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MSU Profiles

Traveling through geologic time

While some college students view Spring Break as an opportunity to escape the rigors of daily classroom work, five Minot State University students and John Webster, geosciences associate professor, chose to continue the learning experience outside the classroom in the Grand Canyon. Webster's GEOL 290 Regional Geology class took a field trip March 8-18 to the Colorado Plateau, Basin and Range and Snake River Plain provinces which included a three-day, two-night backcountry hike into the Grand Canyon.

Carrying everything that they needed in their backpacks, the group hiked down the South Kaibab Trail to camp at the Bright Angel Campground near the Colorado River and also near Phantom Ranch. The South Kaibab Trail is the shortest, but steepest, route to be bottom. The second day, they hiked part way up the Bright Angel Trail to camp at Indian Gardens. Then the third day, they hiked out, going the rest of the way up the Bright Angel Trail. Going up was more exhausting, but it was easier on joints and feet than going down. In all, the hike was a little more than 16 miles.

"There were a couple of blisters and some sore legs, but I think everyone would agree that it was a challenging but very rewarding experience," Webster said, who has been on 10 trips with his geology classes through the years. "Hiking down to the bottom and back is essentially a trip through geologic time. Schist and granite exposed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon formed about 1.7 billion years ago. Tilted sedimentary rocks that were slightly metamorphosed range from about 1.2 billion to 740 million years in age. The flat-lying sedimentary rocks that make up most of the rocks visible from the rim of the Grand Canyon range from 525 million to 270 million years old."

The students also explored the Powder River Basin, Flaming Gorge, Dinosaur National Monument, Arches National Park, Goosenecks State Park, Monument Valley, Zion National Park, Great Salt Lake, Shoshone Falls, and Craters of the Moon National Monument. They covered a lot of ground in 11 days, taking in the ultimate geologic experience.