Tag Archives: Cane Hill

Archimedes in Pitkin Limestone

Notes from the Field: Pitkin Limestone

 

The Pitkin Limestone

One of the most fossiliferous formations in the state is the Pitkin Limestone. It was referred to as the Archimedes Limestone in the late 1890s because it contains an abundance of the screw-shaped bryozoan fossil Archimedes. It was formally named the Pitkin Limestone in 1904 for exposures near Pitkin Post Office in Washington County, Arkansas. If you can’t find the town of Pitkin on a map, don’t worry–it’s now known as Woolsey.

The Pitkin began as carbonate sediments deposited in the Mississippian Period around 320 million years ago.  At that time, northern Arkansas was covered by a shallow sea that was fairly close to the equator.  Warm, shallow seawater is a prime environment for the build-up of carbonates.  Marine organisms extracted calcium carbonate out of the seawater to form shells or other hard parts.  This material accumulated and eventually turned into limestone.  Some of those secreted structures are preserved as fossils in the rock and are clues to the environmental conditions that existed at the time.

The Mississippian in Arkansas

The area of what is now Arkansas during the Mississippian

The Pitkin Limestone is a bluff-former that crops out in the southern portion of the Ozark Plateaus from just south of Fayetteville eastward to Batesville, typically along the Boston Mountains Plateau Escarpment.  It is mostly limestone, however, there is some nodular black chert present locally.  Black shale intervals are common in the eastern portion.  Because limestone is a soluble rock, karst features such as caves, sinkholes, springs, and disappearing streams are common in this Formation.  About 9% of the known caves in Arkansas are in the Pitkin.  Its thickness varies from an average of about 50 feet on the west side of the state to about 200 feet in the eastern part with a maximum of about 400 feet in the central portion.  It typically rests on the Fayetteville Shale and is overlain by the Cane Hill Member of the Hale Formation in western Arkansas and by the Imo interval from the area of western Searcy County eastward.

Geologic Map of Arkansas-detail

The Pitkin outcrop belt is within the light-brown area in this Ozark Plateaus detail of the Geologic Map of Arkansas

To download the entire Geologic Map of Arkansas, click here: http://www.geology.ar.gov/ark_state_maps/geologic.htm

Cane Hill/Pitkin Contact near West Fork

The Cane Hill overlying the Pitkin near West Fork, Washington County

Pitkin/Fayetteville Contact at Hwy 65 Roadcut

The Fayetteville underlying the Pitkin near Marshall, Searcy County

Pitkin top in Little Red Creek

Top of Pitkin in Little Red Creek near Canaan, Searcy County

Now, let’s look at fossils commonly found in the Pitkin.

Archimedes in Pitkin-Batesville Archimedes in Pitkin-Fayetteville

The photos above contain fossils of Archimedes.  The fossil is named for the ancient Greek engineer who invented a device that incorporated a large screw to lift water for irrigation.  The left photo was taken south of Batesville and the right photo was taken south of Fayetteville.  It’s remarkable that these fossils are so persistent along this great extent.  Although this fossil is characteristic of the Pitkin, it can also be present in adjacent formations.  The illustration below is a sketch of a fenestrate Bryzoan of which Archimedes is a type.

Fenestrate Bryzoan

Archimedes as it may have appeared in life

Crinoid stems and Columnals-Batesville Crinoid Stems-Batesville

Pieces of fossilized Crinoids are also abundant in the Pitkin.  Most commonly, small button-shaped pieces of the stem and arms, known as columnals, are preserved in the limestone.  That is a columnal in the center of the left photo.  The larger crinoid fossils above were preserved in shale and were most probably washed onto a mud flat during a storm event.  These photos were taken south of Batesville, but crinoid detritus is abundant throughout the Pitkin and most other limestone in Arkansas.

Crinoid

Crinoid as it may have appeared in life

A great location to see the Pitkin is along Richland Creek at its confluence with Falling Water Creek.  When the creek level is low, you can hike upstream from the campground and see many fine exposures of Pitkin Limestone in the creekbed.  Locally, colonies of tabulate and rugose coral were preserved in the Pitkin and can be discovered upon close inspection of the outcrop.

Moore Quadrangle-detail

Detail of Geologic Map of the Moore Quadrangle showing Pitkin along Richland Creek (Mp=Pitkin)

To download the entire Geologic Map of the Moore Quadrangle, click here: https://ngmdb.usgs.gov/Prodesc/proddesc_76560.htm

Tabulate Coral in Pitkin Limestone

Tabulate or colonial coral in the Pitkin Limestone along Richland Creek.

Rugose Coral Colony in Pitkin Limestone

Rugose coral in Pitkin

Locally, the Pitkin consists of oolite, a type of sedimentary rock composed of ooliths.  Ooliths are small, spherical structures (<2 mm) that form by accretion of numerous concentric layers of calcite on a central nucleus such as a shell fragment or sand grain.  The environment of deposition would have been areas where strong bottom currents or wave action rolled the fragment around in carbonate-rich sea water.  This would include environments like beaches and tidal flats.

Oncolites and stromatolites are also preserved in the Pitkin.  They have a similar structure to ooliths, but are much larger (up to 10 cm), can be round or irregular-shaped, and are formed by a different mechanism.  Like ooliths, they nucleate on a shell or other fragment, but are built up by encrusting layers of blue-green algae or cyanobacteria.  Stromatolites form in much the same way,  but create columns, mats, or large heads.  Stromatolites and oncolites typically indicate a paleoenvironment of warm, shallow water in a calm sea, lagoon, or bay.

Oolitic Pitkin

Oolitic Pitkin

Oncolitic Pitkin

Oncolitic Pitkin

Stromatolitic Pitkin

Stromatolitic Pitkin

During fieldwork for our geologic mapping, finding Pitkin Limestone is always exciting because there is something new and interesting to discover every time.  We hope this brief introduction to one of Arkansas’ most intriguing formations has convinced you to seek out the Pitkin and have a closer look.

Until next time, we’ll see you on the outcrop!

Richard Hutto, Angela Chandler

Statemap 2014-15 Update

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Hello all,

Just wanted to let you know that the Statemap 2014-15 field mapping project has resulted in the publication of three new geologic maps.  These are the Parma, Prim, and Greers Ferry quadrangles.  Reduced images are posted below.  These should be available as .pdfs on our website in the near future.  I’ll keep you posted!Parma

Parma Quadrangle

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Prim Quadrangle

Prim boulder (cannonball concretion) in Sugar Camp Creek

Greers Ferry Layout

Greers Ferry Quadrangle

Old Terrace deposit underlying Greers Ferry, AR

Also, I would like to thank the many people who helped with data collection in the field this year, without whom this project would have been impossible.

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Andy Haner                                                        Danny Rains

 

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Angela Chandler                                                                     Stefanie Domrois

 

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Doug Hanson                                  Ty Johnson

Thanks, everyone!

 

Now it’s off to the Brownsville quad for next year!

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Richard Hutto

Statemap Field Blog, April 7-9, 2014

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Hello all,

Well, this is the last week of field work for the 2013-14 season.  Of course, there’s always more one would like to have a look at, but we have to stop sometime.  On Monday, we started down by the M&NA railroad bridge at Shirley.  The big fault that makes the SW/NE lineation goes through here somewhere, but it’s difficult to say where exactly.  There are lots of non-vertical joints and deformation bands in the area, which are all good fault signs, but nothing very definitive.  The area north of the bridge is about as thick as it could possibly be with greenbriers –only passable with much effort and many scratches.  We saw very thick-bedded sandstone there which we took for Witts Springs that day, but when we came back on Wednesday, we decided it may be north of the fault, and therefore would be Imo.  We have Imo across the valley, so it’s not out of the question to have it here, but it may be just a relatively thin slice.  There are many cut and fill channel beds there, some of them with very nice soft-sediment deformation at the margins.

On Tuesday we finished up some loose ends in the northwest corner of the Shirley quad.  After we climbed way down in a hollow that had an old tornado track going through it, Danny realized he had lost his camera somewhere.  We hiked back up to the Jeep to see if it was there (it wasn’t), then retraced our steps from earlier that morning.  Still nothing.  He remembered the last time he had used it was in that horrible briar patch the day before, so after we climbed out again, we headed back there.  Sure enough, in the thickest part of the patch, where he had been practically crawling to get through, a briar had reached in his carrying case and pulled it out.  It was still dangling there about a foot off the ground right on the river bank.  At least we got it back!

Deformation bands in massive sandstone near Middle Fork north of Shirley2014-04-07 017

2014-04-09 026 2014-04-09 011On Tuesday afternoon, we went down a drainage on the west side of Middle Fork looking for more signs of a fault we have traced from the Old Lexington quad.  We definitely found a lot of deformation bands in the Witts Springs massives down there and figure there might be as much as 80 feet of throw on the fault.

2014-04-08 0192014-04-08 027Wednesday was our last day in the field this year, and we spent most of our time on the Middle Fork just north of Shirley where we had left off on Monday.  Did look like the fault goes through there because we found very-thick bedded massives on the north side (Imo) and shale interbedded with very thin-bedded sandstone on the south side (Cane Hill).  Our last couple of hours we spent getting points in several road cuts in and around Shirley.  We took a final photo in front of the town sign.

2014-04-08 048 (2)2014-04-09 047This will be Danny’s last year out in the field with me, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for putting up with me and the sometimes horrendous field conditions we’ve faced together the last five years.   Looks like I’ll have to break in a new field partner next year, so should be interesting.  Now comes the time of year when we have to sit in the office and draw the maps, create the layouts, and finish the database, all to be turned in to the USGS by June 30.  It seems like a long time, but we’re always editing down to the last minute.  By the time we make it back out in the field, it will be mid-July, so the ticks and snakes will be out in full force, it will be nice and hot, and all the vegetation will be full grown.  At least that gives us something to look forward to.  Until then, I’ll see you in the office.  After that, I’ll see you on the outcrop!

 

 

 

Statemap Field Blog March 24-26, 2014

Taphoni (honeycomb weathering) in massive sandstone.

Taphoni (honeycomb weathering) in massive sandstone.

Hello all!

Sorry about that long hiatus, but I had a couple of extra projects the last couple months that took a lot of extra time.  We’ve been in the field almost every week except for March 3-5 during the 3 inch snow in Van Buren County.  We’ve mostly worked on the Fairfield Bay quad during the last few weeks.  This week was spent tracing a very thick-bedded, massive sandstone unit through the town of Fairfield Bay itself.  It is quite an impressive bluff-former and actually underlies almost the entire Mountain Ranch golf course.

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Danny descending treacherous massive sandstone outcrop

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Danny contemplating how this massive sandstone can all but disappear a few hundred yards north of here

 

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Grotto in massive sandstone

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Most hillsides are composed of a thick sequence of very thin sandstone/siltstone and shale–easily erodible

 

Apparently some structure or perhaps a change in depositional environment made this sandstone climb up 200 feet to the east.  There it forms the cap of the ridge on which the small town of Fairfield Bay sits.  Moving east again, It underlies the Indian Hills Country Club where weathering (and earth-moving equipment) has produced the famous Indian Rock House on the golf course there.  Underlying that massive across the entire area is a very thick sequence of very thin-bedded sandstone/siltstone/shale.  A lot of the roads built in this unit have formed deep gullies making some of them impassable.  Still, there is better access in this area than most that we map, so we’re thankful for that.  Only about two weeks left of the field season.  We’ll probably be jumping around a lot to work out problem areas on both quads during that time.

See you on the outcrop!

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Danny actually seeing through the groundcover to the rock beneath the Mountain Ranch golf course

 

 

 

 

 

Statemap Field Blog—Dec. 2-4, 2013

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Hello all!

This week we finished up a few odds and ends on the Shirley quad.  We needed to get to a few suspected outcrops along the north side of the Middle Fork just east of Shirley.  As we were looking for a way to access them, we stumbled upon the Sid Burgess Historic M&NA Trail which starts in downtown Shirley and ends up about a mile distant at the historic Cottrell-Wilson Cemetery.  As luck would have it, this trail happened to access the very areas we needed to see.  If you’re ever in Shirley, it’s definitely worth checking out!

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We saw mostly thin-bedded sandstone and shale units of the same variety as on the south side of the Middle Fork and Weaver Creek upstream.  There are a few low dips toward the lineation, but nothing indicating a major structure.  I’m thinking this may all be the unit above the Witts Springs (Bloyd Formation) brought down to the southeast by a monocline.  The trouble is, we don’t really know what the Bloyd/Witts Springs contact looks like in this area yet.  That’s something we still need to work out.

Tuesday was wet again, but we set out to finish up the southernmost branch of Lost Creek anyway.  Seems to be mostly Witts Springs in there with some Cane Hill at the bottom of the valley.  We saw some great examples of soft-sediment deformation in some of the silty units on the way down.  Soft sediment deformation occurs during sedimentation when the rapid loading of usually more dense, overlying sediments causes the less dense, buried deposits beneath them to become partially liquefied, which forms various types of disruptions in the original bedding.  This can take the form of simple reorientation of the bedding as we have here, to more complex convolute bedding and flame structures.  I took a photo later in the week of a good flame structure in the Bloyd Formation.  Notice where the shale has been squeezed up between the thick, contorted beds of sandstone.

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Several massive calcareous sandstone units in the Witts Springs again illustrated the dramatic difference between outcrops weathered with and without the influence of groundwater.  Notice how rotten the outcrop of massive sandstone in the photo below left appears.  Also note the green color.  There is a layer of moss and lichen growing over almost the entire rock surface, made possible by its relative saturation by groundwater.  These organisms help accelerate the weathering of the rock, and there are places where you can actually see clumps of moss peeling off the surface along with a layer of sand.  This type of chemical weathering is known as chelation and results in the effective removal of the residual iron cement still holding the rock together after the calcite cement has been dissolved by groundwater.  The photo below right shows how “dry weathering” of a boulder of the same material can result in well-defined liesegang bands.  Highly concentrated iron has cemented these bands within the massive sandstone, and without the influence of groundwater, they are preferentially resistant to weathering, leaving them in bold relief.

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On Friday, we looked at some of the last steep areas we haven’t vistited north of the Middle Fork east of Shirley.  Definitely still have Witts Springs right down to the river there, but there is also a thin- to very thick-bedded unit above it that is probably in the Bloyd.  We saw a fairly recent landslide above the river composed of material from that upper unit.  There was also a good cut and fill channel bed exposed in that unit as well.

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It was warm enough for the critters to be out again this week.  Just when I thought it was safe to put my foot down anywhere I pleased, I nearly stepped on a moccasin.  That’s him slinking back in his hole.  We also saw a western slimy salamander (plethodon albagula?) under some storm debris, which was subsequently replaced.

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Hopefully the warm weather holds out, but the forecast says the bottom may drop out on Friday.  We’ll see!

Until next week, see you on the outcrop!

 

Statemap Field Blog Nov. 25-27, 2013

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Hello all!

A cold rain on Monday was freezing on the trees, so we explored some of the many undeveloped road networks in Fairfield Bay, especially along Dave Creek and down to the lake on the east side of the map.

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Not quite sure what we’re in here, but there is a calcareous sandstone massive not too far above lake level which could indicate that we’re still in the Witts Springs even though this is south of the lineation along the Middle Fork.  We’re getting a lot of strong southerly dips along the north edge of the lake which indicate there is a fault along that lineation, unfortunately the lake covers it.  Too bad this detailed geologic mapping was not done prior to 1963!

Tuesday we finished up the upper end of Big Branch.  The ice was still on the branches when we started, but soon began to melt which made it seem like it was raining again until about noon.

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At first, we thought we were finding additional Witts Springs/Cane Hill contacts, which was surprising since we were so far above where we had them downstream last week.  But we definitely had a thin-bedded sandstone that was shaly near the top beneath a classic basal Witts Springs sandstone.

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Or did we?  As it turned out, the thin-bedded sandstone was only about 40-60 feet thick and was above at least two other massive sandstone units.  Another Cane Hill look-alike!  That’s why you always have to look at the entire section, or you may miss something!

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What we took for the basal sandstone massive may actually have been the uppermost sandstone massive in the Witts Springs.  As we hiked on downstream, we did eventually find the actual Witts Springs/Cane Hill contact that lined up much better with the points we already had.

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Wednesday, it was so cold the moisture being wicked up certain grasses was making “frost flowers”.

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We walked up the lower end of Little Creek along the western edge of the map.  We had already seen the upper portion when we mapped Old Lexington, and it seems to be all Witts Springs in there.  We saw some good examples of “zebra rock” and “Prairie Grove weathering” in some of the massive sandstone units (see previous blog).

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Some of the calcareous sandstone is also fossiliferous, and I was lucky enough to find a good rugose coral weathering out in one fossiliferous zone.

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Well, looks like winter is here to stay!  At least I don’t have to watch for snakes anymore!  Until next week, see you on the outcrop!

STATEMAP Field Blog, Nov. 18-20, 2013

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Hello all!

Well, another great week to look at rocks!  We explored about a five mile stretch of Big Branch, definitely the biggest drainage left unexplored on the Shirley quad at this point.  Quite a bit of Cane Hill in the bottom, then several hundred feet of Witts Springs above.  The rocks near its confluence with Weaver Creek are dipping strongly southeast, and the Cane Hill actually dives into the subsurface there.

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Still haven’t decided if the big structure in Weaver Creek valley is a fault or just a really big monocline, but we’re leaning toward monocline right now because we still haven’t seen a real break in the rocks.  Of course, faults typically become covered because the fractured rock is preferentially eroded.  It just seems less and less likely that there is a fault there with each drainage we do that should cut across it.

Monday we walked in the lower end and got several strong SE dips in the Cane Hill.  Then we discovered an outstanding outcrop of basal Witts Springs sandstone, that we thought was a very large boulder at first because of the advanced state of the sort of “dry weathering” that usually affects the massive Witts Springs boulders after they become separated from groundwater, usually along joints, as they slide downslope.  This includes well-developed honeycomb taphoni, well-defined liesegang banding, and case-hardening of the surface.  In the bluff face, solutionally-enlarged joints can form fracture caverns, and spalling near the base can form bluff shelters.  All of this can happen under the influence of groundwater of course, but that kind of saturation usually leads to a punky or rotten texture in the rock, and forms very steep, covered topography.  The really spectacular outcrops occur when lack of groundwater slows down the weathering to a grain-by-grain process.  This is what I call “dry weathering”.  After walking up both sides and along the top, we concluded that it was indeed part of a continuous outcrop that was probably protected from groundwater penetration by its joint system.  I dubbed it “Castle Rock” because of its many turrets and towers.

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Speaking of weathering, on Tuesday we saw a classic example of preferential weathering along beds of sandy limestone interbedded with limey sandstone.  When these beds are freshly exposed, they form light and dark bands within a smooth face of massive sandstone.  We refer to this informally as “zebra rock”.  The light bands are more limey, the dark bands less.  As weathering progresses, chemical weathering breaks down the more limey areas at an accelerated rate simply because there is more reactive material in that rock than in the sandier beds around it.  When weathered, these areas form long horizontal hollows or pits in the massive sandstone.

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We informally refer to this weathering pattern as “Prairie Grove weathering” after a Member of the Hale Formation in northwest Arkansas that most typically exemplifies this trait.  The base of the Witts Springs Formation is an equivalent unit to the Prairie Grove Member, and often massive sandstones within the Witts Springs will display this type of weathering as well.  Though not definitive, this characteristic can be used to help us determine if a given outcrop is within the Witts Springs.

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As we made are way up the Big Branch, we ran into our old nemesis: the February 5, 2008 tornado track.  This is the one that was on the ground for 122 miles in Arkansas and killed 14 people.  We’ve crossed it’s track on several maps, and it never ceases to amaze how destructive it was.

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I’ll be back next week.  Until then, see you on the outcrop!