Geology and Oceanography Professor

MiraCosta geology and oceanography professor Dr. Keith Meldahl traveled the 2,000-mile Gold Rush Trail and stood in the old wagon ruts cut into the dirt more than 150 years ago by pioneers heading to California in search of gold. He shares his adventures on the trail in class and peppers discussions with stories about how the pioneers felt when they faced the same mountain ranges students are studying.

“Students get a kick out of my stories of the Gold Rush Trail,” Dr. Meldahl said. “I like to make a personal connection with students this way.”

As a geologist and a history buff, Dr. Meldahl calls his research a hybrid of American history and geology.

“I like that at MiraCosta I’m not constrained to a narrow specialty. Faculty from different disciplines interact with each other here.”

Dr. Meldahl studies the geologic processes that formed the landscape of the American West, but he takes it step further to find out how the landscape affected people—where they settled—and ultimately their history.

“Underneath it all, the geologic world controls our world," he says. That idea comes through many times in both of his books, "Hard Road West: History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail," and "Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains."

As a teacher, Dr. Meldahl wants to introduce students to scientific reasoning and show how scientists look at mountains, rivers, waves, ocean currents and other phenomena.

“I tell my students, the world is more wonderful and beautiful when you understand how it works.”

Dr. Meldahl connects American history and geology in his book, “Hard Road West: A Historic and Geologic Tour of the California Trail,” published by his alma mater, the University of Chicago, where he earned a B.A. in geology. He also holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in geology from the University of Arizona.

Dr. Meldahl calls it a popular geology book told through his 2000-mile journey in the footsteps of the pioneers on the Gold Rush Trail. The book describes the tectonic processes that created the dramatic landscape of the American West and the impressions of the overland immigrants facing the geologic hurdles

During class, Dr. Meldahl gives slide shows from his travels in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming to illustrate why mountains, rivers, and deserts are where they are and how they came to be.