ACTIVE LEARNING UNDERGRADUATE FIELD TRIP TO THE BURGESS SHALE, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
The Walcott Quarry, discovered by C.D. Walcott in 1909, and excavated by him during the next several years, is reached by a 20 km round trip hike with 760 m of vertical climb. Abundant fossils, including soft-bodied forms, make the Burgess Shale unique. At the quarry, well-preserved fossil specimens are displayed with drawings of reconstructions. The Mount Stephen Fossil Beds were discovered by R.G. McConnell in 1886 after a railroad worker, Otto Klotz, found “stone bugs” (trilobites) during construction of the trans-Canada rail line. These beds are rich in trilobites and Anomalocaris grasping claws. The Mount Stephen hike is shorter (6 km round trip) with the same vertical component.
The fieldwork is the precursor to a semester-long class at Sonoma State University. After the August field trip, students meet for the Fall Semester and research the taxonomic history of a particular fossil genus. Enthusiastically received by students, class evaluations have been very favorable. In 2009, the centennial of Walcott’s discovery, we conducted the trip for seven college professors under the rubric of the International Paleontological Research Exchange Program of the BSGF.
Student educational benefits are numerous. Students, in a spectacular setting, learn fossil history, paleontology, and are exposed to numerous questions still being debated including the depositional environments, preservation mode, evolution of body parts, and the Cambrian explosion. Comparative stratigraphy is used to contrast the Burgess Shale to our usual field trips in Cambrian rocks near Death Valley. A hike on the Athabasca Glacier and a stop at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and its exceptional displays including a Burgess Shale section are added benefits.