Explore dino tracks at Atlatl Rock. Camp at Valley of Fire State Park
  2. Monday. Red Rock Canyon and Keystone Fault. Ash Meadows fish pools. Camp at Stove Pipe Wells.
  3. Tuesday. Gower Gulch Hike, 6 mi. Visit Badwater, -279 feet. Campt at Stove Pipe Wells.
  4. Wednesday. Death Valley Dunes at dawn. Cottonwood Canyon hike (Up to 10 miles). Camp at Wildrose Campground.
  5. Thursday. Telescope Peak. 11,000 feet. 14 mi hike. Camp at Wildrose Campground.
  6. Friday. Wildrose Peak. Death Valley to Panamint Roadside Geology. Father Crowley Viewpoint. Panamint Dunes. Camp at Panamint Springs.
  7. Sabbath. Darwin Falls and beyond. 8 mi hike.
  8. Sunday. Las Vegas by noon.