“Know the Place…” – T. S. Eliot

The Big Bend Snapshot of History Project consists of a series of outdoor polycarbonate panels, mounted in metal stand-up frames, laminated with exhibits interpreting the geology, biology, archaeology and early modern history of the Big Bend Region of West Texas.  Our guiding principles are to make the exhibits accurate, accessible and attractive.  The project is a model for earth science education, and is sponsored by local, county, state and federal governments.  Exhibits are placed at relevant locations around Brewster County, and we have completed ten panels to date.

Mike Davidson, project director, examines the first geology exhibit panel near Marathon, Texas.

Our target audience is a broad demographic of casual travelers.  Our goal is to provide travelers with field education while they are traveling through the Big Bend region, and we have devised a plan that uses a Quick Response (QR) code as the contact point for each exhibit.  The QR code on the interpretive sign acts as an attractor, and a relevant interpretive web page with information and links provide a focused introductory experience to the subject.  Using the QR code, a smart phone or tablet device directs the user to a Visit Big Bend web page.  The web page serves as a conceptual lens to focus the viewer onto the subject by directing the user to libraries, a dynamic glossary of geologic terms with video images, photographs, text, audio, and real time information about the site (weather, seismicity, etc…). With this approach the potential exists to take the library and classroom into the field in a way never before possible.  This is a truly revolutionary concept.

Quick Response Code for Visit Big Bend History Snapshot Project
J. Travis Roberts, Jr., Brewster County Historical Commissioner, rancher, civil engineer and Visit Big Bend History Snapshot adviser, recently revived significant research in the Marathon Basin by opening his land to limited geological studies.

I recently gave a presentation on one of the Big Bend Snapshot of History Project’s exhibits at the 2012 GSA South-Central Section meeting held at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.  The exhibit interprets the Paisano Pass Volcano on U.S. Highway 90 between Alpine and Marfa, Texas.  It is a natural outdoor classroom and is the first to incorporate our new QR Code Web Access Outdoor Classroom icon.  The Paisano Pass Volcano facilitates recreation and tourism while providing excellent outdoor earth science educational opportunities. My abstract and Power Point presentation from the meeting are available for download from the GSA website.

Co-author Dr. Pat Dickerson confers with Dr. Bill Muehlberger and Dr. Eddie Collins on igneous, structural and erosional features in Big Bend.

The development of the Paisano Volcano (abridged): 35 million years ago basaltic lavas erupted from a pluton approximately 5 miles in diameter that rose slowly from deep within the mantle and lodged into the crust approximately 2 to 3 miles below the surface. Explosive pyroclastic eruptions driven by steam and carbon dioxide ensued, followed by subsequent lava flows. After a quiet period, pyroclastic flows again began to erupt, and a caldera crater collapsed during violent explosions that partially emptied a magma chamber under the volcano. Finally, more lavas erupted, followed by late mafic dikes and plugs and much younger nepheline syenite intrusions into the older volcanic strata.  Development of the broad shield complex was completed in 1 to 2 million years. Weathering and erosion continue to carve the different types of igneous rock into the colorful cliffs and wide valleys that seen around Paisano Pass today.

The Big Bend Snapshot of History exhibit designed for U.S. Highway 90, interprets this complex history of the volcano in terms accessible to travelers of all demographics, and will perhaps slow people down so they learn more about this country. The 4×5 foot exhibit combines expert scientific information adapted for a general audience, diagrams, maps, and photographs of sites visible from the road while driving through the extinct volcano. It is also an outline for a mini geological field trip of the area. Some of the Brewster County interpretive sites are also great candidates for GSA EarthCache sites.

The exhibit is a prototype of a system of field education that may include channeled instruction from satellite radio and online educational supplements. It is also possible to arrange for guest expert lectures, real time, in the field, by way of such things as two way video phone programs. Imagine being able to stand on the eruptive products of an extinct volcano and pull up contemporary videos of the kinds of processes that made them, while web conferencing with the experts who discovered how it happened.

Dr. E. Julius Dasch, retired NASA geologist and historian, inspecting volcanic flow structures.

I would like to thank my co-author Pat Dickerson for her gracious, patient help with this project, as well as Dan Barker and Don Parker who also offered major corrections, and Pat Dasch for final edits and improvements.   I would like to thank James Whitford-Stark for kindly volunteering to go out for a field check and E. Julius Dasch who graciously went out for the final field review.  I would also like to thank Mike Davidson, Project Director for the Brewster County Tourism Council, Visit Big Bend History Snapshot Project.

The Paisano Pass Drive Through Volcano Movie on Youtube:
The Visit Big Bend History Snapshot Web Page:

Please note the many links below the panel image that take viewers to videos and other information right down to the technical papers that were used to compile the text.

Jim Bones, Visit Big Bend History Snapshot Project, Alpine, Texas.