University News

Geology Trip

September 6, 2002

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MACOMB, IL -- Fifteen Western Illinois University Board of Trustee (BOT) students recently learned a lot about history, specifically the earth's history, by looking at rocks.

From June 6-17, Peter Calengas, chair of WIU’s geology department, and Leslie Melim, associate professor of geology, took the group on a tour of U.S. national parks and monuments. WIU’s School of Extended and Continuing Learning helped organize the excursion which is part of a geology course offered to non-geology majors.

The group began their studies in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. They also visited the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDMST), the SDMST Geology, Museum, Wind Cave National Park, Mt. Rushmore National Monument and the Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, SD.

“Traditionally, a person would play tourist going to these places, but essentially all of our stops were geological in nature,” Melim said. "For example, when we visit Mt. Rushmore we are really after a good look at the Harney Peak Granite the monument is carved in rather than the carvings themselves."

The students got hands-on experiences with sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks which gave them a sense of geologic time, Melim said.

Mary Gillen, a document control analyst and BOT student from Villa Park, said, “I didn’t know anything about rocks. Now I can tell you the difference between shale and granite.”

The group also visited Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming, drove through the Powder River Basin and spent time at Yellowstone Park.

Melim said the students recorded detailed field notes which helped them learn the relationships between rocks.

"The earth has a story, and we can read that story through the rocks. For instance, the Great Unconformity, which is a gap in the rock record from a time period where there are no rocks to study, is an excellent example. By looking at the rocks, the students learn to recognize that tremendous erosion occurred in a place they can span with the palm of their hand,” Melim explained.

After exploring many of the hot springs and geysers in Yellowstone, the group ventured to Grand Teton National Park.

“Before we arrived at a particular sites, the professors told us how strenuous it could be, like how many steps it would be to walk down a cave. They gave us a lot of options. If we didn’t want to walk on a narrow road in a cave, we could join them in an alternate area,” Gillen added.

She said the trip enabled her to go places she had always wanted to go.

“We were watching a geyser going off at Yellowstone, and I turned around and saw a huge buffalo. Experiences don’t get any more real than that,” Gillen said.

WIU’s geology department has offered the summer trip since 1998 as an effort to increase students' geological awareness.

For more information on WIU’s department of geology or future geological trips, contact Melim at 309/298-1377.

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Communications & Marketing