Posts in: GY135

Our Last Week of Geology of the Pikes Peak Region


Class on The Reservoir on Colorado Hydrology

Class on The Reservoir on Colorado Hydrology


On Saturday, July 28th, five days into our 12-day field trip, with a only a week left of class, we were awoken by dance music blaring from the vans and the request of our professor to dress in an “intergalactic beach party” theme. Luckily most of us had remembered to bring what is known at CC as “flair” or really ridiculous things that are wearable. After a seriously hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, cheese, cereal, oatmeal, coffee, orange juice, and grapefruit (and a dance party on top of the car) we drove to our first river and began collecting data on the watershed beginning at Mt. Arkansas. There were four “stations” of different data to collect, so we split into groups of four and each took a station. I was in station D, measuring general water quality by testing the temperature, pH, turbidity, and sampling rocks to see what percent had life on them and the number of species found on them.


Morning Wake Up Call


Wolman Pebble Count

Wolman Pebble Count


We stopped at four places that day, rotating stations as we went. Passersby were very curious, seeing us fording fast-moving waters with tape measures and stop watches. As we finished the last stop a thunderstorm rolled in, so we headed to our camp. After making dinner we all thought hot springs would be a good idea and went over to Princeton Hot Springs where the natural hot springs mix with river water in little rock pools. I’m not sure if people enjoyed the hot springs or the showers more.


Hydrology In The Cold With Captain Zion

Hydrology In The Cold With Captain Zion


On Sunday morning we prepared for our day on the river. We paddled in two-person duckies (inflatable kayaks) down the Arkansas river from Salida, CO. We stopped occasionally to learn some river terminology, collect more data for our hydrology project, eat lunch, and jump off big rocks into deep river pools. Austin made a fun video from that day:

On Monday we drove to a reservoir as our last hydrology project stop to analyze all of the data we had collected to observe how rivers change as you move down them, and to talk about how humans affect the watershed by building dams and reservoirs and pumping water out of rivers. Colorado College is supporting a lot of research and awareness about this issue, especially regarding the Colorado River. A few students are kayaking the Colorado from source to sea (for the second time), gathering data and interviewing lots of people about watershed issues, with plans to make a film: It’s pretty inspiring to see recent alumni on such an important adventure.


Buena Vista Reservoir

Buena Vista Reservoir



Overall Analysis of the Arkansas River Hydrology

Overall Analysis of the Arkansas River Hydrology


We also had a class about mass wasting (geohazards) and for dinner Lauren, who lives in New Orleans, made delicious cheesy grits. We played Jeopardy that night to prepare for our third and final celebration of knowledge!

Tuesday we drove to a town to take our celebration (test) and Zion threw us a curveball with a  completely new test format. He asked us to prepare a 2-3 minute presentation of a proposal for an independent research project related to something we had learned in the past week. We had to include background info, a central hypothesis, and proposed methods and analysis techniques. Intro science classes don’t often provide many opportunities for exercising creativity, so this format was actually a really enjoyable way to expand creatively upon something that we found interesting and to see where geology could take us if we wanted to pursue it further. I know at least one person in the class decided to switch their major to geology.

That night we drove to our last campsite, where we would be doing a mapping project as our final for the class.


Let The Mapping Begin



Measuring Strike and Dip


Mapping Strike and Dip



A Curious Friend at Our Mapping Project


For our mapping project we were split into groups of four or five and we had two days to map the area around our camp site, measuring the angles (strike and dip) of rock formations and making observations about the different types of rocks to try to figure out the geological history of the area. Although mostly everyone was really confused at various points, we all arrived at the conclusion that the area was the center of an old volcano which had since gone through much erosion. It was exciting to use our recently acquired geological knowledge in an applied way.


Natural Arch Near Our Mapping Campsite


Class Notes


After returning to campus, presenting, and cleaning our gear we parted ways with our books full of notes, our heads full of knowledge, and our summer full of adventurous stories. Thanks for letting us share them with you.


And thank you Zion, Beth, and Lucy for giving us such a wonderful class and showing us how the block plan is meant to be used.


– Taryn ’14 and Austin ’15


Our Paraprofessional Beth



Backpacking Trip to Mt. Arkansas



Another Night Under The Stars


Wednesday, July 25th, we hiked into a little valley at the base of Mt. Arkansas and set up camp next to a family of pikas, by a trickling brook. On one side were dramatic, soaring peaks and on the other, only a little ways away, lay Climax Mine. It was a stark contrast and a very real reminder of our previous class on the issues around mining. Our camp luckily lay unaffected and there were wildflowers everywhere! The whole valley was also full of a diverse sample of both igneous and metamorphic rocks, including a granite rock that had formed around previously existing gneiss rock and more mica than I’ve ever seen. However, we weren’t there for the rocks this time.


Tupock vs. Pika


Lucy Juxtaposed by Climax Mine


Andrew Getting the Cheese


On Thursday morning one group woke up at 5:30 and climbed up various scree fields and along a dramatic ridgeline until it turned into a knife ridge and we could go no further. We sat down and had some snacks and our first class on hydrology, at the place where rainwater begins to drain to streams and oceans. Being at the top of a mountain helped us visualize the differences between surface flow, ground water flow, and subsurface lateral flow. We were able to understand the concept of a watershed from the point of view of rainwater. We hiked down by mid-day and passed the second group hiking up. That afternoon we had lazy time in the sunshine and some fun interactions with the curious and feisty pikas around our campsite. In late afternoon we all assembled again to begin learning about the different data collection methods we would be using in our hydrology project. We would be observing discharge, gradient, groundwater flow, sediment, evapotranspiration and general water quality at many different points on different streams and rivers in the watershed beginning in our little mountain valley.


The Ridge Top


Class on Mount Arkansas


Notes From Class on Mt. Arkansas



Taryn Descending the Ridgeline


Descending The Ridge



Friday morning we continued learning about our new project by collecting data as a group for the small mountain stream next to our campsite. That afternoon we had some free time in Leadville to explore and restock on food and supplies. As we arrived at our campsite that evening it began raining pretty hard so we raced to set up our tents and slept early, excited to begin a few days of hydrology research and swimming.

-Taryn ’14 and Austin ’15


Sun Clouds Over the Mountain

Land of Art and Glaciers

Our field trip started Monday, July 23rd. We left CC around 10:00 AM and drove to Devil’s Head Lookout where we could observe topographical evidence of the Laramide Orogeny (the mountain-building event that helped shape the front range 40-70 million years ago). Devil’s Head Lookout (besides being a beautiful hike) has an amazing view of the transition from dramatic mountains to flat plains. The mountain top is a perfect setting for imagining the movement of the tectonic plates and location of the fault along the front range as well as the subsequent erosion that formed the landscape we know today. After learning about the tectonic plates and faults that make up the front range, we learned about how different methods of geophysics help us prove the locations and movements of plates and faults.

Sketching on Devil’s Head


Cabin on Devils Head




Monday night we car-camped near the Mt. Bierstadt  trail-head. In the morning Lucy Holtsnider ’11, a CC studio art alumnus,  joined us to give a guest lecture about land art. After backpacking in to the valley at the base of Mt. Bierstadt, Lucy talked about land art for a bit and we all got into groups to make our own pieces. After we were done, we shared our work with the rest of the group. Some pieces mirrored the landscape, like a miniature recreation of the valley we were working in, a piece in which rocks placed strategically to mimic the sawtooth ridge behind them and another in which rocks were placed suggesting the flow of a river. Others explored human presence and our hopeless desire to order nature, like the piece made by Sophia Schneider ’13 and a piece where students made a human frame to view the mountains through. The complexity and maturity of the pieces was very impressive, considering most people didn’t have much experience with art and we only had an hour to conceptualize and execute our work. I worked on a piece that played with the idea of a single cairn as a marker of the fragility and protection in human/nature interactions. It was exciting to explore the interdisciplinary possibilities of geology. Many geology majors at CC also minor in studio art and this exercise made it easy to see why.


Replica of Valley


River Rock Art


Sawtooth Ridge Rock Art


Land Art by Sophia Schneider


Cairn Rock Art by Taryn Wiens


CC Alumni Reunion


In the afternoon we learned about alpine glaciers and mapped out the components of the glacial valley we were camping in. Trying to identify the marks glaciers leave on a landscape as we learned about them was very useful in showing that the processes we learn about are full of variables and not every glacial valley will have a perfect example of a terrace or a moraine.


Tents Beneath Waterfall


Flowers and Camp


That night we slept in the valley at the base of a couple waterfalls. Before bed we got to observe an epic, two-hour lightning storm striking the ridges around the valley. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring. The next day we had a class on continental glaciers and hiked out to reunite with civilization in Dillon for an hour before beginning our next backpacking trip, which you will hear about in the next post!


– Austin ’15 and Taryn ’14


Epic Lightning Storm (It’s not real, don’t worry)

Local Learning


Dakota Sandstone


We had the morning after our 5-day field trip off to sleep in for the first time since class started, but we were right back at it in afternoon, with a little day trip to the Manitou are to practice our new knowledge of sedimentary rock formations. We learned how different formations give us an idea of what the landscape looked like when they formed, from mountains to deep oceans.


Zion Teaching


Manitou Springs Roadside Outcrop


We continued looking at different local rock formations the next day and compared our observations to a list we had of the known rock formations of the Pikes Peak region and when they formed. I really enjoyed seeing the history of the region, going back billions of years, in a physical spatial way. Time isn’t usually so visible in the 3-D world. In the Manitou area it’s very clear because the layers of sedimentary rock were turned on their side so we would see one formation that we could date to one age and then another formation next to it that we could date to the following age, and so on. We used the information we had of the geological timescale and formations of the Pikes Peak area together with our own observations to create a picture of how the local landscape has changed in the history of the earth. We saw fossils of oceanic creatures in the Niobrara Formation from when the area was an ocean and evidence of mountain rivers in the Fountain Formation with deposits of alternating layers of big and little clasts, or particles.


Morrison Formation


Red Rocks Open Space


Over the weekend we wrote out our own understandings of the geological history of our local area and prepared for our next field trip: a twelve day adventure including three nights of backpacking, a rafting trip, and a final mapping project that will take us to the end of the block. We are armed with hand lenses and Nutella and ready to study some earth! Fun fact: contrary to popular belief geology means the study of solid earth. The study of rocks is called petrology.

– Austin ’15 and Taryn ’14


Exploring Circular Void in the Niobrara Formation

Volcanoes, Mapping, and Gold-Mining

Volcano Outcrop Sketch

 Monday morning we were still very full from the game of yum-yum I described in the last post. We packed up camp and had a class on extrusive igneous rock (a.k.a. VOLCANOES). We then stopped by an outcrop that had tons of different rock types: I only wrote down observations for seven but there were many more: grey, pink, brown, purple, red and black rocks all set in soft dirt in a hillside. We identified most of them as different types of volcanic rocks. It was fun to see evidence of the processes we had just learned about.


Interactive Declination



Red in the Shed


Map and Compass Lesson

In the afternoon we had an introduction to topographical maps and compasses, which we’ll use for a geological mapping project later. To make sure we got the hang of it, our professor Zion split us into groups of 3-4 people dropped us in an unknown area where we had to make our way to a spot he previously designated on the map a couple miles away. Three groups didn’t make it, due to some confusion about which roads were actually on the map, but in the end everyone found the group or was found by the rest of the group. And we all got lots of map practice!

That night we slept at the famed CC Cabin and had delicious burritos and guacamole for dinner.  Many people decided to sleep on the deck, under the stars. Before bed we watched Dante’s Peak to reinforce our knowledge of volcanic eruptions, because Hollywood is always very accurate, geologically speaking.


Skewed Reality


Mega Dump Truck Class Photo


The Scale of the Gold Mine


The Leach Pad


Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine


Tuesday we  toured Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine next to the famous gold rush town Cripple Creek, Colorado. Gold mining has changed rather dramatically in the past hundred years. Colorado College alum and geology major Eric Daniels works at CC&V as a mine geologist. He gave us a very honest, in-depth tour of what goes on at a large-scale mine operation and how geology plays a part in it.  We saw the drills and the leach pad, played on a huge truck that transports the rock, and had interesting conversations about the implications of gold mining. And we all looked really good in safety vests and hard hats.

Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine Runoff


Improvised Pot Holders and Strainer


Camping at Shelf Road


That night we camped at shelf road, a popular climbing spot among Colorado College students. While we unfortunately didn’t bring any climbing gear, we did have an epic game of ultimate Frisbee in the meadow next to our campsite (which got cut short by an equally epic Rocky-Mountain thunderstorm). After a very cheesy mac’ and cheese dinner, we played a review game of jeopardy in preparation for the “celebration of knowledge” (test) we had to take the following day.


Professor of Fun (Leading By Example)


Outcrop at Shelf Road


Outcrop at Shelf Road


Wednesday we began learning about sedimentary rocks by observing an outcrop near our campsite. It was very warm so we drove to Cañon city to eat lunch and go swimming in a river before celebrating our knowledge and heading back to campus. It hasn’t even been a week and we’ve already learned SO MUCH about rocks!

-Austin ’15 and Taryn ’14

Local Wildlife

So It Begins


Class started Thursday and in the afternoon we had our first day trip – to Monument Creek, which runs next to CC, where we learned how to apply the scientific process in geology by observing and sketching a rock outcrop running across the riverbed. Discussing and analyzing as a group we found it to be shale formed at the bottom of what was once Inner Cretaceous Seaway that ran through North America. Our field books, hand lenses and rock hammers freshly used, we were ready for a real field trip! After only two days in the classroom learning some basic geology processes and vocabulary, we packed into three vans and drove into the mountains.




All beginning geology classes require the memorization of the geologic time scale: the basic period of the earth from the early molten lava stage (the Hadean period) to our current Holocene period, which covers the last 10,000 years. Instead of having us simply memorize these from a piece of paper, our professor Zion assigned us each one period and took us to the Arc Thrift Store where we acquired costumes inspired by our respective periods.  For instance Lily (pictured) had Devonian, the period in which the first insects appeared so she dressed up like a big bug to get into character. We regularly line up in order, or trade periods and costumes and line up in order again, which has let us experience the geological history of the earth in a spatial way.






Our second stop, after the thrift store, was the Florissant Fossil National Park, which has several huge petrified trees that formed in relatives of the California Sequoia after a huge volcanic eruption in the Eocene period. The silica in the ash dissolved in water and entered the trees through their roots before it began to harden, gradually replacing the cells of the trees. It was an impressive site, and nice to learn about fossil processes in person. They even had a yurt set up where we could examine the fossils under microscopes. When we had learned all we could about fossils we found camp in a lovely forest, had some outdoor class, made a spaghetti dinner, went to bed and dreamed of rocks.






On Sunday we woke up to the Rocky Mountain sunlight, and some bird songs, and had a filling breakfast of cereal, oatmeal, bagels and cream cheese.  And of course, coffee. Properly awake we had a short class on intrusive igneous rock and went off to identify some of it, using our hand lenses and the geological scientific method. We took a break to go swimming in a river and do a little bouldering. After returning to the campsite and a little dance party in the van we had lunch and learned about metamorphic rock processes. Woo hoo!





In the afternoon we hiked to a small hill nearby and walked up a road, trying to identify the rock types that Zion had placed fruit snacks and Rice Krispy treats on. We descended after it started thundering and came back to camp where we made chili for dinner and are currently playing a game called yum-yum to finish off the leftovers – the pot is passed around and everyone eats a spoonful and says “Yum-yum” and then passes it on until it’s all gone. It’s a very bonding sort of activity.



Can’t wait for more rock adventures. COOL, EH?

– Austin ’15 and Taryn ’14