Rock On

How to Enjoy Geology:

When someone jumps out of a car and runs at a rock with a bottle of acid, most people would be concerned. However, there is nothing to fear. This is a typical experience for a geologist.

Kyle Vernon was on his way to a weeklong dig in Arkansas when he stopped for gas. Filling up his tank, he spotted a rock that looked like coral, and grabbed some hydrochloric acid. Even though Vernon and his friend Devin Last discovered the rock was not coral, both geologists got valuable field experience. The geology club that they both belong to is dedicated to field experience and camaraderie between club members and fellow scientists.

“Our entire department is like a family and I am really privileged to get to do all this,” said Vernon, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee geology club president. “I like the micro vs. macroscopic thing geology has going on with maps and stuff you can see around you.”

The UWM Geology Club goes on a spring break trip every year, with notable past destinations including the Mammoth Caves, Graves Mountain and the Little Pine Garnet Mine. This year, the group went to three mines (Sweet Surrender, Coleman’s Quartz Mine, and the Montgomery County Quarry) in search of quartz and wavellite. Arkansas was the desired destination because quartz is quite common there.

The club participants consisted of 14 geologists, one biologist and one journalist, all crammed into 5 cars, along with all of the rocks they could carry.

This year’s trip got off to a rocky start because of an EF1 tornado. According to Arkansas Online, three condominiums, four homes and six docks were damaged by the winds and falling trees.

The club didn’t let the storm get in their way, however. Early the next morning, they readied themselves and drove to Sweet Surrender, a small quartz mine run by Randy Skates. The group swarmed over the rose-colored open pit mine, eager to find samples.Delany Digging

The geologists used a variety of tools to gather their samples including rock hammers, sledgehammers and shovels. They had to get down and dirty in order to surface dig and find good samples.

“It was just really cool and really special to be able to get in there and wander wherever we wanted and dig around and find things for ourselves,” said Delany Bopp, a geology club member and geology major at UWM. “It was a great experience overall!”

The biggest find of the trip happened on the second day, when Emma Rebernick found a quartz crystal the size of an infant and clear as glass. The find was made at Coleman’s mine, when previous hours of digging were thought to be futile after hours of prior searching.

“It’s my baby,” Rebernick said on the trip. “Her name is Big Bertha!”

Big Bertha

Later in the trip, the geology club was looking for a way to find some wavellite, a small green mineral. Luckily, when the group had visited the Sweet Surrender mine, they made friends with the owner, Skates. He offered one of his miners, Mike, to give them an off the books tour of a large local wavellite mine run by Montgomery County. Wavellite is rather unique because of the radial patterns it has when broken, and its bright green hue.

The geology club jumped at the chance to dig for Arkansas’ second most famous mineral. Wavellite is rather unique because of the radial patterns it has when broken, and its bright green hue. The wavellite mine isn’t open for public access, but the possible misdemeanor didn’t stop any of the members on the trip- nor did the 80 degree temperatures and direct sunlight. The club eagerly dug for the unique mineral, some staying in the quarry until well after sundown to find samples.

Students Searching for Wavellite

The next day, the group woke up early and drove seven hours to The Garden of the Gods Campsite. The last stop of the trip, The Garden of the Gods is on the top of ancient rock formations that used to be submerged in a shallow ocean that covered much of America’s heartland. The primary interest to the group was the iron bands that formed strange ripple marks on the sandstone. The club members were extremely satisfied with their spring break, and it concluded with a peaceful hike through the rock formations at Garden of the Gods.

“In the classroom and even on field trips we are very heavily science oriented and it’s good to see the other non college bubble side,” Vernon said.

If any Iowans want to see the “non college bubble side” of geology, Vernon recommends the northeast corner of Iowa, near Decorah. Around 470 million years ago, a meteor fell there during the Ordovician meteor event, and the effects on the local bedrock can be seen in the earth around the impact crater. The evidence is buried deep though, as there is no indication of the meteor on the surface.

A geologist’s version of a fun spring break may be strange, but the group made valuable memories. They traversed the country, spent time with their friends and had a good time. Maybe geologists aren’t so strange after all.