Field (Camp) of Dreams

By Stacey Evans

Gobble, Gobble.  Those words will forever remind me of my scariest moment during my first year teaching at the OU School of Geology & Geophysics’ Field Camp.  Similar formations at different stratigraphic intervals. Temperatures in the 90s.  Cholla1 .  Difficult structural problems. Rattlesnakes.  All of that pales in comparison to Gobble, Gobble.  Early one morning I ventured up to another faculty member’s cabin.  She was already out on the porch, and we were about to head down for breakfast.  When all of a sudden, not even five feet away, two turkeys (basically velociraptors with feathers) trotted out of the brush and gobbled at us! It was not a noise I expected to hear first thing in the morning.  I was so startled that I almost formed a future coprolite2 in my pants!

afternoon rain
Wedged under a ledge to avoid an afternoon rain storm.

Field camp is a six-week course based in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, near Cañon City, CO.  OU students have been attending field camp in Cañon City since the 1950s, and construction of the current Bartell Field Camp was completed in 2011.  Students must use their classroom knowledge of structural geology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, and petrology combined with field methods such as pace, use of a compass and Jacob’s staff, and ability to read a topographic map to accurately interpret the geology of an area and produce a geologic map.


This summer, I got the chance to join camp director Dr. Shannon Dulin and fellow OGS geologist Dr. Tom Stanley for three weeks.  The Oklahoma Geological Survey has a long history of involvement with the School of G & G’s capstone course in field geology, with OGS geologists instructing for the last ten years. Tom and OGS geologist Dr. Neil Suneson were both instructors when I attended OU’s summer field camp as a student, and I was super excited to continue the tradition of OGS helping to guide Oklahoma geology students in putting together all of their previously gained geologic knowledge and honing their field geologic mapping skills.

Arkanas River
Nice view of the Arkansas River winding through the mapping area at the B.F. Rockafellow Ecology Park, Cañon City, CO.

Camp began with a general overview of the geology around the Cañon City area, and then moved right into measuring section at the B. F. Rockafellow Ecology Park and compiling a stratigraphic column.  The professors and TAs hung out at different stratigraphic intervals and guided students as they measured the thickness of layers and recorded descriptions of the rocks.  Once the strat columns were finished and the students were more familiar with the different formations, that knowledge was put to use mapping areas with different structural and stratigraphic problems.  During the second and third weeks, groups of students were responsible for producing geologic maps of two different locations.  They also had individual projects that had to be completed during a single day in the field; these projects included road-side cross sections and strip maps.

It was great…for me at least!  I took my field geology course in this same area, and I remember it being difficult and bad weather and not a ton of fun.  Being there as a teacher was completely different!  I spent most of the three weeks hiking around mountains in beautiful Colorado, seeing some neat geology, and putting my geologic experience to use by helping students.  This was the kind of work I imagined doing when I took my first Intro Geology class!

After I left field camp, the class departed on a week-long regional trip that took them through Rocky Mountain National Park and up to Yellowstone National Park.  They then returned to Cañon City to finish up with another mapping project and some geophysical work.

nest with scale
Hummingbird nest: Tiny little nest, tiny little eggs.

While my worst moment at field camp was caused by a couple of birds, so were some of my best moments: I found not one, but two (TWO!!) hummingbird nests in the wild!  Both finds were sheer luck, but with a little patience, I was able to get a few good pictures.  At the insistence of Tom, I even managed to get my handy geology field scale in a photo so he would have an idea of how big the nest was.

Overall, teaching at field camp was a great experience.  Despite the remaining threat of surprise turkey attacks, I’m excited to help out again next year.

I managed to snag a few photos of Mama Hummingbird coming in to sit on her eggs.


1 Cholla is a type of cactus know for maliciously reaching out and poking passersby.

2 Coprolite: [kop-ruh-lahyt] noun 1. A stony mass consisting of fossilized fecal matter of animals.




Tom, Shannon, and I chat while the students explore the Pierre Shale (outcrop in the background) at a stop on the first full day of field camp.
skyline tom
Tom Stanley points out some features in the Jurassic Morrison Formation. The Morrison is famous for containing dinosaur fossils.
skyline drive group
The students take notes while Tom discusses the rocks along Skyline Drive in Cañon City, CO.
rmnp tom
OGS geologist Dr. Tom Stanley posing in front of the Rocky Mountains.
rmnp group
The whole gang at Rocky Mountain National Park.
My closest rattlesnake encounter of the summer. Thankfully this guy was not paying any attention to me.
Enjoying a lovely day in Colorado while students practice taking strike and dip measurements.



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