Geology of Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks

31 May - 6 June 2014
Las Vegas, Nevada, United States


Who Should Attend
Geologists, educators and students of earth science who seek a working knowledge of the geological, archaeological and natural history of the Colorado Plateau as revealed at Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon National Parks and other localities on the Colorado Plateau.

Participants will explore and investigate a number of classic geological sites on the Colorado Plateau, and by the end of the seminar will be able to:

  • Identify the geologic principles derived from early studies on the Colorado Plateau by J.W. Powell, G.K. Gilbert, and others.
  • Summarize the origin and history of the Proterozoic metamorphic complex of the Grand Canyon region and contrast these rocks with other western metamorphic terranes.
  • Identify and analyze the depositional environments of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks of the Colorado Plateau, as exposed at each of the parks and landscapes in-between.
  • Analyze and classify the faults and folds associated with Mesozoic and Cenozoic tectonic activity, including the unique monoclines that define sub-provinces within the plateau country.
  • Assess and evaluate competing hypotheses concerning the erosional history of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon.
  • Analyze and assess of the history of land use on the Colorado Plateau from prehistoric time to the present, including water use, agriculture, and mineral/energy development.
Course Content

A geological exploration of the Colorado Plateau is an opportunity to observe and understand many of the principles that established the science of geology. For those who have not visited the region previously (or have not had the chance to tour it in depth), this field seminar will provide a comprehensive journey into the geological story of this fascinating landscape. The arc of our trip, from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon and back, provides a remarkably detailed history of the North American continent from the Early Proterozoic to Holocene time. Few places provide the story in such scenic fashion.

Each participant will receive a field guide that includes a geological and cultural overview of the Colorado Plateau region, and a comprehensive road guide for the route traveled on the trip.

Field Seminar Location
Begins and ends in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be a 7 day road trip through Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim), Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park.

As we leave Las Vegas and travel through the Lake Mead and Kingman area we will observe exposures of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks from the Grand Canyon sequence as well as other younger volcanic rocks, and see up close one of the largest engineering feats in history, Hoover Dam. At Diamond Creek (along the only road that reaches the bottom of the Grand Canyon), we will encounter the Proterozoic rocks of the basement complex that underlie much of the Colorado Plateau. The metamorphic rocks are overlain by the Cambrian Tonto Group along the “Great Unconformity”. We will spend a day at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to allow for a comprehensive look at the Paleozoic history by foot, car, or by air (optional).

Leaving Grand Canyon, we will visit the Little Colorado River and a corner of the “Painted Desert” to examine some of the tectonic structures that form the boundary of the Kaibab Plateau. Mesozoic terrestrial sediments dominate this landscape, and at Antelope Canyon we expect to explore a labyrinth that has been carved through the Navajo Sandstone. If the roads are passable, we will investigate exposures along the Cockscomb, a major Laramide monocline traversing Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the spectacular span at Grosvenor Arch, and the odd sedimentary pipes at Kodachrome Basin State Park. We will be traversing outcrops of the late Cretaceous Mesa Verde Group, the source of coal reserves in the Colorado Plateau.

The Claron Formation, exposed in striking fashion at Bryce Canyon National Park, represents a major change of sedimentary deposition on the Colorado Plateau in early Cenozoic time. The freshwater sediments have been eroded into the tall hoodoos along the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. We will then start moving down section into the Jurassic and Triassic sediments exposed in Zion National Park. Zion exposes an early Mesozoic sequence of terrestrial floodplain deposits and coastal dunes that have been eroded in spectacular fashion. Time will be set aside for an exploration of the upper canyon on foot or by tram.

May 31: Meet at Hampton Inn Las Vegas near Airport
  • Pick up travelers at airport, transport to hotel 
  • Optional Field Trip to Red Rock State Park (must be checked in by 2PM)        
  • Overnight –-Hampton Inn Las Vegas Airport, Las Vegas, NV
June 1: Las Vegas, NV to South Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ (~170 miles)
  • Stops:
    • Frenchman Mountain (Great Unconformity; lower Grand Cyn Section)
    • Hoover Dam -Lake Mead (Proterozoic Rocks, Intro to Colorado River)
  • Excursion:
    • Diamond Creek Road (a drive to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the     Colorado River, and back!)
  • Overnight: Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, AZ
June 2: Touring Grand Canyon South Rim (~120 miles)
  • Stops:
    • Dissected Cinder Cone near Williams, AZ (San Francisco Peaks volcanic field)
    • Mather Point (Intro to Grand Canyon)
    • Visitor Center Complex
    • NPS tram to Hermit's Rest (Picture opportunities)
    • Free time:
      • Hikes: Kaibab Trail, Bright Angel Trail, Rim Trail
      • Shopping, Touring El Tovar, Kolb Studios, Museums
      • Helicopter or Plane flight over Grand Canyon(Optional)
  • Overnight: Thunderbird Lodge, Grand Canyon National Park- South Rim, AZ
June 3: Grand Canyon, South Rim, to Page, Arizona (~150 miles)
  • Stops:
    • Grandview Pt, Grand Canyon NP
    • Desert View, Grand Canyon (Intro to Painted Desert, Navajo Section)
    • Little Colorado River Overlook (Origin of the Grand Canyon)
    • Painted Desert (Chinle Group, badlands topography, Triassic stratigraphy)
    • Navajo Reservation (Cultural history)
  • Overnight: Courtyard Marriott Lake Powell, Page, AZ
June 4: Page, Arizona to Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (~150 miles)
  • Stops:
    • Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell (Colorado River, water issues)
    • Antelope Canyon (spectacular slot canyon, Navajo Sandstone)
  • Excursion: Cottonwood Canyon alternative (50-mile gravel road)
    • Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument
    • Cockscomb Monocline (fold structures of the Colorado Plateau)
    • Grosvenor Arch (desert erosion)
    • Kodachrome Basin (Jurassic stratigraphy, clastic pipes)
  • OR      (depending on road conditions)
    • Highway 89 alternative (longer paved highway)
    • Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
  • Overnight:  Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn, Bryce Canyon City, UT
June 5: Bryce Canyon National Park to Zion National Park (~75 miles)
  • Stops: Tour of Bryce Canyon National Park (Cenozoic stratigraphy)
    • Optional hike: Wall Street Canyon or Rim Trails
    • Visitor Center at Red Canyon (Claron formation)
    • Optional Helicopter flight opportunity
    • Optional hike: Zion Arch hike (Bighorn sheep, Navajo Sandstone)
  • Overnight: Best Western Zion Park Inn, Springdale, UT
June 6: Zion National Park to Las Vegas, NV (~165 miles)
  • Stops: Tour Zion Park (Mesozoic stratigraphy and regional tectonics)
    • Optional hikes to Angels Landing (tough) or Virgin River Narrows (easier)
  • Excursion: Road to Lava Point (Mesozoic and Cenozoic           tectonics and Cenozoic volcanism)
  • Excursion: Optional side trip to Valley of Fire (depending on timing and weather)
Expires on
01 May, 2014
Early Tuition
Expires on
06 June, 2014
Regular Tuition
25 people

Includes lodging, van rental, fuel, field guide, park entrance fees. Does NOT include transportation to departure point at Las Vegas, meals or park overflights.
No refunds after 2 May 14.


Garry F. Garry F. Hayes Modesto Junior College, Modesto, California, USA
Vicky Kroh Registrar +1 918 560-2650
Debbi Debbi Boonstra Education Coordinator +1 918 560-2630

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