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Geological Sciences’ own rockstar completes 500-mile Mojave hike

By Samantha Padilla, Mar. 22, 2022

After nine years of planning, Nicholas Van Buer, associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, completed his 500-mile hike across the Mojave Desert on March 4, creating an unforgettable milestone for the Geological Sciences Department at Cal Poly Pomona.

In late January, Van Buer began his voyage across the remote areas of the Mojave Desert. Van Buer shared with The Poly Post that the first couple of days of his journey were tough, and he couldn’t reach his planned camp on the first day. Van Buer began to hike after dark to get to his intended camping ground.

But Van Buer faced his most difficult obstacle on the third day, where he had to swim through the Colorado River surrounded by tall reeds.

“I swam the Colorado River … it turns out it wasn’t that hard but getting out of the tall reeds on the far side was incredibly difficult,” said Van Buer. “It took me more than an hour, just crawling through these reeds that are like 30-feet tall.”

Van Buer continued his journey by making his nutrition from scratch like the old pioneers. Due to the limited space in his backpack, he carried flour, from which he made bread. His daily meals mainly consisted of bread and water. Van Buer would eat bread with peanut butter or Nutella in the mornings and alternate with dry cured bacon in the evenings.

Courtesy of Nicholas Van Buer

As for communication, Van Buer carried a Garmin inReach, a satellite device used to send and receive messages, navigate and track. His wife and parents were able to track and communicate with him from time to time through this device.

Van Buer told The Poly Post the first weeks were the most unsettling because he kept falling behind his organized schedule and had to catch up by night hiking.

“Basically, I wasn’t sure if I could sustain for five weeks,” said Van Buer.

Along his journey, Van Buer discovered minor geologic discoveries such as several slight earthquake faults and different types of rocks. He collected half a dozen rock samples which he will examine in more detail later in the laboratory, grinding up the rocks and analyzing them. Most of the rocks he collected on his expedition are volcanic rocks from the time of the dinosaurs.

After five long weeks, Van Buer completed his 500-mile hike through the Mojave Desert and was “pretty elated” that he finished his long-awaited journey but was ready to return home.

“If you’re passionate about something and want to do something exciting, start planning in advance,” advised Van Buer. “This is an idea I came up with in 2013. I basically was planning for nine years … don’t give up on your dreams.”

Van Buer hopes to see the geology department at Cal Poly Pomona expand. By uploading his series on YouTube in late March, he hopes people will grow interested in geology and learn something new.

Jonathan Nourse, chair of the department, said, “He sort of leads by example, and it’ll be really good for our students to see a faculty member out there doing something really different.”

Van Buer’s 500-mile hike inspired several geology students who believe students from other majors at Cal Poly Pomona should look into taking a geology course and see what it’s about.

“If you haven’t taken a geology class before, you should; it’s really fun,” said Drake D. Fan, a geology student. “It doesn’t really take that much time and you kind of just get to look at a bunch of cool rocks.”

Van Buer plans to finish up his YouTube series from his Mojave trek and continue his research from the rock samples he collected.

Van Buer will be teaching a course over the summer where the class will conduct fieldwork in the middle of the Nevada Desert and perform some geologic mapping.

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