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.
April 10 Zion and Bryce, Utah
Combined, these parks include a mile-thick package of sedimentary rocks that are part of the Grand Staircase, forming a geologic step ladder of colored cliffs with intervening vegetated plateaus. The geologic star at Zion is the Navajo sandstone, the petrified remains of a vast dune field active between 180 to 190 million years ago. At Bryce, strata of the much younger Claron Formation are eroding to produce stunning hoodoo clusters along amphitheater-shaped canyons carved into the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
May 1 Valles Caldera, New Mexico
For many geologists, the Valles Caldera National Preserve represents the crown jewel of New Mexico geology. With a spectacular 13-mile diameter crater (caldera) from an eruption approximately 1.25 million years ago, the park also hosts large herds of elk, a healthy population of black bear, and forested volcanic domes of spruce, fir, and ponderosa pine. The preserve’s resurgent caldera is recognized as the world’s type example, which fostered the recognition and interpretation of supervolcanoes worldwide, including Yellowstone.
June 5 Death Valley, California
Death Valley National Park was established in 1994 because of its tremendous diversity of geologic features, stunning desert vistas, and unique Mojave desert ecosystems. Kirt Kempter offers a geologic tour of the park, including ancient 1.8 billion-year-old rocks in the Black Mountains, volcanic craters and deposits formed just 2,000 years ago, and world-class examples of alluvial fan and playa deposits. The lowest point in North America occurs in the park at Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level. The park includes classic basin and range geology, a relatively young chapter in Death Valley’s complex and lengthy geologic story.