Wonders of the National Parks: A Geology of North America

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Like the instructor We have visited many national parks over the years and I thought it would be great to have a different view of them. I guess I didn't focus on the "Geology" part of the title. It's probably more than I need to know about rocks but the explanations of how the different landscapes formed is very interesting. Ford Cochran is an excellent instructor. His voice is soothing and his explanations are clear. I enjoy listening to him.
Date published: 2020-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vacation at home If you want a great adventure through the National Parks without leaving your home, this is the best. The course is expertly produced and is a great geology course and virtual vacation.
Date published: 2020-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonder Upon Wonder Engaging and informative. The presenter knows his stuff and presents with an easy to absorb style.
Date published: 2020-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ford Cochran narratives a wonderful collection of lectures that help the viewer better understand the National Parks of NA specifically from a geological perspective. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2020-08-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from National Park Disappointment. We thought, since it is 2020, this would be more like Planet Earth with fabulous video and a wonderful narrative overlay; however, National Geographic failed! The quality was poor, outdated, and more like a college lecture series. The narrator is boring while standing front and center, showing grainy snap shots with minimal video. Having been to some of these national parks, it was a disappointing journey to revisit.
Date published: 2020-08-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Acoustic Torture I am sorry that we bought this it is a torture to listen to. not worth more than $5 It sucks.
Date published: 2020-08-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting - But More of An Adversisement This course was interesting, but it was more an advertisement for the National Parks (and National Geographic) than it was about geology. Mr. Cochran is a good speaker and he kept my attention. I now have a few places I want to visit. I stopped the lectures when the added bits of opinion from other National Geographic employees started. They were boring and superfluous.
Date published: 2020-08-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Virtual travel during pandemic Needs more animations. We are learning a lot and enjoying the class, especially as we cannot travel during the Covid19 pandemic.
Date published: 2020-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love this course Absolutely love this course...and Ford Cochran. We hope there are other courses with this professor because we would love to take them.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from might try it, haven't seen it I got this in error, having ordered one that says "Geological Wonders" on the thumbnail. It was a gift, and the recipient was able to exchange the electronic version for the intended one (lectures on sites around the world) with assistance by phone.
Date published: 2020-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course rocks! I've finished disk 1 and am halfway thru disk 2. This is an excellent geology course (makes me wish I had paid more attention in my college survey course!). Ford Cochran is extremely knowledgeable; both his lectures and the accompanying book are very approachable.
Date published: 2020-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rich history We have watched 4 out of the 36 videos. We have learned so much about each park that we never knew. The narrator is doing a great job. He speaks clearly & uses great illustrations. The only thing I was disappointed in so far; is I would have liked to seen more pictures of the actual parks.
Date published: 2020-08-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great explanations As a Geology teacher of many years ago I found the information presented both clear and interesting with photos and diagrams. My only negative comment actually applies to all my Great Courses is the voice synchronization with lip movement is normally not good.
Date published: 2020-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Closed Caption on this course is terrible! The course content and instructor presentation is wonderful as it is on all Great Course DVDs I have bought. This is my first with closed captioning and will be this last I buy for the cc feature. The cc was split into three "paragraphs" , one repeating itself, one lagging behind the narration and one which did fair job of staying up with instructor. All were in a small font which made it hard to read I have a profound hearing loss, which makes cc a necessity for me. However, I also buy the transcripts with my courses, so I will make do with them. Great Courses need to bring this feature up to same level of excellence they require for the instructors and content of their courses.
Date published: 2020-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Veriy interesting I listen to this as I go to sleep and then watch the pictures the next day. Gives an excellent description and explanation of the Parks geology.
Date published: 2020-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding presentation of North American geology This is the best Great Courses course I've seen, out of a half-dozen or more. It's an outstanding presentation of North American (Canada, US, Mexico) as exemplified in National Parks, and occasionally other public lands, as necessary to make the point. Even when the lecturer is talking about a particular park, he will refer to similar phenomena in other parks covered in other presentations. I've been to many of the parks covered, and wish I had seen the presentation before going to the park.
Date published: 2020-06-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This got so technical and I hate to say boring that I have up watching it after four or five sessions.
Date published: 2020-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this! I loved this course. I don't understand the reviewers who complained about the geology lessons; the title is GEOLOGY of the National Parks, not a visit to the National Parks. This was exactly what I was looking for. I have an interest in geology after taking a field course for personal enrichment. I can't wait to actually visit the parks and see what I have learned about. After watching every episode I wanted to jump in the car and start traveling. I also found the presenter very pleasant and informative and really enjoyed his style. I was sorry to learn that he had recently passed away.
Date published: 2020-04-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed in the DVD We bought the DVD version of this course expecting to watch fabulous photography of the National Parks along with the discussions of the geology that formed them. The discussions are fine, but the visual presentation is not High Definition. The visual quality is mediocre at best, much like we used to have in the 1990s. If there was ever a time to have a High Definition presentation, it is for the National Parks.
Date published: 2020-04-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Geology of national parks I thought the course would have more pictures and sights of the national park instead of long lectures.
Date published: 2020-04-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Expected something different I expected this course to focus more intimately on what it is or would be like to actually visit the nation's National Parks. Instead, the course deals with the details of geological features. Because of that, the course is repetitious, returning again and again to abstractions and illustrations that are ultimtely tedious.
Date published: 2020-04-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Disappointed I bought this course a week ago thinking it would be a great way to check out parks we are seeking to visit in our retirement. I expected eye popping photography the National Geographic is so famous for. What this is an in depth lecture on geology photographed in a studio. Judging from the title I guess that's what it is supposed to be. I would caution people not to buy this course unless they REALLY, REALLY, REALLY like geology.
Date published: 2020-03-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too much lecture, not enough imagery For the topic being covered, way too much 'talking head' time compared to 'seeing what you are referring to' time. Your cinematographers & directors for these highly visual topics should take a look at Ross Whitaker's work in the film 'Between Land and Sea' (just an example of great cinematography and dialogue, not a promotion). When watching a course on the 'Wonders of the National Parks' I should be visually stunned.
Date published: 2020-02-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Learn so much about geology and the national parks The title really does tell what the series is about. Using lectures, photos, cartoon animation the series explores the topic. I have learned sooo much, even for the National Parks that I have already visited in person. The 30 minute per part organization makes it easier to sit down and watch one part without having to worry about too much time.
Date published: 2020-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learning has never been so entertaining Our love of the national parks has been greatly enhanced by this in-depth discussion of how they were formed and continue to evolve.
Date published: 2020-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Wonderful course . Contained a lot of information that I did not know about
Date published: 2020-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great explanations and diagrams! I find this course very interesting and informative to increase my knowledge and understanding of parks I have been to, and those I want to get to. The textbook and video and great compliments to each other, while giving the same information they reinforce the details, and the pictures are very helpful.
Date published: 2020-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Name say it. I purchased this Wonders of National Parks a few weeks ago, and several other self-teach courses as well. In a phrase, the name says it all--these are truly great courses. And affordable too. The National Parks course is veritable treasure of awesome photography, facts, figures, illustrative explanations, and so well narrated, it was just a joy to sit back and watch the entire course. Actually, I was not sitting, but glued to the monitor with eyes and ears wide open. Thank you for the opportunity to learn of and learn from these Great Courses.
Date published: 2020-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent study product I'm very glad I happened to stumble on a discarded information booklet.
Date published: 2020-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully done; excellent We started streaming this course before the DVDs arrived and that was very nice. Now my husband is watching the DVDs and is extremely happy with the pictorials and the informative nature of the course. He is always updating me on what part of the country and what park he is currently experiencing with National Geographic's Geologist Ford Cochran. Excellent course!
Date published: 2020-02-11
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Wonders of the National Parks: A Geology of North America
Course Trailer
Yellowstone: Microcosm of the National Parks
1: Yellowstone: Microcosm of the National Parks

Start your tour of the geological wonders of North America's national parks with Yellowstone, where the breathtaking landscape inspired the idea of a national park. Focus on the processes that produce Yellowstone's many geothermal formations, particularly its geysers....

36 min
Yellowstone's Cataclysmic Origins and Future
2: Yellowstone's Cataclysmic Origins and Future

Read the evidence in the rocks to discover Yellowstone's bigger story: the massive volcanic eruptions that created the region and will one day destroy it, the glaciers that shaped the terrain, and the meltwater floods that carved the impressive Grand Canyon of Yellowstone....

34 min
Grand Teton and Jackson Hole
3: Grand Teton and Jackson Hole

At Grand Teton National Park south of Yellowstone, an active fault lifts some of North America's oldest rocks to the summits of some of the continent's youngest mountains. Explore these glacier-sculpted peaks, and learn the origin of the broad valley, called Jackson Hole, at the base of the Teton Range....

30 min
Hawaii Volcanoes: Earth's Largest Mountains
4: Hawaii Volcanoes: Earth's Largest Mountains

Compare the lessons of hotspot volcanism at Yellowstone with the very different landscape at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is also stoked by upwelling magma from Earth's mantle. Professor Cochran describes rivers of fire on the Big Island of Hawaii and suggests distinctive lava formations to visit....

30 min
The Hawaiian Islands and Maui's Haleakala
5: The Hawaiian Islands and Maui's Haleakala

How does a barren volcanic landscape become a tropical paradise? Study the speed with which volcanic islands erode, leaving rich soil behind. Watch these processes at work on the Big Island of Hawaii, at Haleakala National Park on Maui, and also in the National Park of American Samoa....

32 min
Mount Saint Helens, Lassen Volcanic, Rainier
6: Mount Saint Helens, Lassen Volcanic, Rainier

Tour Mount Rainier National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park in the Pacific Northwest, which are part of the Cascade Range of active volcanoes that include Mount Saint Helens. Then visit a group of similarly cataclysmic volcanoes in national parks in central Mexico....

29 min
Crater Lake, Olympic, North Cascades
7: Crater Lake, Olympic, North Cascades

Learn how seafloor subduction raised a lofty volcano only to obliterate it in a colossal eruption that created Crater Lake in Oregon. Hundreds of miles to the north, tectonic forces upended the imposing mountains of Olympic National Park and formed the high jagged peaks at North Cascades National Park....

27 min
Volcanoes of Alaska: Katmai and Lake Clark
8: Volcanoes of Alaska: Katmai and Lake Clark

Travel to Alaska to explore the vast national parks at Katmai and Lake Clark. Katmai was the site of the 20th century's largest volcanic eruption, while Lake Clark is unusual among national parks for having no roads and being accessible only by boat or small plane....

31 min
Alaska's Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjords
9: Alaska's Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjords

Continue your tour of the largest state with stops at two spectacular parks that are popular destinations for cruise ships: Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjords. Discover how glaciers form and examine their historical advance and retreat in this region. Also, learn how a glacier is like a candy bar!...

29 min
Yosemite: Nature's Cathedral
10: Yosemite: Nature's Cathedral

Survey the most beautiful valley on Earth: Yosemite. Even for those who have not yet visited, its views are iconic thanks to stunning photos by Ansel Adams and others. Investigate the geological history of the park, focusing on its most distinctive rock type-granite....

33 min
Redwoods, Sequoias, and the Sierra Nevada
11: Redwoods, Sequoias, and the Sierra Nevada

Dig deeper into the geology of Yosemite, charting the role of glaciers in shaping the terrain. Also, learn the origin of California's famous gold deposits. Then study the special conditions that promote the growth of giant sequoias, and visit the national parks that preserve these towering trees for posterity....

34 min
Pinnacles to Joshua Tree: The San Andreas
12: Pinnacles to Joshua Tree: The San Andreas

Trace the earth-shaking San Andreas fault through a series of national parks and recreation areas-from Point Reyes, Golden Gate, and Pinnacles in the north to the Santa Monica Mountains, Channel Islands, Joshua Tree, and Mexico's Sierra de San Pedro Martir in the south....

29 min
Denali to Gates of the Arctic
13: Denali to Gates of the Arctic

The story of the tectonic train wreck that built Alaska is written all over the three largest national parks in the U.S.: Wrangell-St. Elias, Gates of the Arctic, and Denali. These remote preserves encompass America's tallest mountains, all built by subduction zone processes....

35 min
Death Valley and Great Basin: The Rift Zone
14: Death Valley and Great Basin: The Rift Zone

Continental rifting has caused huge blocks of land to sink between high mountain belts, producing Death Valley, the lowest, hottest, driest place in North America. Explore this and other national parks and monuments in the Great Basin region....

30 min
Shenandoah: The Collision of Old Continents
15: Shenandoah: The Collision of Old Continents

A hike along the Appalachian Trail is a journey back in time to a continental collision that raised mountains rivalling the Himalayas-now eroded into the Appalachians. Chart the geology of this ancient chain from Shenandoah National Park to Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland....

33 min
Great Smoky Mountains and Hot Springs
16: Great Smoky Mountains and Hot Springs

Survey some of the attractions that make the Great Smoky Mountains America's most visited national park. Investigate a related geological structure in the famous Hot Springs National Park, discovering why there are hot springs so far from volcanic activity....

29 min
National Rivers: Gorges, Falls, and Meanders
17: National Rivers: Gorges, Falls, and Meanders

Rivers are an important clue to the geology of a region and also offer superb possibilities for recreation. Journey to some of America's national rivers, wild and scenic rivers, water trails, and other river parks, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks, the New River Gorge, and Niagara Falls....

31 min
Great Dune Fields of North America
18: Great Dune Fields of North America

Sand dunes aren't usually pictured in a setting of alpine peaks, but that's precisely the scene at Great Sand Dunes National Park in the Colorado Rockies. Study the conditions that create sprawling dune fields here as well as in Kobuk Valley, White Sands, Death Valley, and Nebraska's Sand Hills....

31 min
National Seashores and Lakeshores
19: National Seashores and Lakeshores

Get your feet wet at America's coastal national parks, where dunes, salt marshes, ponds, and lagoons characterize shorelines. Investigate the myriad dynamic processes at Cape Hatteras, Cape Cod, and Assateague National Seashores, and at Sleeping Bear Dunes, Indiana Dunes, Pictured Rocks, and Apostle Islands National Lakeshores....

30 min
Reefs: Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas
20: Reefs: Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas

Turn to a trio of national parks where corals and other reef creatures are helping create new carbonate rock. Then encounter a massive reef from our planet's past, raised to towering heights at Guadalupe Mountains National Park....

28 min
National Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments
21: National Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments

Continue your underwater adventures by touring America's national marine sanctuaries and monuments, spread over more than a dozen locations up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, plus the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, Hawaii, and beyond....

32 min
Acadia's Highlands and Islands
22: Acadia's Highlands and Islands

The rocks of coastal Maine reveal a gripping legacy of lost oceans, colliding continents, epic mountains, furious volcanoes, and massive glaciers. Acadia National Park records evidence of all this, etched into its granite summits and boulder-strewn shores....

30 min
The Dakota Badlands
23: The Dakota Badlands

Visit Theodore Roosevelt, Badlands, and Mount Rushmore National Parks in the Dakotas, beholding the landscape that inspired Theodore Roosevelt to become an ardent conservationist. Learn how the fantastic forms of the badlands are the product of deposition, uplift, and erosion....

32 min
The Grand Canyon's 2-Billion-Year Staircase
24: The Grand Canyon's 2-Billion-Year Staircase

Descend into the Grand Canyon, recording the full sequence of strata from top to bottom-a story that takes you from 270-million-year-old limestone formed in a shallow sea to basement rocks that record a mountain-building saga from 1.7 billion years ago....

34 min
Carving the Grand Canyon
25: Carving the Grand Canyon

What did it take to carve the Grand Canyon? Explore theories on how this remarkable chasm came to be. Then take a boat trip through the park, from the Colorado River's access point at Lee's Ferry, down fearsome rapids and into a majestic wonderland. Also, study how humans have changed the river....

29 min
Petrified Forest and Other Fossil Parks
26: Petrified Forest and Other Fossil Parks

See Petrified Forest National Park, a colorful landscape littered with fossil trees that shaded Earth's earliest dinosaurs. Here and in other parks in the U.S. and Canada, fossilized flora and fauna open a window on ancient ecosystems, extinct species, and the history of life on Earth....

30 min
Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches
27: Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches

Nowhere is nature's artistry more exquisite than in the intricately eroded parks of the Colorado Plateau-from Bryce Canyon, to Arches National Park, to Canyonlands National Park. Seek answers to these strange, sculpted landforms, asking questions such as: How did more than 2,000 natural arches form in the Arches region?...

31 min
Zion, Gunnison's Black Canyon, Capitol Reef
28: Zion, Gunnison's Black Canyon, Capitol Reef

Witness other wonders of canyon erosion on the Colorado Plateau, including the deep and narrow Black Canyon of the Gunnison, as well as The Narrows, a dramatic slot canyon in Zion National Park....

30 min
Mesa Verde and Ancient Settlements
29: Mesa Verde and Ancient Settlements

Explore parks where geology supported the settlement of people in North America. Begin at the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, cleverly engineered to exploit natural shelter and rock seeps. Then survey other cliff dwellings and pueblos in the Southwest....

30 min
The Colorado Rocky Mountains
30: The Colorado Rocky Mountains

Ascend the heights of the Rocky Mountains, asking how tectonic processes nearly a thousand miles away could possibly have raised this extensive range. Venture to Rocky Mountain National Park, Red Rocks, the Garden of the Gods, the Maroon Bells, and the Canadian Rockies....

31 min
Montana's Glacier and the Canadian Rockies
31: Montana's Glacier and the Canadian Rockies

Journey to Glacier National Park, where the glaciers may be disappearing, but the impressive glacier-sculpted terrain remains....

32 min
Big Bend on the Rio Grande and Saguaro
32: Big Bend on the Rio Grande and Saguaro

Investigate the multitude of geological processes on view at Big Bend National Park in Texas. Here you find signs of continental collisions, volcanic eruptions, dramatic erosion, and other breathtaking events. Then survey another geologist's paradise-Saguaro National Park....

30 min
Mammoth Cave, Wind Cave, Carlsbad Caverns
33: Mammoth Cave, Wind Cave, Carlsbad Caverns

Visit underground parks, exploring a tiny portion of the hundreds of miles of mapped passages in Mammoth Cave, Wind Cave, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. Consider the similarities and differences between these caves-two carved by mildly acidic rainwater, the other by dilute sulfuric acid!...

31 min
The Everglades and the Congaree Bottomland
34: The Everglades and the Congaree Bottomland

Florida is a limestone-dominated piece of proto-Africa that got stuck to North America. Also study similar terrain at Congaree National Park and Chichen Itza in the Yucatan....

33 min
Voyageurs, Isle Royale, the Canadian Shield
35: Voyageurs, Isle Royale, the Canadian Shield

Explore the ancient heart of North America-the Canadian Shield-heading north from Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota to Northeast Greenland National Park, the largest, most northerly national park in the world. En route, stop off at parks on Isle Royale, Baffin Island, and Ellesmere Island....

31 min
Assembling North America, Park by Park
36: Assembling North America, Park by Park

Conclude by surveying national parks not yet visited in the course, traversing North America on a grand expedition. Along the way, assess the geology of this spectacularly diverse continent. From the Appalachians to the Aleutians, the national parks and other protected lands tell a dramatic and unforgettable story....

42 min
Ford Cochran

There's little that excites me more than visiting an extraordinary place for the first time—and being able to share that experience with others is thrilling.


Yale University


National Geographic Expeditions

About Ford Cochran

Geologist, journalist, and educator Ford Cochran (1962–2019) was Director of Programming for National Geographic Expeditions. He selected and managed the expert scholars, writers, photographers, explorers, and staff sent by the National Geographic Society on expeditions for travelers to destinations around the world.

Mr. Cochran studied English literature as an undergraduate at the College of William & Mary, where he edited the century-old student newspaper, The Flat Hat, for two years. He did field research on Hawaii’s volcanoes and Mount Saint Helens, with a focus on biogeochemistry and climate change, as a graduate student at Harvard and Yale Universities. Mr. Cochran earned a Master of Philosophy degree in Geology at Yale, where he was awarded competitive Global Change fellowships from both NASA and the Department of Energy. He was elected to represent Yale’s graduate students across the natural and physical sciences on the policy-making Executive Committee of the Graduate School. Mr. Cochran earned Yale’s Philip M. Orville Prize in recognition of outstanding research and scholarship in the earth sciences, along with the William Ebenezer Ford Prize for excellence in mineralogy, and he was invited to be the Honor Marshall of his Graduate School of Arts and Sciences class.

Mr. Cochran taught a number of university courses and gave the invited keynote address at the Geochemical Society’s international Goldschmidt Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. He also gave numerous academic presentations, including invited talks at Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was an Assistant Professor of Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Kentucky before leaving to join the National Geographic staff.
Over his 20-plus-year career with National Geographic, Mr. Cochran wrote for National Geographic magazine, served as principal contributing writer for its Historical Atlas of the United States, helped launch Nationalgeographic.com and directed content development and programming for the website, and documented numerous Society-funded research expeditions in the field. Mr. Cochran blogged for National Geographic and traveled as a Society expert on National Geographic Expeditions to Iceland, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, the Canadian Rockies and Pacific Northwest, and the national parks of the American West. He also joined Society research and media teams on expeditions to Iceland, Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, Chile’s Easter Island and Sala y Gómez, Florida’s Wakulla Springs, the Gulf of Mexico, and a number of U.S. national parks. Mr. Cochran led the development of National Geographic’s first interactive online atlas and its first site for K–12 classrooms, plus dozens of applications and documentary features, including websites on Jamestown and the Chesapeake Bay, the Lewis and Clark expedition, Arctic exploration, Iceland, Yellowstone, Monterey Bay, the Florida Keys, biodiversity, and habitats. His work online has earned multiple Webby, CODiE, and People’s Voice Awards, along with the American Association of Museums’ Gold MUSE Award.

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