Join geologist Kirt Kempter as he explores the geology of Western National Parks over the course of 2023, with an in-depth look at one location every month. Each program’s content is enhanced by geologic maps, photos, and Google Earth imagery.
Please Note: Individual sessions are available for purchase.
January 9 Big Bend, Texas
Kempter explores the volcanic underpinnings of this stunning national park in West Texas. Volcanic rocks and landforms reveal the park’s explosive past, and are superimposed on deposits from the Cretaceous Sea, which once connected the Gulf of Mexico with the Arctic Ocean for more than 30 million years. The park includes the largest protected area of Chihuahuan desert ecology in the United States, protecting 1,200 plant species and 450 species of birds. The Rio Grande, which defines the park’s southern border, has carved impressive canyons through these Cretaceous Sea limestone deposits.
February 6 Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands
Southern New Mexico is home to these two iconic national parks, which oddly share a connection from the deep geologic past. Shimmering white dunes of gypsum sand define White Sands—the largest deposit of its kind on Earth—which hosts 45 endemic species living only in the park. The gypsum’s origin comes from limestone deposits preserved in the surrounding mountains, originally laid down by inland seas during the Late Paleozoic era. Approximately 260 million years ago, the seas’ coastlines were ringed by an extensive reef composed predominantly of sponges, bryozoans, and other microorganisms. Today at Carlsbad Caverns, this once deeply buried reef hosts a vast network of caves, passages, and spectacular speleothems, including the Big Room, the largest chamber in the United States.
March 6 Grand Canyon, Arizona
A mile-thick package of sedimentary rocks from the Paleozoic Era is spectacularly exposed from the Grand Canyon’s rim to bottom. Each layer has a story to tell, revealing ancient oceans, rivers, and sand dunes that reflect drastically changing environments through geologic time. Kempter explores and interprets ancient Precambrian rocks now exposed in the inner gorge, along with a boundary known as the Great Unconformity, where more than a billion years of rock information is missing. When and how did the Colorado River carve the Grand Canyon? These questions, which are still being debated by geologists, are addressed in the program.