The drive to our hotel was too dark to see any scenery, so my first view of the landscape wasn't until the next morning, but it was totally worth the wait. The T on the mountain symbolized Tonopah, NV the only town for many miles. The mountains here are just breathtaking and the pictures definitely fail to capture the scale and distance you can see. There is just nothing here except endless desert and brush surrounded by distant mountains.
But all too soon (8:00 AM), we left Tonopah for our destination of the day, Clayton Valley, NV. There, we toured the only lithium mine in America, operated by Rockwood Lithium. The tour started off with an indoor presentation and was particularly special to me because of all the questions other people on the trip were asking. It is such an amazing experience to be in the presence of so many smart and curious teenagers and adults. After that, we drove around the lithium evaporation ponds. The lithium-enriched brine is pumped to these ponds from the aquifers under the earth in order to raise the concentration of the solution and precipitate out salt. Below you can see the first evaporation pond we viewed.
LeeAnn Munk, a geologist from the University of Alaska who studies lithium, is traveling with us. She visits the Clayton Valley mine every year to test samples of the water and study the lithium aquifers. Below you can see her rinsing her pipette in order to ensure pure samples. She told us to taste a drop of the water - quite salty because of all the NaCl.
Here is a dredger removing salt from building up in the evaporation ponds. The lithium mine is only in production from April-October because otherwise it is too cold for the evaporation ponds to work. At this time of year, a lot of maintenance was going on. I thought this picture was cool because the colors were so pretty!
Here is some salty evaporated area. The pattern seen in the picture below was a common sight today. Many people had fun licking the salt and stomping on the crystals - we even go to take some samples with us.
Finally, our tour of the lithium mine was finished but next we were off to hike a volcano! At this time, Sam Bowring, a geology professor at MIT, Dwight Bradley, a USGS geologist, and LeeAnn Munk took over teaching us. The rocks were so awesome! It was quite fun to find unique rocks and inquire about what type of rock you had discovered. The volcano was mostly made up of basalt rocks that had formed from a flash explosion a VERY long time ago. These rocks were porous and therefore very light. It was interesting to hear the geologists debate whether one side of the mountain was formed from a lava flowor erosion Here is the volcano:
Rin and I on top of the volcano:
And our caravan of cars in the background for some scale:
One thing to note is that it is so hard to comprehend the scale of everything you see! This volcano looked pretty tiny from the lithium mine but was huge once we got there. I can't wait to explore Death Valley tomorrow. The view coming in over the pass from Nevada was not something I could have ever imagined or captured in a picture.