Reconnaissance stratigraphy and mapping of the Frying Pan Gulch, MT

Sinan Akciz, California State University-Fullerton
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Initial Publication Date: May 21, 2020 | Reviewed: August 26, 2020


Students are required to create a reconnaissance geologic map and report for a small area (approximately 0.5 sq. mile) Frying Pan Gulch just NW of Dillon, Montana. This project is designed to make students familiar with the Mesozoic and uppermost Paleozoic stratigraphy of the Dillon area and to familiarize them with basic digital mapping and drafting skills using Google Earth, Adobe Illustrator and Strat Desktop.

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This virtual field trip module is designed as an introductory digital field geology course module for a virtual summer field camp class. Students should be familiar with basic field methods.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have a strong understanding and knowledge of basic geological terms and processes, including: 1) common rocks and minerals; 3) basic geological structures (i.e. simple folds and faults); 3) a conceptual understanding of strike and dip; 4) proficiency in reading topographic maps and using geographic latitude/longitude coordinates; 5) a basic understanding of tectonics and deformation.

How the activity is situated in the course

This virtual field trip activity is positioned as a stand-alone exercise that is worth 20% of course marks/grade in the equivalent CSUF course in the Department of Geological Sciences.

Activity Length

6 days – including the extra time for report writing, could be 5.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

1. Design a field strategy to collect or select data in order to answer a geologic question.
2. Collect accurate and sufficient data on field relationships and record these using disciplinary conventions (field notes, map symbols, etc.).
3. Synthesize geologic data and integrate with core concepts and skills into a cohesive spatial and temporal scientific interpretation.
4. Interpret earth systems and past/current/future processes using multiple lines of spatially distributed evidence.
5. Develop an argument that is consistent with available evidence and uncertainty.
6. Communicate clearly using written, verbal, and/or visual media (e.g., maps, cross-sections, reports) with discipline-specific terminology appropriate to your audience.
7. Work effectively independently and collaboratively (e.g., commitment, reliability, leadership, open for advice, channels of communication, supportive, inclusive).
8. Reflect on personal strengths and challenges (e.g. in study design, safety, time management, independent and collaborative work).
9. Demonstrate behaviors expected of professional geoscientists (e.g., time management, work preparation, collegiality, health and safety, ethics).

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This activity focuses on application of previously learned material through data collection and analysis and also preparation of appropriate reports and maps. Higher order thinking skills goals include the development of a student's ability to interpret geological events/history from virtual satellite imagery and outcrop observations.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students successfully completing this virtual field trip exercise will be able to:

1) observe, record and interpret a variety of geological phenomena
2) systematically record geological outcrop data and measure/recognize basic structural, textural and compositional information
3) carry out geological mapping of moderately deformed bedrock
4) use topographic maps, Google Earth imagery and drone/unoccupied aerial system videos as an aid to geological mapping
5) interpret basic geological history
6) prepare geologic reports and maps using Google Earth, Adobe Illustrator, and Strat Desktop.

Description and Teaching Materials

Module description document (Microsoft Word 72kB May12 20)
Unit descriptions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB May11 20) 
1st drafting exercise (Illustrator 24MB May11 20) 
Project basemap (Acrobat (PDF) 3.8MB May11 20) 
Google Earth file for the project (KMZ File 3.1MB May12 20)

as a follow up to the completion of Exercise 1

Technology Needs 

Any computer with any operating system as long as the desktop version of Google Earth is running. Module is designed for using Adobe Illustrator, but any other drafting software can be used instead. Strat Desktop is recommended, but not essential, as the stratigraphic column can be drafted in any vector drafting software.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Please refer to the module description document.

All materials can be distributed, however, the module is designed so that certain materials are provided once a submission of a previous exercise is complete.

For example, outcrop and overview photo folders in the FryingPan_Strat_exercise.kmz and stratigraphy.doc can be provided once the line work is submitted by the students. Geologic map of the Twin Adams Mountain Quad should be provided once the 1st exercise is completed by the students, as it contains a cross-section very similar to the exercise question.


Different exercises supplement the geologic map, geologic cross section, stratigraphic column, and the geologic report. Maps and reports are judged on regular criterion such as completeness, terminology, accuracy, etc. In addition, each student turn in scans of their field notebooks regularly and they get graded based on content and organization. An oral presentation on a period of the geological history of the Dillon area is given and graded by faculty and classmates.

References and Resources

Geologic history of the Dillon area, southwestern Montana, Robert C. Thomas, editor, 1996: Proceedings Volume from the 20th Annual Field Conference of the Tobacco Root Geological Society: Northwest Geology, Vol. 25, 93p.

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