Geological Mapping of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

Joseph Meert, University of Florida
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Initial Publication Date: July 24, 2020 | Reviewed: September 14, 2020


This is useful as a first field mapping exercise (virtual) in a traditional capstone field camp course. Students will map flat-lying, but faulted Mesozoic strata near Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. Skills required in this virtual field exercise include: (a) recognition of map units introduced in lecture; (b) team mapping of the units; (c) cross-section through the map area; (d) analysis of normal faulting (e) writing a geological history of the region (online research); (f) making field notes and sketches and (g)creating a stratigraphic column based on thicknesses mapped in the field. The exercise can be trimmed down to just mapping if so desired. Technology required: Google Earth Pro. Our students produce maps, cross-sections and strat columns using Adobe Illustrator or corel, but these can also be done by hand.

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This virtual field exercise was developed for our capstone traditional field camp course. Students should have a background in Historical and Physical Geology, Field Methods, Sedimentology and Structural Geology. In the virtual environment, students may be able to complete this without sedimentology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have basic training in field methods (understand strike and dip), stereonet skills, Google Earth familiarity, structural geology. Basic mapping skills and ability to draw a cross-section and stratigraphic column.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the first mapping exercise in our traditional field camp and was also the first mapping exercise in our virtual field camp.

Activity Length

Project can be shortened if desired. We allowed 3 days of virtual field work and 2 days to complete the project with their partner.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will explore the field area, take relevant notes and produce a map and cross-section of the Ghost Ranch area. Students will collect accurate and sufficient data on field relationships and record these using disciplinary conventions (field notes, map symbols, etc.). Synthesize geologic data and integrate with core concepts and skills into a cohesive spatial and temporal scientific interpretation. Students will complete a measured section, section description, geological history of the region and fault interpretation.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students are required to integrate their knowledge of field mapping skills to produce an accurate geological map and cross section. They will formulate hypotheses and decide which part of the map region to explore. They will then create a map and cross-section of the region and describe the geological history.

Other skills goals for this activity

This project requires teamwork and time management skills. Each group will spend hours working together 'in the field' and touch base with the TA's and instructor at regular intervals. Students are encouraged to think about the field relationships so that the maps are consistent with the available data.

Description and Teaching Materials

The project description and all files are available via dropbox. The document below lists all files in the dropbox. The zip file
File Listing Ghost Ranch Project. (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Jul21 20) 
Project Description Ghost Ranch Mapping (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 23kB Jul21 20) 
Zip File Ghost Ranch (Zip Archive 234.3MB Jul21 20) 


Technology Needs

Google Earth Pro, Adobe Illustrator/Corel (if you want professional figures), Excel, Stereowin or Stereonet3d (mac). Zoom or Canvas for discussions/lectures.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Because of the large number of photos/pins, students first instinct was to go on a scavenger hunt. We shut that down quickly and made them develop a mapping plan based on what they could see from the parking lot (mapping contacts) and the hike to MP2. We mentioned that strikes and dips are given for specific features in the region (the faults) since everything else is flat-lying. We encouraged them to trace out any faults (rather than jumping to the next photo).


Our students are required to produce a professional quality geological map and cross-section with proper scales, index maps, legends etc. These are graded based on accuracy of contacts, correct interpretation of fault type and orientaions along with a discussion of the geological history based on what they can find on the internet. Students are given a score based on (A) professional appearance and map elements; (b) accuracy of contacts and structural features; (c) consistency between cross-section and map; (d) number and orientation of faults (students should identify at least 4 different faults in the field); (e) analysis of calcite veins and relationship to faulting and (f) professionalism and accuracy of their stratigraphic column.

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