Geo-pic of the week: Ozark Plateaus

Ozark Plateau

If you live in Arkansas, chances are you’ve heard of the Ozark Mountains.  Actually, the correct geologic term is Ozark Plateaus.  Unlike typical mountains in which the bedrock has been squashed and folded, the Ozarks are one broad dome-like structure made up of flat-lying sedimentary bedrock.  The hills and valleys of the Ozark topography are the result of rivers carving into this dome, rather than compression or deformation.  

The picture above was taken overlooking the Buffalo River.  The various hills, from the foreground to the distance, are roughly the same height.  Of course they are!  If not for this and other rivers, the landscape pictured here would be one solid flat surface, as tall as the highest peaks in the picture, stretching to the horizon.  


Early map of Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs, Arkansas


(Click map to see large high-resolution version)


(Click picture to see large high-resolution version)


At top is a scan of a hand-drawn map of downtown Hot Springs Arkansas ca. 1859.  It was drawn By Dr. David Dale Owen, the first State Geologist of Arkansas.   It shows Bathhouse Row, the area renowned for its hot mineral-water springs (a photo of the area depicted on the left side of the map is included for comparison).  Bathhouse Row remains a popular attraction today, though a lot has changed since 1859. 

Hot Spring Creek, which displays across the bottom of the map north to south (note that north is to the left here), now flows underneath Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs.  Central Avenue is the street at the bottom of the photograph (see photo).  In 1860, there was no Central Avenue and people crossed Hot Spring Creek on wooden bridges (see map).  The bluff east of the creek from which the hot springs flow is now Hot Springs National Park.

This map was included in the second of two geological reconnaissance reports published by Dr. David Dale Owen concerning Arkansas geology.  During the field work for that publication in 1859, Dr. Owen, only fifty three years old, contracted malaria.  He died a short time later.  In the introduction to the final volume of that publication, Dr. Owen’s brother writes that David was dictating the report, from bed, until 3 days before his death. 


David Dale Owen portrait

Geopic of the week: Skolithos


st. pete skolithos

Skolithos is a common type of trace fossil that has been found in rocks as old as 541 million years.  Trace fossils are not the fossilized remains of organisms but rather the burrows, footprints, and other structures that resulted from the animal’s activities.

In the case of skolithos, it’s widely believed that a vermiform (resembling a worm) animal created the straight, vertical, tube structures.  These worm-like critters probably lived by filtering plankton from the turbulent water of a shallow marine environment.  The vertical tubes may have been a dwelling place to retreat to, though their specific purpose is not known.

In the above picture, captured in north central Arkansas, a sandstone has weathered to reveal skolithos traces permeating the approximately 460 million year old rock.  This example is from an exposure of the St. Peter Formation, Buffalo National River Park, Marion County, Arkansas.

To see more views of skolithos traces from Arkansas click here

New Publication: Geologic Road Guide to Highway 10



The Geologic Road Guide to Arkansas State Highway 10, a Geotour of the Southern Arkoma Basin Fold Belt and Related Ouachita Mountain Tectonic Zones by Drs. Richard Cohoon (Emeritus), Jason Patton (Associate), and Victor Vere (Emeritus), Professors of Geology at Arkansas Tech University, is now available for download on the Arkansas Geological Survey’s website.  Here’s the link:

The route begins at Petit Roche Plaza in the River Market District of downtown Little Rock. “Petit Roche” was the name given to the first rock outcrop early explorers encountered on their way up the Arkansas River.  It is near this outcrop that the eastern end of Arkansas State Highway 10 (AR-10) is now located.  From here, you will tour the 139-mile length of AR-10 to its western terminus at the Oklahoma state line, just past Hackett.  This route traverses a beautiful and geologically diverse cross section through the mountains of western Arkansas.  The stretch from Ola to Hackett is designated as an Arkansas Scenic Byway.

An overview of the physiography of Arkansas, the concept of geologic time, and the rock formations and structural regions encountered along AR-10 introduce the reader to the detailed Road Guides that follow.  The Road Guides describe the rock outcrops and geologic features along particular sections of the route.  They contain many wonderful color photographs and color-coded geologic maps to help travelers understand the landscape passing outside their windows.  Travelers are encouraged to get out of their vehicle at several places to have a look at the rocks, perhaps gaining a new appreciation of their significance.  An illustrated glossary defines words and concepts that may be unfamiliar to those without an earth science background.  Appendices direct the traveler to several interesting side trips just off the main route and detail the characteristics of the gas and coal resources in the Arkoma Basin.


This Geotour is written to be of interest to the general public, to students of geology, and to professional geologists who want to gain a more in-depth understanding of this beautiful and geologically complex region.  So the next time you’re thinking of taking a scenic drive through the mountains of western Arkansas, consider traveling AR-10.  And don’t forget to take along the Geologic Road Guide to make your drive more enjoyable and informative.

Richard Hutto

Geo-pic of the week: Pyrite


(FOV approx. 3 mm, photo by Stephen Stuart)

Pyrite, also known as Iron Pyrite (FeS2), is the most common sulfide mineral. Its most frequent crystal structure is cubic, as seen in the picture above. It also forms octahedral (8 sided) and dodecahedral (12 sided) structures. Its brassy-yellow color and metallic luster can sometimes cause it to be mistaken for gold, hence the nickname “fool’s gold”. While it may look like gold, it is much lighter and harder. Typically pyrite cannot be scratched with a knife.

Pyrite is found in many counties in Arkansas. It is used in the production of sulfuric acid, although its use is declining. The primary value of this mineral currently is as a collectible specimen. Individual crystals are commonly found up to 1 inch in diameter.

Geo-pic of the week: Veins

Ron Colemans Quartz Mine, quartz veins, truck, CStone, 18 Jun 02

Any rockhound worth their salt knows that the best place to hunt for interesting minerals is in the void spaces in rock.  Void spaces come in two types; vugs and veins.  Vugs are usually found in igneous rock and result from trapped gas bubbles.  Veins, on the other hand, can be found in any type of bedrock. 

Veins are fractures, that have been plugged with minerals, typically by precipitation from circulating water.  The above picture was taken in the Ron Coleman quartz mine, near Hot Springs, Arkansas.   The near-parallel white streaks that riddle the sandstone are quartz-filled veins.  The fractures resulted from the intense deformation of the Ouachita Mountains, by plate tectonic forces, around 300 million years ago.  That deformation opened up space for quartz to grow in, and the tremendous heat and pressure from the mountain-building generated the mineral-rich fluid that deposited the crystals.