TA classes

Badlands and Black Hills, South Dakota

My first blog post!

My goal for this front page of my website is to report on the field trips, fieldwork, and outreach events as part of earning my PhD at UW-Madison.  This fall I’m a TA for Intro to Geologic Structures….which is far from the glaciers and oceans I was immersed in this summer in Greenland, but a great refresher in some foundational geology.  The class has 3 different field trips as part of it, and we have finished them all now.

September 24-27, the classes of ~90 students, 2 professors, 4 TAs, and 2 helper undergrads, traveled to the Badlands and the Black Hills of South Dakota.  At first I was skeptical of how a trip of 90 students would work out, but it worked out famously!  As far as I could tell, everyone learned a lot and had a great time.  We had great weather, and a blast.  Here is a list of the places we went, with the activity that the students did/learning objectives:

Thursday 9/24:

  • Badlands National Park- familiarize students with the late Eocene and Oligocene White River Formation.
  • Conata Basin overlook- map out the fault using a topo map of the area
Half of the Geosci 202 below the Conata Basin overlook in Badlands, National Park, South Dakota.
  • Pinnacles overlook- students practice taking strike & dip measurements on near vertical dikes in the Rocky Ford Ash.
  • Dinosaur Garden, Rapid City, SD- pulled out geologic maps of the Black Hills and discussed map patterns of horizontal and dipping beds.  Students recognized the general anticline formation and hogbacks visible from the overlook.
  • Camped at Bear Butte campground near Sturgis, SD.

Friday 9/25:

  • Little Elk Creek Canyon- Red Gate White Gate mapping exercise.  Students follow a ~2 mile long trail and map the dipping formations.  The goals for the exercise are: make a geologic map of the canyon, hone in on taking strike and dip measurements, recognize geologic structures, put strike and dips on a topo map, and correlate units to the known formations.

DSCN1986        DSCN1977

Students practice taking strike and dips and hike in Little Elk Creek Canyon, SD.


  • Outcrop behind Lead High School, Lead, SD.  Students mapped an outcrop consisting of, starting at the base: slate–conglomerate–limestone.  Students needed to correlate the limestone to the lower Deadwood Formation and recognize the nonconformity between the slate and the Cambrian Deadwood.  1.3 billion years lost on that horizon…dang!!
Students map outcrop behind Lead HS


Saturday 9/26:

  • Bear Butte- students get a topo map and a first shot at field camp-level geologic mapping.  We hiked around for a couple hours finding outcrops and mapping the Paleozoic units they have become familiar with throughout the field trip.  We stopped hiking at the talus slope of the igneous intrusion core.
TA Liz on Bear Butte
  • Elkorn Peak- discussed igneous intrusions orogenic history
  • Homestake Mine- visited the fancy new visitor center at the Sanford neutrino lab.  Students learned about the Homestake mine, ore deposits, sills vs dikes, what the stratigraphy is.  I highly recommend visiting if you have never been!
  • Spearfish Canyon- took at very scenic drive and looked at an outcrop of the Bridal Veil phonolite.

    Bridal Veil Falls in Spearfish Canyon

Overall, it was a great trip!  I enjoyed teaching little bits and pieces of each stop, and helping students discover the thrill of doing field geology.  I visited some of the stops during field camp in 2009, so it was fun revisiting them and thinking how many places I’ve been around the world thanks to geology since then!