A Transformative Undergraduate Field Trip to the Grand Canyon and Death Valley

Monday, 15 December 2014: 1:55 PM
Jacqueline A Smith, The College of Saint Rose, Albany, NY, United States
Seeing the iconic Grand Canyon and Death Valley in person is a transformative experience for most geologists, including nine undergraduate geology students from upstate New York. The students were enrolled in a one-credit course designed around a nine-day spring-break field trip to Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) and Death Valley National Park (DVNP). We met once a week before the trip to plan day-to-day activities and discuss background geologic information. Students selected a research topic related to our itinerary and wrote a guidebook entry for the topic. Students’ entries were combined with papers, maps, and background material to make a guidebook. The printed guidebooks provided students with a “publication” of their work to show to others and refer to in the field. The nine-day field trip started with a flight into Las Vegas, NV, on 3/1/14. We spent three nights camping at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, one night camping in Valley of Fire State Park (VOFSP, 55 mi N of Las Vegas), and three nights staying at the Shoshone Education and Research Center (SHEAR) east of Death Valley. Highlights of the trip included the hike along the Bright Angel Trail (and fault) to Plateau Point and recognition of the Great Unconformity at GCNP; the White Domes loop hike, camping at the Beehives, and observation of the Muddy Mountain Overthrust in VOFSP; and hikes at Ubehebe Crater, Badwater Salt Flat, and Natural Bridge Canyon in DVNP. Each student presented his/her research topic at a pertinent point in the field trip; students were impressively well-prepared. One requirement of the course was a poster presentation on each student’s research topic at our Undergraduate Research Symposium in April. For most of the students, the poster session was the first experience preparing and presenting a poster. In addition, the class gave a joint colloquium presentation to several hundred science majors and a number of science faculty at Saint Rose. Each student spoke for five minutes on his/her research topic, accompanied by slides. This was their first experience giving a talk in public, and most learned the lesson that preparation and practice are keys to a good talk. Course evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. In my experience, there is no substitute for seeing geology in the field; the students agreed.