Care and grooming of rocks and outcrops

Photographers know that everything about a great shot depends on how you set it up. As I capture images of geological subjects, part of the setup involves prepping the model. Often it’s just a matter of removing a few stray twigs to get a decent picture, like these serpentine stream cobbles in Joaquin Miller Park.

Only rarely does nature present rocks in an untouchably satisfying way — and to tell the truth I might have brushed off a cobweb before I took this portrait of laminated siltstone in Shepherd Canyon.

But around here, as opposed to the Grand Canyon, rock exposures are generally kinda shabby. What are you going to do? Rocks are made underground, and once exposed to surface conditions they start to break down. And vegetation doesn’t care where it sheds things.

In many of my outings, I find myself doing some housecleaning. Whenever I lead a walk, it’s mandatory for me to go over the route beforehand and groom the features I plan to show off, like the splendid exposures of the Oakland Conglomerate in Montclair.

This textbook example of load casts always requires a thorough weeding session, followed by a good sweep with my umpire’s brush. Because shale wants nothing more than to return to clay, and weeds like nothing more than decayed shale.

There’s an outcrop in Dimond Canyon, along the trail, that I always take a minute to groom. The last time I did this I took these before-and-after shots.

This is something that any of you can do too, if the spirit moves you. I know people who routinely carry tools to prune snaggy or undesirable vegetation along the trail in a discreet way. Sometimes I do that, but more often I stick to grooming the outcrops. Because who else will? While one of my principles is to “leave the stone alone,” the stone can use a bit of care here and there. That’s my contribution to the geoparks movement in a country that badly needs it.

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