Prospecting Capitola Beach

Wes and I arrived in the northern California area Saturday afternoon excited for our week in Santa Cruz. After getting settled into our respective sleeping arrangements (much appreciation to Gary and Laura!) we did some quick grocery shopping and explored the area a little bit. Sunday night we really got to work scouting out the Capitola Beach locality with Jason Tovani in preparation for two trips on Monday and Tuesday.

The 3-5 Ma (Pliocene) Purisima Formation, a marine sedimentary unit that is fossiliferous and interpreted to preserve marine shelf deposits, crops out at Capitola Beach as well as several other locations around Santa Cruz. The fact that it is close to many local schools and provides material for several type of geology lessons makes in an appealing place for class field trips. The hope is that these trips with teachers will catalyze the creation of lesson plans centered on Capitola Beach.

Sunday night proved to a be a successful reconnaissance mission. In addition to the thousands of fossilized mollusc shells, we also discovered a sixgill shark tooth (Hexanchus sp.) and many hundreds of whale bones scattered amongst sandstone pavement below the cliffs. I sent a photo of the most exciting of these to our friend Jorge Velez-Juarbe for clarification. He responded that it appears to be the maxillae and premaxillae of a delphinoid… very exciting stuff! On Monday night we were joined by a group of teachers including Laura Taylor, Gail Alaimo, Karen Schmidt, Jason Tovani, and Gary Bloom. We chatted a little bit about the potential of lessons dealing with topics such as fault displacement, depositional environment, live/dead assemblage comparisons, and others while stepping over an incredible abundance of fossil specimens encased in hard sandstone. During the Tuesday night trip Rob Hoffman joined us with his young daughter for a short and sweet tour of the site. Most exciting was the discovery of a symphyseal tooth from Hexanchus sp..

All in all, the three trips were highly successful in scouting out Capitola with the astounding beauty of Monterey Bay impossible to ignore. There is high potential for a wide range of future lesson plans. All of which can incorporate the benefits of teaching the local environment and getting students out of the classroom and into the field.


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