9AM – Science-A-Thon

A little about me: I am studying in the Earth Science department under the tutelage of Dr. John Cottle. My current research is aimed at understanding the processes behind subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the East Antarctic craton approximately 500 million years ago. Similar to modern subduction along the coast of South America creating the Andes Mountains, subduction in Antarctica led to emplacement of igneous plutonic bodies that make up the Transantarctic Mountains exposed today. The paleo-Pacific margin was very extensive and long-lived. I am helping further define the tectonic history along that margin by researching how the timing and geometry of subduction changed along the margin through time.

IMG_20181018_090313_296

Please join me in championing this cause to help support future generations of scientists by donating at my campaign page: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/science-a-thon-2018/elizabetherickson11/ You can also follow my “Day of Science” on Instagram @schemerthedreamer

 

#dayofscience #scientistforaday #scienceathon

#womenleadSTEM #womenwhoscience #womenofscience #500WS #distractinglysexy

#scientists #science #geology #earthscience

#schemerthedreamer #lifeinmotion

#scientistsarenormalhumans #thisiswhatIdoasascientist #youmightliketoknow

@science_a_thon #ESWN @500womensci @elementargroup @promega @transnetyx @johnsoncontrols @ncfdd @rochesequencing @ametsoc @madisoncommfdn @alliantenergy

8AM – Science-A-Thon

I try to start work early, while the building is still quiet and I have the office to myself. I typically use this time to check emails, make an agenda for the day, and check off what I accomplished the previous day on my master “To Do” list. Pro Tip: Last year I started keeping a paper calendar to log the hours I work each day and what I accomplish each day. I find it extremely useful to see how much time I spend on activities like clerical work, course work, research, etc. Being able to break the cycle of spending all my time answering emails and doing side tasks for others has dramatically focused my work life. My work ethic has become more focused and efficient, and the calendar has become an important tool for quickly remembering when I worked on something last. It also helps keep me honest about doing work at work, and better separating my personal life from work life. Grad school is a constant balancing act of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and keeping a work log has really helped me get more out of both spheres of life.

IMG_20181018_080418_372

Please join me in championing this cause to help support future generations of scientists by donating at my campaign page: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/science-a-thon-2018/elizabetherickson11/ You can also follow my “Day of Science” on Instagram @schemerthedreamer

 

#dayofscience #scientistforaday #scienceathon

#womenleadSTEM #womenwhoscience #womenofscience #500WS #distractinglysexy

#scientists #science #geology #earthscience

#schemerthedreamer #lifeinmotion

#scientistsarenormalhumans #thisiswhatIdoasascientist #youmightliketoknow

@science_a_thon #ESWN @500womensci @elementargroup @promega @transnetyx @johnsoncontrols @ncfdd @rochesequencing @ametsoc @madisoncommfdn @alliantenergy

7AM – Science-A-Thon

Sometimes I dog-sit for one of the Earth Science professors, Roberta Rudnick. I love waking up to a beautiful sunrise looking over Santa Barbara from the Santa Ynez foothills before taking Murphy on a quick 3 mile run along Mission Canyon. Murphy has a LOT of energy, so I try to tire him out early in the day.

IMG_20181018_070521_597

Please join me in championing this cause to help support future generations of scientists by donating at my campaign page: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/science-a-thon-2018/elizabetherickson11/ You can also follow my “Day of Science” on Instagram @schemerthedreamer

 

#dayofscience #scientistforaday #scienceathon

#womenleadSTEM #womenwhoscience #womenofscience #500WS #distractinglysexy

#scientists #science #geology #earthscience

#schemerthedreamer #lifeinmotion

#scientistsarenormalhumans #thisiswhatIdoasascientist #youmightliketoknow

@science_a_thon #ESWN @500womensci @elementargroup @promega @transnetyx @johnsoncontrols @ncfdd @rochesequencing @ametsoc @madisoncommfdn @alliantenergy

Science-A-Thon welcome!

Hello! Today I am participating in a science outreach event call Science-A-Thon. Science-A-Thon is a social media event to showcase the many different people and activities involved in science, as well as the largest annual fundraiser for the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN; link: https://eswnonline.org), an international organization supporting women in science. This year’s goal is to raise $75,000 for ESWN. Please join me in championing this cause to help support future generations of scientists by donating at my campaign page: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/science-a-thon-2018/elizabetherickson11/ You can also follow my “Day of Science” on Instagram @schemerthedreamer, on my blog (https://elizabeth-erickson.com/blog), and on Facebook. You can also follow the official Twitter feed @science_a_thon. Thank you for your support!

 

#dayofscience #scientistforaday #scienceathon

#womenleadSTEM #womenwhoscience #womenofscience #500WS #distractinglysexy

#scientists #science #geology #earthscience

#schemerthedreamer #lifeinmotion

#scientistsarenormalhumans #thisiswhatIdoasascientist #youmightliketoknow

@science_a_thon #ESWN @500womensci @elementargroup @promega @transnetyx @johnsoncontrols @ncfdd @rochesequencing @ametsoc @madisoncommfdn @alliantenergy

My Science-A-Thon Day of Science is October 18!

I wanted to let you know about a science outreach event I am participating in called Science-A-Thon (link). Science-A-Thon is a social media event to showcase the many different people and activities involved in science, and it is the largest annual fundraiser for the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN; link: https://eswnonline.org). ESWN is an international organization supporting women in science, from professional development (link) to combating sexual harassment (link), to programs for college students (link).

Science-A-Thon will showcase what a “day of science” looks like, with participants posting 12 photos over 12 hours during the week of October 15-19, 2018. You can see all the 200+ participating scientists on the official website (link) or by following the official Twitter feed @science_a_thon. Each day has a different theme — Oct 15th: #SciComm; 16th: BioMed; 17th: SciPolicy; Thursday the 18th: Earth (this is my day!); 19th: “Rewind.”

As mentioned, Science-A-Thon is the largest fundraising event for ESWN. This year’s goal is to raise $75,000. Even super-stars like the president of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Marcia McNutt, will be joining the effort. So, it’s pretty exciting! My goal is to raise $500 toward this campaign. Please join me in championing this cause to help support future generations on scientists. Your contributions really make a difference! My Campaign Page: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/science-a-thon-2018/elizabetherickson11

You can also follow my “Day of Science” on October 18 on Instagram @SchemertheDreamer, on my blog (https://elizabeth-erickson.com/blog), and on Facebook under Elizabeth Erickson. I will be sharing photos from my day, writing a little about my science and life as a scientist, and posting updates from the campaign.

Join me on October 18, 2018 for this STEM-wide initiative to empower scientists, promote scientists as role models, and build on-ramps for students to engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)!

campaign image

Science-a-thon 2018!

ATTENTION: The original June date was changed to October 15-19. This provides even more time to help me raise funds for the ESWN campaign.

a8cd9e_6dc9914e430d40f9a69e222ae33b4be5~mv2_d_1214_1215_s_2

Science-A-Thon is a five day celebration of science and scientists – from the lab to the field, from learning to teaching, from routine tasks to major discoveries! From October 15-19, participating scientists will take you along for a #dayofscience by sharing photos on social media! Science-A-Thon will raise money for the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN) and Science Forward. Science Forward is a STEM-wide initiative launched by ESWN that empowers scientists, promotes scientists as role models, and builds on-ramps for students to engage in STEM.

On October 18th I will be sharing my own #dayofscience for the 2018 #scienceathon through my Instagram (@schemerthedreamer), Blog (www.elizabeth-erickson.com), and Facebook (Elizabeth Erickson). My goal is to raise $1000 toward this campaign. Join me to help support future generations of scientists!

https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/science-a-thon-2018

Join the campaign and donate today!

 

Links:

CrowdRise GoFundMe campaign: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/science-a-thon-2018/elizabetherickson11

Science-a-thon 2018: https://www.scienceathon.org/what

Earth Science Women’s Network: https://eswnonline.org

This road has been safari, but now I am headed up a mountain

2/3/2018
This road has been safari, but now I am headed up a mountain

We woke early and made sure our bags were completely packed. Kimambo always outdoing himself, we ate breakfast and packed up sack lunches. We needed an early start from Lake Natron to return to Arusha and to the Airport Planet Lodge so Melissa could make her flight home. We actually made it in plenty of time. The washed out, pit holed, rough roads were no match for Daudi’s skilled hands at the wheel. We said our goodbyes and were left at the lodge for showers before our transfers.

I cannot say enough about how awesome Dorobo Safaris was in planning this trip. This company was recommended to Melissa and I by our professor, Dr. Rudnick, who used them during her own field work in Tanzania. We are ever grateful for that recommendation. Mike was a wealth of knowledge and insight. We did not work with the other brothers, but I suspect they are all cut from the same quality cloth. He helped plan a flawless trip to combine geology, anthropology, and tourism. His wife, Lisa, was the coordinator behind our meals. She has great taste! Kimambo was a superstar as our chef and camp staff. He kept a tight ship and was so friendly. I was glad we bonded over elephants being both our favorite animals. I showed him all the photos I had taken during our game drive. Daniel, our Lake Natron guide, was awesome. He had an endless supply of patience and encouragement, and was keen on experiencing our geological explorations with us. And lastly, but not least, our guide, driver, companion, and animal encyclopedia, Daudi. He was a phenomenal guide. This trip would not have been as rich without him. He worked hard to make us happy and help us accomplish our every desire. We only have the best thoughts and sentiments toward Dorobo Safaris. We highly recommend them for anyone planning an excursion to Tanzania. They were stupendous and pivotal to the success of this trip. I hope I have the opportunity to work with them in the future.

Their reputation and long list of top clientele speaks volumes of its own. But I confidently would like to promote them as well.
Dorobo Safaris: http://www.dorobosafaris.com

Like a whirlwind, our trip was over. Melissa headed to the airport, and I was picked up by a driver from Kessy Brothers Tours Ltd. and taken to Moshi. Cheating a little, I will talk about this company now, using hindsight, since I was already on a plug for Dorobo.

I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro using the Kessy Brothers Tours company. They were recommended to me through friends of my sister. Contacts she made in Guinea during Peace Corps. I will admit further encouragement was that this company’s prices are easily well below most other companies. Internet searches suggested the risk with cheap companies is that you miss out on quality food and the expertise of other companies. But that is just not the case here. I had an exceptional guide, Penieli Samuel Urio. He has summited Uhuru over 100 times and counting. He knows everything to expect and is very diligent to safety and acclimation. I also had a great cook, Betos. He served me three massive meals a day, always striving to cater to my tastes. He checked in with me frequently to make sure I was happy. I also think he was possibly worried that I was not well, since I found myself completely unable to finish any of the three three-course meals he prepared for me all six days. His skills over a camp stove are impressive, but I just cannot fit that much food into my body. Maybe if he only fed me cookies… I then had a personal attendant, Joshua. He served me all my meals and setup my eating blanket in my tent. He always had a smile and tried to teach me fun sayings in Swahili. My favorite was a response to mambo, how are you? It went poa kachizi kama ndizi ndani ya fridge, crazy cool like a banana in the fridge. And then there were three other porters, Godiliza, Daniel, and Jofray. All distinct in looks and personality, they brought their own bonus to our crew.

From observing various companies while on my hike, I will say the main difference is that we were probably more minimalist. I ate in my tent, rather than have a separate food tent with chair and table. I used the camp pit toilets rather than have a dedicated porter responsible for carrying around and cleaning one for me. And let’s be honest, I would not have been able to handle such unnecessary extravagance. Otherwise, I was safely brought up the mountain, and summited Uhuru Peak. I highly recommend Kessy Brothers Tours for any Kilimanjaro hike. I suspect the logistics change slightly when dealing with additional hikers, the number of guides and porters definitely increases.

Kessy Brothers Tours: http://www.kessybrotherstours.co.tz

After arriving to their office in Moshi, we settled all the logistics for the next day. They provided me with the gear I was missing and introduced me to my guide. And then I was whisked away to Sal Salnero Hotel to repack, shower, rest, and prepared for my Mt Kilimanjaro trek.

 

49E2855B-5FB0-4FF6-9B32-40368EEAAC2985E4B983-B36D-4026-8FA5-10CE8D940C4A

Oldonyo Lengai in 1.5 ascents and an outdoors safety announcement

2/2/2018
Oldonyo Lengai in 1.5 ascents and an outdoors safety announcement

I thought a long time about what I wanted to say here. I have a plethora of notes and thoughts and feelings from this day. But I think it is important to start with a safety announcement. As an avid outdoors woman, I sometimes take for granted the skills and comfort levels of my outdoor companions. I often go outdoors alone, so when I meet people out on the same adventures, we just happen to all be on the same page. This is not always true when planning an excursion in advance with companions. We all have our own abilities, fears, goals, and dislikes. So I want to talk about it.

When climbing mountains, there is one very important rule: the summit is always optional, but your safety is not. I repeat, no matter how much you want to push to the top of a mountain, it will always be there for another day. But if you become injured, or worse, die, you may never have another mountain in your future. This rule remains true whether you are out on a day hike, undergoing a grand expedition, paid $70,000 for the opportunity, or whatever other circumstances you can argue. If your safety is in danger, the peak is always optional. This might seem obvious if the situation is a threat of lightening, blizzard, any high altitude illness, or other confronting risk. But it becomes more nuanced at the nitty gritty side. What is the balance between pushing yourself and not exceeding your personal abilities? Only you can answer that question. The important thing is to remain true to your feelings, AND to practice excellent communication.

Please, I repeat, please, anytime you are going outdoors with other people, always take the time to discuss each person’s abilities, goals, and limitations. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about these things with the people you go outdoors with, whether from intimidation, pride, or whatever, step off your high horse right now. Going outside is a fun, challenging, and rewarding privilege. But it also has risks, real risks, life threatening risks. You would not go backcountry skiing without digging a pit to check snowpack. You would not rope up to trad climb with someone who cannot set anchors. You would not skydive without checking your parachute. I can go on, but the point is that we have safety checks for high danger sports, but it is also important to make safety checks for less obviously dangerous sports. I myself am often guilty of jumping in before asking questions and thinking about risks. But if you really do not feel comfortable doing an activity, whatever your reason(s) may be (physical ability, fear of heights, an emotional block to certain activities, lack of equipment, uncertainty, disinterest, etc), find an environment where you can work through those uncertainties on a safe playing field. Join organized expeditions (REI, NOLS, local outdoor stores), find classes (REI, local recreation centers, local universities, certification outfitters), and try to meet people who are willing to teach you (Meet Up groups, online support forums, friends, etc). Seriously, I know a lot of people who say they have always wanted to do X, Y, or Z, but never knew how to get started. My solution is always that you will find a way if you are truly passionate. Start small, do not be afraid of failure, know that you may have to do something several times before you know if you actually enjoy it. When deciding to thru hike for the first time, I planned a three day, very easy hike. Everything went wrong. I forgot my water treatment, I had never practiced setting up my tent before and it rained that night, I didn’t know where to begin with proper foot care and happiness. But I accepted defeat, went home early, and learned a lot. I tapped the knowledge base of friends and tried again. Now distance hiking is one of my all time favorite activities.

When you go outdoors and are surprised by a limitation of a team member, it is both your responsibilities to have talked it out before the adventure began. That is all I have to say. It is lazy and irresponsible to not take the time to have these discussions when preparing for an adventure. And remember, the summit is always option, but your safety is not.

As a brief recap of the day. We had a very short night’s rest. I honestly think I got maybe two hours of sleep. We left for the base at 11pm and were climbing by 11:30pm. I forgot to record this climb. It was still relatively warm outside, and the moon was shining brilliantly among a million twinkling stars. It was perfect out. We drove up the escarpment toward a saddle between Lengai and the ridge. The climb started as a gentle sloping flank before steadily steepening. We made it several miles up the side of Oldonyo Lengai before having to turn back. Melissa had even less sleep last night, she was sick to her stomach. When I thought that was it, I knew she could be ok if we went slowly and kept her fed and hydrated. But here is where my negligence comes in, I had never sat her down for that all important talk about goals and limitations. Melissa is afraid of heights, and has not climbed a mountain before, so did not know how that limitation would manifest with both feet securely on the ground. Knowing her to be a rock climber, I didn’t even think to ask. We made it a good ways up the mountain before Melissa shared the state she was in, stubborn to the point that she kept going even while thinking one false step would ruin her. As a blindly confident person, I have never faced a fear like she did this morning. That determined, we turned back. The summit so near, but Melissa’s safety more important. Once at the bottom I curled up and slept the last hour before sunrise. Then we walked another mile or two down the road to the lone tree to wait for Daudi in the meager scraps of shade as the day’s heat set in. We returned to camp, ate breakfast, and made a plan. I would go back with Daniel that afternoon and Melissa would explore Lake Natron and some cinder cones located there.

I went back to bed, in my sun-sweltering tent, to catch another three hours sleep before waking for lunch and summit attempt number two. Daniel and I set out at 3PM, in the stifling afternoon heat. We regained this morning’s ground quickly. I should clarify that there is not actually a trail up Oldonyo Lengai. We were literally retracing weathered steps up lava flow channels. When the mountain steepened, we were often picking steps from entrained boulder to entrained boulder, since the lava was slickly smooth or eroding rubble. And it was straight up, no switch backs, no protected coves, nothing. As real an effort at climbing up a raw, loosely vegetated mountain as it can get. I did record this second attempt, so you can watch how my pace lagged tremendously toward the top, the lack of sleep and heat-induced exhaustion setting in, my legs cramping like I have never felt before. Daniel, of course, not even breaking a sweat. That man is patience reincarnated.

We arrived at the summit just in time for sunset and to catch the last light across the valley. It was beautiful! And very interesting to see how the crater had changed from all the photos I have seen online. Since the 2007 to 2008 activity, there are now two hornitoes building up in the bottom of a deep, but filling crater. The south crater wall, which I think was attached prior to 2007, is now a separate abandoned rim wall. There is a crack about 1-3 feet across and 10+ feet deep running all the way around the current crater. And I observed at least five separate gas vents, seeping hot sulfurous volatiles.

As quickly as we arrived, we headed back down to take advantage of the last rays of light. Which was nice, because heading down those shear faces was much easier with daylight. I quickly realized that we would not have the same bright moon as this morning and my headlight batteries were running low. Thankfully Daniel led the way and I only needed to watch him mostly. The winds picked up from our backside, stirring up as the dust we disturbed with our steps. As the second in line, I received the powdery, blinding dust from both our dust clouds. We watched Daudi arrive as we sped down the mountain, his headlights seeming far away. But before I knew it we were back at the vehicle and headed to camp. A delicious meal from Kimambo awaiting me. I ate, showered, and went straight to bed. An exhausting but deserving day.

 

EF37B27D-CD0D-4513-8280-B77F32332455FB2E93FD-6133-44B7-A4E0-7245DA4A78D80A49E18E-23D3-4B88-BACB-4460E8112A0CF78A9F65-C052-4D1B-829B-420E8AAF1016B0987BB8-1065-49ED-B255-C33C3FE47468B4F1C8E4-45AD-43C9-A17C-3630C9DCF88EDDB51788-DF79-42A7-AA9E-98EB9DDABE2A3F5EEC62-5F6A-4E06-B577-DB3F0170F469

Geologizing around Oldonyo Lengai

2/1/2018
Geologizing around Oldonyo Lengai

Melissa and I continued our morning ritual by watching the sun rise over the flank of Gelai volcano from the edge of camp. It is nice to have freedom of movement again! Then Kimambo outdid himself this breaky feast: soft cinnamon bread twists, eggs, bacon, mango, pineapple, passion fruit, hot tea with milk, and my daily dose of EmergenC. Maybe the meal was not all that different from other mornings, but we were excited to be switching our focus to rocks!

For the past 20 million years or so, this part of northern Tanzania has witnessed two major periods of extensional crystal deformation, both followed by pulses of volcanism (Dawson, 2008). Instabilities in the mantle during late Tertiary time caused regional uplift and the formation of an irregular, domed highland. Extensional faulting along the crest of the domed structure, formed three diverging grabens: Natron, Eyasi, Pangani. In fact, more recent normal faulting throughout the Oldupai region may have originally developed along these older structures. Within this tectonic depression, numerous single mafic shield volcanoes (Gelai, Kitumbeine, etc) formed, while others coalesced into larger volcanic provinces (Mt Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro volcanic highlands, etc). Renewed extension during the upper Pleistocene formed a half-graben with faulted margin in the west. This is the East African Rift as known today. Lakes Natron and Manyara developed within local depressions adjacent to the western rift margin. Finally, renewed volcanic activity on a much smaller scale activated Mt Meru, Kerimasi, and Oldonyo Lengai. Kerimasi and Oldonyo Lengai are the only two that have erupted carbonatite lavas. Oldonyo Lengai remains the only active volcano in Tanzania today, and the only active carbonatite volcano in the world.

Our first aim for the day was a place on the USGS map named “Ildonyo Loolmurak,” a small cone next to a volcano called “Loolmurak crater”. Daniel told us the local name for the crater is “Kerimasi” and the cone has no name. I enjoyed how “oldonyo” was spelled “ildonyo,” as ‘mountain of the crater.’ I have not investigated how the USGS determined the names of these cones, but it does beg to wonder whether they went straight from old papers, repeating the errors of early researchers, or consulted a local knowledge source.

The target material was to look at the lava flows from the small crater. From walking down the cone’s flank, it looked like 3-4 different lava flows of olivine melilitite separated by light-colored nephelinite layers. Everything was pretty weathered, but we observed large (1-3mm) olivine phenocrysts and abundant vesicles in the melilitite. The nephelinite was hardly worth hammering off a piece.

Then we stopped at a debris flow mound Danial called “Lollkimojok.” It is supposed to be a debris mound overlying a distinct phonolite lava dome, according to the USGS map. We found plenty of phonolite lava, but nothing in situ suggested it was independent of the debris flow material. I won’t say we throughly investigates the matter, but all the phonolite “outcrops” were higher on the mound than debris material, completely lacked any type of contact suggesting either burial or intrusion, and frankly looked like it was locally transported with the debris material. Like I said, we didn’t investigate on any major level, but this unknown relationship remains a mystery to us.

Near the NCA gate we also stopped at an active fault locale. It was as close to active faulting as I have ever seen. There is old uplift creating an ~50m cliff overlooking the lake bed below. Behind the cliff are a series of cracks parallel to the cliff face revealing active graben formation where this crust is stretching apart. The most prevalent crack, about 50m back from the cliff and 10-15m deep, is supposed to be less than 20 years old. Geology on a human scale! We could see bats flying around in the shaded portion of the chasm.

We kept today relatively low key because it is exhaustingly hot in the baking sun, and we are preparing for a nighttime summit of Oldonyo Lengai!

As already mentioned, Oldonyo Lengai is the only active volcano in Tanzania and the only active carbonatite volcano in the world. Thus it might also be one of the most famous volcanoes in the world. Early explorers thought the light coloring was snow, but it is actually light colored carbonatite ash and how the minerals in the lava weather to a grey color. The volcano is deeply incised by deep, radial gullies. Much of the eastern side was blown out by a violent eruption 2,500 years ago, and that eruption caused a large landslide scar still visible on the northeast face. Much of the landscape around Oldonyo Lengai are the remnants of large debris flows covering the east to northeast flanks. The most recent eruptions took place over 2007-2008, with lava flows and large ash eruptions that caused a lot of destruction and some mortalities in the small town of Engaruka.

Oldonyo Lengai, a nephelenite-phonolite-carbonatite stratovolcano is estimated to have begun ~0.37 Ma (Klaudius and Keller, 2006). Lavas of Oldonyo Lengai are geochemically diverse, erupting combeite-wollastonite-nephelinites, phonolites, and natrocarbonatites (Klaudius and Keller, 2006). Of the known extrusive and intrusive carbonatites, only the lavas at Oldonyo Lengai are natrocarbonatitic (Woolley and Church, 2005; Jones et al., 2013); thus these lavas are unique and have no other direct comparison in the geologic record. The unparalleled major oxide compositions, trace- and rare-earth-element geochemistry, isotope systematics, and volatile concentrations of Oldonyo Lengai natrocarbonatite lavas give igneous petrologists insight into deep carbon systematics, mantle processes, magmatic differentiation due to liquid immiscibility, and carbonatite petrogenesis (Simonetti et al., 1997; Dawson, 1998; Keller et al., 2006; Klaudius and Keller, 2006; Potter et al, 2016).

 

EA2EFD14-3279-41F5-9F39-9A9D8CED6F9894FBE974-05F9-4B64-9865-B94D224DDA4BBBDDCDC2-D1B5-4BBD-A7FC-7BF19ED37A61781A387D-07FF-4C85-BBE6-792A5F1A2959

Leaving the Serengeti for Lake Natron

1/31/2018
Leaving the Serengeti for Lake Natron

It rained while we were sleeping. As camp was packed up, I could smell the wet earth mixed with fire and vegetation. I feel like I am attuned to so many more smells here. Things are not paved over and transformed away from their natural state. It reminds me of being on trail. When you regain your ability to smell people – the soaps, bug spray, sunblock, perfume, and more – before you see or hear them. But this is different. It’s stronger, I am bathed, and have not become the same kind of feral beast I am on trail, yet I can smell the world in the air. It is like the rush of smells of nature when you first step out of a cave. You don’t realize you haven’t been able to smell nature until you are being reunited after breathing sterilized air. I like it.

Melissa and I again perched our selves on the kopje to watch the sunrise, Lucas dutifully leading the way. I spotted a banded mongoose, but discovered my camera battery was dead. We saw a wildebeest herd hustle by our camp. I don’t understand why predators don’t attack while they herd. It is clear the strongest wildebeests make their way to the front of the line while the calves are left racing to keep up the tail. As we drove out, we passed heaps of ostriches really close to the road. The pink legs of the males and faces of the females indicating breeding time was fully visible at this close distance. We could see Masai women collecting water from a stream that developed from the brief rains. It is scary to think water here is so scarce that these people work hard to capture all they can. Most of the migrating animals are independent of water, so they do not rely so heavily on a constant water supply.

Since the animals are mostly in Ndutu, we asked Daudi to take us into Serengeti National Park as a special request. As the always gracious host, he of course complied. The herd was noticeably thinner, but we still had many great sights! Immediately we saw about 20 hyena lurking around a carcass and encroaching on nearby wildebeests. The endless plain of its namesake was more evident here than in Ndutu. Prior to formation of the plain, this area would have been largely exposed pre-Cambrian metamorphic rock. Then the Kerimasi volcano, a small carbonatitic strato-cone on the north edge of the Ngorongoro volcanic highlands, produced a series of explosive eruptions, blanketing the entire area in pyroclastic air fall tuffs. The result is the “endless plains” seen today. Besides the mountains at the horizons, it could easily have passed for the plains of western Kansas (animal presence aside of course), interesting how so many geological environments can produce such similar looking results. We watched a miles long line of wildebeests crossing the road towards Ndutu, and a picturesque juvenile tawny eagle staring us down from in a lone acacia tree.

On the way back out the same road, it was like all the animals had come swarming. Instantly we spotted a female cheetah lounging by the side of the road. Then a lioness in the distance perched on a giant rock under a tree’s shade. The hyena were on the move and ostriches took off running. These animals are oblivious to the boundaries marked by humans, seamlessly crossing back and forth as best fits the path of their migration. Ndutu and Loliondo are pivotal to this ecosystem’s survival. The animals will go as they please, continuing migration routes established long before humans divide up their land as our own.

We went back through Oldupai Gorge to drop off Lucas and capture our last views of this earth cradling humanity’s evolution. Then we set off for Loliondo, the far other side of the rift fault. We drove across the far east side of the Serengeti, where Oldonyo Lengai volcano continues to contribute to those vast grass plains. Loliondo is where game hunting is allowed. You can immediately see the differences from Masai only territory. The buildings are more permanent structures, a combination of more wood resources and other tribes than Masai. Also, there is a noticeably greater turn to agriculture.

We pulled off for lunch under a whistling acacia and looked out over the landscape. The Tanzanian government has hired Chinese immigrants to build a paved road from the Serengeti to Lake Natron and then to Arusha. What a difference that will be for this landscape. I am not comvimced the outcome will necessarily produce beneficial results to the people living in these areas, but it will dramatically change tourism, for one. But that is all a long way off. For now all we see are the scars of ground being leveled. Then, many large bridges will have to be built. This land is riddled with deep gouges from water ripping through the fine sediment and wearing away the rock during rain storms. I hope their engineers have geological understanding, or the road is destined to crumble as quickly as it is built. But maybe that wouldn’t be such an overly bad thing. Not that I want to prevent the opportunities of easier travel, wealth of tourism’s arrival, or the modernizing of this land. But it will surely change this place in unpredictable ways.

Soon we began to loose elevation. I could tell from rising temperatures, and the wide sediment ravines we kept driving down, working our way off the Rift Valley escarpment. We passed through the village of Engaruka to Water Fall Camp. It is a public camp, and the only green oasis on this side of the escarpment (and we are not even in the dry season, when all the plants wither to black sticks). The owner hires Masai from the village below to work as camp helpers for whatever guests arrive. There are other camps, but I suspect this is a favorite. The grounds are relatively flat and grass covered, there are giant trees casting shade (several large fig trees were dropping fruit!), and it overlooks Lake Natron with Gelai looming behind it. And a short walk to the edge of the plateau reveals decent views of Oldonyo Lengai and the escarpment towering up behind us.

We met our Masai guide for this region, a kind and patient man named Daniel. He will accompany us on all our excursions, including Oldonyo Lengai. Melissa and I also learned that Daudi is Masai. No wonder he was able to tell us so much about their culture, his culture. And Kimambo is from the Chaga Tribe in Moshi. Daudi told us “oldonyo” is Masai for “mountain,” and “Oldonyo Lengai” is Masai for “Mountain of God.” So the Google map name of Ol Doinyo Lengai is yet another example of incorrect spelling from European explorers. We also discovered numerous other discrepancies as we showed Daniel our USGS geological map of the region. It contained a whole slew of of oldonyo spelling variations for the various peaks around; made all the more funny when that means everything has been somewhat formally named “mountain.”