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Dave Eggler's Remarks on Teaching Field Camps at Penn State

This essay is MUCH expanded from remarks delivered on the occasion honoring me at the 2004 field camp reunion

Most years at field camp I would confess, at some point, that I had never actually attended a field camp. The Geology major at Oberlin College, like all science majors, was just another liberal arts subject. It was expected that if you wanted to be a professional in the field you would attend graduate school and make up any deficiencies. Only 24 credits were required for the major. In fact, I had no geology courses until the junior year, being a physics major until then, and still finished geology requirements easily in the junior and senior years. We had a few weekend fossil-collecting trips with Larry DeMott, which were great, but that was it for field work.

When I arrived at Colorado, Ernie Wahlstrom, my advisor, and I decided that I lacked background both in field studies and in structure, so that Fall I took structural geology with Bill Braddock. Many of the labs were similar to Penn State's now-defunct 470W course. We started out with a pace-and-compass map of the winding path that descended the bluff behind the football stadium. Most of the path was bounded by an iron railing, which guaranteed a few spurious azimuth readings. Our plane table exercise started at the base of Flagstaff Mountain and had stations at various points up its 1500-foot face. I remember that near the summit, it was a very clear day, and Bill Braddock said that we were looking north all the way into Wyoming. I think my partner and I closed our loop within ten feet. We measured a strat section, with plane table, in the Jurassic and Cretaceous exposed in a fold just north of town along Foothills Highway. We mapped north and south of Baseline Road in the foothills, where several formations are drastically thinned due to thrust faults. Old maps interpreted the area as "pygmy" formations caused by some kind of topographic high. And we mapped where we had measured the strat section, but all the way back into the PermoPennsylvanian and then the Precambrian. We used topo maps and altimeters for that project. Bill warned us that the altimeters were expensive and not to damage them, or we'd pay for the repairs. Losing one was out of the question. They cost one-third the price of the used VW beetle that I drove. Well... after the first afternoon of mapping, I got back and discovered that I had no altimeter. Panicking, I drove back out to the mapping area. I knew I had last been near the Precambrian-Fountain Formation contact. So by the last fading light I made my way along the contact. And there it was! Whew!

Sometime that spring, Ernie called me in and said that he probably did not have any projects that I would be interested in, and that I should consider a project with Bill Braddock. So I talked to Bill. I guess he liked what I had done in structure, because he took me on. Bill worked WAE (when actually employed) for the U.S. Geological Survey in the summer and was well along with the NE Front Range Project, which involved mapping the entire central and eastern parts of the Front Range from the latitude of Boulder north to the Wyoming border. His practice was to take on a PhD student as his field assistant. The student would learn how to map Precambrian rocks and would then go off on his own the following summer. So I in essence had field camp while being paid by the government. We lived, along with a couple of other grad students, in a ranch house west of Fort Collins, and we mapped west of Loveland and Fort Collins both in the sediments and in the Precambrian.

So I learned to map the way that Bill mapped, with an overprint of the philosophy of the Survey. Much of the Survey's effort back then went into producing geologic maps, which are the foundation for mineral exploration, groundwater studies, and resource planning. But producing a map is also fun, in a way like solving a jigsaw or crossword puzzle by fitting together all the pieces and insights that one can gather. Bill insisted on precision, locating each contact and fault as closely as possible, avoiding unwarranted extrapolation, and collecting structural data at reasonably-spaced stations. Each line was put on the topo map (in my case, because my area had no topo, on the aerial photos) in the field and then, at night, transferred to the compilation map.

I also learned how NOT to map precisely. That summer, when I was Bill's field assistant, Ogden Tweto, Rocky Mountain Branch Chief, was compiling the Geologic Map of Colorado. He had a big "hole" in the portion of the NE Front Range that Bill had not yet mapped. So one afternoon Ogden, Bill, I, and another grad student drove every road or trail we could find in Bill's Survey jeep. We never stopped. We'd tell Ogden where we were and what the rocks probably were, and he filled in hundreds of square miles of geology. Bill made no secret of his opinion of this recon geology, but Ogden needed a map. Fortunately, a lot of that territory was granite. Years later, for a fun project, I would walk Penn State students between Alta and Brighton, creating a recon map of that whole area of the Alta stock and its country rocks in three hours. A TA would drive liquid refreshments around through Salt Lake and Big Cottonwood to be waiting for our arrival in Brighton.

If I had followed the normal path of Bill's students, I would have started mapping a quadrangle north of where Bill and I had been working. But Bill suggested that I map the Virginia Dale ring complex, which was way up north, mostly in Colorado but also in Wyoming. He had found this structure, about nine miles across, on an aerial photo compilation. Others had found it as well, some calling it an impact structure. So, with a little logistical support from the Survey, I spent two summers mapping the structure. It turned out to have an outer ring-dike of Sherman granite that discordantly cut the surrounding schists and gneisses, an inner half-ring of mafic rocks, two zones of a different type of Sherman granite within all that, and finally a small inner core of Trail Creek granite, a variant of Silver Plume. And there was a little overlying Fountain Formation here and there. All of the Colorado portion of the geology has now been published in several Survey quadrangle maps. Bill and his students finished up the parts of the quads that I had not done because they lay outside of the ring and its immediate country rocks. In fact, the entire NE Front Range Project is now published in quad maps, including Rocky Mountain National Park. I highly recommend climbing Long's Peak, which is only a long hike. Take Bill's geologic map along.

Almost all of Bill's students already worked for the Survey or went to work for the Survey after graduation. I applied to the Denver Survey and was accepted to work in Kentucky. At that time the state of Kentucky gave the Survey a considerable amount of money to map the entire state. The Survey was always looking for sustenance, so new geologists and seasoned veterans alike were sent to Kentucky to map a quad or two before they could go back to doing something they really wanted to. The story of Warren Hamilton is classic. Warren was primarily a plate-tectonic Big Thinker. He was sent to Kentucky to map a quad. Rocks in Kentucky do not dip more than a couple of degrees, so Warren visited a few outcrops and then computed contacts in the rest of the quad in his motel room. A week later he was back in Denver. His higher-ups decided that a mere week wouldn't look good, so he was sent back to Kentucky to sit for a while before he was allowed to come home.

If I had worked for the Survey, I would have gone to Kentucky and then other Survey projects. But I did not. The summer before that final year at Colorado, Hat Yoder from the Geophysical Lab of the Carnegie Institution of Washington came to give a summer course in experimental petrology. I'm not quite sure why he did that, but I'm glad that he did. Some students and Survey people took the course. I was in town most of the time that summer, having finished both my mapping and a gravity survey of the area that I had decided to do, so when I was in Boulder I sat in the course but didn't register. At the end, he said I should take the exam. It wasn't very difficult, and I had the highest grade in the class. He then did some finagling and got me registered so my A would be recorded. After that class, I went through the motions with the Survey but had determined to find a postdoc in experimental petrology. I wrote to a number of people in the field and eventually received one and only one offer, from E.F. Osborn at Penn State.

I was at Penn State three years, and then spent two not-very-happy years at Texas A&M. By then, Hat Yoder had become Director of the Geophysical Lab, and I applied to go there. I was a Temporary Staff Member five years, generating my own NSF money, and then came back to Penn State. Although I did have some grad students at Penn State who did geochemical theses based on field work in Montana, my work was primarily in high-pressure experimental petrology, and I never mapped a quadrangle after my PhD.

In 1984 Charles Thornton wanted to phase out of field camp, so I signed on to do the Alta stock project that summer and, in succeeding summers, Alta stock and Marysvale. Duff covered everything else. When Don Fisher took over as Field School Director, my role expanded. In 1984 Betsey and the kids, who were young then, came out with me. The kids probably remember battling flies in the Alta Peruvian and seeing skiers carom down a snow-packed slope, coming to rest in an icy Cecret Lake. In traveling from Pennsylvania to Alta, we drove West, at a slower pace than I had hoped for, stopping in Montana, where I collected rocks in the Crazies for my student Frank Dudas. We also spent a few days in Yellowstone, which I had first visited at age one month when my father was a ranger, and where I worked two summers as a ranger during college summers.

For twenty years, I tried to teach geologic mapping like Bill Braddock had taught me. Locate a contact or fault in the field, locate yourself on the map, decide whether the line ought to be solid or dashed, put it on the map, and cautiously extrapolate it a short distance. Most of the time, students would not map that way, despite incentives and bribes. They were unsure of their location or their geology. So when I looked at what they had mapped in the evening, that day's portion of the map did not look like a geologic map. It would have faint lines, all solid, not connected with any other lines in a sensible way. Or, worse, there would be no lines at all! I call this method the "dot-to-dot" method, resembling the dot-to-dot pictures that young children work on. Students faithfully put stations on their maps and made notes at the stations. Eventually, when the project was nearly over, they sat in a lodge and connected the points with lines, by then entirely removed from "ground truth," inventing geology. If, during a project, I could convince one group to abandon the dot-to-dot method, I considered it a good day.

Bill Braddock died a few years ago, at far too young an age. He was my one and only teacher of field geology. Whatever I taught Penn State students was a diminished reflection of what he taught me.