Road Trip: An Experiment in Social Geology

With your help, dear readers and fellow geobloggers, I’d like to run an experiment in social geology this summer. My hypothesis is that real-time/live-web tools and social networking can be applied to geology-focused road trips in ways that enrich the experience for both the road-tripper and the audience of active participants. This blog post is a call for collaborators, and a starting point for discussion and refinement of this hypothesis. I hope that it evolves into much more than that. If you’re interested, read on for more details.

Merced River, Bridalveil Meadow, Yosemite Valley

The semester is winding down out here in western Kansas. I have one more week of classes to teach and then exam week, before school’s finally out for summer. I’m really looking forward to getting out of “grading jail“, but even more so, I’m looking forward to being able to spend my time developing new skills and working on projects that I can’t do while locked into a teaching schedule.

Immediately after the semester is done I’m driving out to San Francisco for the Google I/O developers conference on May 18-20. My own developer credentials aren’t strong yet, but this is something I’m looking forward to building over the coming year – particularly with an eye to developing apps for geologic field work and education.

As excited as I am about the I/O conference, I cannot hide the fact that I am at least as excited for the opportunity to drive out to San Francisco and back to Hays, KS and see as much wonderful geology in between as I possibly can. The response to my blog posts two weeks ago using excerpts from John McPhee‘s Annals of the Former World has inspired me to attempt to GigaPan at least four more of his I-80 geologic localities on my way out to San Francisco. Tentatively, and subject to tight restrictions imposed by the vagaries of weather and the need to arrive at the conference on time, I’m aiming to GigaPan the Gangplank/Summit area of the Laramie Range, roadcuts in the Rawlins, WY area, something in the Rock Springs/Overthrust area of western Wyoming, the Wasatch Front/Great Salt Lake, the Golconda Thrust, and an ophiolite in the Sierra Foothills.


Where this trip becomes an experiment in social geology, however, is really once the Google I/O Conference is in the rear view mirror, starting Friday, May 21st. From that point I’ll have about two full weeks before I need to be back in Hays, KS the second week of June for a visit from my parents. I’d like to make the most of these two weeks to see as much great geology as possible, GigaPan, photograph, and record video of it, and meet as many of my readers and fellow geobloggers along the way as time and route permit. Geotweeps have previously bantered about a having a geotweetup at Death Valley – this would be my best chance to participate if anyone else is still interested.


As with previous trips out west last summer and following the 2008 SF AGU meeting, one of my main goals is to photograph and GigaPan as much great geology as possible. I geotag all these photos and GigaPans and make all of them available through Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike licences. It is my sincere hope that my fellow geology educators will make use of these images to inspire and teach budding young (or old) geologists. In addition to photography, I want to begin to shoot more video of geologic processes and landforms – adding video to my blog was a major (as yet unrealized) goal for this blog this year.

None of the above is particularly groundbreaking, even among the smaller sphere of geobloggers. What I think might be genuinely new is adding web-based social features to this field trip that have only recently been made possible by advances in technology. Geolocated tweeting of text and photos in real-time is something that was hinted at by Callan Bentley back in mid-March. Ever since, I’ve been working on putting together the pieces that make this a real-time reality. I am now confident that the technology allows me to do not just near real-time geolocated photo tweets, but live streaming video from the outcrop, as well. The feedback from my deskcrop/outcrop series of blog posts this year suggests that there is some value derived by readers from this sort of post, though frankly it’s not as much as I’d hoped it would be. The jury is out as to whether lifecasting from the outcrop will be a captivating new approach to field geology or just information overkill. I’m eager to hear what you think would make this as interesting/compelling/useful of an experience as possible, particularly for those who follow the trip via the web.

Folded Metamorphic Rocks, Kings Canyon

So where do we go from here? Well, to begin with here’s a very tentative Google Map of the route I’m planning to follow – there’s lots of flexibility on the return leg from San Francisco to Hays, KS and this is really where I need your input to make sure I’m seeing as much great geology as possible. I’m also starting up two Google Waves: one for brainstorming about how to use the real-time web and social tools to best enhance the geologic field trip for all involved; and a second for planning the route and identifying specific localities for photography, videography, GigaPanning, and meetups. I intend to make these Waves publicly viewable, but editing is by invite only – e-mail me ( if you want contribute or need a Google Wave invite. I invite feedback via the comments to this post, e-mail (, or Twitter (@rschott).

The most pressing questions I have for you, my readers and fellow geobloggers, are as follows:

  • What outcrops/roadcuts/geologic features would you most like to see me photograph and/or GigaPan? There are already plenty of GigaPans of the panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, for example, so no need for me to duplicate them, but what about some lesser known outcrops or roadcuts that illustrate important geologic features or processes?
  • How can I make sharing my field experience useful/engaging/compelling to you as a viewer? I’d prefer this be a two-way conversation rather than a one-way broadcast, but it’s all experimental.
  • Want to join me for a stretch? Are you interested in meeting up somewhere along the way? If so, can you show me a favorite geologic locality that I might not otherwise know about?
  • Got a couch or shower I could use along the way or know of any cheap campgrounds with the latter? I’m trying to do all this on a budget. :-)

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