NDSU students get opportunity to explore ‘Little Badlands’

On a little known eight square mile patch of land just northwest of New England, sits a geographical anomaly filled with a multitude of rock formations and landscape variations.

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Posted September 12, 2014

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

On a little known eight square mile patch of land just northwest of New England, sits a geographical anomaly filled with a multitude of rock formations and landscape variations.

The Little Badlands.

As you’re driving a dirt road you can see miles and miles of farm land. Then, all of a sudden, bam, right in the middle a small patch of rough, rocky terrain resembling the larger landscape of the Badlands in Western North Dakota.

It’s here where New England resident Allen Schmidt owns a section of land located on this area of the state, and with the permission of the roughly eight owners of property out there have allowed geology students to come out and survey, and study the land.

Started in 1970, by Dr. Allan Ashworth, students have come out to the countryside every other year to put their course work into real life experience.

Knowing students didn’t have a lot of practical experience when finished with their schooling, Ashworth was just having a casual conversation with some other academics from the University of North Dakota, and they brought up the area of the Little Badlands.

So after hearing about this spot, Ashworth decided to take a trip out to the west side of the state and check it out for himself. He was impressed.

“When I found that, I thought ‘well wouldn’t it be interesting just to bring a group of students out here for this purpose of teaching them some of these techniques,’ and I did,” Ashworth said.

At the time there was not a capstone course offered for Geology students. A capstone course is a class that integrates all of the knowledge and skills from the previous courses for the purpose of one final project. Though Ashworth thought it was going to be a ‘one year thing’ when he brought his first group of students out, over 40 years later it stands as NDSU’s capstone course.

“I recognized that this was a possibility there of the students being able to do field work and collect the field data, make the map and do all those things which are important to geologists, but the same time they could start to test scientific ideas with it,” Ashworth said. “As we did that, it would become apparent that this would make a really great capstone course for the students because it not only required them to have the geological mapping skills but all of the things that they had been learning in classes.. they could apply all those.”

After retiring last year Dr. Bernhardt Saini-Eidukat has taken over as the instructor of the course. When asked why this location is ideal, Saini-Eidukat said that it’s somewhat unique in terms of its geology, and it has enough complexity to make it interesting for the students.

“They can apply skills that they’ve learned, but it’s not overwhelming for them,” Saini-Eidukat said.

Since the land isn’t altered, and remains unspoiled, the location is ideal to repeatedly use this location for different classes.

“It allows students to work in an area that has this geological complexity, they have access to it, it’s unspoiled, it’s in North Dakota,” Saini-Eidukat said. “I think it’s important, that we’re not necessarily taking them to some other state somewhere to do this course.”

The primary object for the students to complete is to traverse the area, locate themselves, identify rock units, and measure the thickness of each rock unit. And entering the project, students have very little background information on the area, and according to Saini-Eidukat, this is “practice for a job that they would be doing for either a state survey or a company.”

They spend a week out in the field, arriving on a Friday and leaving on the next Friday. They spend the first two days examining and detailing the area before they are released in groups of two, sometimes three, to begin their work.

With all the varied colors of rock formation, comes a different story of how it was formed and why it is there. The students’ work is to try and figure out the story.

Assisting them with the task of unfolding that story is a set of tools. First they utilize arial photos to begin their quest. Then they use GPS and rock picks and hydrochloric acid to test the rocks.

But possibly the most important tool is a specialized compass that geologists use.

This compass not only can lead you in the direction you wish to go, but it can also take bearings, measure structures such as faults, and measure how much the fault is tilting.

The other tool they use the majority of their time in the field is their feet.

‘Miles,’ is how much they walk, according to Saini-Eidukat.

When asked what they thought of the experiences, one student replied, ‘it’s a lot of walking.’ But they also said it was nice to see it [the field work] rather than just having a rock in the classroom, or reading about it in a book.

Saini-Eidukat was very appreciative of the office of the Dickinson Research Extension office for their hospitality. Saini-Eidukat and his students utilize the facilities for housing and classroom work in the evenings during the week.

“They [Dickinson Research Extension] are so great with their facilities,” Saini-Eidukat said.

Though it’s a short period of time they spend in the Little Badlands, Saini-Eidukat displayed his appreciation to the land owners for allowing his students to come out and use the land.

It’s a course offered only every other year, but the experiences the students have are memorable and it’s come a long way from the first adventure Ashworth and his students took over 40 years ago.

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