Wooster’s Team Utah 2020: Field Geology in a Time of Plague

Hurricane, Utah — This is Team Utah 2020 at Gunlock Reservoir in the far southwestern corner of beautiful Utah. Starting on the left is Juda Culp (’21), Will Santella (’21), Dr. Shelley Judge (our ace structural geologist and tectonicist), and Nick Wiesenberg (our invaluable geological technician). The dipping exposure in the background is the Carmel Formation, a Middle Jurassic (about 170 million-year-old) unit with wonderfully diverse sedimentary rocks and fossils. It is why we are here.

The Carmel has been one of my favorite formations since the early 1990s. I’ve been bringing students and colleagues to study it for many years, the most recent being Team Utah 2019 and Team Utah 2018. This unit has enough variability and mystery for a dozen future teams.

We are again pursuing the Independent Study projects of Wooster students with this field trip. Juda is studying the Carmel trace fossils in a paleoenvironmental context, and Will is examining a series of stromatolites preserved in the lower part of the Carmel.

As you will see, the students were very successful with their fieldwork, but we had to go back to Ohio early because of the COVID-19 pandemic producing travel and health complications. We left Wooster on Monday, March 9, into a risky but predictable world. By Thursday, March 12, it was clear we needed to get back home. We had three days of fieldwork. Juda and Will adapted immediately to the geology and the gorgeous landscapes, so they were disappointed to leave. We accomplished all our measuring and sampling goals, though.

Now the good parts! The images in the following posts were taken by Shelley, Nick and me.

Today we worked on Juda’s project at the productive Eagle Mountain Ranch locality (C/W-142 EMR). Thank you again to the Smith family for giving us access to their land. The thick conglomerate at the top of the section is the Middle Cretaceous Iron Springs Formation. It rests unconformably on the Middle Jurassic Co-op Creek Limestone Member of the Carmel Formation. We spent all our time in the Co-op Creek Limestone Member, which is informally divided into an upper unit (buff-colored; Juda’s rocks) and lower unit (light gray; Will’s rocks). Our prime targets are the loose slabs eroded from meter-thick oolitic limestones. They often have fantastic trace fossils.

Above is a typical slab collected by Juda for its trace fossils. These are burrow-fillings on the bottom of the bed, formally preserved as convex hyporelief.

Every day starts with a field briefing and exchange of initial observations.

Juda hard at work on the steep slope. The skies are cloudy, with temperatures pleasantly in the 50s. Behind Juda’s head are the light-colored rocks Will is studying.

Will collecting trace fossils for Juda. The slabs are weathered just right to show the fossils in crisp relief.

Team Utah 2020 celebrating a successful first field day.

There was just enough time left in the day to visit the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site.

This museum is always cool, but it was especially relevant today because it is all about trace fossils! We visit every year we’re in town. Dinosaur trackways are the primary subject — most of them in place.

The students were fascinated, especially since they could now consider themselves ichnologists (trace fossil experts).

After our museum visit we had a delicious barbecue dinner and then went back home to our Hurricane lodgings with our samples and observations.

(Links to the First Day, Second Day, and Third Day.)

About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster. He specializes in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate sedimentology, and stratigraphy. He also is an expert on pseudoscience, especially creationism.
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