Geology of National Parks

Tania Ander
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi


Geology of the National Parks uses selected U.S. National Parks to introduce students to the regional geology of the United States. The course covers about 20 U.S. National Parks representing various geologic settings. The course also reviews major geologic principles, as well as basic geologic concepts such as plate tectonics.

Course Type: Intro Level Physical Geology
Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

The course is an elective and is typically taken by geology majors, although I also have had students with a non- science background (e.g., criminal justice) who were simply interested in the topic.

The course has no lab section.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? no

If students take a "non-majors" course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course? yes
Although listed as a 3000 level course with a prerequisite of one of the introductory geology courses (physical or historical geology), this course can be taken by students of all levels. It does not serve as a prerequisite for other courses.

Course Content:

The National Parks chosen for this course represent a variety of geologic settings found in the U.S.. Therefore it is possible to address a wealth of geologic topics. These include:
1) Scenery developed by weathering and erosion on flat-lying rocks;
2) Caves and reefs;
3) Landscapes shaped by continental or alpine glaciation;
4) Volcanic features and volcanic activity; and
5) Landscapes and structures in areas of complex mountains.

Students with some background in geology can apply their knowledge acquired in other classes and transfer it to real-world settings found in the United States.

Towards the end of the semester all students are required to present a National Park or State Park in the form of a Power Point presentation as well as creating a flier for the class describing the geology of their chosen park. Students learn how to summarize a topic and how to present their work to a group.

Course Goals:

Upon successful completion of this course, students should have
  • gained a basic understanding of the regional geology of the United States.
  • obtained a good understanding of basic elements of physical and historical geology.
  • developed an awareness for the natural world surrounding us.
  • learned to apply geologic principals.

Course Features:

During the course of the semester students are encouraged to interpret outcrop photographs of various National Parks with the eye of a geologist, e.g., the flat-lying rock units at the Grand Canyon indicate that we are looking at sedimentary rocks, which weather differently.

By giving a presentation about a National or State Park to the class, students gain a deeper appreciation for the geology of their surroundings.

Course Philosophy:

I like students to be active learners who are not just lectured to but who are engaged in the process of developing their knowledge. Students rarely transfer knowledge from one class to another unless encouraged to do so. The National Parks of the United States course offers the opportunity for students to apply their knowledge from classes such as physical and historical geology.
By requiring students to research and present a topic to the class they learn qualities that go beyond the scope of a science class. Public speaking is a challenge for many. With a class size of 15-20 students, the setting is ideal for facing this challenge.


exams and presentation


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 40kB Nov12 08)

References and Notes:

Geology of National Parks by Harris, Tuttle & Tuttle
I liked the presentation of the National Parks based on their respective geologic settings. It allows for the introduction of a general topic and then applying it by presenting a few selected parks.