The Wild West: Tectonics

I feel refreshed. So refreshed. Plain and simple, being a Geology student at Quest is the reason for this. There is very few of us but that makes the courses and experiences we have that much more special. Having the opportunity to study Petrology and Mineralogy in the Meagher Valley just north of Pemberton, BC and Volcanology on Big Island, Hawaii are just some the opportunities I’ve taken advantage here. Starting off the year with yet another adventure furthered assured me that the path I’ve chosen here at Quest is the right one for me.

Learning that Tectonics of Western North America (tectonics are large scale processes that teach us about crustal dynamics) was being offered this year I immediately had to sign up. Not only is this course related to my field of study but I get to get go off campus for a bit. The premise of the course is to investigate plate tectonics across several tectonic provinces across the US over 12 days. We left early in morning on Monday and drove down into Washington to get ready to hike Mt St Helens. We woke up the next morning at 5 am and began our trek. We made it to the edge of the glacier after about 4 hours of the hiking up a very sharp elevation gain, about 7 hours round trip. With the guidance of Quest Prof. Steve Quane and USGS pros we were treated to an amazing array of geologic features.

We then moved on through Oregon onto Idaho were we walked around on lava flows and under them in lava tubes. Volcanology is a passion for me so I was in my element. Our next stop was Yellowstone so we drove through continued through Montana into Wyoming. We hiked the backcountry, took a look at erupting geysers, thermal features, amazing wildlife, and minus 11 Celsius sleeping conditions. Yellowstone was one of my favourite locations. We left after 2 days and drove a little bit south to Jackson, Wyoming where we had dinner out in front of the Tetons. Discussing geology while enjoying pizza (our first non-camp meal) and beverages as the sun set over the mountains… no words. Close encounter with wildlife during the night occurred as a bull Moose visited us. We drove on the next day for about 8 hours through Utah until we reached a warm springs right on the Utah/Nevada border. This was our first real bath and it was heavenly. We stayed the next 2 night at Great Basin, National Park and explored limestone caves and climbed up Wheeler Peak to where the 5000 year old Bristle Cone Pine trees are located.

Our next locations were set up perfectly, geologically speaking. To put this into context these locations we visited are part of a giant complex of sedimentary rocks called the Colorado plateau that appear as layers upon layers reaching far into the earth. We started at Bryce Canyon National Park, which is about 40-60 million years old, where the formations known as hoodoos are located. Hoodoos are large rock formations that were created by erosional processes that left them looking like massive totem poles.We then travelled south to Zion National Park where the rocks were about 150 million years old and used to be massive sand dunes (larger then the Sahara). The dunes then went through Lithification, a process of hardening. The rocks eroded away by the Virgin River and created the canyon canyon. The last location we visited was the Grand Canyon who’s oldest rocks are about 1.2 billion years old. Visiting the three locations gave us an insight into the geologic history of the USA and left me with a greater appreciation of Sedimentary rocks (I’m technically a Volcanology student).

We flew home from Las Vegas, coincidently on my birthday, and rounded off our trip with the final assignment of producing a scientific textbook of our adventure. Spent about 20 hours in 2 day’s writing but at the end of the day it was so worth it. Quest is worth it.

Leave a Reply