Geoscience students explore Death Valley

For some, spring break means lazy days at the beach. But for 13 FIU students, Spring Break 2012 meant trading in their flip flops for hiking boots and a trip out west.

The group of undergraduate students and two faculty members from the Department of Earth and Environment packed their notebooks, cameras and camping gear and headed to Death Valley National Park to explore the unique terrain.

The Death Valley geoscience field trip is one of a dozen field experience courses offered by the department. Now in its sixth year, the trip takes place every spring because of the ideal climate conditions at the national park.

“It’s hard to find a better place than Death Valley where the range of geological processes and geological time is on display” said Grenville Draper, undergraduate program director of the department. “The students were able to get some great insights into practical, applied geology.”

The group flew from Miami to Las Vegas and drove three hours to California where they camped out for four nights.

“I had never been to Death Valley and I had never gone camping before. It was the first time I was able to test everything that I’ve learned in the classroom,” said Ana Maria Sarmiento, a junior majoring in geoscience. “It was amazing to share these seven days with my friends and teachers. It was a great learning experience.”

Students made observations and interpretations of rock types, structures and orientations and learned how to properly take field notes. They also used field tools to complete their assignments.

“I had never taken a field trip like this before,” said Lucas Scott, a junior majoring in geoscience and minoring in chemistry. “I honestly had no clue where to even begin in evaluating the rock formations. As the days passed, I did see a change in my abilities and confidence. This experience was invaluable. I came back motivated with a real appreciation of geology.”

The trip to Death Valley is offered through the Geology Field Excursion course. The excursion, led by Draper and Andrew Macfarlane, is open to non-majors. Students interested in participating should contact Draper at