Alaska Pacific University’s unique semester model allows for students to enroll in one, hands on class for up to four weeks of experiential learning. Earth Science faculty Michael Loso and Amanda Booth led the first-ever field geology course in the Death Valley region of California during the January Block of 2011. Michael, Amanda, and ten APU students gathered at the Los Angeles airport on January 10 and spent the following three weeks traveling by van and camping in the breathtaking, warm, and delightfully sunny eastern California desert. Death Valley was a home base, but the group traveled broadly to examine the well-exposed bedrock and surficial deposits characteristic of desert regions, making notable excursions to Rainbow Basin (near Barstow) and the eastern Sierra Nevada (near Long Pine).
The course, entitled “Field Methods in Earth Sciences”, is a cross-listed upper division and graduate level course for students with some background in geology. For most of the students on the course, this background came in the form of APU’s popular introductory geology course, “Physical Geology”, which is required for all environmental science and earth science majors and is available as an elective to all APU students. Course objectives include learning to read and interpret topographic and geologic maps, recognizing major rock types, describing and interpreting stratigraphic sections and major geologic structures, creation of geologic maps, and understanding the basic tectonic and geologic history of the Death Valley region.
During the course, students participated in three group projects. In the first, they conducted field surveys of a sand dune formation and constructed a detailed topographic map of the landform. In the second, they spent five days mapping the bedrock geology of the beautiful Rainbow Basin and constructed standard geologic maps, stratigraphic sections, and cross-sections of the rocks and structures there. In the final project, they examined geomorphic evidence of significant changes to Gower Gulch, a small Canyon in Death Valley that has been dramatically altered by rerouting of a nearby stream system.