Great Geology Field Trip Localities

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay


Birmingham (Clinton) Iron Beds


Lituya Bay


Grand Canyon
Meteor Crater
Monument Valley
San Francisco Peaks
Sunset Crater



Coastal Highway State Route 1
One of the great scenic drives of the planet. 18-Mile Drive south of Monterey features the famous Lone Cypress, and also displays granite offset hundreds of kilometers by the San Andreas Fault. There are views of uplifted marine terraces, a sea stack and tombolo at Point Sur, and the southernmost groves of coast redwoods.
Mount Diablo
An isolated peak, actually a tectonic diapir, that offers a view of half of California on a clear day. The entire Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada from Mount Lassen to Sequoia National Park are visible.
Mount Shasta and Mega-Slide
Second-highest peak in the Cascades, as well as the largest peak by volume. It has a classic parasitic cone, Shastina, which by itself would be one of the principal peaks in the Cascades. Northwest of the volcano is a spectacular landslide formed when the flank of the volcano collapsed 300,000 years ago.
Mount Lassen
One of only two volcanoes in the continental United States to erupt in the 20th century.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley is the textbook glacial valley with a host of famous landforms as well as the highest waterfalls in the United States. The Tioga Road offers access to the granodiorite of the Sierra Nevada batholith as well as glacial topography and views of roof pendants.
Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia National Park
The sequoias offer a glimpse into the world of the dinosaurs but the drive to them is geologically interesting. The abrupt rise of the Sierra Nevada from the Central Valley testifies to rapid uplift of millimeters per year. Once in the mountains, igneous an metamorphic rocks are exposed on the road as well as views of high Sierra scenery. Some people come for the trees. Go figure.
Mount Whitney
Technically just inside Sequoia National Park, the summit of the highest peak in the Continental United States offers awesome views of the High Sierra to the West and the Owens Valley to the east.
Sutter Buttes
A remarkable cluster of small phonolite volcanoes that rise abruptly out of the otherwise flat Central Valley.
Owens Valley and U.S. 395
The deepest graben in the United States in topographic relief. The drive up U.S. 395 in the winter is especially spectacular, with the Sierra Nevada forming a snow-covered wall from horizon to horizon. Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp during World War II, offers spectacular views of the fault scarp plus a melancholy look at one of the darker moments in U.S. history.
The Alabama Hills
This rubbly mass of granite at the base of Mount Whitney is a fabulous place to study weathering. The boulders are spheroidally weathered and frequently hollow because moisture trapped underneath the boulders attacks them from below.
San Andreas Fault
San Juan Capistrano Mission
The collapsed ruins of the great chapel are still preserved. The chapel collapsed during an earthquake in 1812, killing 44.
Carrizo Plain
Has the clearest topographic expression of the San Andreas Fault and offset streams. Best seen from the air.
Hollister and San Juan Bautista
Numerous examples of aseismic fault creep, including deformed buildings, offset sidewalks, and topographic expressions.
Point Reyes
Death Valley
A spectacular graben containing the hottest, driest and lowest land in the United States. During the Pleistocene, a deep lake filled the valley and connected to the Colorado River. Relict populations of fish still survive in a few springs.
Channel Islands
Pala pegmatites
Classic mineral collecting localities, featuring lepidolite, tourmaline, and many other minerals.
Lake Tahoe
Beautiful graben lake, one of the deepest lakes in the United States.
Long Valley Caldera
A pyroclastic flow vented from a magma chamber here about 700,000 years ago and deposited over 200 meters of ash near the vent. The view from the north end of the caldera, especially in the winter, may be the most perfect piece of mountain scenery on earth. Other mountains are higher and more rugged, but for overall visual impact this view is hard to match. A transect through the tuff layer displays the process of compaction and welding.
Devil's Postpile
Mono Lake and Craters
La Brea Tar Pits
A restored ghost town with a literally textbook anticline just adjacent. Not far away is a controversial archeological site where Louis Leakey claimed to have found evidence of extremely ancient human occupation.
Site of Sutter's mill, where gold was discovered in California.


Rocky Mountain National Park
Long's Peak, the northernmost 14,000 foot peak in the Rockies, is the centerpiece of the park, which provides views of cirques and small glaciers. The headwaters of the Colorado River are in the park.
Pikes Peak
Garden of the Gods
Great Sand Dunes National Monument
The highest sand dunes in the United States are located in one of the most wonderfully back of beyond places imaginable. The San Luis Valley is so remote that archaic dialects of Spanish are still spoken here. Nearby Zapata Falls are incised in a narrow slot canyon.
Saguatch Range, Leadville and Climax
Some of the highest peaks in the United States form a serrated backdrop to a famous mining district. Nearby, the molybdenum mine at Climax sits astride the Continental Divide. Turquoise Lake is a moraine-dammed lake featured in many textbooks.
San Juan Mountains
This Tertiary equivalent of the Yellowstone Plateau is now dissected by glacial valleys, its mineralized rocks exposed as ore bodies.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Mesa Verde National Park
Dinosaur National Monument
Glenwood Canyon
A beautiful canyon exposing the Paleozoic-Precambrian unconformity, as well as one of the finest examples of highway engineering in the world.
Spanish Peaks




Florida Keys
The largest system of coral reefs in the continental United States.


Stone Mountain
Okeefenokee Swamp
Not at all the fetid morass of popular stereotype, the Okeefenokee is a broad, shallow, clear river separated from the coastal plain by a very low beach ridge.


Mauna Loa
Largest shield volcano in the world.
Mauna Kea
Nearly a twin to Mauna Loa and high enough to have supported glaciers during the Pleistocene.
Diamond Head
Iconic feature of Honolulu, Diamond Head is a marvelous example of a tuff ring, a cinder cone erupted in shallow water.
Nuuanu Pali
The spectacular eroded breakaway scarp where the northeastern half of a shield volcano collapsed.
Waimea Canyon
Na Pali Coast
Molokai Scarp and Kalaupapa
The mountain wall that once prevented the escape of lepers from the leper colony at Kalaupapa is now known to be the breakaway scarp for a colossal slide that carried away the northern half of a shield volcano. The Kalaupapa Peninsula is a small resurgent shield built up after the slide.


Craters of the Moon
Snake River Canyon
Red Rock Pass
The outlet of pluvial Lake Bonneville. Rapid downcutting here unleashed a megaflood down the Snake River.



Kentland Impact Structure




Mammoth Cave (left me unimpressed, but has to be here)
The longest cave system in the United States. The main cave, protected by a sandstone cap, is generally plain. The most ornamented caves are some of the smaller caves on the periphery of the park.


Mississippi River Delta
The classic example of a birdfoot delta.
New Orleans Flood Control System
The controversy about the failure of New Orleans' flood control system during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 will rage for decades.
Atchafalaya Diversion
By the Civil War, about a third of the Mississippi's water was going down the Atchafalaya. Left to itself, the Mississippi would certainly divert down that route sooner or later. A massive floodgate system diverts water down the Atchafalaya during floods but otherwise maintains the flow of the Mississippi.
Lake Peigneur
One of the classic weird engineering disasters of all time took place here in 1980, when an oil drilling rig drilled into a salt dome and flooded a salt mine. The lake drained into the salt mine, raising havoc.
Red River
At one time, a great floating log mat on this river offered a perfect actualistic model for allochthonous coal accumulation. In the 19th century an engineer named Henry Shreve devised machinery to clear the jam, called the Great Raft. The city of Shreveport, Louisiana is named in his honor.


Mount Desert Island
Mount Katahdin
Moosehead Lake
The largest lake in Maine is dammed by a moraine.
Norumbega Fault Zone (Because I lived on it as a kid before anyone ever heard of plate tectonics or sutures, and it's my list. So there.)
The suture between ancestral North America and Avalonia slices across Maine and its cataclastic rocks and pseudotachylites are exposed in numerous places.



Cape Cod
Squantum Diamictite
Long controversial, the glacial nature of this unit, probably deposited during the Snowball Earth episode, seems finally established.


Isle Royale
Keeweenaw Peninsula
The only place in the world where native copper was mined on a large scale.
Tahquamenon Falls
Pictured Rocks
Big Spring (Kitchi-ki-Tipi)
Porcupine Mountains/lake of the Clouds


Duluth Gabbro
One of the few textbook examples of a lopolith (if there is any such thing), this massive mega-sill forms much of the Lake Superior shoreline in Minnesota. Huge anorthosite xenoliths occur in parts of the gabbro. Elsewhere, Keeweenawan volcanic and sedimentary rocks occur above and below the gabbro.
Mesabi Range
For a long time, the principal source of iron for the United States and much of the world.
Interstate Park
The largest potholes in the world, probably carved by Pleistocene meltwater megafloods.
Lake Itasca
Source of the Mississippi River.



New Madrid
Site of three great 1811-1812 earthquakes, this area still has surprisingly many physical reminders of the events, including sand blows and subsidence features.
St. Francois Mountains
Joplin Mining District


Lake Missoula
Source of the water for the great Scablands Floods. Beaches are best preserved in Missoula itself but there are numerous lake deposits and flood features.
Glacier National Park
The namesake glaciers are receding quickly but the glacial scenery is awesome. The Belt Supergroup, the Proterozoic continental margin of North America, forms most of the park. The Chief Mountain klippe is on the northeast side of the park. Triple Divide Peak is the junction of the Atlantic, Pacific and Hudson's Bay drainages.
Mission Range
A miniature version of the Sierra Nevada, the Mission Range is a spectacular fault block range with glaciated topography.
Beartooth Scenic Highway
Some of the best highway views of high alpine glacial landscapes in the United States.
Butte Open Pit Mines
Missouri River


Sand Hills
A large tract of stabilized Pleistocene sand dunes.
Scotts Bluff
Chimney Rock
Ash Hollow
A mass burial site of Oligocene mammals. The volcanic ash, probably wind blown from the Snake River volcanic area, buried the animals over an extended period.


Red Rocks
Hoover Dam
Humboldt Range
An oasis of high alpine glacial scenery in the midst of the sagebrush of the Great Basin.
Great Basin National Park
U.S. 50 (Loneliest Road in America)
One of the best routes for seeing the topography of the Basin and Range. The Clan Alpine Range offers wonderfully colored barren mountains and the Toiyabe Range is a spectacular horst.
Fairview Peak Earthquake Scarps
These scarps were produced by a magnitude 7.5 event in 1950 yet are still relatively fresh, with vertical offsets up to three meters.
Carlin Canyon Unconformity
Charleston Peak
Valley of Fire State Park

New Hampshire

Mount Washington
Alpine scenery and glacial topography. Despite the modest elevation of 2000 meters, the weather here can be deadly because of the isolated and exposed location.
Old Man of the Mountains
This icon of New Hampshire, featured on its statehood quarter, collapsed in 2003. This event dramatically reveals the ephemeral nature of even geologic structures.
Franconia Notch
Mount Monadnock
The type locality for monadnocks.

New Jersey

This row of cliffs on the west bank of the Hudson is defined by an early Jurassic sill related to the opening of the North Atlantic. Under the western end of the George Washington Bridge, the basal contact can be seen. The sill is a natural laboratory for differentiation.
Newark Basin
A half-graben of Jurassic red beds bounded on the west by the Ramapo Fault. The Palisades Sill intrudes the basal red beds and the Watchung Basalts are a series of lava flows extruded during the infilling. All probably came up along the Ramapo Fault.
Franklin Zinc Mines
World famous collecting locality for fluorescent minerals.
Delaware Water Gap

New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns
Sandia Peak
Tilted fault block that rises two kilometers above Albuquerque. The summit is accessible by road or tram. Offers a spectacular Paleozoic-Precambrian unconformity, orbicular granites, and one of the oldest human habitation sites in North America. Sandia projectile points are named for this locality.
Valles (Jemez) Caldera
Sangre de Cristo Range
Bandelier National Monument
White Sands
Crystals of gypsum blown off a playa are piled into white dunes.
Rio Grande Rift
Ship Rock
The archetypical volcanic neck.

New York

Manhattan Schist
West Point/Ramapo Fault
The Hudson River cuts through the Hudson Highlands, which are bounded on the south by the Ramapo Fault. Rejuvenation of a Tertiary peneplain created this as well as many other cases of superposed drainage in the northeastern United States. This natural bottleneck was an obvious place for a barrier to block hostile ships, and a disgruntled officer named Benedict Arnold attempted to sell the defense plans to the British during the Revolution. The Indian Point nuclear plant, just south of the Ramapo Fault, is a classic case study in controversial policy decisions.
A Devonian molasse basin. Streams draining the steep eastern front, notably Kaaterskill Creek, are widely used in textbooks to illustrate stream piracy.
Niagara Falls
Largest waterfall in the United States in terms of volume and a perfect case study of waterfall recession. The diversion structures for power generation are marvels of geological engineering.
Finger Lakes
These former river valleys were deepened by glaciers and dammed by moraines.
Watkins Glen
Famous for its raceway and concerts, but the glen itself is a winding slot canyon cut into thick black shales.

North Carolina

Barrier Islands
Great Smoky Mountains
Brevard Shear Zone

North Dakota


Serpent Mound



Crater Lake
One of the most perfect calderas anywhere in the world, created by a catastrophic eruption about 6000 BC. Resurgent post-caldera volcanism built a cinder cone, Wizard Island, in the caldera. The Pumice Plain north of the caldera offers the best place to see the broken off base of Mount Mazama, the volcano that collapsed to form the caldera.
Mount Hood
Columbia River Gorge
Wallula Gap
This choke point, "only" a mile wide, was filled almost to the brim during the Scablands floods.
Klamath Lake


The hills that were the focus of the battle are diabase intrusions related to the opening of the North Atlantic and part of the same suite as the Palisades in New Jersey.
Pennsylvania Turnpike engineering geology
The tunnels of the Pennsylvania turnpike seem a bit lavish even for a superhighway, but much of the route was originally a railroad grade. This was one of the first superhighways in the world.
Susquehanna River Water Gaps

Rhode Island

South Carolina

Numerous houses in the old section of Charleston are decorated with earthquake bolts, long threaded rods used to pull the masonry walls back into contact with the frame after the 1886 earthquake.

South Dakota

Badlands National Park
Missouri River at Chamberlain
Black Hills
Mount Rushmore
Wind Cave
Jewel Cave
Harney Peak
Bear Butte


Reelfoot Lake
Lake formed by compaction during the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes.
Great Smoky Mountains


Big Bend National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Llano Uplift
Galveston Flood Defenses
Galveston suffered 6,000-8,000 fatalities in a 1900 hurricane, the largest disaster in U.S. history (including 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina), . Following the disaster, large sections of the city were raised and a highly innovative (now standard) seawall constructed. Monuments on the shore commemorate the hurricane and seawall construction.


Wasatch Fault
Lake Bonneville
Lake Bonneville Beaches
Referred to as "the benches" by Salt Lake City news media, the shorelines of pluvial Lake Bonneville are visible on hillslopes all over the former lake basin.
Bonneville Salt Flats
Uinta Mountains
Canyonlands National Park
Arches National Park
Upheaval Dome
Rainbow Bridge
Lake Powell
Henry Mountains Laccoliths


Lake Champlain Marine Deposits
Isostatic depression of the crust during the Pleistocene allowed the sea to advance up the Saint Lawrence River following the retreat of the ice, and briefly make Vermont a coastal state.


Shenandoah National Park
Natural Bridge


Mount Saint Helens
Most recently active volcano in the continental United States, with spectacular illustrations of blast and landslide effects, plus a resurgent dacite dome.
Mount Rainier
Highest peak of the Cascades, Mount Rainier has the largest glacial ice volume in the United States and presents the greatest volcanic hazard to populated areas.
Olympic National Park
One of the most diverse of national parks, this park features temperate rain forests, sea stacks, some of the world's youngest metamorphic rocks and remote glaciated peaks.
Dry Falls
Crown jewel of the Channeled Scablands, Dry Falls is the result of numerous floods with discharges far greater than the Amazon.
North Cascades National Park
Columbia River Plateau Basalts
Mile upon mile of nearly perfect columnar jointing are exposed along gorges in one of the world's great flood basalt provinces.

West Virginia

New River Gorge
Featured on the West Virginia statehood quarter, the ironically named New River is one of the oldest intact drainages in eastern North America.


Apostle Islands
Wisconsin Dells
A network of deep sandstone gorges and eroded rocks created by the failure of an ice dam during the Pleistocene.
Baraboo Range
A rowboat shaped monadnock of Proterozoic quartzite that displays Precambrian structural features as well as Devils Lake, a remarkable lake with moraine dams at either end.
Mississippi River Gorge
A surprisingly youthful landscape in a long-stable cratonic region, the gorge is the product of repeated deepening and infilling during glacial advances and retreats.
Wyalusing State Park
Overlooks the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi River gorges.
Overlooks a braided stretch of the Mississippi. The road up to the overlook is a good place to see the loess cap on the bedrock
Granddad Bluff
Overlook above LaCrosse offers a panoramic view of the gorge.
Castellated Mounds
Steep sided sandstone mounds that were islands in Glacial Lake Wisconsin. Roche a Cri has a staircase to the top and is probably the most spectacular.


Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs
Old Faithful
The premier geyser in the world.
Yellowstone Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The falls are spectacular but the yellow alteration colors in the gorge show that the present hydrothermal activity in Yellowstone is merely the latest expression, and the entire plateau has been simmering in boiling water for two million years.
Devil's Tower
Not a volcanic neck as widely supposed, but the likely remains of a small laccolith, this phonolite tower is surrounded by massive columnar joints.
Independence Rock
A monadnock on the Oregon Trail, so called because travelers tried to get here by July 4 to be sure of arriving in California or Oregon before winter. Oregon Trail ruts are faintly visible and pioneer graffiti cover the summit. Spectacular wind polish and fluting occur on the summit as well.
Devil's Gap
One of the type examples of superposed drainage, this narrow slot was created when erosion exhumed a buried ridge. Had the river flowed a mere kilometer further south, it would have missed the ridge entirely.
Green River Formation
Some of the largest and best preserved ancient lakes in existence, famous for their well preserved fossils.
Grand Tetons
Gros Ventre Slide

Other Sites Needing Better Definition