Photo courtesy of Riley Clark | The summer 2022 field camp expedition poses in Deep Springs Valley in Inyo County
Photo courtesy of Riley Clark | The summer 2022 field camp expedition poses in Deep Springs Valley in Inyo County

Field Camp tests geology students’ knowledge and endurance

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by August Linton

Field Camp for Cal Poly Humboldt’s geology majors is a month-long academic camping trip, and a foundational experience in the field that geologists remember with love. 

Local field trips to places in Humboldt like Agate Beach and Big Lagoon are testing grounds for students used to dusty labs on campus. The university has a large library of rock samples, but students enjoy collecting their own. 

“Agate Beach was a good one,” said Riley Clark, a CPH graduate and Field Camp returnee. “I’ve had structural geology trips there to look at faults and things like that, and sedimentary geology trips there to look at marine sediments.”

Geology department classes teach both book knowledge and field techniques. One class called petrology, about the origin and microscopic structure of rocks, uses a technique called thin sectioning. With careful sanding, epoxy, and heat, students can make microns-thick samples of rock for microscope analysis. Field trips give students the opportunity to use these techniques at actual sites rather than in a lab.

From May 29 to June 29, students from the program visited teaching sites in California’s Eastern Sierras for their capstone Field Camp, which is a more intense iteration of the geology field trip. Other geology programs also visit those same sites.

“The first field site we went to we were alone, then at the next site there was Sac State, Montana State, a class from Wyoming, Northridge was there,” said graduated geology student Nay de la Torre. 

Field Camp is analogous to a capstone project for geology students, a field-wide tradition that most programs participate in. It teaches students how to apply their knowledge, but also 

Photo courtesy of Riley Clark | Roch Creek, an area that students were tasked with mapping near Bishop, California
Photo courtesy of Riley Clark | Roch Creek, an area that students were tasked with mapping near Bishop, California

The Poleta Formation is a common teaching location located in the Eastern Sierras, where different layers of sediment are exposed and can tell geologists about the geologic history of that place. 

“It was deposited during the Cambrian…when California was covered in a shallow sea,” said de la Torre. “You could walk from LA to Las Vegas with water up to your knees.”

This shallow sea still had tidal action, which geologists can tell based on those layers.

“The tide would come in and come out, so during this time sandstone would be deposited, then when the tide went out the water would evaporate and deposit carbonate rocks like limestone,” de la Torre said.

At a second location in the Inyo-White Mountains, students spent time studying igneous intrusions into the crust, called plutons. There are also several wide-reaching fault systems that span the area, which students were tasked with mapping. 

“At one of our sites we saw a series of faults and then at another one we saw a series there,” said Clark. “It was neat to correlate those…we know that the same compression on the continent caused it.”

De la Torre says this trip stretched the students to their limits mentally and physically.

“Everything that you’ve learned, you use it at Field Camp, with every class since freshman year,” said de la Torre. “You don’t really have time to do much else other than go to the field, eat dinner, and go to sleep, cause you’re so tired every single day.”

Weeks of complete isolation from everything other than a small group of colleagues, six to nine miles of hiking every day in baking sun, and living in tents for a month taxed the students, but also galvanized them. Their daily tasks, like surveying areas for map-making, mirror what they will be asked to do in their careers as geologists.

“Field Camp feels like something that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life, because all the older geoscience people that I talk to still remember their Field Camp,” de la Torre said.

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