High School Geology field trip from Los Angeles to Death Valley

Wendy Van Norden
Harvard-Westlake School

Author Profile

Intended Audience

A high school introductory geology class, grades 10-12.


The following sites are all in Southern California: Vasquez Rocks, the San Andreas Fault at Avenue S, Palmdale, Red Rock Canyon, Fossil Falls, Death Valley, including Dante's View, Zabriski Point, Gower Gulch, Badwater, Devil's Golfcourse, Mosaic Canyon, Devil's Cornfield and the Sand Dunes. There is also a stop at Ballarat, CA.


The purpose is to introduce an introductory physical geology class to a wide variety of geologic features.


This is a mandatory field trip offered to high school students. This field trip has been successful when it has been offered early in the school year as an introduction to concepts studied later, or later in the year as a demonstration of topics already learned. The hike down Gower Gulch must be done as a shuttle. This trip may be conducted with a bus or with vans.


The goal is to get students outdoors and have them figure out why the land looks the way it does.


The field trip brings students to locations and asks them to look around and figure out how the features were formed. For example, at Vasquez Rocks they see a large angular clast on the top of a sedimentary layer, and they have to determine how it was deposited in that manner. They have to determine which way Fossil Falls eroded over time, and why the rocks are smooth. The field guide provides questions and places for the students to write down andswers and observations.

Notes and Tips

Furnace Creek in Death Valley has group campsites and it has showers and access to a swimming pool for a fee.

Assessment and Evaluation

Students are given a test after the field trip.

Materials and Handouts

It is useful to have a Brunton compass to identify dip and strike, an acid bottle for identifying carbonate rocks, a hand lens for mineral identification, a fault block model, which can be used to demonstrate the strike-slip movement of the San Andreas Fault as well as the dip-slip movement of the Basin and Range.