The spectacular cover photograph was taken by Sam Chase, an oil-industry employee, on a work-related flight from Sacramento to Bakersfield, California, the morning of December 20, 1977. In the photo, an enormous plume of dust sweeps out of the Tehachapi Mountains and rises 5,000 feet above the southern San Joaquin Valley. It vividly illustrates how natural forces extend human disturbances on arid lands, resulting in severe erosion. In this case an extreme wind storm was stripping overgrazed lands, unprotected farmlands, urban developments, and dirt roads and tracks. All are especially vulnerable to wind erosion.
When the small plane took off from Sacramento, Bakersfield Airport’s prerecorded weather report spoke only of morning fog and light winds. The storm’s violence had kept airport workers at home, unable to change the recording. Approaching Bakersfield, everyone on the plane could see the futility of trying to land there. Sam took the photograph after the plane turned east to Tehachapi— apparently he and the pilot were the only ones who hadn’t lost their stomachs.
The incredible record left by this storm is unparalleled in the geologic literature, and we are grateful to Sam for making this unique photograph available.