Summer 2020 Geology Field Camp


Thank you for your patience during this time, stay healthy!



Thomas A. Shiller II, Ph.D.

Dates:  May 20 - June 26

Course Number:  GEOL 4601; Credit: 6 semester hours










Field course fee




$300 (deposit applies to Field Course fee); nonrefundable after April 4


-Structural Geology

-Sedimentology and Stratigraphy (Sed/Strat)


No exceptions will be made regarding prerequisites.  Your transcript is required to register. If you are enrolled in the prerequisites during registration time, documentation from your instructors that you are on track to pass the courses (C or better) will suffice.

Other Requirements:

-Valid permission from medical doctor (MD) or certified nurse practitioner (CNP) confirming physical fitness for full-day hikes at elevations of 7,000-8,000 ft amsl on slopes of 10 to 30o carrying a ~40-lb backpack. This documentation is due on April 3rd. Please use this form.

- Minimum of C grade in all geoscience courses. Preference will be given to applicants with higher GPA if more students apply than fit in the course.

Cap:  8 students

Location: The SRSU 2020 Field Geology course will start and end at the Alpine campus in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. The course departs Alpine for 4 days at Stillwell Ranch, studying Cretaceous sedimentary rocks on the east side of Big Bend National Park. The following 9 days of the course will take place entirely in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Students will map rocks and features including Mesozoic sedimentary rocks, Laramide-age folds and faults, Cenozoic volcanic and plutonic rocks, and Basin and Range structures. During this time, the group will camp in the high Chisos Mountains where temperatures are usually ten degrees cooler than those in the low desert. We will then return to Alpine for four days of instruction and GIS mapping. There will also be a day trip to the Davis Mountains, including McDonald Observatory. The group will then depart for Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend, near the banks of the Rio Grande. There will be 9 days of field mapping on the west side of the Park. During this portion of the course there will be a hydrology activity as well as a day-long canoe trip on the Rio Grande. The final week of field camp will take place in Big Bend Ranch State Park to the west of the National Park. Students will have the opportunity to map one of the most interesting geologic features in the region: the Solitario Dome. The primary focus of this class is geologic mapping and construction of geologic cross sections.  Even if you, a geology major, don’t intend to be a professional mapper you will benefit in any field from developing your ability to visualize and solve problems in three dimensions and in the subsurface—whether that is in the petroleum, mining, geologic-hazard, water industries, or whether you continue in academia. The major exercises will cover the following topics:

  •  Tour of deformed Tertiary igneous rock exposures in the Davis Mountains, TX;
  •  Geologic mapping of Cretaceous-Neogene rocks and sediment in Big Bend National Park, TX;
  •  Mapping and measuring structures related to the Laramide Orogeny and Basin and Range tectonics in Big Bend National Park;
  •  Fluvial geomorphology and hydrological studies on the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park;
  •  Mapping of Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic rocks and structures of the Solitario in Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Logistics:   We’ll have three nights in Alpine for introductory lectures and preparation at the beginning of field camp, then four nights in Alpine halfway through the five weeks. The bulk of the course will involve tent camping, split between three campsites (1 at Stillwell Ranch, 2 in Big Bend National Park, 1 in Big Bend Ranch State Park). We will also have one night at the Sauceda Bunkhouse in Big Bend Ranch State Park. The final leg of the course will be in Alpine (2 nights), with a final exam on July 5th. Sul Ross dorm rooms will be available for out-of-town students for the Alpine nights for $30/person.

  • For the camping parts of the trip, you are responsible for your own personal camping gear:  tent with useful rain fly (it WILL rain,) strong tent stakes, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camp chair, flashlight(s), etc., plus your own drink cup and coffee mug (all other kitchen gear is provided.) We will be car-camping so you can even bring a pillow, but try to sensibly minimize your personal-gear footprint as there will be 14 of us plus our gear. (However, you are welcome to bring the extra comforts you deem important.)  In the past, students have brought hammocks to sleep in, for the few sites where there are strong, mature trees.  (This is in addition to a tent, because not everywhere are there ample trees.)  Shower facilities will be available only at some of our camp sites—we will have three separate five-day camp sites without a shower.  There will be a cook/ camp steward traveling with us who will set up a camp kitchen and provide us with three meals a day (sack lunch into the field) plus water and gatorade.  Students will rotate through kitchen-help duties.  Work tables will be set up at each camp for completing field assignments.  
  • You must also bring your own personal gear for comfort and safety:  sturdy, broken-in hiking boots, plenty of good socks; outdoor clothing for high temperatures (>100°F) and all-day sun, for rain both in the field and at camp; waterproof shoes both for fluvial geomorphology work (wading in a shallow stream) and canoeing as well as a suit for optional recreational swimming.  Sunscreen, a large-brimmed hat, and refillable water bottles are also required. Temperatures in Big Bend will likely exceed 100°F during the day, so you MUST carry at least a gallon of water into the field with you (there are no refill sites in our remote field areas).  Camelbak or similar bladder-type backpacks work well, as do Nalgene or Klean Kanteen bottles.  In addition to three meals per day, snacks will be provided daily but we will also intermittently stop for gas as we move between campsites, so you should bring spending money if you’ll want extra treats or soda.
  • There will be commercial laundry facilities available on a few of the days off, so you should also bring quarters and soap.  
  • You also need to bring gear to operate as a field geologist:  a map board, colored pencils, quality mapping pencil(s), a scale and protractor, grain size card, a comfortable and sizeable back pack, and rock hammer with holster.  A field belt, and a field pouch to hang on your belt next to your hammer holster is VERY handy as well.  (Plateau Designs of Flagstaff, AZ has been providing good cheap field pouches to field camp students for a couple of decades.)  What will be provided to you:  an empty Rite-in-the-Rain field book; a collection of literature pertinent to the geology on our traverse; stereonet paper; and base maps. Bruntons and hand lenses will be checked out to you at the beginning of the course, to be returned in exchange for your letter grade at the end of field camp.  Also, a copy of “Geology Field Methods” by Tom Freeman will be available for purchase when you arrive in Alpine for $15.  You can pick one up early to study it (, or find Compton’s “Geology in the Field,” which costs a bit more but is far more robust, and is the classic.   
  • Campground fees, food and entrance-fee costs when we are on the road are provided.  Students are responsible for their own board and lodging during the 2 nights in Alpine at the start of the session before we depart and 2 nights in Alpine at the end of the session when we return.  SRSU dorm rooms will be available for rent to visiting students for the Alpine nights, and Alpine has a few nice campgrounds as well.

Application:  Print, complete and mail the one-page application form with your $300 deposit and your unofficial transcripts to SRSU Department of Biology, Geology and Physical Science / Attn: Geology Field Camp / Box C-64 / Alpine TX 79832.  Applications must be received by April 3, 2020. We will send notifications of receipt and acceptance shortly AFTER April 20.  If you are not accepted, your deposit will be returned to you. If you are accepted, your deposit will be held until you register and pay for the class.

Registration:  If you are not a Sul Ross student, you’ll have to apply to SRSU through ApplyTexas.  Contact Miranda Gilbert, secretary of the SRSU Department of Biology, Geology and Physical Science, for assistance in how to proceed, as well as whether there are places remaining.; 432-837-8112