Geology can be one of the most complex and difficult sciences to master. The subject matter spans everything from natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides, to plate tectonics and the various classifications of minerals. Given that the latter can get somewhat boring after a while—because, let’s face it, not many people want to sit around looking at rocks all day—what incentive do we have to learn about what is, perhaps, the most rudimentary aspect of geology?
What if you got to use North America’s national parks as your classroom, though?
Using a handful of some of the most unique national parks this country has to offer, we can explore geology in a way that’s not only palatable, but also guaranteed to take your breath away.
All information courtesy of the National Park Service.Main photo by Bernard Spragg, Public Domain
1. Craters of the Moon; 2. Big Bend Desert; 3. The Grand Canyon; 4. Yosemite; 5. The Rocky Mountains
Natalie Wickstrom is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.
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Craters of the Moon National Preserve, Idaho:
Nearly 15,000 years ago, lava erupted from the Great Rift—which spans 52 miles—and spread roughly 618 square miles, forming what has come to be known as the Craters of the Moon National Preserve. Over a period of thousands of years since, Craters of the Moon has continued to expand due to sporadic lava eruptions, earthquakes and both natural and human-caused effects. One must only stop by the Visitor's Center upon first arrival to get a detailed list of all of the various geological developments the preserve has undergone, which acts as the perfect guide for anyone looking to search for specific markers and sites throughout their journey.
David Wilson, CC BY SA 2.0
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Big Bend National Park, Texas:
One of the most naturally diverse and geologically rich of the bunch, Big Bend National Park boasts thousands of habitats—everything from plants and insects to amphibians and mammals. The park is home to desert, the Rio Grande and Chisos Mountain vistas, all of which contain a multitude of rocks and minerals to be discovered. Not only does the park offer a tremendous variety of geological and scenic sites to be explored, but it also contains a rich cultural history dating back thousands of years—much of which is documented by the archaeological ruins left behind by Native peoples.
Mike Fisher, CC BY SA 2.0
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Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona:
Coming in at a whopping 277 river miles long, 18 miles wide and a mile deep, the Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most intimidating and altogether breathtaking geological formations this planet has to offer. Well-known for its diversity in both geological colors and erosional forms, the canyon, itself, is a study in the naturally-occurring wonders that have been under federal protection since 1893. The park has quite literally been used as a classroom for a large number of visiting student groups looking to study the geology, ecology and history offered by the incredibly raw and astounding site for over a century now.
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Yosemite National Park, California:
Referred to as a "shrine to human foresight" by the National Park Service, Yosemite National Park has withstood the test of time and human behavior in all of its powerful glory. Covering nearly 1,200 square miles, the park is filled with famous waterfalls, picturesque glaciers and granite formations and a wide variety of species that will make any visitor feel like they are stepping back in time to when the earth was untouched—and unscathed—by humankind. Iconic geological landmarks throughout Yosemite are recognized across the world, their sheer beauty the stuff of marvels by both photographers and geologists, alike.
Even if you're not all that interested in studying any of them, though, you might as well go for the pictures.
Edward Stojakovic, CC BY SA 2.0
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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado:
In the mood for a hike while you learn? If so, the Rocky Mountains might just be the place for you.
Produced by ancient plate movements and a complex geological history that spans nearly two million years, the Rockies are composed of mostly metamorphic rock structures that continually shift and erode as time goes on. This part of the Continental Divide is a study in the unadulterated power of our Earth's tectonic forces and classic glaciation, and it serves as a reminder of just how immovable these natural occurrences are compared to the fleeting impermanence of humanity's impact.
DPK Photography, CC BY-SA 2.0