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A Geologist’s Dream

Grand Junction's diverse landscape makes for the best classroom

One of the highlights of the fall 2020 semester for Colorado Mesa University Associate Professor of Geology Greg Baker, PhD, was experiencing the unique make-up of the Grand Valley with his students.

Born and raised outside Philadelphia, Baker grew up and became familiar with geology on the eastern side of the country. His work eventually took him to New York, Tennessee and Kansas. And in the fall of 2019, he landed in Grand Junction, Colorado –— and not by chance.      

“Being a geologist in the Grand Junction area is like being an artist living in Paris or a Shakespeare specialist living in London,” said Baker.  

It’s not just an ideal location for him, his colleagues and geology majors, but for undergraduate students who are still deciding what direction they want to go and what they want their future to look like.

“A lot of places in the country, when you take an upper division class in geology, you do lab courses outside but it’s not seen very often in an introductory course,” said Baker. "This was the brainchild of Dr. Livaccari. He got this idea up and running of taking a 100-level class out in the field every week.”

So instead of teaching in a class or a lab this fall, Professor of Geology Rick Livaccari, PhD, and Baker made the great outdoors their classroom. Out of the five hours a week they spent with students, only one of those hours was inside. The best part — they never had to venture too far.

“The only way this is even remotely possible is because we can see all these introductory course topics — these very diverse topics — right here where we live. That’s a pretty impressive thing to be able to do,” he added.

Colorado Mesa University lives in a geographical hot spot. There are old rocks in the canyons of the Colorado National Monument, young sedimentary rocks in the Book Cliffs and young volcanic rocks on the Grand Mesa.

“Geologists are also interested in hydrology and ground water and having the Colorado River and the Gunnison River come right through town means we get this full spectrum of time,” said Baker.

Baker said this unique landscape can’t be found anywhere else and because of that, CMU students get the cream of the crop — or as the French expression goes — la crème de la crème.


Written by Kelsey Coleman