Trip 4 - Four Corners
The focus of Trip 4 is on geology and evidence of evolution, mainly in the form of fossils. The trip is named "Four Corners" because the sites are located predominately in the four corners states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.
The trip starts with an orientation to the fossil sites to be visited at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. While the optional museums in Lawrence and Hays, Kansas are pretty darn good, this one is truly world-class. Other world-class museums will be visited in trips 8 and 10.
The next stop is Comanche National Grasslands in Southeastern Colorado. Here you can experience one of the largest dinosaur track sites in North America. For the sake of efficiency, you could do this stop first. If you would rather spend your money on an entrance fee instead of gas, an alternative to the dinosaur tracks in Comanche would be tracks in the Denver suburb of Morrison, at Dinosaur Ridge.
Either way, the trip then plunges into the mountains and stops at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, where fossilized insects and huge petrified sequoia stumps can be experienced.
Then it's all the way to the Utah/Colorado border and Dinosaur National Monument, where fossils can be experienced in their more natural state, as opposed to being cleaned up for a museum.
To begin the geology aspect of Trip 4, the next stop brings us to Arches National Park. Here, amidst beautiful rock formations, we'll contemplate the effects of weathering on rocks, and get primed for the main geology sites to come.
Across Utah is the next stop at Swaney Peak and the House Range. Though less well-known than the Burgess Shale in Canada, the House Range also has fossils from the Cambrian era.
Further west, just across the Nevada border, is Great Basin National Park. Within the Great Basin Desert, which will be a focus of Trip 7, the park is also home to the oldest known organisms: Bristlecone Pines. In Trip 4, while we contemplate various scales of time, the age of these trees will provide another perspective. Great Basin is also home to four cavern systems, where the life within can be experienced.
Then the trip really gets into geology as it visits the Grand Staircase Escalante, which includes Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks. Combined, these sites show the most extensive record of geologic history on earth.
At Petrified Forest National Park, fossilized (or petrified) trees are again a focus.
Shiprock, in Northwestern New Mexico, presents another opportunity to experience geology in the form of eroded volcanic rock.
Finally, Mesa Verde shows evidence of human civilization in the relatively recent, but unrecorded, past. Evolution is about the process of change, and this site shows how things used to be for our species in one part of the world, and that things have obviously changed.
This series is about experiencing life. That is a double-entendre. Learning about biology, the study of life, is one aspect of that. The other aspect concerns the kinds of experiences that make up a full and interesting life. These experiences can be purely emotional, as opposed to the rational experiences and interpretations required of scientific learning. So another goal of the series is to distinguish between these two opposing, yet equally legitimate, ways of experiencing life. To that end, it may be helpful to read this short explanation of the position of Experiencing Life on a scientific theory that tends to provoke emotions in some people: On The Learning Of Evolution. Hopefully, after reading it, you will feel less threatened by the topic, and science in general, and can have more fulfilling experiences.