Cutting Edge > Develop Program-Wide Abilities > Geoscience in the Field > Field Experiences > Browse Field Experiences > A Geologic Walk Down the Grand Staircase

A Geologic Walk Down the Grand Staircase

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ZABEL, Garret & WHITE, Sylvia Colorado Mountain College-Roaring Fork Campus
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.


This page first made public: Nov 5, 2004

This is a 10-day field experience class that focuses on the geology of the Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau, culminating in a rim-to-rim backpack trip across the Grand Canyon, Arizona.
GSA Poster (PowerPoint 50MB Nov5 04)

Learning Goals

Content/Concepts:
Geologic time, stratigraphy, overview of earth processes, depositional environments, structural geology, plate tectonics, geomorphology and human impacts on geological features.

Geologic Skills:
Recognize strata, rock and mineral identification in field, reading topographic and geologic maps, field sketching and mapping, introduction to use of Brunton compass, correct use and spelling of geology terms.

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
Observation, disscussion and drawing conclusions from field experiences.

Other Skills:
Journal writing, ability to work within a group, organizational skills for packing for camping and backpack trip.

Context

Instructional Level:
Undergraduate entry level and general public

Skills Needed:
College level reading skills, an interest in geology, physical ability to make 25-mile backpacking trek

Role of Activity in a Course:
The entire field trip class is the activity with 9 pre-trip classroom hours and 10 days of geology lectures, field exercises and hiking while immersed in the geology of the Colorado Plateau geology.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
A suggested reading list and camping/backpacking equipment list, trail hiking guides and text are provided to the student.

Logistical Challenges:
Obtaining back country camping permits for large groups requires trip to Grand Canyon South Rim back country office four months prior to the trip; must plan ahead for transportation, especially at trailheads at end of hike; out of area students who may not be able to attend pre-trip classes need to be accommodated through e-mail, fax, phone.

Evaluation

Evaluation Goals:
The student should be able to recognize formations by name, rock type, age and depositional environment and relationships between strata and geographic area. Student should also be able to recognize and describe structures and geomorphic features.

Evaluation Techniques:
Written and oral exams are given just prior to and during the trip. Students must keep journals, do field sketching and turn in a paper two weeks after trip. Students are in small enough groups (10 per instructor) to be assessed as trip progresses.

Description

For 10 days students are provided a real-world laboratory in the Colorado Plateau, highlighting the geology of the Grand Staircase at Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, Utah and culminating in a 5-day backpacking trek across the Grand Canyon, Arizona.
Students are immersed in all disciplines of geology and numerous stops in route allow them to put their hands on the history of the earth. The geologic time scale is discussed while driving and hiking through strata representing earth history from the present back through 1.75 billion years into the Precambrian.
Prior to the trip, students attend three classroom sessions that accommodate various levels of proficiency in the geosciences. Several optional pre-trip hikes are offered. At least half of one class session is devoted to preparations for the rigors of hiking in the Grand Canyon. Instructor consent is required prior to enrollment and students are advised of the fitness level required for the trip. Past participants have ranged in age from 17 to 70.
The focus of the field trip is primarily the geology of the Colorado Plateau. Students are immersed in all disciplines of geology and numerous stops in route allow them to put their hands on the history of the earth. The geologic time scale is discussed while driving and hiking through strata representing earth history from the present back through 1.75 billion years into the Precambrian.

Instructors lecture, lead discussions and encourage questions. Students are required to keep a journal with field drawings as well as write a report compiling information as discussed and outlined during the trip.

The ultimate goal of this class, now in its eighth year, is for each student to experience their own "ah-ha!" moment when the big picture of geology makes sense for them. Days saturated in real world geology leads to sudden clarity of previously introduced concepts.
Each student is asked to summarize their experience and what has become known on our trips as the "Grand Canyon Effect." To date, all who have participated in this trip have described being changed and affected by the canyon. Many describe hiking to the canyon rim on the last day as a profoundly emotional experience. Completing the rim to rim hike has proven to be deeply satisfying to all in our groups who have undertaken the arduous task. As geologists and educators, it is extremely gratifying to witness this excitement that can only be found through the experience. In the words of one student, "Some people would argue that the journey has ended; the reality is that the adventure has just begun."