And You Thought That Your Field Trip Was Bad!

"Scenes From the Past--IV;" William L. Hiss (U.S. Geological Survey); New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook; 28th Field Conference, San Juan Basin III, 1977 (Uncopyrighted publication)

Lithosphere (June 1993); Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.; Fallbrook, CA

[Ed. Note: About a year ago, the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society conducted a field trip to a rare-earth pegmatite at the Southern Pacific Silica Quarry, located in the Lakeview Mountains of Riverside County, California. A number of interesting things were collected at this site: asterated quartz, tourmaline, monazite, Herb's truck, cyrtolite, xenotime, thorogummite, ... Wait a minute! Herb's truck? Yes, while FGMS member Herb Sulsky was busy collecting specimens in the quarry, thieves were busy "collecting" Herb's truck from where it was parked.

Although disasters of various kinds do occur during field trips, they are not always restricted to trips taken by amateurs. The following article describes the events that occurred during a geological field conference that was sponsored by and for an association of professional geologists. While the disaster described therein doesn't compare to theft of personal property or injury, it does illustrate the kinds of things that can go wrong during any organized activity.

Incidently, Herb's truck was eventually found--in pieces. So, now Herb has a new truck to drive (with a state-of-the-art anti-theft system installed) and a story to tell.

While it won't make up for the loss of his truck, we'll dedicate the following to Herb. The story is true.]

Twenty-four years ago: The Fourth Field Conference sponsored by the New Mexico Geological Society, a tour of southwest New Mexico and southeast Arizona, began at El Paso Thursday morning, October 15, 1953. After examining Paleozoic and Cretaceous rocks in the vicinity of El Paso, the caravan passed northward to Las Cruces and Caballo and westward through Hillsboro and Kingston to Silver City. On Saturday, the conference visited the Tyrone, Santa Rita and White Signal mining districts and returned to Silver City for a banquet at the Murray Hotel. On Sunday, the fourth day, the group drove from Silver City to Lordsburg, then westward across Steins Pass to Wilcox and Dos Cabezas, Arizona, where the caravan disbanded.

Edward C. "Ed" Beaumont, then with the U.S. Geological Survey and now a consultant in Albuquerque and Honorary Member, NMGS, was general chairman. Ed's comments of April 1977, expurgated slightly, provide deeper insight into the conference ... "This was a four-day field trip as opposed to the usual three-day trip. We spent one day in the El Paso area and thus suffered from two nights of exposure to the Juarez influence. For some reason in 1953, the geologists in general seemed to be a little `woolier.' I recognize that I was considerably younger, but I began to have serious doubts whether even a majority of those registered would ever make it aboard for the final caravan run out of El Paso the second day. I can't blame it all on Juarez because a certain service company managed to keep a portable den of iniquity going 24 hours a day from the night of registration right on through the end of the field trip. Reportedly, neither representative of this company ever made any pretense at sleeping other than an occasional `catnap' while the other was driving. Another service company vied with the first to supply refreshments to the crowd, and provided all of the beer we could drink along the way. Except for the more intense competition between service companies, the situation was not much different from more recent trips. However, on this occasion, if beer wasn't sufficient, you could always go to the backseat of the truck of the number one service company to obtain whatever common or exotic form of hard liquor that you might desire.

"Lack of manpower was a major problem. One of the chairmen listed in the guidebook was never even seen. He and I later became good friends, but in the preparation period and during the trip I didn't even know what the man looked like. Four out of the other five trip arrangements chairmen, including both of the caravan chairmen, were unable to attend the field conference. Naturally, this placed a considerable burden on myself. Fortunately, I had made an intensive dry run through the route, and with the aid of Phil Hayes and some excellent flagmen we were able to handle the parking at the various stops along the route without any undue confusion.

"In the earlier years of our field tripping we were required by state law to have two state police patrol vehicles accompany us both in New Mexico and in Arizona. The two patrolmen from New Mexico succumbed early in the afternoon to booze supplied by the unnamed service company. Before long, we were receiving less than a lot of protection from our highway patrol escorts. One of the most frightening memories etched deeply into my mind is a recollection of the downhill race on the west side of the Black Range (this was before the road was paved) between the highway patrol lead car and one of the service company cars. I was riding with the patrolman and I must confess that I saw very little of what was happening because I was crouched on the back floor waiting for what I knew had to be the inevitable crash or roll. Somehow we managed to make it safely to the bottom of the mountain and to the town of Silver City.

"However, our problems weren't over because we were met on the outskirts of Silver City by a representative of the Silver City Police Department who informed us that due to the press of traffic in the rush hour we would not be permitted to take the caravan into town. We were diverted to a parking lot on the outskirts of town some six or seven blocks from the hotel which was our headquarters and the stopping point for most of the field trippers. I argued with the city police, but I could not prevail and we were forced to make our way on foot or by thumb into town. Sometime after 8 p.m., as I recall, the cars in the caravan were allowed to come on into town. The next day was relatively uneventful, but that evening, thanks to the seemingly unlimited supply of booze, we had a `rip-roaring' banquet. I am sure that several things of note occurred thereat, but I for one was beyond caring and don't remember too many of the details of the evening.

"A bit of a nightmare begins with the next morning. We were assembled around the town square on Sunday morning awaiting our police escort. They were late and I was sitting in the sound car assuring the assembled group, most of whom were hung over even worse than they had been in El Paso, that we would be getting underway momentarily. Then someone--I don't recall who it was--came along and announced that one of our state police officers had been thrown in jail and we would be delayed until such time as we could get him released. I was so stunned that I just sat there, demoralized, with the microphone open, and, to my chagrin, I exclaimed in a tone that was heard throughout downtown Silver City, `Oh, --!.' Eventually we decided to send the caravan on ahead with the other state patrolman driving the lead car. Somehow, we then managed to get the incarcerated state cop released.

"The caravan was 30 or 40 miles down the highway driving toward Lordsburg by the time we got things straightened out and got underway ourselves. One of the service company cars had remained with us, and thus the two cars started off down the narrow road out of Silver City. Apparently, it seemed to the others involved (but not to me!) that this was a good time for another race. The service company boys took off down the highway at `breakneck' speed with the state patrolman, who was, incidentally, hung over about as bad as a man can be and still live, in hot pursuit. We attained speeds in the vicinity of 100 miles per hour at which time even the bravest of the brave decided it was time to slow down. But, the bravest of the brave did not happen to include our state patrolman. He decided that it would be fun to nudge the service company trucks at speeds in the vicinity, right at, or perhaps exceeding 100 miles per hour. I have never seen two guys blanch so completely as those service company boys when their car was being gently nudged ahead, and at the same time, they were trying to slow down. The state patrolman thought this was hilarious, and it actually seemed to revive his spirits. I might note that he had been jailed, so the story goes, for having gotten drunk and attempting to molest his ex-wife, who at that time was the current girlfriend of the sheriff. How we survived all of this I am not sure. But, I'm certain that I used up a few of my nine lives during the course of this trip.

"Perhaps it was the contrast, or, more probably, it was actually as good as I remember, but one of the real highlights of this trip was the feeding of the field trippers by the Women's Club of Wilcox, Arizona. A town like Wilcox offers very few facilities that can take care of several hundred persons on a trip like this. So, we were very fortunate to have the ladies of this small town undertake to provide the lunch for our group as a fund-raising project. They did a fantastic job; they had beans that I will never forget and hot fresh bread and many other tasty dishes including fresh pie for dessert.

"I had bad dreams for several years as a result of having been general chairman for this trip. But now, more than 20 years later, I am able to laugh again instead of cry when think back to the Fourth Field Conference."

The preceding article was published in the June 1993 issue of Lithosphere, the official bulletin of the Fallbrook [California] Gem and Mineral Society, Inc; Richard Busch (Editor).

The material is in the public domain, and may be republished freely.

Last updated: 18 September 2002