Benefits to Educators

This Georgia geology web site has a California page because geology that straddles an active plate boundary, with young mountains, volcanoes, and earthquakes complements and illuminates Georgia's rich billion-year geologic record.

Following are links to resources developed in planning a trip Roadside Geology of Georgia author Bill Witherspoon took in July 2015 with Professor Habte Churnet of UT Chattanooga.

A Google Map shows the route of the trip, with annotated placemarks for 94 geologic points of interest in the Klamath Mountains, Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Sierra Nevada, the volcanoes east of the Sierra Nevada, and the San Francisco area. References with page numbers cite 13 publications, each written for the general reader, which provide details on each point of interest. A table presents a menu of potential stops for each of 10 days with a localized map, or with latitude and longitude. The map can also be downloaded as a .kmz file for use with Google Earth. This can be supplemented by the US Geological Survey-provided California state geologic map as a .kmz at this link, as explained on this page.

Additional resources accessible from this page originated to promote a planned field course that was never funded. Geology on the Edge was planned as an 8-day field course to visit volcanoes, active faults, ice-carved mountains, desert lakes, and sea cliffs in California, to benefit teachers of Earth science and welcome all curious adults. These web pages remain for those interested in exploring a plate boundary through the annotated gallery pictures or through visiting some of the stops on the itinerary.

Stories driven by geology

Geology is most fascinating when it connects to human stories, which abound on this trip's itinerary. Here are a few examples.

Trip leader:
Dr. Bill

travel and content

Q & A

The earthquake-prone Bay Area braces for the Big One. Will the continuous updating of engineering designs be adequate to protect the population?

Photo Gallery



The volcanic gases and hot springs around the ski resort of Mammoth Lakes have already claimed lives. Do they foretell the reawakening of an unimaginably destructive supervolcano?



In Yosemite Valley, author John Muir was mocked as a "mere sheepherder" when he challenged the leading geologists of his day, claiming that glaciers had etched the spectacular landscape.  Was he mostly correct?


Gold, famously discovered in 1848 in the Sierra Foothills, drew the nation west and led to San Francisco becoming a major city and California becoming a state. What does this belt of gold deposits have in common with the Dahlonega belt in Georgia?


photo courtesy of Pamela Gore



A court victory by conservationists saved Mono Lake (where weird towers of tufa, or calcium carbonate, form by evaporation). How close did a thirsty metropolis over 300 miles to the south come to sucking it dry?


Benefits to Educators

Geology on the Edge will be especially rewarding to Georgia Earth science teachers from 5th grade through high school, who teach about earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, erosion, and the origins of rocks and landscapes. There will be opportunities to build lessons, based on trip stops, that both teach Earth science concepts and connect with the whole curriculum.

For example, a Yosemite Valley lesson can invite students to read and write about the scientific controversy in which John Muir rightly argued for a glacial origin of the valley's landforms, contesting the views of the leading scientists of his day. They can also apply math and social studies to prepare a graph of elevations (topographic profile) across the valley that demonstrates a classic glacial valley U-shape.


A topographic profile across Yosemite Valley, generated using Google Earth.


Linking engineering and math with science is central to the STEM approach, as embodied in the Next Generation Science Standards that will likely become Georgia’s standards in 2015. A classic application is the new construction to reduce earthquake risk that we will examine on the UC Berkeley campus.

To get the most out of the trip, you are invited to a pre-trip session. Dr. Witherspoon will introduce the sites to be visited using maps, a slideshow, and Google Earth fly-through. Attendees will learn about stories behind selected sites – such as the Muir Yosemite controversy; earthquake risk and readiness near San Francisco; impacts of a gold rush town on the Sierra foothills landscape; the hazards of having a skiing mecca atop an active volcano at Mammoth Mountain; and a court case that saved waters feeding Mono Lake from the city of Los Angeles.

Teacher participants are invited to select one of these stories as a focus. Optionally, the teacher can do a little online research and share information on the topic when the site is visited. Dr. Witherspoon will be available by e-mail after the trip for any teachers who wish to continue developing a lesson based on their chosen site and story.



Trip leader and organizer

Bill Witherspoon is co-author of Roadside Geology of Georgia, published in 2013 by Mountain Press Publishing as part of its popular series. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Tennessee in 1981. As a graduate student he began leading trips for geology students and the public, including a course for the Smoky Mountain Field School and a geology trip for the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage.  From 1997 until his retirement in 2014, he was an instructor at Fernbank Science Center, part of DeKalb County Schools, teaching K-12 students and teachers, and leading hundreds of outdoor geology excursions.  In 2007, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers named him Georgia Outstanding Earth Science Teacher. In retirement, he continues to accept invitations to lead geology walks, talks, and workshops for parks and nature organizations throughout Georgia and neighboring states.


In 2001, Bill organized and led Geology on a Grand Scale, an eight-day trip to Arizona for teachers and the public that visited the Grand Canyon, a dinosaur trackway, Sunset Volcano, Meteor Crater, the mesas of the Hopi nation, and many other sites. One participant wrote, "The course...was as close to perfect as it gets...Dr. Witherspoon taught his students geology with a passion. He had an abundance of maps, charts, diagrams, and props to make clear the lessons of the time and place....It would have been impossible to remain passive about the geology of Arizona on this trip...I have been fortunate to have taken trips like this before,,,, but I have never had an experience so well planned, well executed, and well taught as this one."

After 14 years, Bill is ready to lead another trip of similar scope and length. As a founding member of the Science Education Advisory Committee for the Georgia Department of Education, he brings to this trip an awareness of the synergy between science and the other strands of Georgia's K-12 curriculum.



Questions and Answers About the Trip

Is there any way this trip might still happen?

A trip like the one envisioned could happen if a sponsoring organization were to promote the trip to its members, or if a grant proposal were funded to run the trip as a teacher workshop. The original organizer will be glad to help such an effort succeed, whether or not he is chosen as trip leader. This includes sharing text he developed for a 2012 request for Race to the Top funds and a 2014 Teacher Quality proposal.

Taking Earth science teachers and interested others to experience California's plate boundary remains a worthy goal. Please feel free any time to email Bill at:
bill at georgiarocks.us (substitute @ for "at").