EAS X429
Field Geology in the Rocky Mountains

X429 applications are now open to students for summer 2019.

Students from all college and university geoscience programs are welcome.

We will accept 65 students. Every student accepted is eligible for a scholarship.
Scholarship amounts = $500 to $2,500.

We still have a few openings for X429 students in 2019. Apply soon!.

Course description

NOTE: This course is physically demanding. Students should be in good health, capable of strenuous hiking on rugged terrain while carrying daypack and field gear. The typical day is 5 to 10 miles of hiking with 1,000+ feet of vertical relief.

1Prerequisites: Two to three years of a standard undergraduate geoscience curriculum including an introductory course plus at least two of the following: mineralogy, petrology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, and structure/tectonics.

2Goals: X429 is an immersive, hands-on, geoscience course that is taught mainly in the field. It is designed to help students build skills and integrate many different geoscience sub-disciplines to solve complex 4-dimensional geologic problems. Projects range from outcrop to regional scale and involve Archean to Cenozoic age rocks.

3Instructional Weeks: The first five weeks of X429 are a combination of closely supervised instruction and field project based problem solving with a 7:1 student to faculty ratio. A typical week is two days of focused instruction followed by three days of field work to solve a complex geologic problem. Instruction during all five days is focused on skills development in geologic description, data collection, mapping, and geologic analysis, plus critical thinking and 4-dimensional problem solving. Project complexity and the amount of student independence increase each week.

4Concentrations: During the 4th week of X429 students do a concentrated study in a geoscience subdiscipline of their choosing. This portion of the course is designed to build deeper knowledge in the subdiscipline and help the student effectively integrate detailed analyses into broader geologic understanding. We currently have concentrations in: Crystalline (igneous intrusive systems; X429c), Environmental geology and hydrology (X429e), Geophysics (X429g), and Sedimentology/sequence stratigraphy (X429s).

5Final Study Area: The last 8 days of X429 are spent defining and solving a complex set of geologic problems in a Final Study Area (FSA). Each 25 to 40 km2 project area is chosen for its geologic diversity and complexity. Students work semi-independently to map and analyze the geology of their FSA. Faculty ensure that students see all of the critical areas they need to see and provide "on demand" instruction at the student’s request. In addition to applying their geoscience skills, students refine their project management skills to get the necessary work done in the defined time frame. The FSA is essentially a miniature thesis. Maps, x-sections, analytical products, and a report are submitted in the form of a publication-ready manuscript on the last day of X429.

6Field Exams: In addition to the teaching projects and Final Study Area there are four 1-day field exams. Students work on these independently. The map areas are designed so that they can be completed and understood in 6-hours of field work. The products turned in are a geologic map and x-section(s). Each exam area provides a different set of challenges and helps students learn to solve problems in real time.

7Grading Philosophy: With the exception of the FSA, each of the projects and field exams counts for a small fraction of the total X429 grade. Every part of the course is considered a learning experience and faculty do everything reasonably possible to help students succeed. Struggling with one project or exam won’t impair a student’s ability to succeed in X429.

Course Logistics & road trips

Logistics: X429 is 6.5 weeks long. It officially begins in Rapid City, SD. Students can travel in the caravan from Bloomington, IN to Rapid City or join the caravan in Rapid City. Most of the course is conducted from the Judson Mead Geologic Field Station (IUGFS) in Montana. At the end of X429 students can return to Bloomington with the caravan or be dropped off at the airport in Bozeman, MT or Rapid City, SD.

Caravan Trips: There are two caravan trips during X429. The first is from Rapid City to IUGFS. We take 4 days to cross Wyoming, studying the geology along the way. This includes roadside geology and field projects in places like the Black Hills, Big Horn Mountains, Wind River Basin, and Yellowstone National Park.

The second is a 3-day trip through northwest Montana during Week 5 to study regional scale variations in geology away from IUGFS, plus some spetacular glacial geology. This trip includes roadside geology and field projects in Sun River Canyon, Glacier National Park, and the Flathead Valley.

Discipline-specific options

The overall multi–disciplinary background of the EAS X429 faculty permits all students at the end of the third week of closely supervised instructional phase of the course to opt for 6 days of focused field study in one of three geoscience sub-disciplines under the guidance of a faculty member with specialized training in the sub-discipline.

Each option maintains a link with the fundamental principles previously developed. This is followed by 8 days of closely guided, but more independent mapping and reconstruction of geologic history in a final study area. Skills, techniques, and instrumentation learned during the 6-day period are uniquely applied in the final study area. Students are encouraged to indicate on their application which option they would prefer, because assignments will be done on a first-come, first-served basis.

G429c Crystalline Rocks and Economic Geology

X429c–Crystalline Rocks and Economic Geology

X429c explores topics associated with crystalline igneous rocks through the integration of field, geochemical, and regional tectonic conditions.

Mapping of a Cretaceous multiphase plutonic complex is augmented by petrographic data as well as whole rock, trace element, and isotope geochemistry data for samples collected within the study area.

Traditional field techniques combined with laboratory data are used to unravel the relative ages and petrogenetic history of the different components of the plutonic complex.  The geometric relationships with the country rock and associated dikes and sills permit the determination of relative timing of tectonic events as well as evaluation of various intrusion mechanisms.

G429e Stratigraphy and Subsurface exploration techniques

X429e–Hydrogeology and Environmental Geology

X429e makes use of a network of ground water monitoring wells, stream gaging stations, a SNOTEL site, and soil sample sites in the Willow Creek Demonstration Watershed, a facility installed for use by classes at the IU Field Station. The emphasis is on data gathering in the field making use of the permanent fixed sites as well as individual measurements and observations conducted using portable instruments. Students will use the same general field area as the rest of the course to benefit from the accumulated knowledge. Groundwater flow and aquifer characterization, surface and groundwater geochemistry and the geochemical evolution of groundwater, and the generation of acid mine drainage will be the main topics covered.

G429s Stratigraphy and Subsurface exploration techniques

X429s–Sedimentology and Sequence Stratigraphy

X429s builds upon concepts learned earlier in the course and takes advantage of exceptional exposures of Mississippian carbonates in the field station area. Students will construct a detailed measured section that is used as a framework for integrating sedimentological, geochemical, petrographic, and paleontological data.  These datasets will be the basis for detailed facies and sequence stratigraphic analysis to understand changes in depositional environments and relative sea-level.  The techniques and skills developed here will provide students with a fuller understanding of the interplay between tectonics, eustasy, climate, and sedimentation.

G429g Geophysics and Neotectonics

X429g–Geophysics and Neotectonics

X429g utilizes geophysical tools (e.g. seismic, gravity, electrical resistivity, terrestrial laser scanning, and GPS) to build data sets that can be used to interpret a number of geologic problems that exist within the region.

The emphasis is on learning about geophysical instruments, defining how to best deploy the instruments to solve the problem to be addressed, working on data reduction and interpretation, and developing models to test and refine the geologic interpretation of the data. The problems, instruments, and deployment techniques selected are formulated to address questions that arise from the experiences leading up to this week. Concepts and information developed here will be applied during the final study area. A critical component of the work is to integrate traditional geological data (e.g. sedimentology, stratigraphy, structural analysis) into any interpretation.

Apply for X429

(* required information)

start here
forms to be completed upon acceptance (pdf)
preparation for your trip (pdf)
travel to the field station (pdf)
additional information (pdf)
all information is important to the course.
please read all documents carefully.


Q. How much does a course cost?

Please visit the tuition and fees page.

Q: Can I bring my laptop to the Field Station?

A: Yes, you can bring your laptop to the Field Station. A number of Field Station laptops are available, too.

Q: Will I have access to email at the Field Station?

A:Yes, IUGFS has internet service. You should be able to get e-mail, use FaceTime or Skype, and use VoIP telephone services when at the field station. We also have cell phone service for one carrier. In addition, most days in the field will have at least one opportunity to connect to cell phone networks for most carriers.

Q: If I drive my personal vehicle to the Field Station, am I free to leave on the weekends?

A: Absolutely not. Any personal vehicles driven to the Field Station will be parked upon arrival and will not be allowed to be driven for the duration of the course. Anyone driving to the Field Station is responsible for getting themselves from the Field Station to Rapid City, SD for the beginning of the course. Public transportation is not available anywhere near the Field Station. Using a personal vehicle as transportation to get to and from the course is not recommended. More

contact information

department of earth and atmospheric sciences
indiana university
1001 e. 10th st. bloomington in 47405

phone: 812-855-1475


field station address:
633 s. boulder road, cardwell, montana 59721
phone: 406-287-3323