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Short Term: West

Students and their professors dig into the mecca of North American geology

Story by Bates College July 20th, 2016

'What I came to Bates to do'

Jake Atwood ’19 of Natick, Mass., saw pictures of what his very first Short Term might look like: expansive images of the wide-open West: the Tetons, Craters of the Moon, Yellowstone, and Old Faithful. He thought, “This is exactly what I came to Bates to do.”

And so he did it, joining 13 fellow students and their faculty mentors, Professor of Geology Dyk Eusden ’80 and Assistant Professor of Geology Geneviève Robert, for “Geology of the Northern Rockies and Columbia Plateau.”

They left campus at 3 a.m. on April 28 and returned to campus around 7 p.m. on May 24. In between they scampered around eastern Idaho, southern Montana, and northern Wyoming for 25 days of field trips, visits with experts (including a Bates alumnus), and mapping projects.

Neatly coinciding with the centennial year of the National Park Service, the fieldwork locations included two national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone, plus Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Nick Barker '18 measures locations and angles of rock formations.

Video: Up a Ruby Creek

Dyk Eusden says the geology of Ruby Creek, located in the Madison Valley near Ennis, Mont., presented “tough rocks to map and identify,” especially for students new to geology. “They had no rhyme or reason to their order.”

The Professors

While Dyk Eusden joined the Bates faculty 28 years ago, Geneviève Robert started just two years ago.

Their elder/younger relationship is more than chronological. An expert in tectonics — how the earth’s crust has moved and changed over billions of years — Eusden knows all about the geology of the Appalachians, one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America.

Meanwhile, Robert is an experimental volcanologist, and volcanic rocks can be among the youngest on the planet.

Says Eusden, “We’ve covered rocks that are just a few thousand years old, rocks that are 2.7 billion years old, and everything in between.”

The scope of the course was broad in another way, says Robert. “It’s not so much about “the nitty gritty of what mineral is in what rock. It’s about teaching students how geologists think.” And, adds Eusden, “how geologists work in the field.” “It’s about how you understand the landscape,” Robert continues.

“It’s about making good observations, then extracting information from those observations to create understanding about geologic history.”

Holding a map, professors Geneviève Robert (left) and Dyk Eusden '80 explain Yellowstone geology.
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Dyk Eusden stands on a ridge in the Gravelly Range in southwestern Montana, site of one of the course's mapping projects.

Before You know it, there you are

Generations of Bates geology students have learned that getting there is at least half the fun.

The fun of getting there can mean how the quality of entertainment soars and sinks during long van rides to the next place. The lowest form? Maybe is was “making weird eating noises in the back seat to annoy everyone,” as geology major Jack Doyle ’18 of Mendham, N.J., says.

Or, “getting there” can mean the trek toward new knowledge, as Owen Ahlborn ’19 of Providence, R.I., explains: “What’s cool about geology is not always the end product as much as the process of getting to go out, being outdoors, being in the field, looking at stuff, and coming up with hypotheses as to why things look the way they look.”

“So there’s been a lot of talking, which is a good thing.”

As the trip elder, Eusden makes the van rules and, explains Doyle, “we can’t play that much music because Dyk doesn’t really like it. So there’s been a lot of talking, which is a good thing. And a lot of sleeping.”

The route from Butte to Ennis offered stunning views of the Tobacco Root and Madison ranges, which gave Ashley Kulesza a chance to explain why things look they way they look out West.

“I’ve definitely taken enough field classes to know that New England is the capital of ‘Cadillac Mountain Granite.’ It’s all very old because it’s an old-mountain building process,” she says. In the West, on the other hand, “it’s a very active and very young environment.”

The inexorable geologic pressures and forces “are building valleys instead of mountains,” she continues. “It’s like the opposite of what you have on the East Coast.”

Along Route 287 in southwestern Montana, somewhere between Butte and Cameron.

Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map

A core skill of any geologist, creating a geologic map is like describing a whole iceberg by examining its tip.

First, the geologist has to observe and record above-ground clues — various types of rock and their ages; different faults and folds, and sometimes conflicting evidence of other geologic forces and stresses below ground. Then, the task is to render that three-dimensional data into two dimensions, on a piece of paper.

Especially for the younger students, the mapping projects proved to be Maine-granite hard.
“We didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

At one point during his and his partner’s mapping project at Craters of the Moon, a national monument and preserve in southeastern Idaho known for its volcanic geology, “we didn’t know what the hell was going on,” says Sam Rickerich ’18, a geology and mathematics major from York, Maine.

In the case of the Bates trip, the observations and mapping were all done by hand using protractors, rulers, and colored pencils. While digital mapping is becoming the norm in geology, there’s value in old-school methods, which the professors chose partly due to limited Internet connectivity and partly because “we really want them to focus on seeing the geology and putting it down by hand into their notebooks,” Dyk Eusden says.

Geology major Ian Hillenbrand ’17 of Terrace Park, Ohio, says that recording field observations by hand, “instead of just waiting to put it onto a computer later,” forces you to be “more aware of your location, to be more responsible for your personal data-taking. And it’s a more tactile, direct experience. Your observation goes straight from what you see to a piece of paper.”

Feeling so lost was “hard but good.”

Hazel Cashman ’18, an anthropology and geology double major from Bellingham, Wash., recalled creating her map of Craters of the Moon. While she wasn’t staring at a blank page, she also wasn’t looking at a complete map, either. “I was drawing it and thinking how it could be totally wrong, but I had no idea how to make it correct.”

Feeling so lost was “hard but good” because “a lot of times in school we know exactly what’s expected, which is not necessarily how it is in the real world.”

Indeed, mapping at Craters of the Moon flummoxed many of the students. Sam Rickerich’s moment of what-the-hell confusion came from seeing “basaltic magma, big flows, and cinder cones, and trying to figure out the relationship between all of them.”

“I got to understand a place in a really intimate and complete way.”

Jake Atwood says that heading into the barren, vast landscape of Craters of the Moon with his partner to record his observations was like being in the Hunger Games, “where it was just me and a partner kind of wandering, figuring it out.”

Their final map had 18 different units and 20 different symbols to indicate the different amounts and types of rocks of different ages. “It felt like we’d really accomplished something,” Atwood says. “I got to understand a place in a really intimate and complete way that I’d never been able to [get] from just living in a place.”

“It’s one thing to see a map and to read a map,” says Geneviève Robert. “It’s a whole other thing to create a map yourself. You really appreciate what you’ve created, from a blank page, with your sweat, colored pencils, and a ruler.”

Partners Ian Hillenbrand '17 and Danielle Fournier '18 finish their geologic map of the Sandy Hollow valley near Dillon, Mont.
Nick Barker '18 of Lancaster, N.H. checks a chart of rock types found in Western Montana.
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Bates reunion in butte

Midway through their Western trip, Eusden reconnected with classmate Chris Gammons ’80, professor and chair of geological engineering at Montana Tech, who joins the group for a mapping project and also arranged and led tours of three massive mining operations in and around Butte, two active and one shuttered.

The two active operations were an open-pit copper mine and the Yellowstone talc mine run by a France-based company, Imerys Talc. The third has been closed since 1982: the notorious Berkeley Pit, a former copper operation that’s now filled with acidic, contaminated ground water with a pH of 2.5.

At one mile long and a half mile wide, it’s part of the huge Silver Bow Creek / Butte Area Superfund site, one of the largest such sites in the U.S.

“You don’t really think of anything past what you’re familiar with.”

“It was just fantastic,” Eusden says, because it was “really eye-opening for the students. You just don’t see this in the Northeast at all.”

Ashley Kulesza ’18, a geology and environmental studies double major from Great Falls, Va., had her eyes widened and horizons broadened. Born and raised in the East, “I’ve never really experienced the rest of the country,” she says. “And when you think of environmental issues you don’t really think of anything past what you’re familiar with.”

Seeing the “environmental wasteland” of the Berkeley pit “was super-interesting and super-applicable to both my majors. It’s a field that I could see myself going into.”

The Bates group tours a copper mine near Butte, Mont.
The Bates group poses inside the massive bucket of an excavator that works a Butte copper mine.
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Filled with ground water, the notorious Berkeley Pit was once a copper operation and is now a huge EPA Superfund site.
Montana Tech professor Chris Gammons '80 leads the Berkeley pit tour.
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something for everyone

“You can’t even comprehend how much space there is between you and the next big thing,” says Lindsey Beauregard ’18, a neuroscience major from Hollis, N.H., as she surveys the landscape. “It’s hard to appreciate the vastness of it.”

Another concept of space is behind Beauregard’s choice of neuroscience as her major: It brings several disciplines close together.

“Neuroscience is a combination of sciences like chemistry, biology, psychology, some philosophy, and physics. One of my biggest interests is seeing how different sciences come together to explain some phenomena.”

Lindsey Beauregard '18 records observations in the Madison Valley area of southern Montana, along the eastern flank of the Gravelly Range.
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'It's up to you'

Complementing the mapping projects were daily field trips planned, researched, and led by students, either solo or paired up.

Dyk Eusden and Geneviève Robert offered the students background readings and “some ideas,” says Hazel Cashman, “but they didn’t tell me what I had to do.”

In other words, Cashman says, the professors gave the students the steering wheel. “They were kind of like, ‘It’s up to you. Whatever interests you or works best for you.’ Which was cool because I got to have way more of a say than I had thought.”

Cashman led the tour of Hebgen Lake, the site of a major 1959 earthquake and subsequent slide of rock, trees, and debris killed 28 people and blocked the Madison River, forming another body of water, Quake Lake.

During the tour, Cashman points out a huge fault scarp, a “ground-level representation of an underground fault,” she explains.

Scarps exist back East but are usually obscured by tree cover. “If there’s movement along the fault, you’ll see what looks like a slope on the ground, where one side has dropped down below the other.”

An obscured view of the sky or land is sometimes called “tree pollution,” says Sam Rickerich. “Here, you can climb a hill, look down, and see what’s what. You can picture everything.”

It’s one reason that Eusden calls the West “a mecca for intro geology students.”

Hazel Cashman '18 points out a fault scarp during the field trip of Hebgen Lake, site of a 1959 earthquake.
This depression in the land is a scarp, a “ground-level representation of an underground fault,” explains Hazel Cashman '18.
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The Joy of explaining

Ian Hillenbrand chose the Short Term course “for a chance to explore some new territory, learn some more geology, and spend time with some of my favorite professors at Bates College.”

He led the field trip into the Gros Ventre Range, just east of the Tetons, the site of a major landslide in 1925, in which 50 million cubic yards of sedimentary rock slid down the north face of Sheep Mountain. The slide created a natural dam, some 200 feet high, across the Gros Ventre River that formed Lower Slide Lake.

One of the more seasoned geology majors on the trip, Hillenbrand said it was a challenge to “explain complicated features to people who haven’t researched it as in depth as you have. But it’s also a joy when you’re able to successfully convey your experience and knowledge to someone else.”

Ian Hillenbrand '17 walks along Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

At HOme on the Range

Tess Miller ’19 of Santa Monica, Calif., had that “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment when the Bates group was camping at Craters of the Moon.

Heading out on an evening run after a 10-hour day of mapping, “I looked up and saw that I was running alongside an elk,” she recalls.

“This giant elk was about 30 feet up the mountain from me, and we were running at the same pace, and it was really crazy and really cool and really awesome.”

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video: Gone Fishing

Nick Barker ’18, an environmental geology major from Lancaster, N.H., says that while it was “great to do geology and work hard with students and professors, having some alone time to fish is something I won’t forget.”

Youth is served

Tess Miller and fellow first-year Adelae Durand ’19 of Cumberland, R.I., led the field trip on the first day in Yellowstone National Park.

At Bates and on the road, the pair had studied up on Yellowstone’s famed hydrothermals, including Lower Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, Biscuit Basin, and, finally, Old Faithful. (Which most students found to be rather lame.)

“The night before our field trip, we stayed in cabins, which was unusual for the trip. We lucked out having heat and light and a table” to do their prep work, says Miller. “That was really sweet. And Geneviève stayed up to help us so it all worked out really well.”

Though only a first-year, Durand is eager to declare as a neuroscience major and has no trouble making connections to her future studies, mentioning how scientists are investigating potential medicinal uses for the bacteria and archaea that live in hydrothermal vents.

The stunning colors of Yellowstone’s various springs and vents, particularly the Grand Prismatic, captivated the students despite rain and assaulting sulfuric odors. “It’s not just the minerals that create the colors but bacteria that survive in these super-hostile conditions,” says Miller. “It was really cool. I could go on for awhile.”

Partners Tess Miller '19 and Adelae Durand '19 prepare their Yellowstone field trip.
A flock of geese (upper left) flies by as the Bates van approaches some of Yellowstone's hydrothermal vents.
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They call her 'mom'

The class comprised four first-years, seven sophomores, two juniors, and just one senior, Sarah Stanley ’16, a politics and environmental studies major from Springvale, Maine. “You’re not often the sole rep of your class,” she says.

From her senior-year perch, Stanley says that the group has a “nice dynamic. They ask me questions about where I was at, so you’re reminded what it was like when you were a freshman and a sophomore. They sometimes call me ‘Mom.’…I let it go.”

“But this was definitely the right decision for me.”

At the same time, she was missing the chance to hang with classmates back on campus and the sense of “closure” that those final moments can provide. “I’m not really getting that. I’ll just be jumping right back into graduation” when she returns.

“But this was definitely the right decision for me. Winter semester just felt really long: coursework, a second thesis, applying for jobs, all those things. It was nice to have time to get away from all that.”

Sarah Stanley ’16 was the lone senior on the trip.

a familiar sight for bobcats

On the second day of the Yellowstone field trips, a punishing rain changes to sleet and finally to thundersnow as the group arrives at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Despite the trying conditions, trip leader Sarah Stanley is determined to continue her presentation on a series of eruptions between 2.1 million years ago and around 630,000 years ago.

The falling snow obscures some of the geologic features that Stanley wanted to show the group, “which was a little frustrating,” she says later, “but you can’t control the weather.”

After one slippery hike along the edge, the students reach a lookout point. There, 1,200 feet below, the Yellowstone River is barely visible through the snow.

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On being offline (it was great)

After a cold and wet field trip near the end of their 25 days, the group retreating to heated cabins at their West Yellowstone campground. As soggy clothes slowly dried out, the students played cards and cracked the books — not to bone up on geo but for (gulp!) pleasure.

Not a laptop was opening. Not even a device.

The group had many offline days in the desolate areas of the West, and they traveled without laptops. From weird to wonderful, here’s what the 14 had to say about being offline so long.

Owen Ahlborn ’19 was the reading ringleader, going through eight books. “It’s been sick to just cruise through a bunch of books and have a bunch of time to do that.” His list included A Farewell to Arms, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Alive (about the 1972 plane that crashes in the Andes with of a team of soccer players), Cooked (by Michael Pollan), The Martian, plus another one “that I can’t remember right now.”

Jake Atwood ’19 says “it’s really good to take a break from technology every once in a while and remember the other things that are important in life. I’ve loved that about this trip.”

Besides fishing, Nick Barker ’18 read for fun, too. “At home we have so much reading. I don’t want to read before bed. I just want to sit in bed and relax.” Plus, he adds, “going to bed when it’s dark and waking up when it’s light has been pretty cool.”

Lindsey Beauregard ’18 says being offline meant “a lot of face-to-face time with people and more time to reflect on what I want to pursue in the future.”

Jack Doyle ’18 says that his phone broke so he’d be offline anyway. “I actually really enjoyed it.”

Adelae Durand ’19 says that her mom was kind of “freaked out” by not hearing from her. “But it’s good to get into the wild and seclude yourself.”

Elise Emile ’17, an environmental studies major from Washington, D.C., says that she had been “addicted” to news about the presidential race before the trip. But after a data blackout at Craters of the Moon, “it makes me wonder what my attachment to the news was all about back home.”

Danielle Fournier ’18 of Sugerland, Texas, says she “broke out the hammock a lot more than I would at Bates. Then again, maybe not, since it’s Short Term.” She valued the time to read and “talk about what we’re doing.”

Ian Hillenbrand ’17 says that “playing games, spending time with new friends, and having a communal experience without technology have been a great.”

Ashley Kulesza ’18 spent time “reading and journaling. I like being outdoors with minimal distractions.”

Tess Miller ’19 learned “a lot of random bird-watching stuff” from Eusden and Robert along with “knot-tying from other students and weird fun facts.”

Sam Rickerich ’18 says he read for pleasure more on the trip than he had the past four years.

Sarah Stanley ’16 acknowledged that “a lot of people are burning through books, but me, I’m focused on [Frisbee] and the basketball.”

And finally, and out of alpha order because her comment is a good way to end, Hazel Cashman ’18 says it was good “not having to worry about things that I had convinced myself are important when I was back at Bates.” She was surprised that she enjoyed “not having to keep up with all those social responsibilities. Because it’s a lot of effort, you know?”

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Footnote: Produced by the Bates Communications Office with photography and reporting by Josh Kuckens and text by H. Jay Burns.
Yellowstone National Park, WY, United States