Postcard from Washington State – Geobiology Field Course 2013

Tech Group Photo

The 2013 Tennessee Tech geobiology class in front of Mount Rainier, Washington. [Photo courtesy S. Tompkins.]

On August 10, 2013, fifteen students and three faculty members from Tennessee Tech University departed Nashville, TN for an eight-day trip to Seattle, WA. The group was part of a Spring 2013 course offered by the Biology and Earth Science Departments titled Geobiology of Northwestern Washington (BIOL 4991). The group visited several sites known for their spectacular geologic phenomena as well as unique flora and fauna. To view the trip route in Google Earth, click here.

Route map for the geobiology field class.

Days 1-2: Mount Rainier (Mount Freemont and Sunrise Point)

After landing in Seattle, the group drove south to Fife and spent two days exploring Mount Rainier. Biology students departed early (5am!) to hike near Mount Freemont in search of the elusive white-tailed ptarmigan. The massive stratovolcano was obscured by clouds for a short time; however, the second day offered spectacular views and hiking around Sunrise Point.

Sooty grouse spotted on a drive around Mount Rainier. [Photo by J. Jung.]

TTU geology students test the porosity of pumice by floating it in a nalgene bottle. [Photo by R.C. Brown.]

Spectacular outcrop of columnar basalt on the entrance drive to Mount Freemont. [Photo by R.C. Brown.]

Marmot along the trail around the base of Mount Rainier. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Day 3: Mount St. Helens

On Day 3, the group headed to the north side of Mount St. Helens. Evidence of the massive eruption in 1980 was profound as students hiked the route to Spirit Lake. In the distance, steam could be see coming from glacial bits in the active dome area. Ash deposits at the far end of the hike were kicked up by a herd of wild elk.

Panoramic view of pumice plains on the north side of Mount St. Helens.

TTU geology and biology students pose in front of the volcano.

Day 4: Olympic National Park (Hoh and Quinault Rainforests and Coast)

Leaving the Cascade volcanoes behind, the group spent two days exploring the Olympic peninsula. Day 4 began with hiking in the Hoh Rainforest, where the biology students identified plants and trees native to the West Coast.

TTU biology faculty members Dr. Dan Combs (far left) and Dr. Chris Brown (2nd from left) sit on a downed tree in the Quinault National Rainforest. Biology and geology students line up along the tree for a fun photo op. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]

Are those students in the rainforests? Or, velociraptors?!

Tennessee Tech students encircle a massive tree trunk. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]

Students and faculty gather inside an old tree in the Hoh Rainforest. [Photo by R. C. Brown.]

Along the coast, the group stopped for lunch at a series of overturned sedimentary beds. Students identified sandstones and mudstones, part of a series of ancient turbidite (= deepwater) deposits and waded into cold-water tidal pools to observe starfish.

Overturned sedimentary beds make a neat spot for a picnic lunch on the Olympic Coast. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]

A TTU geology-biology major shows off a starfish found in one of the many shallow tidal pools.

A sea otter emerges from the surf. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Tennessee Tech students explore the coast before a storm rolls through on the Olympic Peninsula.

Day 5: Olympic National Park (Olympic Mountains) and Ferry Crossing

The group spent a night in Port Angeles and headed onward to the hike in the Olympic Mountains on Day 5. Temperatures were low and students bundled up to enjoy snow-filled vistas of the high peaks.

View of the Olympic Mountains from the visitor center. [Photo by J. Jung.]

From the park, the group descended to Port Townsend to catch a late afternoon ferry. Although the ride was short (< 30 minutes), it proved to be one of the most exciting wildlife watching opportunities of the trip.

A minke whale breaks the surface alongside the ferry. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Days 6-7: Mount Baker and the Northern Cascades National Park

The last two days of the field course were spent in the northern Cascade mountains. At Mount Baker, students hiked over metamorphic and igneous terranes. Biology students were excited to get a glimpse of mountain goats in the distance as well as an American dipper.

Students of the geobiology course hike in front of Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. [Photo by S. Tompkins.]

Mountain goats cross a snowfield at the base of Mount Baker. [Photo by J. Jung.]

An American dipper splashes in a lake. [Photo by J. Jung.]

Dr. Jeannette Wolak, earth science faculty, looks over a geologic map of the North Cascades with geobiology students. [Photo by R.C. Brown.]

Day 8: Return Trip

After seven days of volcanoes, whales, lots of birds, and dinners at “The Poodle Dog”, TTU folks flew home to Nashville, TN. Special thanks to the Departments of Biology and Earth Science for sponsoring this memorable, informative course.

Are you interested in going on a similar trip? The TTU Biology and Earth Science Departments are teaming up again for a Costa Rica Expedition, May 2014. If interested, attend an informational meeting on Nov 21, 11-12 in Pennebaker 318 or contact Dr. Dan Combs at


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