Regional Geology class - GEOL 172

The field work done in UVM's geology program goes beyond the local mountains. In GEOL 172 students learn about a region during the semester, then travel to that location for field work.

The Colorado Trip: Summer 2012

The 2012 Regional Geology class, led by Stephen Wright, completed a three-week-long field trip to Colorado during the first three weeks of August. The field trip began looking at different facies and landforms in the 1 Ga Pikes Peak granite. We next traveled south and camped for several days along the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo range where we looked at splendid examples of alpine glacial landforms cut into almost vertical beds of Pennsylvanian clastic sediments. We spent the next week in the San Juan Mountains where we hiked into the Wheeler Geologic area, visited some of the old silver mines in Creede and Lake City, hiked the length of the Slumgullion Earthflow, and climbed Mount Uncompahgre. We next heading north and west to the south rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison with a promise to the group that “you won’t need your tents,” but the area had one of its rare rains that evening which forced us to set up our tent city. This was followed by almost a week working out of the Taylor River valley north of Gunnison. We spent field days looking at Pennsylvanian and Mesozoic sediments as well as deformation associated with both the Laramide and Ancestral Rocky Mountain orogenies. While in the area we also had several spectacular hikes to observe the Precambrian rocks of the area and the alpine glacial landforms carved into and deposited on those rocks. From there we cut north and west across the mountains to the area near Carbondale and Redstone. We spent one day touring the now defunct coal mining district west of Redstone and observing some of the Forest Service’s efforts at reclaiming the land there. We spent a second day climbing part way up Mount Sopris to observe the extensive rock glaciers developed in the north-facing cirques. The trip finished in the Front Range north and west of Boulder where we hiked into one of small cirque glaciers just below the Continental Divide. We had a wonderful trip with another wonderful group of students and managed to return with two days to get ready for the start of the fall semester.


Colorado Regional Geology students, August 2012, along the shore of Lake Isabelle, Colorado Front Range. From left to right: Stefan Christie, Stewart Long, Mike Murray, Ruth Shafer, Jacob Vincent, Stephanie Drozd, Amy Rosenblum, Beth Rutila, and Eric Weber. Missing from photo is graduate teaching assistant Ben DeJong.

The Iceland Trip: Summer 2010

In July of this year, Profs. Keith Klepeis and Char Mehrtens will be taking a group of 15 students to Iceland for a 13 day transect across this geologically unique locale. We will be flying into Reykjavik from Boston and traveling across the western arm of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, viewing fault-bounded basins and associated volcanoes and hot springs around Mt. Hengill. We'll also visit one of Iceland's largest geothermal power plants. We will continue eastward to Skaftafell glacier to view the glacial outwash deposits before heading north to the Lake Myvatn-Mt Krafla area of the eastern arm of the rift. We'll hike through a surreal landscape of lava flows and up the flanks of a cinder cone. Returning to Rekyavik, we'll spend time hiking around the Landmannalauger volcanic region before stopping at Geysir and Gullfoss.

The Colorado Trip: Summer 2009

The Colorado Regional Geology class introduces students to the geology of the Rocky Mountains, a much younger mountain belt with much older roots than the mountains in northern Vermont. We meet once a week during the spring semester to learn the rudiments of that history and then spend three weeks in late May and early June traveling through Colorado studying its geology. This last spring 9 students and one graduate student teaching assistant flew into Denver with all of our camping equipment, rented a van and a U-Haul truck, and struck out for the mountains west of Colorado Springs. We began the trip by looking at the rocks, landforms, and weathering characteristics of the one billion year old Pikes Peak granite. From there we traveled into the San Luis Valley where we visited the large and extensive sand dunes that are preserved in a national park and studied the rocks, structures, and glacial landforms in the adjacent Sangre de Cristo Mountains (see photo below).

sangre de cristo mts

Large syncline (convex-up fold) distorts layered sedimentary rocks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado. Many of the rock layers contain pebbles and boulders of much older rocks (see inset) that were eroded from mountains that formed much earlier than the present day Rocky Mountains.

We next traveled west and spent almost a week in the San Juan Mountains focusing our studies on the many different volcanic rocks that occur there as well as some of Colorado’s famous mines. Volcanic rocks are almost completely absent from the the New England landscape so this area helps fill in that hole in students’ backgrounds. In addition to the landforms and rocks produced by large and small volcanic eruptions, hot acidic water exolved from molton rock is also common and is the source of many of the valuable minerals mined in Colorado from the 19th century to the present.

The regional geology class next moved north into the Taylor River valley north of Gunnison. This area provides good exposures of a wide range of different rocks from 1.7 billion-year-old granites to limestones deposited at the same time that similar rocks were being deposited in western Vermont, to much younger rocks deposited during the time when dinosaurs lived in this part of Colorado. This area was extensively deformed during several mountain building events and provides an excellent laboratory for studying the structures characteristic of these different events. At the same time that a large continental ice sheet covered all of New England, this part of the Colorado was also glaciated, but the glaciers here were largely confined to the high mountain valleys and this area provides a spectacular examples of many glacial landforms.

central CO mountains

Glaciated tributary valley with small lake “hangs” above the much more deeply eroded South Lottis Creek valley in central Colorado.

We next travelled west along the Gunnison River and spent an afternoon hiking down the upper part of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a narrow and very deep canyon cut through very old rocks. This area juxtaposed excellent exposures of structures and textures in these rocks with the power of river erosion over a geologically very short time span.

We closed out our trip with a visit to an active coal mine in Somerset Colorado. We were hosted by the staff of the Oxbow mining company who led us on a wonderful underground tour of the mine. The coal mines that operate in this part of Colorado produce the low-sulfur coal much sought after by power plants seeking to minimize the sulfur dioxide they emit.

class group shot

Prof. Stephen Wright led a group of students on a field trip to Colorado in late May-early June 2009.