The last sunset of Earth Camp at Presque Isle State Park

Students on the Quincy Copper Mine tour

We had a very successful expansion of Earth Camp – our summer outreach program for high-school students. All 20 Earth Camp students from last summer returned for a one-week, upper peninsula experience. We started the week on Mackinac Island learning about the sedimentary rocks of the Michigan Basin, especially the dolomite and Mackinac Breccia we would see on the island. We then took off on a 10-mile bike ride throughout the island, exploring the shoreline bedrock features such as terraces, stacks, arches, sea cliffs, and caves of glacial lakes Nipissing and Algonquin. We also (unsuccessfully) searched for glacial striations on the Ancient Island, the highest part of Mackinac Island above Lake Algonquin’s high-water level that was glaciated during the Wisconsin Period. This high-water level was 230 feet above present-day Lake Huron and its features were formed 11,000 to 12,000 years ago. Glacial Lake Nipissing had a high-water level approximately 55 feet above present-day Lake Huron and its features were formed 4,000 years ago. 

A geology lesson at Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Our next stops were Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. As we travelled north, students were able to better understand the Michigan Basin and its structure, as well as identify different types of sedimentary rocks in the field. At Tahquamenon Falls they saw Cambrian-aged rocks of the Munising Formation and examples of cross-bedding and ripple marks. The conglomerates here were also a great contrast to the Mackinac Breccia – the students were able to identify that the clasts were differently-shaped and work out the differences in their formation histories.

At Pictured Rocks, we started on a lakeshore cruise to see the cliffs from the water. It was the first time that many of the students and staff saw Pictured Rocks and everyone was in awe. From the boat they were able to see the different color stains on the rock, and eventually they could identify what was causing the different colors (iron =red/orange, copper = green, limonite = yellow and white, and black = manganese). It was also a great opportunity to see current Lake Superior shoreline features being formed to better understand how the ancient ones that students saw on Mackinac Island were formed.

Next it was off to the beach where Lake Superior water temperatures were well into the 60’s and warm enough for most people to get in and swim. Here we could see ripple marks on the bottom. Again, it was great for the students to see how the ripple marks they saw preserved in the rocks were being formed today. We (unsuccessfully) scoured the mudstone of the Chapel Rock member for trilobite tracks and spent hours collecting and identifying beach rocks.

We continued on towards Precambrian rocks in Marquette next and spent time at Presque Isle State Park and Jasper Knob in Ishpeming, MI. At Presque Isle, students saw more examples of sedimentary beds (and were able to identify the rock types on their own!). Students also learned about unconformities when they found the nonconformity between serpentinized peridotite and the overlying Jacobsville Sandstone. 

Hunting for trilobite tracks in the mudstone at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Our stop at Jasper Knob in Ishpeming was a highlight for the staff (we’ve been seeing pictures of the Banded Iron Formations here in textbooks for years!) and students. It was a great place to start connecting the history and economy of Michigan to its resources “up north” as we made our way to the Quincy Copper mine in Houghton the next day.

The students loved this stop. On the tour they rode the cog-rail tram car down the hill to the mine entrance and then rode by a tractor-pulled wagon into the mine, seven levels underground! They finished the day at the Seaman Mineral Museum with a tour from Chris Stefano, curator and Michigan alum.

We ended our amazing week with the students on the beach, skipping rocks, swimming, and watching the sunset. It was an incredibly successful expansion of our Earth Camp program that we hope to continue to expand next year. We would like to bring the same group of students back for another experience in the Jackson Hole/Yellowstone region. If you are interested in financially supporting these high school outreach efforts, please contact Jenna Munson at

Here are a few of the thank you notes we received after camp to give an idea of how Earth Camp impacted the students in it:

“I would like to say thank you for organizing and bringing this group back together for an amazing earth camp experience in the U.P. and Mackinac. I enjoyed every part of the trip from the long van rides, to bike riding on Mackinac Island, to swimming in Lakes Huron and Superior, to learning about the glaciers shaping Michigan and how it’s a basin with layers of rocks everywhere. From limestone, to shale, to sandstone, and Mackinac breccia, with headways, arches, and the occasional ephemeral bar, I learned more about Michigan and geology than I ever had in my whole educational career. I loved all the little drops of knowledge dropped upon me from you and the counselors along the course of last week.” –LR

“Thank you for two amazing Earth Camps. I have thoroughly enjoying exploring and learning about Michigan's natural beauty –  during this past week it was easy to forget I was still in-state. My favorite experience this year was Pictured Rocks, during the boat tour and exploring the beach, but a close second experience was the mine tour. I have also formed great friendships with people  I will continue to keep in touch with. I hope that I can have another Earth Camp Experience again next summer.” -CM

“I just wanted to thank you again for another great trip this year! It was the definitely the highlight of my summer. It was so great to be with all these amazing people again, you and the counselors included! I already miss being there and I can't wait for Wyoming next year! I hope everything works out for next year as well, because I had such a fun and educational experience and I think I could learn a lot more. Earth science and UofM have become things I'm really interested in! I already learned a lot and I'm excited to learn more – especially in the Earth Science class I'm taking this year and hopefully next summer with you!.” -ND