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66 CSUB and BC Students, Faculty, Community Members Experience Geologic Wonders near ZZYZX

What makes sand sing, rocks bend, volcanoes erupt into cones of cinder, and marine corals end up in the desert? To learn the answers to these and other geological questions, community members and California State University, Bakersfield Provost Jenny Zorn recently joined CSUB and Bakersfield College geology students and faculty on a three-day weekend at a former health resort that was known as “ZZYZX.”

Once a health spa whose owner claimed to cleanse the rich and famous “externally, internally, and eternally,” ZZYZX is now home to the California State University Desert Research Center (DRC) in the Mojave National Preserve. Established in 1976, the Desert Studies Center provides opportunities for research, educational activities and experiencing desert environments.

Dr. Tony Rathburn, Chair of the Department of Geological Sciences, said, “This trip provides an important opportunity for students to discover the natural processes that shape the world around us.”

The CSUB Geological Sciences Department and community donors sponsor an annual field expedition that exposes students to a diverse array of geological features. Led by CSUB geologist and alumnus Dr. Katie O’Sullivan, the group, including students from her physical geology course, made forays from the DRC, exploring desert environments and discovering the rich geological history of the region through hands-on experiences.

CSUB geology faculty discussed different aspects of the natural history of each field stop, including the faults and landscape evolution of the Kern River Gorge, 300-million-year-old corals in ancient tropical seas, cinder cone volcanoes, lava flows and underground lava tube caves, the singing sands of Kelso Dunes, the mineral resources resulting from ancient lakes, and the events that caused rocks to bend into the multicolored layers of Rainbow Basin.

Students were impressed with the experiences, and one student commented, “We were able to actually go out and see what we had learned in class, which you don’t really get to do in other classes. I would highly recommend this class and field trip to other students.”

Dr. Wes Hildreth and Judy Fierstein, United State Geological Survey (USGS) geologists from Menlo Park who also were visiting the DRC at the same time, treated CSUB visitors to an after- dinner informational question-and-answer session.

For several decades, Dr. Hildreth and Judy Fierstein have studied volcanoes from Alaska to Chile. They came to the DRC for two weeks to begin mapping and collecting samples from 80 cinder cones and lava flows that will help them understand the sequence of volcanic activities in the region. Students learned about career paths in the USGS and the enjoyment of working in the field, as well as the science of volcanic age-dating.

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