Dave over at Geology News is hosting the November issue of the Accretionary Wedge and is looking for post on your favorite place to do field work. Now this is something I can talk about!! But it is also hard to do - I love alot of the places I have had a chance to work at. I can't pick just one place.... I can narrow it down to two. To those who know me best, this will not be a surprise: Big Bend National Park and Glacier National Park.
Big Bend is just a wonder - its such an odd place. Every plant there wants to poke, prick or stick you, and with the intention of making you bleed. Its hot. Not just hot. It can be ungodly hot - its awesome. There is really no shade there, so it is all sun, all the time, which is great! It does rain every now and then, that is true. Its remote, which it nice because it keeps your normal human away - you really have to want to go there to go there, because there is really no other reason to be in that part of the world. The general lack of humans can be nice (avoid spring break season however). All of the areas in the park I have worked are nice and off the beaten path so encounters with humans is at a nice all time low, which is always a plus. The geology though of Big Bend is just spectacular! It is everywhere and just so in your face (just like at Glacier). I think that may be one of the things that really caught my heart. Every way you look you just wonder - "now why is that there" or "what does this mean" - it really keeps your mind working IMO.
I went down to the park my first time for a spring break geology field trip in 2001 when I was an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas. It was a wonderful trip! There were these two van full of geology students and we just descended upon the place full of excitement. Many adventures took place, including having one van's fuel filter bust (the nearest parts store was about 2-3 hours away, at least), climbing the second highest peak in Texas (Emory Peak - 7,795 feet, picture) and canoeing the Rio Grande through Santa Elena Canyon. But I digress....To go on the trip you had to do the typical geology student thing and write a research paper and give a short presentation on it while you were in the park. I, naturally (as the only vert paleo student at U of AR at the time), gave my talk on the fossils known from the park. Little did I know then that this would be a big part of my future...........
When the time came to look for grad schools I found the website of Dr. Tom Lehman who teaches at Texas Tech in Lubbock. He worked on ceratopsid dinosaurs, which was something I was very interested in working on, and worked in Big Bend. I thought that sounded pretty darn good, so applied, and got in. He had a ceratopsian that needed worked on, from the Javelina Formation (late Maastrichtian), and that also sounded pretty great, so that is what I worked on. It had been excavated in 1969-1970 by Dr. Wann Langston and crew from the University of Texas at Austin and had never been worked on (other than two elements from the site figured in a thesis). I got the material from the Texas Memorial Museum and full prepared it. We also relocated the site and surface prospected (some success), then reexcavated to see if we could find more material (nada). It was a great project and I really enjoyed my time in the field, both working at my site and helping other graduate students with their field projects. I have also returned to the park several times for field work, geology/paleo trips and canoeing. It was a great time and a wonderful place to work! The result of my thesis work was recently published in the latest issue of the Journal of Paleontology.
I first went to Glacier National Park when I was still in high school (picture). From the moment I first saw the place I immediately feel in love with it! The place is just magic! It was something I thought could only exist in paintings. You just feel totally connected with nature there. Its a great place. I never thought that eight years later I would get to do something I love in a place that I love. Never in a million years did I think I would have an opportunity like that. Part of that thinking was that I knew the majority of the rocks in the park are Precambrian in age, something, at the time, I was not *that* interested in, fossil wise. As grad school was finishing, I was pretty exhausted and looking for something to do. A GeoCorps position at Glacier was listed and I really felt like the job posting had been written for someone like me. So I applied. Immediately. And called them. And stayed on it until I found out I had the job. The job was to write a paleontology report on the fossils known from the park. I was excited to get the job and drove right into my work when I got there. I did an intensive literature search and started to try and relocate old fossil localities first identified by Walcott and others from the early part of the 1900's. I got to go to some really beautiful places in search of these fossils.
The fossils mostly include billion year old stromatolites, with the rare eucaryote (Horodyskia moniliformis), and the occasional Cretaceous bivalve thrown in for good measure. Along the way I found some new sites and documented many of the old locations. The shear number of fossils in Glacier in mind boggling (even if they are almost all stromatolites - they are still cool!)! If you know what you are looking for you can see them all over the place. Huge long bioherms, colorful red and green laminated hunks, and circular cross sections are some of the more common you will see.
And in the process of working in Glacier I discovered that I can work on things outside of my comfort zone! I learned more working those 4 short months in the park that I have in a long while I think. It was excited to dive into something new and different and I developed a good skill for that type of project which has led me to continue writing and developing these types of reports for different National Park Service networks. To date I have written the Pacific Islands, Great Lakes, and Heartlands Network Paleontology Resource Reports and just recently started to work on my 4th Network Report on the Cumberland Piedmont Network! I only wish the network reports had a field component like Glacier did!
You can see some of my past post on the Geology of Glacier here (and here, here, here, and here).