Matt's opinion

Monday, October 20, 2014

Visit to Bluff Springs

I feel compelled by the beautiful fall season to discuss another field location. This visit is more of a low key scouting adventure for potential field trips at the Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, IL. I must warn you, This park is a bit of a chore to locate. The entrance is hidden within the back of the Bluff City Cemetary off of US Route 20. I'll be the first to admit that this park is well worth the trip. 

What makes this place special is that it is a Fen, which is where artesian springs discharge from shallow bedrock (in this case dolomite). In northern Illinois Fens are not very common due to the thick glacial sediment deposits left behind from the last ice age. Local Fens have evolved into very special places based on the presence of nearly year round running water supply, the unique chemistry of that water, the soils developed as the bedrock surface weathers and the flora/fauna that call the Fen home. 

I found myself drawn to find local Fens to satisfy my search for places where bedrock is present at or near the surface. Too often, the search for great rock outcrops (exposure of rock at the surface) leads geologists west of the Mississippi River where arid climates limit the growth of vegetation. I'll grant that this Fen doesn't match the spectacular vistas or specimen collecting possibilities of those out west, but it demonstrates the interconnection between rock and life. One quick example of this interconnection is the Hines Emerald Dragonfly. This dragonfly is an endangered species that only lives in fens like Bluff Springs due to the specific blend of flora that live in the unique geochemical environment. You can read more about the Hines Emerald Dragonfly here:

What got me hooked in Bluff Springs is the added presence of kames. Kames are a specific feature left over after glacial ice melts away. As glaciers are melting, some of the the sediment they carry is washed into crevasses, cracks in the ice, and deposited in the empty space there. After the ice has completely melted the sediment (ice contact unstratified drift/diamicton) remains in the shape of a hill or mound. There are at least two kames in the park. One of them is rather small (about 15-20 ft high and ~50 ft diameter) and one is much larger (about 50 ft high and a couple hundred feet diameter). The large kame has a lookout at the top with a beautiful view of the fen. I've posted some pictures of the park here:

Hope you are able to find this park and enjoy all that it has to offer. The parks website is here:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Field Trip!

Had a great time this past Friday with with the Elgin Community College Geology Department. the field trip included stops at Buffalo Rock and Matthiessen State Parks as well as a road cut and privately operated facility. The purpose of the trip was to gain a broader understanding of Illinois geology and see some of the processes being discussed in class. The best part? Getting to see these beautiful destinations during the fall season. 

A recurring theme throughout the trip was interpreting what the environment was like at each stop (paleoenvironment) and how that environment was changing in time. We saw rocks that formed in broad intercontinental beaches, shallow inland seas, heavily vegetated marshes/bogs and sediment laid down by ice sheets tens of meters thick. All of these environments have existed in Illinois starting back in the Ordovician Period (~480 million years ago) through the end of the last Ice Age (~10,000 years ago). Lots more details but I'll leave those for class. 

 This trip is a highlight every semester, thanks to everyone involved for such a great time.  

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Spidey Sense

It's that time of year again when spiders seem to come out of everywhere and roam around the house. I saw one this morning still as stone on the wall of my living room. I don't remember why but I decided that I would see what it would do by blowing on it. It hadn't moved since I walked in the room and gotten fairly close to it. Within a split second of my breath the spider sprung into action. It quickly propped itself up and moved briskly down the wall. 

This made me think about how the decision making process. Perhaps this spider thought the breeze was created by potential prey or maybe a change in conditions that out it in danger of being blown off the wall. Maybe it was just reacting to every little change in the wind for the sake of a reaction. Without wasting a second this spider had made a decision and was acting on it. How often to do you do that?  I've read several articles in the past few weeks about decision paralysis. That people sometimes get so caught up in how to decide that they end up missing the opportunity. 

At the same time our decisions, particularly ones with significant consequences, require some level of thought. How do you reach that balance of thoughtful consideration and decisive action? Every decision is different and requires individual levels of thought. Some say that a clear set of principles helps make decisions easier. Some say that the decision made in that moment a choice is presented always leads to the right choice. There doesn't seem to be one clear answer. 

Maybe we should just emulate whatever decisions Peter Parker has made. Food for thought anyway. At least this meal doesn't need to be served up in a web.