aGES Takes on Big Bend

Before the travel bans, state-wide shutdowns and social distancing went into effect, a group of fourteen students and three GES faculty squeezed in one last adventure in the Spring of 2020. Two department vans left Rankin Hall at 6am on March 7th, the first Saturday of Spring Break. Destination: Big Bend National Park, Texas. 

The team, led by Dr. Cole Edwards with the help of Dr. Hannah Riegel and Anthony Love, drove for about 12 hours to the first camping spot in Hot Springs, AR. After another full day of driving, they crossed into Texas and camped near Fort Stockton. From there, the convoy travelled the last stretch to Big Bend National Park on Highway 385, and spent the study focusing on “Outside the Park Geology”, an exercise useful in uncovering information about the processes that led to the geologic structures inside the park. 


Image- (above) The group outside the Texarkana, TX Visitor Center


Image- (above) "Outside of the Park Geology" exercise.

The group stayed in campsites along the way. Evenings included shared buffet meals consisting of lots of beans, avocados and other fresh veggies, and then games by the campfire. Occasional musical interludes were also provided by students who packed their ukuleles and guitars along with their rock hammers. Additional excitement was brought by campsite visitors including scorpions (one of the students brought along a UV light to be able to spot them in the dark!) and screaming javelinas (similar to wild boars). 



Images (above)- Cooking and camping outside Big Bend National Park.

“Classtime” in the morning started with a rundown of the day by Dr. Edwards, and was followed by a day of poster presentations about the geologic features of the area at different stops. The “Geology of the Big Bend Area” course was offered for the first time at ASU during the Spring of 2020 as a 2 credit course, with students being graded on their individual poster presentations and field notes during the trip. Topics they prepared included: the Ouachita orogeny, marine stratigraphy, hydrothermal processes, the Terra Rosa formation, contact metamorphism and paleontology. 


Image (above)- Dr. Cole Edwards' morning "lecture".


Images- Savannah Devine (above left) and Zack Bartlett (above right) during their presentations. 

The group spent three days at the park. There was a hike along Dog Canyon Trail where students learned about the marine stratigraphy of the limestone beds and made drawings of the formations, a visit to the Fossil Discovery Exhibit, a 5 Mile Hike in the Chisos Mountains identifying igneous rocks and even a dip in a hot spring by the Rio Grande. One of the unique things about Big Bend National Park is that it has three distinct regions: the desert, the mountains and the river. The class was able to explore all three regions, hiking across the Chihuahuan Desert and walking through the impressive Santa Elena Canyon with its towering, 1500 feet high limestone carved out by the Rio Grande.




 Images: (top to bottom) The group outside Big Bend, hiking along Dog Canyon Trail, the "faculty leaders" by Rio Grande and a some students taking a dip in a hot spring.

After studying the outside and the inside of the park, the convoy headed back to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along the way they visited a ghost town and shared a celebratory dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Texarkana, AK. Geology major Savannah Devine, reflecting back to the trip on Instragram, described it as “one of the coolest trips I’ve ever been on.” Senior Brianna Hibner, who this past year has participated in GES trips to Bermuda, Nevada (for research) and Big Bend, finds these types of opportunities led by geology faculty, as invaluable experiences for aspiring earth and environmental scientists. 

“I love trips, I’m a hands-on learner so it was really nice to learn about something and literally be standing on top of it. You feel like a real geologist, you learn how to take field notes and collaborate with peers.” -Bri Hibner 

We look forward to offering the “Geology of the Big Bend Area” course again in the near future. If you have any questions about this course, please contact Dr. Cole Edwards ( 

For the complete photo journal of the trip, visit the aGES Trip to Big Bend March 2020 album. Thank you to the students who shared their photos and their adventures on this trip with us! Megan Holland leaves you with this video of the highlights. 

2020 Big Bend participants (and photographers!):

Bobby Bonhoff, Amber Mingeaud, Bri Hibner, Cole Blackman, Danielle Clark, Evan McCarthy, Lailani Smith, Landon Phillips, Logan Little, Meg Holland, Michaela Bartley, Ryn Conniff, Savannah Devine, Zack Bartlett, Dr. Cole Edwards, Dr. Hannah Riegel and Anthony Love.

Published: May 5, 2020 12:05pm