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Earth Science Class Travels to Black Mesa

Submitted By Dr. Beverly Meyer on 09/28/2017 From left to right: Front row, Rachel McDonald and Becky Simmons; Back row, Beverly Meyer and Adrianna Garner —Courtesy photoFrom left to right: Front row, Rachel McDonald and Becky Simmons; Back row, Beverly Meyer and Adrianna Garner —Courtesy photo

Goodwell, Okla. — The Earth Science Field Methods class recently made their first field trip of the semester. On Friday, September 22, Dr. Beverly Meyer and the three members of the class traveled to the far western Oklahoma Panhandle to hike and observe the geology of the Black Mesa area. Most Oklahoma Panhandle State University students and staff probably don’t realize that just west of us in Cimarron County and beyond in northeastern New Mexico the landscape changes dramatically. The area is famous for its dinosaur fossils and tracks, abundant petrified wood, cinder cone volcanoes with lava flows, and scenic beauty.

The first stop on the field trip was a visit to Black Mesa State Park and Lake Etling. The park and lake are surrounded by beautiful sandstone cliffs that formed during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of the Mesozoic Era. These cliffs formed on the western shore of an inland sea that existed during the Cretaceous Period. The Black Mesa State Park area is located on the beach where sand accumulated and dinosaurs walked. The second stop was a scenic view overlooking the park where the class observed fossil ripple marks that formed on the ancient beach. On down the road, at the third stop, they collected fossil oysters known as Gryphea.

The fourth stop was in an area famous for its hoodoo rock formations. The Black Mesa area hoodoos are tall spires of eroded rock with a piece of harder rock on top, which protects the sandstone below from the elements. They form where sedimentary rock is eroded by wind and rain. Next, the group was lucky enough to arrive in the friendly town of Kenton at a time when the museum was open and had a quick museum tour. The last stop was a visit to the Black Mesa lava flow and the highest point in Oklahoma. Across the highway from the trailhead to hike the mesa is a narrow road that ends at a creek bed with dinosaur tracks. Unfortunately, the creek was not dry, but the tracks were visible in the mud.

There is so much more to do and see in the area. The road west of Kenton continues into New Mexico where the geology changes to even older rock formations and red rock. The road to the north goes into Colorado and other scenic vistas with lots of canyons and volcanic rocks. The class had to leave that for another day. One day is just not enough time to see it all.

The Field Methods class was developed to provide Physical Science students with upper division hours and familiarize them with field research. It also provides upper division hours for any student who is interested in joining. Future trips this semester include Capulin Volcano in northern New Mexico and Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico.

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