Geology students head to the southwest

A group of Heidelberg geology students are spending their spring break together in the southwest desert (TX, NM, AZ). The “Regional Field Geology” students, together with their instructors Dr. Amy Berger and Dean Brentlinger are spending seven days investigating environments from volcanic lava to caves. Follow the students’ experiences, in their own words and images. For more detais and photos follow their trip. 


giant pepperDay 8: Back home

Megan Brown (Senior, Environmental Science major)

I would (and will!) tell everyone to go on this trip because it makes geology real—and we love when that happens! Of course my favorite part was the Permian Reef at Guadalupe Mountains (even though there were no stingrays—my favorite animal). I was fascinated by the fossils and the large crystals of calcite everywhere. I also loved the gypsum sand dunes because I love sand! From the first day, when I had fun because it was a hike that I beasted, to the last day, I have gained so much more understanding about the area. I will have to come back with friends to tell them what they are looking at. I will definitely miss views of mountains out my window—Ohio trees will have to suffice now. I do love to fly, but I don’t want to fly back away from the warmth. I’m ready to continue wearing shorts!

Jeff Peck (Senior Environmental Science major)

This week we visited so many very cool geologic sites. The hands-on experience that this trip gave us is irreplaceable.

 Over the course of one week we learned more than most classes can teach over an entire semester. This trip showed me geology in action! Not only did we learn about geology, we learned about ourselves and each other. My favorite site that we visited would have to be a three-way tie between Chiricahua, City of Rocks, and the Permian Reef at Guadalupe Mountains. I really enjoyed these sites in particular because they were challenging and I was able to climb. I have gained a new passion for climbing and hiking. I fully intend to return to some of these sites that we visited this past week! I am inspired to do some bigger and more challenging backpacking adventures.

Day 7


Drew Fons (Junior Environmental Science major)

Today, we woke up at 5:30, well before the break of dawn. Technically it was 6:30 because of daylight savings time, but it was still early. After a quick breakfast, we packed up and headed to Carlsbad Caverns. The caverns consisted of a mile hike going down 750 feet, followed by 2 hours of exploring. The stalactites, stalagmites, and columns were what you would usually see in a cavern, but these ones were HUGE! The Ohio caverns are pretty cool, but they are nothing compared to Carlsbad. The sheer size of the caverns was incredible. We saw only six of the 188 different rooms, and the biggest one was over half a mile long, and at some points 500 feet high. The geology of the caverns was amazing, and we learned about a lot of biological life as well. After the hike back out of the caverns, we had a quick lunch and then a 4 hour drive to the hotel. Some of us decided to make this spring break more official by doing a quick swim in a 45o pool before dinner. Authentic Mexican food for dinner in the southwest is incredible. Tomorrow will be a day of traveling, so 

group shot

today was the last day of active field work. This trip has been amazing and worth every penny of money, energy, and time. Hopefully tomorrow will go smoothly.


Susie Daniel (Senior, Environmental Science major)

Today was our last day of geologic sightseeing. Carlsbad Caverns National Park was the destination and FUN was the activity! These limestone caverns were formed by sulfuric acid and water, which breaks down the calcium carbonate rock. Today’s groundwater dripping through the cave makes amazing formations like stalactites, columns, and draperies. This national treasure is also home to 17 species of bats (unfortunately we didn’t see any), cave crickets, and cave swallows (saw a lot of those) and the largest open cavern: The Big Room. What a sublime day!

Day 6

students on rocks

Shelby Shockency (Junior, Environmental Science major)

We woke up early today to prepare for our long hike. With breakfast in our stomachs and water in our canteens, we headed for Guadalupe Mountains, where we hiked the Permian Reef Trail. On our way up we saw fossils of many ancient sea critters that lived under water millions of years ago. Some of the organisms we saw were ammonoids, fusulinids, and sponges. The trail climbed almost 2000 feet above the desert floor! It was windy, long, and exhausting, but the end view was well worth it. Our hike down lasted much less time, and finally reaching flat ground felt like an achievement. I had just climbed up and down a mountain! My whole body is sore, but it was an amazing day!

Megan Brown (Senior, Environmental Science major)
student with flag
Today we went to the Permian Reef (El Capitan) and it was amazing! I did research on this area so I had more to look forward to than the others. There was a chilly wind but we picked our way up to the very top of the reef! We walked about eight miles. Along the way, I saw the limestone change characteristics from dark grey to light tan. The coolest part was seeing all the pure calcite crystals in the limestone. They broke along cleavage planes so the whole path sparkled in the sun. The fossils made my day—I took loads of photos. I saw worm burrows, brachiopods, gastropods, bryozoans, and sponges. I was happy! The view from the very top of the reef was amazing—we could see both Texas and New Mexico, up canyons and out into the plains. I loved this place even though it wore me out. I will sleep well tonight!

students at white sandsDay 5

Susie Daniel (Senior, Environmental Science major)

Today our happy group traveled to White Sands National Monument, which I found to be a natural wonder! Gypsum, a mineral, comes into the Tularosa Valley in mountain streams. The water evaporates, leaving behind the mineral. Over geologic time, vast amounts of gypsum sands have collected in dunes, forming this huge sand box. The plants and animals that call this dry and harsh habitat home have adapted to their surroundings and are extremely resilient. For example, the desert kit fox acquires all the water it needs just by eating prey, such as mice. The kit is only the size of a large house cat but is the top predator in the dunes. Sadly, our group did not spot any critters but we did walk by the top branches of a buried tree. We also got to roll around in the sand and make sand angels. Our time in the part was cut short due to bad weather, but it certainly was fun!

Caitlyn Horning (Junior, Early Childhood Education major)

At the end of this wonderful day I can describe myself in one word: SANDY. White Sands National Monument was like nothing I’ve ever seen. The gypsum was incredible. I loved researching about how the gypsum reached the basin and then making the connection to real life. I loved playing on the dunes today with everyone. The sand in my pockets I’m not so thrilled about, but it was another great day out here. I think the southwest is really beautiful. Tomorrow I am looking forward to our 8-hour climb and reaching the top of the Capitan reef!

Day 4

Sarah Gaut (Senior, Biology major)


We began our day at City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico. We arrived and drove around the towering rocks—everyone was full of excitement! We began with 15 minutes of drawing followed by a discussion about why the rocks are there and why they erode the way they do. After looking at the rock exfoliation, we had a wonderful lunch in the shade. I gave a presentation today on spherulites, thundereggs, and geodes, which related to our next field site. However, before we left City of Rocks we all got to go on an adventure climbing all through, on, and around the rock formations. It was quite an adrenaline rush to climb to the top! Dustin had to chase down Drew, Jeff, and I to get us moving to our next destination: Rockhound State Park. Here we got the unique opportunity to collect rocks—unusual for any park. We took a ½ mile trail before climbing straight up the hillside, gathering rocks we thought were cool. Most were jasper in student on large rockreds, oranges, and yellows. We also found a lot of small quartz crystals. As the afternoon waned, Megan and I addressed what she called my “hoarding” issues. I had to choose from my huge pile just rocks I liked best. “Will you miss this rock tomorrow,” she asked. Overall it was an adventure like no other, with plenty of learning, fun, and laughs!


Caitlyn Horning (Junior, Early Childhood Education major)

Today we ventured to City of Rocks State Park where the views were phenomenal. When we first got there, we did as geologists do and sketched some rocks! What was so interesting about today was that it was very different yesterday—yet the same. The rocks we saw yesterday at Chiricahua were rhyolite, as were the rocks today at City of Rocks. The rocks here don’t show the smearing out of bubbles and minerals, and they erode differently. The coolest thing today was the weathering on the tops of the pinnacles at City of Rocks. The outside expands with the heat of the sun and the surface cracks off. This is called exfoliation! Today, like every day in the southwest, was magical and I cannot see spending my spring break in a better place or with better company.


Day 3

students on rock

Jeff Peck (Senior, Environmental Science major)

Today we visited Chiricahua National Monument. This region was formed as a result of volcanic ash and debris that solidified and then cracked. Over time, the eroding cracks turned the rocks into pinnacles. It was these pinnacles that we hiked through today. We were dropped off at the trail head at the top of the mountain, and we followed the trail down through Echo Canyon which eventually led to Rhyolite Canyon. The hike was over 4 miles long and dropped about 1000 feet in elevation. The hike allowed us to see many interesting erosional structures in the rhyolite, including honeycomb weathering, and small waterways in the rock. It was fun and challenging. I am looking forward to visiting this park again in the future!

rocksShelby Shockency (Junior, Environmental Science major)

We left Benson this morning and drove to Chiricahua. Jeff and I gave presentations once we arrived; mine was on Basin and Range faults. From one of the lookouts, I saw a set of tilted fault blocks which related to my talk on tectonics. Dr. Amy compared it to a set of dominoes falling and lying on top of one another, which made it easier for me to understand. We ate lunch at Massai Point, which is at the top of the mountain. We hiked down from a ridge through Echo Canyon, which was beautiful. The coolest thing I saw today were the balanced rocks, where a middle part of a pinnacle was mostly eroded out and the top part was “balancing” on the bottom bit.


Day 2

Student on desert

Drew Fons (Junior, Environmental Science major)

Our second day of our trip began with the breakfast of champions, oatmeal and grits. We then proceeded to drive to an active copper mine. At the site, we went on a tour showing the entire process of mining copper from sulfide ore to usable copper. It begins with core sampling, followed by explosives, transport, grinding, and sieving (real technical), and ends with chemical purifying which results in a 99% copper anode. The anode is then sent to a plant to create a 99.99% pure cathode. The 0.99% that is removed consists of gold and silver that the company uses to pay the 1.7 million dollar electric bill at the mine.

After the tour of the mine, I gave a presentation on the environmental impacts of mining. Our tour showed us that this particular mine takes the majority of the waste material and recycles it in the copper purifying process. There’s science at its best. After a lovely lunch of PB&J’s and Oreos, we set off on a hike. The goal was to reach the peak of a mountain: 3.5 miles away, 1300 feet uphill, and get back to the vans in 3 hours. Jeff Peck and I made it the furthest 3.25 

students in giant tire

miles up the mountain, but the altitude made the last half mile and 200 foot climb a bit too much. So we had to settle for what we accomplished. Megan Brown, Caitlin Horning, and Sarah Gaut were the next at 2.5 miles. It was not a hike for the faint of heart! Today was a wonderful start to our trip. Tomorrow, we head to Chiricahua and Jeff Peck speaks about the igneous geologic history of the Southwest.

Sarah Gaut (Senior, Biology major)

Before we left on this trip I gave a lecture to the class on mining. When I found out we were visiting an active copper mine I was excited. It was more than I imagined! We saw everything that I had talked about. The flotation tanks were the best part: it was not what I had pictured at all, so now I have a much better understanding of how it works (and the bubbles that collect the copper were shiny gold!) The connections between what I had learned in doing research for my lecture and what we saw and heard about on the tour was an amazing experience.

Day 1

We knew today was going to be a heavy travel day, starting at 4 a.m. in the Heidelberg parking lot and ending at 10:30 p.m. (Ohio time) in Benson, Arizona. Unfortunately, the knowing doesn’t necessarily make the miles go any faster! For us, though, the interesting topography and vastly different ecology make up for the many hours spent in transit. Here are some of the things that Regional Field Geology students jazzed today:

students in airport“We all had enthusiastic faces—at 4 a.m.!”
“Leaving Ohio at 20 degrees and arriving in Texas at a beautiful 76 degrees.”
“We visited four states in one day!”
“We crossed the Rio Grande, but there wasn’t practically any water in it.”
“We could see dunes from the airplane, and I could identify the different kinds!”
“There was a beautiful sunset over the tops of the mountains in Arizona.”

As always, I think it’s fantastic when students have opportunities to see more of the geologic spectrum we have in our country. We’re burrowing into our sleeping bags for an early night—we’ve got another big day tomorrow!