Climbing and rafting through the Grand Canyon, seeing real dinosaur tracks, jumping in pink sand dunes: This is how geology is taught at Lafayette Twitter
By Katie Neitz
Twenty Lafayette students spent nearly three weeks this spring exploring the western United States, where they rafted the Colorado River, examined 200-million-year-old dinosaur tracks, and climbed their way up through 1.5 billion years of Earth’s history in the Grand Canyon.
And it was all part of a class.
Geology from A (Arches) to Z (Zion): The Geology of National Parks in the Western United States is a course offered every other spring semester. It covers material that typically would be included in a traditional classroom-style introductory geology course. But this experience offers geology majors and non-majors alike the opportunity to understand how geological processes shape the Earth through an experiential field course.
Taught by Lawrence Malinconico and Dave Sunderlin, associate professors of geology, the class explores 13 different parks in Arizona and Utah.
It begins in May with an intensive two-day classroom seminar-lab before the students fly west, where they explore these national and state parks: Grand Canyon, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Zion, Bryce, Grand Staircase of the Escalante, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Goosenecks of the San Juan, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Sunset Crater, and Petrified Forest. Students also spend three days rafting on the Colorado River into Grand Canyon National Park.
This is just one of the experiential learning opportunities offered in Lafayette’s geology department. Trips to Wyoming, Hawaii, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Iceland, and New Zealand also give students valuable hands-on fieldwork experiences that enhance what they learn in the classroom.
Here, Malinconico shares a few of his photographs from this year’s southwest trip. Learn more about the geology department.
Bailey Wild ’20 and Molly Martindale ’19 on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon
Geology majors and minors together at the Great Unconformity in the Grand Canyon. This is along their 10-mile hike (5,000 feet up) from the Colorado River to the South Rim. From left: Bailey Wild ’20, Annika Asplund ‘19, Kat Kim ’21, Griffin Williams ’19, Belle Rein ’20, Lucy Moeller ’21, Molly Martindale ’19, Amanda Willet ’20, and Maddy Dragone ’21
On a warm-water respite from the chilly Colorado River, students “body rafted” in the warmth of the Little Colorado River as part of the Grand Canyon rafting trip.
Belle Rein ’20 and Allie Gibbons ’21 aboard their raft on the Colorado River
Students learn about the unique geology of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah, where Navajo sandstone has been transformed over time into mountains and hills of sand.
Sarah Hawtof ’21 and Addie King ’21 at Canyon View Overlook in Zion National Park
While in Zion, several students with professors Lawrence Malinconico and Dave Sunderlin opted to hike Angels Landing, renowned for its beauty and challenging nature. Hikers face steep drop-offs and switchbacks but are rewarded with views of the canyon’s 270-million-year-old rock layers.
Dinosaur Discovery in St. George, Utah, houses fossilized dinosaur tracks. In 2000, local optometrist Dr. Sheldon Johnson uncovered a dinosaur track on his property. His family decided that the site should become a museum where visitors can see the preserved tracks.
Students hike through the Narrows in the foot-numbing Virgin River in Zion National Park.
Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the youngest rocks within the parks visited by students. The park is known for uniquely shaped spires and rock fins that rise up from the edge of the plateau.
Molly Martindale ’19, Griffin Williams ’19, and Lucy Moeller ’21 against a backdrop of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
Geology graduate Charlie Bartberger ’67 (center) drove from Denver to hike with the students and Professor Lawrence Malinconico (left) and Professor Dave Sunderlin (right) in Arches National Park.
Professor Lawrence Malinconico (left) with Sarah Hawtof ’21, Amanda Sananikone ’19, Emily Fidlow ’19, Annika Asplund ’19, Addie King ‘21, and Kat Kim ’21 at Canyon De Chelley National Monument
Students examine petrified wood in Petrified Forest National Park, home to fossilized fallen trees that lived about 210 million years ago.
Students explore Sunset Crater National Monument, home of Sunset Crater, the cinder cone volcano in the background.