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Posted June 7, 2017 by
Tags: The Liberal Arts My Wheaton

Wheaton College Geology and Environmental Science in the Southwest

Upon coming to Wheaton, my love for the outdoors transformed into a passion for earth systems and restoration within the context of the geosciences. After three years at Wheaton, I can affirm that the geology and environmental science majors provide an eye-opening avenue to learn about God’s creation and how to faithfully act as stewards towards it.

For me, one highlight of my Wheaton experience was Dr. James Clark’s Process Geomorphology course. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to pursue a master’s in physical geography. The other highlight was taking courses at Wheaton’s Science Station in the Black Hills. All environmental science majors are encouraged to take biology classes there, and geology majors take required field courses there every other summer. Every couple of years when there isn’t a cohort of geology majors at the science station, the department organizes a field trip sometime in May for current students and alumni of the geology and environmental science department. Since I couldn’t attend two years ago I made sure I went on the trip this year.                                                                                                                                                   

The Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico was our main area of interest. We spent three days in that region learning about and exploring local geology. Reefs that formed around 270 million years ago along the fringes of the once-shallow sea are now exposed as the Guadalupe Mountains. The famous Carlsbad Caverns later formed within these formations, providing another stunning geology stop. Other prominent locations on the trip included the Carrizozo Malpais lava flow, Bottomless Lakes State Park, and White Sands National Monument (pictured above). The Carrizozo Malpais (pictured below) is a geologically recent formation being only about 5,000 years old. The rugged, black basalt flow snakes 45 miles through the Chihuahuan Desert. With ropey (called Pahoehoe) textures perfectly preserved, the lava flow looks like it just cooled. Bottomless Lakes State Park features a string of sinkhole lakes along an escarpment. The blue and green lakes occupy crater-like sinks in the rock which creates a dramatic appearance. White Sands National Monument (pictured above) holds a sprawling 275 square mile gypsum sand dune field, the largest of its kind.

A typical day on this trip consisted of early starts after a quick breakfast. Then Dr. Stephen Moshier, local geology professionals, and alumni would provide their expertise and interpretations of the day’s field site. This would usually involve a hike with periodic stops to observe, discuss, and learn about what we were seeing. The day would end with dinner, conversation, and sometimes a nighttime activity like bat viewing at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Having alumni along on the trip was great for networking, as they represented a swath of geoscience careers like karst geology, petroleum geology, and coastal geomorphology. It was definitely inspiring to connect with people who all have a passion for Christ and who have built successful vocations in the geosciences.

Alec Fojtik’17 studied environmental science at Wheaton and traveled on a student-alumni trip to the Southwest United States in May 2017. Photo captions (from top): El Capitan rises above the Chihuahuan Desert; Ben Hess '19 and Austin Patrick '17 enjoying White Sands National Monument; Ben Hess '19 inspects the Carrizozo Malpais--this is a relatively recent (5,000 years old or so) basalt flow. 

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