Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Big Brush Creek Cave

Last weekend my brother and I went camping with some friends from church. We drove to the High Uintah’s north of Vernal Utah. I brought by weather radio to stay updated on any potential thunderstorms in the area. The forecast when I left showed a 20% chance of storms. The limiting factor for any storm development would be the dry air and the cooler air mass that had moved over the region. Still, the intense daytime heating could be enough to pop up a thunderstorm.

The Uintah Basin has been the focus of my research the last two years. The basin is heavily populated by oil and gas wells. These wells are the primary cause of high pollution periods during winter inversions, especially surface ozone. Lucky for us it is summer and we can see the mountains around us and enjoy the clean air.

A short wave trough dipping into Utah brought some cooler than normal temperatures for the weekend. This disturbance brought some moisture and clouds. With the daytime heating some cumulus clouds developed over the mountains. Some clouds grew dark, but I only felt two raindrops the entire weekend. The air was too dry to rain. Virga was often seen in the distance during the afternoons. Several individuals in the group worried we would get caught in a thunderstorm, but no one saw any lighting or ever hear lighting. The scariest sound we heard where the coyotes in howling all night.
Saturday we explored Big Brush Creek Cave. At the wide mouth of the cave is a giant ice column that slowly melts away all summer long. It was early enough in the year that is was still touching the roof of the cave.

Our group explored the smaller arm of the cave. On our hands and knees we crab-crawled through the entrance and down to 700 feet below the earth’s surface. Some parts of the cave opened wider and other areas were a tight squeeze. At one section, with a running start, we penguin slid on the ice through a narrow tunnel. There were more ice columns throughout the cave, but they were much smaller than the big one at the entrance. The deeper we wandered, the ice melted and we were walking through water puddles. I thought it was odd that we found water deeper in the cave, but it makes sense because the earth is an insulator and keeps the temperatures inside the cave around 50 degrees year round (temperature measured with a Kestrel). The ice near the front of the cave is there because it is exposed to the winter temperatures. The water freezes in winter and slowly melts through the summer.

On the way home I saw some of the most beautiful late-evening convective cumulus clouds hanging over the Uintah’s. We also enjoyed a beautiful sunset as we drove through Spanish Fork Canyon. 

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