Adventuresin the Mojave
The first day of our adventure in the Mojave took us fromthe plains of the desert to the highest peaks of the sand dunes to the depthsof the underground volcanic caves. Driving over the day before, we were greeted by Soda Lake, a lake that insteadof water has a film of bicarbonate salt covering a bed of sulfuric mud. Following the path to our home for theweek, we drove by a man-made pond with a fountain in the middle inhabited by anendangered species of fish called a Chub. The backdrop of our new home was the endless plains of the MojaveDesert.
The rise of the sun over the desert heralded the first dayof our five day journey to find the key to the possibility of alien life. We piled into five cars andcaravanned, leaving civilization behind us in our search for biological soilcrusts, referred to as BSC, in the vast plains of the desert. Though its appearance resembles that ofblack, squishy mold; BSCs are a complex community of cyanobacteria, moss andlichen that represent how life can survive in extreme environments. The objective was to find a largeenough population that would allow us to take samples without decimating thepopulation since they take about fifty years to resurface. The samples were retrieved andwill be analyzed in a lab in order to discover the mechanisms by which life cansurvive in such an extreme environment. Our next task was to find a section of desert that wouldallow us to take a sample of barren land and compare this to the life elementfound in the BSC samples that we collected.
We continued our journey through the desert to the seamingoasis of Kelso, a World War II boomtown, for lunch and stumbled upon a gem inthe form of an educational video. We learned a lot about our next stop, the Cima Sand Dunes. These dunes were beautiful butdeceitful. Despite their seeminglyserene exterior they soon proved to be our greatest challenge. Our mission was to reach the highestpoint of the dunes in order to survey the landscape. After about an hour of treacherous trekking, we reached thebase of the highest peak. Wethought the most difficult part was over, but the adventure had just begun. As we started trudging up the steep hill,soon to be nicknamed “Mt. Doom”, we discovered that the sandy texture of thesoil made it difficult to progress…for every step we took up, we slid down 0.75steps. Although the environmentproved to be too extreme for some, the majority persevered. After a strenuous combination of hikingand crawling, we conquered Mt. Doom and in doing so superseded our ownperceived mental and physical limitations. After we recovered, we embraced the view and enjoyed ourfeelings of accomplishment. Insurveying the land, we noticed that there was a distinct border of plants andshrubs along the base of the dunes. On our climb down, we encountered individual blades of grass-like plantsgrowing in the middle of the sand. The roots appeared to be endless so we hope to return in order tofurther investigate the mechanism of their survival.
Our expedition continued through a rocky road to the LavaTubes. We observed gaps in theEarth formed by geologically ‘young’ (approximately 10,000-15,000 years old)magma. We then climbed down intothe caves and observed the geological formation of the caves. It is possible that life could haveexisted at one point but due to constant human traffic, none can be observedcurrently.
Upon returning, we enjoyed a hot shower and a delicious and heartymeal followed by a very stimulating presentation and discussion aboutmicrobialites. Then it wasstraight to bed to prepare for the next day. Thus ended the first day of our adventures in theMojave.
Cal Poly Pomona