Initial Publication Date: April 8, 2020

How to Make a Rock Cycle Exhibit on Your Campus

Michael Patrick ( is a professor emeritus, natural sciences, at Santa Fe College, Gainesville, Florida.

If you have taught a physical geology class, you probably have an appreciation for a fundamental concept called the "Rock Cycle." As most of you know, the "Rock Cycle" is a diagram which relates the three basic rock types, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic, and includes the cooling and solidification, weathering, transportation, and deposition processes, as well as the lithification and metamorphic processes.

For many years while lecturing about how rocks form, where they form, and how they disintegrate, only to reform again, I would pass around cobble-sized rock samples. With the rare exception, these hand specimens that were passed around were not very exciting. One night over a few glasses of beer, my friend Fred leaned over his beer and said, "Mike, why not create a permanent outdoor rock cycle at your college, using large boulders?"

Three years later I had collected about twenty large boulders of the proper rock types to create the "Jean Klein Rock Cycle Garden," named after our late colleague and friend who was the first geologist hired by Santa Fe Community College. This is, as far as we can determine, the only representation of the Rock Cycle in the world using large boulders.

How did I round up twenty-two large boulders (plus a few stone benches and smaller boulders) of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock types? Hey, this is Florida, probably the most difficult place to do it, because we really only have limestones here. Most of these boulders, by the way, weigh from 350 kg to 5000 kg. Well, I didn't pick them up from National or State Parks throughout the land and put them in the back of my truck. But I did go to my office an hour early most mornings and browsed the Internet (thank you, Al Gore) for information on rock quarries from Georgia to Maine. If I was lucky, maybe I would get one or two phone numbers to quarries. After dialing a quarry, a secretary would answer and sometimes connect me with the manager. This process was like fishing. When you cast out, you sometimes got a bite, but mostly not. Patience (three years for me), and stubbornness, finally was rewarded.

Let's say I talked with the manager and he or she was interested in my project. The first question is, "What is your plan to get a 3,000 kg rock from North Carolina to Gainesville, Florida?" My first answer was, "Gee, I have not thought about that." It didn't take long to realize that "Low Boys" semi rigs were the best way. If the distance was, say, a couple hundred miles, perhaps a dump truck could be used.

So, this type of project requires you to be very good salesperson and you also need two more things: (1) money for shipping (most of the boulders were donated) and (2) a place to offload and store the rocks until the final site is prepared. I found a place behind our gym. Our college's foundation as well as our president helped to make this exhibit a reality by providing $8,000 for shipping and a prominent place on campus to construct the exhibit and eventually another $8,000 for landscaping and signs. A local contractor provided the manpower and a large front-end loader to move and orient the boulders in their new home. We have a website where you can see the steps in construction and individual rocks as well as a quiz (of course).

The Rock Cycle is not merely a decoration. Many of our geology and Earth science classes go out every semester to afford our (mostly Floridian) students an opportunity to see rocks that they would ordinarily have to travel hundreds of miles to see. Local schools visit. And even the University of Florida, about eight miles away, has to send their geology students here if they want to see an actual, physical representation of the Rock Cycle.

This is not the only Earth science-related exhibit on campus, although it is the centerpiece. Bit by bit, we have added to it. We now have, in the lobby of our science building, a 27-ft high literal geologic column (painted on a structural column) from 4.5 billion years ago to the present, a mural depicting the evolution of life on one wall, and an Earth science museum, with over 1,700 rock, mineral, and fossil specimens. This is part of what is known on campus as the "Circle of Science," which also includes our planetarium and teaching zoo. All of these ensure many great field trips from surrounding schools in North Central Florida as well.

I am retired now, but go to the college often to work on other projects. I am especially proud to look out in front of our library and see a beautiful landscape with our rocks placed around a broad shallow karst feature with classes from local secondary schools gathered in front, sometimes on top of these rocks learning about the Earth Sciences.

To see more about this project, visit:

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