Field studies, Central California

Becca Walker, Earth Sciences and Astronomy, Mt. San Antonio College


Field studies of Central California is an introductory field geology course for community college students. Students meet for 3 hours per week of lecture, take one 4-day field trip to the Eastern Sierras to study volcanic and glacial processes, and take one 3-day field trip to Morro Bay to study coastal processes. Major topics include plate tectonics, rock identification, outcrop analysis, map interpretation, volcanic processes, glacial processes, marine taxonomy, and coastal geology, all with an emphasis on Central California.

Course Type: Intro Level:Physical Geology Intro Level
Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites and does not serve as a pre-requisite for other courses. Some science majors enroll, but most students are non-science majors. It is a 4-unit course, with 3 units of lecture and 1 unit of lab (field trips).

Course Goals:

  • Determine the dominant features of regions visited on field trips and demonstrate knowledge of primary geological principles through annotations in a written field notebook.
  • Evaluate and classify major rock types. Identify the types of rocks collected on field trips.
  • Create a photographic essay of the geologic features from selected Central California geologic provinces.
  • Describe the principal geologic features and make interpretations about the geologic history of selected Central California geologic provinces.
  • Identify geologic structures and processes from selected field stops.
  • Apply critical thinking skills to scientific problems and become comfortable making detailed qualitative and quantitative observations.

Course Features:

This course has two field trips (7 total field days) during which students apply their knowledge of the geologic history of Central California to observe and interpret outcrops. They keep a field notebook and create a geologic photo journal and sample collection.


  • 30% exams;
  • 25% field portfolio;
  • 30% field notebook;
  • 10% lab exercises;
  • 5% quizzes.
Rubrics are used to evaluate the field materials and include identification of geologic features; outcrop-scale observations; detailed and systematic rock descriptions; interpretations; detailed, labeled sketches; and answers to field questions.


syllabus for field studies of Central California (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 106kB May14 12)

References and Notes:

Hill, Geology of the Sierra Nevada. Griggs, Living with the changing California coast.