Figure 1.  Native copper from Bisbee in Cochise County, Arizona.  One of thousands of images on Roger Weller’s Virtual Geology Museum.
arizona earth science on the web: resources for k-12 educators

A Google search of, “Geology of the Grand Canyon”, in December 2009 yielded 83,000 websites. The moral:  there is a bonanza of websites dedicated to Arizona geology, many of which are suitable for educators and students.  The multitude of choices is, however, overwhelming. Rating or ranking available websites would be a Herculean task, but we can showcase several sites that focus largely on Arizona’s geology and might be particularly well-suited for K-12 educators.

VIRTUAL GEOLOGY MUSEUM. Roger Weller has been teaching geology, math and physics at Cochise Community College since 1974. For more than a decade, he has been building a website focusing on the geology and mineralogy of Arizona. For the K-12 educator, Roger Weller’s website, Virtual Geology Museum, is a cornucopia of geologic information on the geology of Arizona and environs. 

Weller’s portal page is Spartan, consisting solely of an index of the site’s offerings. What it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in content. There is something for every geophyte:  thousands of images of minerals and gemstones, mineral descriptions; section on planetary, regional and, of course, Arizona geology; sections on physical and historical geology; bibliographies of Arizona geology and Arizona vertebrate paleontology; a robust links section with dozens (hundreds?) of Arizona links; and dozens of virtual geologic trips for Arizona and beyond. 

The site boasts 9300 photos and illustrations and nearly 11,000 webpages!

Figure 2.  Three-dimensional projection of the Tucson Mountains, outside Tucson, Arizona.  (Steve Reynolds website)

For the budding Earth science teacher, Weller’s “Physical Geology Illustrated Vocabulary” -- with such topic headings as Atoms, Minerals, Crystals, and Gemstones; Igneous Minerals and Rocks; Volcanoes and Plutons, among numerous other topics – is a good place to browse for terse, but accurate, definitions of fundamental geologic terms accompanied by pictures or illustrations. 

STEVEN J. REYNOLDS: ARIZONA GEOLOGY. Steve Reynolds is a well known geologist teaching at Arizona State University. Before landing at ASU, Steve was a research geologist at AZGS. His website is located at

Steve has a passion for helping students visualize geology and his site is loaded with 3-D images and movies showcasing geologic maps of Arizona. The visualizations may be better suited for high school and college students, but a clever 6th grader would probably benefit greatly from this approach to viewing landscapes and geology. 

Be sure to check out his Gallery of Virtual Topography. 

Figure 3.  Paleogeography of the Southwestern US during the Jurassic (206-144 million years ago).  (Ron Blakey’s website).

RON BLAKEY’S WEBSITE. Dr. Blakey is Professor Emeritus at Northern Arizona University with four decades of experience describing and documenting the stratigraphy of the Colorado Plateau. One of his chief projects involved paleogeographic reconstructions of North America and specifically the Colorado Plateau. Ron’s reconstructions of the ancient Colorado Plateau are captured in a marvelous book, Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau (Blakey and Ranney, 2008).

Dr. Blakey’s website is subdivided nicely into the following:

  • Global Paleogeography
  • Regional Paleogeography
  • Colorado Plateau
  • Geology Illustrated
  • Publications

Two of our favorites are Regional Paleogeography and Colorado Plateau. The former shows a suite of snapshots – images --  of the Colorado Plateau region from the Proterozoic (about 2 billion years before the present) through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic to the Miocene (20 million years before the present) of the Cenozoic. Dr. Blakey has rendered nearly 2 billion years of Earth history for what is now the Southwestern U.S.   

Is there any better way to drive home to students the dynamic nature of terrestrial geology than a time-lapse sequence of images showing seas coming in and going out, mountains rising and falling, and great sand seas marching across the land surface?

Figure 4.  Stratigraphic column for the Grand Wash Cliff area, Arizona.  (Ron Blakey’s website)

His Colorado Plateau section is awash in geologic maps, cross sections , stratigraphic columns, photographs, and virtual field trips for the Plateau and environs. There is something here for the student, educator, geoscientist and the lay public, too. If your chief interest is stratigraphy, check out the 14 stratigraphic columns for the Southwest, from Utah south to southern Arizona, and from Nevada to New Mexico; there are five alone for the Grand Canyon region.

DIGITAL LIBRARY OF EARTH SCIENCE EDUCATION (DLESE). If you are an Earth science educator with limited time and resources, the site you need to frequent is DLESE. This is the single-most powerful Earth science education website operating today. 

Quoting from the DLESE Overview, “DLESE's educational resources include lesson plans, scientific data, visualizations, interactive computer models, and virtual field trips — in short, any web-accessible teaching or learning material”. The geological sciences comprise about 8500 discrete resources.  Environmental Science shows an additional 2600 resources, and a total of all Earth science resources show about 25,000. 

Because of its size, DLESE can be a little overwhelming at first. But their “Getting Started” section is short, easy to understand and guaranteed to bring you up to speed quickly. 

DLESE provides a powerful and efficacious search engine that allows you to search by topic, grade level, type of resource – lesson plans, lab exercise, visualizations, field guide, audio …. – and by National Science Education Standards (NSES). If you are a fourth grade teacher (or for that matter a high school instructor teaching AP chemistry) and looking for an exercise with minerals or rocks (AP chemistry – geochemistry), DLESE will have something for you. And the search engine will help you locate it quickly.

Figure 5.  Screenshot of the DLESE (Digital Library of Earth Science Education) portal site.

Every Earth science educator should be familiar with DLESE. And if you have something to share – an original and successful lesson plan for teaching 6th graders how glaciers behave – consider packaging it up and submitting it to DLESE for distribution there. 



Michael Conway
Arizona Geological Survey

Tucson, AZ

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Editor: Michael Conway | Web Developer: Dominique Villela