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School of Rocks on the Colorado River
Valerie Gieler

Reading about rock layers and geologic formations is interesting. Seeing them in person is life-changing. This past summer, KU Geology students and faculty spent seven days rafting the Colorado River through blistering heat and pouring rain, eating around the campfire and sleeping under the stars — all to unravel the mysteries of the Grand Canyon and experience its glory firsthand.

“It was absolutely magical,” said Olivia Jones, a 2021 geology graduate who works at the Kansas Geological Survey. “I think about the trip every day. Being able to see and then discuss all those geologic processes with peers and professors was truly a one-of-a-kind experience.”

For geologists, studying on-site is imperative. “A lot of the things we’re talking about are so large, you have to see them in person to understand their scale,” said Andrew Hoxey, a geology doctoral candidate. “Students who graduate from KU leave with invaluable field experience and a higher quality education.”

Part of what makes this trip so memorable is the controversy about when the Colorado River carved out the Grand Canyon landscape we see today. One family of geologists think the Grand Canyon is 60 million years old, and the other believes it is closer to 6 or 7 million years old.

Professor Mike Taylor, Ph.D., has been leading KU field experiences for 16 years. “I am amazed by the opportunities I have to run some of the best field trips on the planet,” Taylor said. “Funding our trips wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of our Jayhawk alumni and donors.”

Jayhawk Faithful donors Bob and Jan FitzSimmons were inspired to fund the 2019 and 2021 Grand Canyon rafting trips in honor of their son Clark, who earned a bachelor’s in geology in 1991. “Clark says fieldwork gave him one of the best experiences of his time at KU, and we wanted to provide that same opportunity for students today,” said Bob, a 1962 KU alumnus with a bachelor’s in business administration.

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