At many universities, students are required to attend a summer field camp in order to receive their geology degrees. For some, this is an exciting adventure, but for others, it’s like a dreaded boot camp. The difference is usually due to the age and physical shape of the student, commitments at home or work and overall interest. Field camps are usually five to seven weeks long, and students are required to gather data on several geologic settings by foot and then return to camp to prepare maps and reports on their findings.
I attended field camp in 1996 through the University of Arkansas, since the university I was attending did not offer it. My primary reason for choosing this field camp was due to cost and the location. The university was offering a five-week program in Montana for approximately $1,500 including most meals, lodging and travel from the university. I’m not sure about costs these days, but this was a steal at the time. In addition, most of the accommodations were in dormitories or a lodge with very little camping. In fact, most of the camping was only while we were traveling to Montana and during times when we were sightseeing over a few weekends. This was a plus, since I was 33-years-old at the time and in so-so shape, and the thought of sleeping on the ground for the entire duration like at other field camps was less than thrilling.
Field camp started and ended at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville from May 14 to June 26. There were approximately 30 students, two teaching assistants and two professors on the trip, and we all traveled in university vans to Dillon, Montana. On the way to Montana, we stayed overnight at three locations. The first night was spent in Goodland, Kansas which was a simple campground. The next day we headed to Denver, the Rockies and Red Rocks Amphitheater, and all were magnificent. The second night was at a camp on the Eagle River near Mintern, Colorado which was in the mountains with no running water or bathrooms. There were patches of snow, but it was comfortable near the fire at night. The third night was spent in Pinedale, Wyoming and was so cold and windy, it was miserable. It was near a glacial lake in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, but I slept in the van to get out of the weather. The last day of travel was through Jackson, Wyoming, and Idaho Falls, Idaho to our final destination in Dillon, Montana, where we checked into the dormitory at Western Montana College. During our stay we also spent a couple of weeks at a lodge in Birch Creek.
We spent four days in the field and one day on preparing the geologic maps, structural cross sections, photogeological maps, rock descriptions, correlations charts and a discussion every week. We worked in groups of two and recorded all data in a field notebook. Data collected included sketches of outcrops and rocks, structure information (strikes, dips, faults, folds, etc.) and other general observations to remember the sites. The types of geologic settings we mapped included volcanic rocks, folded and faulted sedimentary terrain, basalt flows, plutonic rocks, batholiths, and metamorphic and glacial terrains. The professors and teaching assistants were present during the field mapping at all locations. Nights were spent on projects and resting for the next day. Weekends were free most of the time, and we had opportunities to visit local restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, bars and bowling alleys.
The best experiences, though, were the weekend field trips. The first one was to Yellowstone National Park and Teton National Park in Wyoming to examine the structural, volcanic and hydrothermal features. The second field trip was a regional geology tour of the Northern Rocky Mountains including Glacial National Park, Montana to review the Precambrian Belt Supergroup and alpine glacial features, Craters of the Moon lava flows and Sun River Canyon. In addition, we camped at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming to see the columnar uplift at the only overnight stay during our travel back to the university.
Overall, this was a fun, fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime trip that offered valuable field experience and intensive geologic training, especially to us Floridians who don’t have the opportunity to see these types of rocks or geologic settings. I would highly recommend the University of Arkansas to any student seeking a rewarding geologic field camp experience. A bit of advice though: make sure you have comfortable boots and rain gear, otherwise you’ll be in for some painful feet and drenched clothes!
Update: The University of Arkansas is still offering a similar field camp at a cost of $4,000 – see: