One by one, the riders from our group made their way up to the high point on the famous Trail 401 high above Crested Butte, Colorado. Everyone was grinning and breathing hard as they marveled at the beauty of the Elk Mountains. Folded and contorted layers of grey and red sedimentary rocks punctuated the skyline to the east while igneous intrusive rocks formed the cores of the peaks to the west. “Where are you all from?” asked one of the guys, a French Canadian sporting that trendy enduro look. “We’re all from Prescott College. This is part of a geology class!” one of our students beamed. “Awesome. What a fun way to see rocks,” the Canadian replied. “Mind if we start down this ahead of you?” “Go for it! We’ve got a lesson to do up here anyway.” DSC05056 Before long, our students were sitting in a circle, deciphering how the deformed rocks above tell a story linked to the building of the modern Southern Rocky Mountains during the Laramide Orogeny. The students tried to wrap their minds around how the older red rocks were sitting atop the younger grey rocks, something akin to having the foundation of your house end up atop your neighbor’s house. For half an hour, we dove into the mechanisms by which such perplexing relationships can be created during mountain building events. Then we pointed our loaded bikes downhill toward where we would set up camp for the night. DSC04716 Kaitlyn Boyle and I have had the pleasure of teaching Geology through Bikepacking twice now, and it’s been so rewarding to watch the students fall in love with bikepacking and understanding the stories told by the different landscapes through which we rode. Each route had a unique feel specifically due to the geology of the area. We started off with a 2-day ride through the ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks of the Bradshaw Mountains in central Arizona. These rocks tell the story of the assembly of that part of our continent, 1.7 billion years ago. And those old rocks result in chunky, loose, steep riding. The students were flung headlong into the world of bikepacking – long climbs, huge views, stormy afternoons, beautiful sunrises, heavy bikes, ripping descents, hike-a-bike, and a healthy dose of geology lessons along the way. They all seemed to relish everything. DSC05023 Next up was a loop around the volcanic peaks towering above Flagstaff. Rugged topography, slippery cinders, remnants of volcanoes everywhere we looked, and a youthful landscape contrasted strongly with our first ride. And everyone seemed to be getting their systems dialed in a bit better. And while we did spend considerable time in the saddle, the goal wasn’t to ride all day. It was, in fact quite the opposite – we wanted to cover enough ground to experience a variety of different geologic settings on each trip and learn about the geologic story each region had to tell. Riding along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon followed as we explored the Kaibab Plateau. Dissolved limestone features, delightfully reliable springs, rocks from ancient oceans, and of course, that big canyon kept us focused on far more than just the riding. DSC04789 Toasty riding in Utah’s Canyonlands later forced us to adopt a start-early-and-finish-early riding strategy as we followed and investigated the colorful, horizontal layers of Triassic and Jurassic rocks. Cliffs towered high above as the mighty Green and Colorado Rivers have cut down well below most of the White Rim Road, and the Green’s cool water kept us from overheating the second afternoon. Finally, the big mountains of southern Colorado greeted us with cooler weather, emergent autumn colors, long climbs, equally long descents, and the last few chapters of our geologic story: Building mountains, more volcanism, and then scouring by the ice of the Quaternary glaciations. But the difficult route, made even more challenging by wintery weather, did not phase the students. After bikepacking more than 400 miles all over the Colorado Plateau region, they were in their element, both as bikepackers and proto-geologists. DSC05114 We ended the course by pushing our bikes up to Star Pass, feeling small but elated among the showy peaks, and then descending the Brush Creek moto trail, a 12-mile descent that left everyone grinning giddily as we loaded our bikes back into the trailer for the last time. There seemed to be a common sense of immense accomplishment, gratitude, and excitement for what could come next, and that’s a pretty darn good way to end any group endeavor.

Check out the schools adventure education program.


  1. Nolen Brown

    Kurt can you host a field camp next summer?!?!? Would love to earn those units while riding a bike!

  2. Nolen, I’ve had a few people request that! Field mapping by bike would be an interesting challenge…mandatory fat bike? It would be memorable, that’s for sure. Right now, my field mapping course is taught in January and involves no bikes unfortunately.

    • Too bad. Mandatory fat bike sounds like it should be mandatory. Hah!

      A couple of my classmates are doing SDSMT’s Iceland field camp. I would think that one has some huge potential for a bikepacking field camp.

  3. What an awesome way to inspire and reward people while learning!

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