Retired Glenwood Springs teacher keeps teaching, learning |

Retired Glenwood Springs teacher keeps teaching, learning

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Garry Zabel doesn’t like the word “awesome” a whole lot. But as his mind searched his vocabulary for a word to describe his favorite place on earth, the Grand Canyon, one word came to mind.”I don’t like the word all that much but it’s an unbelievable place,” Zabel said from his chair at the Summit Coffee House at Summit Canyon Mountaineering in downtown Glenwood Springs. “It’s awesome.”

Zabel is preparing for what he guessed will be his 15th geology field trip for Colorado Mountain College students to study the Grand Canyon in September. The trip will be his second since he retired in 2006 from CMC after 29 years as a professor of geology and math at the Springs Valley Campus between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.Retiring from teaching was one thing, but retiring from leading the Grand Canyon field trips was a completely different thing that he couldn’t see giving up just yet.”About 15 years ago, I remember making a joke on one field trip about still leading field trips when I was 60 and what it would be like,” Zabel said with a grin on his face. “Now I’m 59 and I’m still doing it, and I’m still excited about the road, I guess, it keeps on going.”The trip is an 11-day field trip to study the geology of the Grand Canyon, which has one of the most complete sequences of rock anywhere in the world, according to Zabel. The group begins its journey at Glenwood Canyon and makes its way to Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks in Utah, traveling down to the state border of Utah and Arizona, ultimately ending with a five-day rim-to-rim backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon.

“It’s kind of bad because, once you go and really experience it you’ve got to go back,” Zabel said. “If I don’t go back every six months or so, I get this craving.”Teaching in the classroom he could give up, but giving up these trips isn’t something he’s planning on very soon.”The best experience is the “ah-ha” moment, when you take a new group of students out there and you’re trying to get them to look at the outcrops and to get the big picture. Usually, that process of really understanding – or just maybe beginning to understand – what we are looking at takes a day or two,” Zabel said. “And so, sometimes when we are looking into Bryce Canyon, a student will say, ‘I get what you’re talking about, these rocks here are younger than those rocks there and there’s a fault here.’ Whatever it is, their eyes just light up and they say, ‘Oh yeah, I see.'”It’s moments like that that keep him leading the trips. That and the learning aspect, of course.

“I always tell students that it’s the chance of a lifetime,” Zabel said. “I’ve been 15 or 16 times, and I learn something new every time.”Contact John Gardner: 384-9114jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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