A pocket of the prairies in the middle of the mountains Anna-Lilja Dawson: Senior News Editor September 11, 2013 12:00 am News Geology students observe exposed layers of rock in the Little Rocky Mountains during the week-long field course in central Montana. In the center of the Montana prairies there is a little cluster of mountains made from the same type of rock as the Great Plains of Saskatchewan. The University of Saskatchewan’s geology 308 class spent a week in Montana for a field course, where they learned how to interpret and map sedimentary rocks. Taught by professor Luis Buatois, the class also familiarizes students with igneous rocks. Third-year student Mitchell Pezderic was a part of the class that went down to the Little Rocky Mountains, Montana. Students stayed with host families in the quaint town of Zortman — population about 70 — which is pocketed in the mountains. Pezderic said the area “looked like you were in the mountains but you were really in the prairies.” On the first day, Buatois and lab coordinator Tim Prokopiuk walked through the mountainous area, teaching the students how to identify different rock and land formations. The following days were spent walking transects to map out their assigned sections, using GPS as part of their main assignment. A unique aspect of the trip was that the students were mapping terrain that is identical to the Great Plains area surrounding Saskatoon. Because the Little Rocky Mountains have numerous layers of rock protruding from old magma plumes, it is easier for students to map geological layers there than it is on the Great Plains. Pezderic said that because the diagnostic features are exposed, he and his classmates were able to map out features like dips and strikes — the angle of inclines and the direction of intersections with faults and horizontal plane respectively — to create a cross-section and map out what would be underground. The students were marked on participation and were given a test where they had to identify, classify and locate the origins of rocks. By the end of the week they had to finish the mapping project and write a final report. After an evening meal break, students regrouped in a trailer to prepare their final reports and ask the professor and the teaching assistants questions. “Our maps overlapped with other groups, so we’d talk to them and compare in hopes that you have the same thing. It was a really involved project,” Pezderic said. However, doing schoolwork for nearly 12 hours a day made for a highly intensive course. There was “a lot of focus. I would say it’s the equivalent of two or three other classes,” Pezderic said. “It seemed like once you went out and did this week, that you learned so much. It was easily worth the three credits.” Pezderic said the field course was extremely valuable for him and other geology majors to get experience that they may not otherwise get until after they finish their degrees. “Most of us who haven’t had summer jobs yet, haven’t used a geological hammer before,” said Pezderic, who was not able to find work in his field for the last two summers. Another skill that Pezderic and the other students learned was how to test different rocks with hydrochloric acid for their carbonaceous qualities. A trick that Pezderic picked up was splitting open rocks to find fossils that are indicative of the paleo-environment and the different rock layers. Above all, Pezderic rated the chance of getting to confirm his interest in geology first hand as the most rewarding aspect of the field course. Going “out of the country and [paying] extra on top of tuition, you know at that point you care about it,” Pezderic said. “It’s part of all the work that is interesting, the reinforcement of doing something you think you like, then finding out it actually is [enjoyable], is pretty valuable.” – Photo: Mitchell Pezderic Sudipta Dasgupta Isn’t it the photo from the Lodgepole Formation outcrop exposed along Ruby Creek? DUDE OK?!?