Skip to main content

Geology Field Camp

WVU students at Field Camp in MontanaField Camp Coordinators:

Dr. Joe Lebold, (304) 293-0749

Dr. Jaime Toro,, (304)293-9817


Dr. Jaime Toro, Dr. Mitch Blake, Dr. Phil Dinterman,  Dr. Ken Brown


Black Hills (South Dakota), Powder River and Big Horn Basins (WY), Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (WY), Big Hole Valley (MT)


Session 1: May 20 to June 23, 2018
Session 2: June 3 to July 7 
Duration is a total of five weeks.  Transportation to and from camp is available either (a) by departmental vans from WVU, or (b) by rendezvous in Spearfish, SD.  Camp is open only to WVU students. 

Students are required to register for 6 credits at WVU  and pay a fee of approximately $2000 ) to cover lodging, meals, and some of the transportation costs. The Geology Program distributes approximately $7000 among the students based on merit from the Wilcox, Clarkson and Renton scholarship funds. Students are encouraged to apply for external scholarships.

Course Description: Geology 404: Geology Field Camp

Field Camp is a 5-week course worth 6 semester credits. The course emphasizes field mapping with good doses of stratigraphy, structural geology, regional geology, as well as some surficial geology. The course is divided between the Black Hills of South Dakota and southwestern Montana. Approximately the first two weeks are spent in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota where students learn the Paleozoic stratigraphy and do two mapping projects. There is then a 5-day trip across Wyoming with stops including a Tertiary coal mine, the Big Horn Mountains, and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Approximately the last two weeks are spent at Dillon, Montana, where there are two additional mapping projects. During the Camp we stay in dormitories at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, and the University of Montana-Western in Dillon.

The prerequisites for G404 are Physical and Historical Geology, Rocks and Minerals, Structural Geology, and a Stratigraphy-Sedimentology course. The tuition is for six semester credits at WVU (resident or non-resident rate based on your situation). Partial scholarships may be awarded to WVU students on the basis of GPA. The Field Camp fee is approximately $ 2000, which covers room and board while staying four weeks in dormitories, and motels while traveling.  Students are required to have their own health insurance. 

Grades: Grades are based on field exercises. The final grade is based on the maps and field notebooks produced by each student. 

Educational Goals: 

  1. To learn how to describe and log stratigraphic sequences of sedimentary rocks.
  2. To learn how to construct geologic maps of areas comprising several square miles. Students use topographic base maps, aerial photos, GPS units, and Silva compasses to map two separate areas encompassing a variety of folded and faulted sedimentary rocks often in association with igneous rocks.
  3. To learn how to identify and map surficial deposits. Students will prepare a detailed map of a relatively small area by mapping on aerial photographs and enlarged topographic base maps.
  4. To make observations concerning regional geology, including changes in sedimentary facies, structural deformation, tectonics, and geologic history.
  5. Ancillary goals include: gaining confidence in making geologic observations and interpretations; broadening of geologic experience beyond the classroom; learning to deal with incomplete or apparently contradictory geologic data; and learning to cooperate and work in the field with fellow geologists.
  6. Geology 404 is a capstone experience that requires students to demonstrate mastery of the concepts and skills acquired during their undergraduate years. 

Why Should Students "Do Geology" in the Field?

Some observations made at the symposium: "Geology Field Camp in the Geology Curriculum", Geological Society of America Annual Meeting.

A. By doing geology in the field students learn by personal discovery a great deal of geologic information that they can use to solve geologic problems in the present and in the future. Students learn to integrate their knowledge from a variety of geologic subdisciplines and then develop the skills and confidence to solve complex geologic problems. Students also learn how to collect and analyze field data and in so doing come to understand the limitations of such data. Students learn how to make and record observations in the field, formulate hypotheses, and then test their hypotheses. Finally, students learn how to make interpretations and predictions from data that are necessarily inadequate, incomplete, and imprecise, preparing them for solving problems as professional geologists.

B. All geologic studies are ultimately based on geologic maps, field observations, or field sampling. All geologists need basic field skills, including the ability to read and locate on topographic maps and air photos, recognize geologic relationships at the "outcrop level", and collect and record rock descriptions, structural data, and other data systematically. However the mere observation and recording of field data is an insufficient goal. These data must be analyzed, interpreted, and integrated into a geologic map and cross sections and also placed in a regional context. Creation of a geologic map requires that students develop and use a wide variety of field skills. During this process students make selective observations, formulate and test hypotheses, and wrestle with the uncertainties of field data, insufficient exposure, and the interpretive nature of geologic maps. In short, they learn to think like a geologist.
Regardless of whether graduates ever engage in field work, they will use geologic maps. Since geologic maps describe and interpret the earth, the method of their creation is of singular importance to geologists. All geologists should experience the process of preparing a geologic map to develop an appreciation for the interpretive nature of geologic maps and the uncertainty inherent in field geology.

C. The purpose of field camp is to study rocks in the field and to learn how they have behaved -- rocks in pieces larger than hand specimens, which we study in the laboratory, and smaller than mountain ranges, which we study regionally. Students at field camp prepare geologic maps and measure stratigraphic sections because doing so is the only way they can demonstrate that they understand the rocks. Thus what are typically regarded as the products of field camp -- maps-- are really a byproduct. These days most geology majors plan to specialize in hydrogeology or environmental geology. The scale at which students study rocks at field camp is more applicable to environmental problems than to the problems of more traditional branches of geology, such as petroleum exploration or tectonics.