Here be Rocks

One of the requirements for my GEO 203 class is to go on a geology field trip. Our trip would be to central Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey. I was excited to get back into the outdoors.

We departed Friday afternoon from Guyot Hall. Our first stop was for dinner at Buddy’s Log Cabin Family Restaurant in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. The professors let us order anything. ANYTHING. The bill was on the Geosciences Department. Yours Truly filled up on a 1/4 lb. deluxe hamburger, fries, and chocolate milkshake. It was a much welcome change from institutionalized food.

The restaurant itself had a log cabin theme. Its salad bar was in an old sled. Americana lined the walls. There were also Native American decorations that would probably be considered racist (normally I would not have notice this but the hypersensitive University setting has made me woke).

We set up camp at Echo Valley Campground. Although the name suggests that this place is a campground, it was a trailer park in disguise. A number of oil and gas workers live there. Mountains surrounded the area.


Echo Valley Campground

Saturday’s breakfast was Dunkin’ Donuts. Yum! We went on a van-ride for 30 minutes before stopping at a rock outcrop on the side of a road. The professor and graduate students taught us about geology for an hour. Then, we moved on to two more outcrops. These were part of the Mauch Chunk and Pocono formations.

During our drive, we passed through some towns that had seen better days. Some of them were impoverished. They had names like: Coal, Frackville, and Minersville. Obviously mining had once been an integral part of the local economy.

We laughed at the outrageously high concentration of Donald Trump campaign signs in the area. I found the “Trump Digs Coal” placards to be especially amusing. So this is where all of his supporters are…

After lunch, we traveled to the Bear Valley Strip Mine. At one point, miners dug coal out of this area until it became unprofitable. Now, only the pit remains. Upon arrival, a huge rock face soared 300 feet into the air and a chasm plunged 200 feet downwards. It was a spectacular sight. We walked around, examined a whaleback formation, and observed some features on a sheered mountainside. As we stood on the whale-back, a group of ATVs and dirt bikes pulled up on the opposite ledge blasting Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” It was quite a spectacle.

We drove to a stream that emptied out of the mine to do some water quality test. The bottom line: pollution from this mine still drains into local rivers decades after it closed. Its acidity was rather high.


Stopping at a stream

Next, we drove to Centralia, Pennsylvania. This was once a prospering coal mining town until a terrible accident occurred in 1962. No one quite knows how it started, but a subterranean coal seam was set on fire. A local gas station owner noticed the extremely high temperature of his gas tanks underground and notified the authorities. Several sinkholes opened up in the following days. Shortly thereafter, the government basically forced everyone to move except for a few residents who still live there to the present day. The coal fire has been raging ever since then. Some sources estimate that these underground mine fires account for as much as 2% of the greenhouse gases that are pumped into the atmosphere every year. They cannot be extinguished.

This place was very eerie to drive through. The roads were laid out like a town with telephone poles and sidewalks next to them, but there were no houses (with the exception of the few remaining residents). Only the Orthodox Church on the hill can remain permanently because it is out of the fire’s path. Huge wind turbines soared above the valley. They create a sharp juxtaposition of the dirty coal energy of the past and clean wind energy of the future. One road had a lot of graffiti on it. The people who come here really do not like Donald Trump.

There were a few openings in the ground where we could feel the heat from the coal fire.

Despite the fact that this is the site of an active coal fire, there were a relatively high number of people parked near the cemetery. I saw a number of pickup trucks with trailers for ATVs. Cars, dirt bikes, and four-wheelers were driving over the hills everywhere. Centralia has become a sort of playground for rednecks. I also think it is the place where teenagers take their parents’ car for a spin. Other people were simply tourists. Before we returned to our own van, we watched a sedan race by us at high speeds with someone standing up through the sunroof. It was rather surreal walking through this abandoned town with people crawling all over it in motor vehicles. As our South African graduate student said, “This is the strangest place that I have been in my entire life.”

For dinner, we ate at Behm’s Family Restaurant in Tremont, Pennsylvania. Again, the professor told us that we could order anything. Yours Truly dined like a king on a New York strip steak, green beans, applesauce, fries, and chocolate milkshake. The restaurant had a fancy sink in the bathroom.

At night, we made a campfire and roasted s’mores.

Sunday was another geology day. Our first stop was at the National Park Service’s welcome center to the Delaware Water Gap. It was a magnificent view. Mounts Minsi and Tammany rose splendidly overhead, cut by the winding Delaware River. We learned about the geology of the area. Then, we looked at an outcrop that showed signs of glaciation. Finally, we walked about 400 yards on the Appalachian Trail to another outcrop with a large vista of eastern New Jersey. The visibility was easily 30 miles.

We were supposed to see glacial moraine in a town called Buttzville (pronounced butts-vil), but we couldn’t get there because we were behind schedule. **imaginary laughter**

Our ride back to Princeton was nice. I spent it napping and talking with other students. It was nice. At one bathroom stop, I found another villa for some organized gang leader. There were no other large houses in that area, so it is plausible.


After this trip, I am fairly certain that I will stay in the Geosciences Department. This is the type of research and field work that I would like to do. If I can get into it, there is a geosciences freshman class next semester that has a trip to France and Spain during spring break. Most of the professors that I have met so far are friendly. That is not the case in other departments. There is also a lot of free food. Lunch on Tuesdays, snacks on Thursday, and eat anything on road trips. I can live with that.


First geology trip of the year in July to Glacial Grooves State Park on Kelly’s Island, Ohio