Posted by: Kirsten | Sunday, 20 July 2008

Wyoming’s Geology: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Sign of the Geologic Times:
Labelled and dated… how easy is that?

While the Cowboy State is HUMUNGOUS and keeping kids interested in what’s outside the car window can sometimes be a challenge, the State of Wyoming earns king-sized kudos from me for its roadside geological signs.

Last summer my son and I criss-crossed the state on our way from South Dakota to Yellowstone with several destinations between, and this became a great opportunity for him to practice some scientific field collection methods.  In the past we’d simply been collecting neat rocks and fossils, bagging them up, and taking them home.  But this time, with the aid of many roadside guides, we upped the ante a bit, and my son was required to keep notes in a notebook as he collected some really old rocks to take home.  

Keeping on top of collection process

Keeping on top of collection process

Each sample was wrapped in toilet paper and placed in a ziploc bag, and the outside of each bag was marked with a permanent marker using the ID number system he created on his own.  His notes were to include the name of the road we were on (ex: U.S. Highway 16), the information shown on the sign, the unique ID number for his collectible (using the date and a number (ex: 08/26/2007-4), the GPS coordinates of the find, and the number of the photo he took showing the area from which he took the sample. 

Is this exactly the way a true geologist would have collected some rock samples?  Perhaps not exactly, but it gave him a good taste of the difference between a kid collecting rocks and a scientist studying them.  Over the past year he’s pulled out his collected rocks several times and continued the process of labelling them with whiteout and permanent marker so he won’t forget where “cool rock #37” came from. Even if he never looks at those rocks again, it was a worthwhile experience, and knowing approximately how old the rocks were as we collected them kept up his interest stop after stop (and we stopped a LOT of times) along the way.

Our final challenge was getting the rocks home.  My suggestion to you if you’re attempting a similar feat, is to arrive early at the airport so you can load balance your various pieces of luggage.  I weighed all our bags prior to check-in, got a sense of which bags were overweight and which were under, and shifted our treasures around until all bags got in under the 50-pound limit.  I can only imagine what the x-ray image looked like to the TSA technicians in charge of scanning all the bags!

Parke Diem!
— Jon


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