Field Camp: Reflections of a Geology Student

By Samantha Ocon

 

Climbing up Orphan Mesa at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, NM

So… what is Field Camp?

This summer, I went to field camp. Field camp is often considered a tradition, or rite of passage, by the many geologists and paleontologists that were fortunate enough to have the opportunity. The phrase itself often conjures up both sweet and unsavory memories from many in our fields. So what is Field Camp? Field camp is an academically and physically strenuous capstone course required by many universities for geology and paleontology students. It often entails a month or more of fieldwork far away from campus. It is meant to teach students field skills that can’t necessarily be practiced in a classroom setting, like geological mapping or stratigraphic unit measurements. My field camp, with the University of Florida, took place around Taos, New Mexico over the course of 6 weeks.

Caught between a rock and a final exam.

Field camp is challenging both physically and mentally. The turn around rate for projects was typically 24-48 hours after returning from the field. Professors are expecting professional-quality maps and stratigraphic columns, so sleep was often sacrificed for double- and triple-checking our work. There were quizzes and tests, sometimes given in unconventional settings, like a bar on Route 66. Accompanying academic stress is mental stress.

Posing at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Quick nap at Colorado National Monument
 

Plant fossil found in the late Cretaceous Mesa Verde formation

 

You are sticking 20 college students together in a stressful environment with very little privacy. Although I was lucky to have a very good group of classmates, there was inevitably a little tension at times, especially near project deadlines. There were definitely moments where we were exhausted and sore, yet pushing on to finish our maps in time. Some of the field areas were daunting, involving long hikes with steep drop-offs on either side of the trail. 

Field camp is physically the equivalent of a six-week-long marathon. We were hiking at least 4 miles a day (although, 6 is more accurate) through mountainous terrain with little time to rest. I have a long-term knee injury, so this was perhaps a little harder for me than someone with properly functioning knees. Many of the places we were working at were far from civilization and consequently, very far from medical assistance. Luckily, there were no life-threatening injuries during my field camp; however, we did thrive on pain medication to get through some of the harder days.

 

St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm

 

 

 

 

 

Students of UF Field Camp 2019 

Goblin Valley State Park in Utah. 

An adventure six weeks in the making…

Ultimately, field camp pushed me to break past my limits. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I was able to see parts of the country I had never seen before and understand the geological processes that shaped them. I became closer to some of the most amazing people. I became a better geologist.