Posts Tagged ‘fossils’

Coal figure near the waterfalls, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I waited a few days to return to the exposed fossil beds on the Kentucky side of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  My earlier trek went so well that I was determined to walk a little farther dragging my collecting bag full of water worn coal with me.  I had the same idea as before, namely creating figurative images using the coal in site specific areas.  Today I was determined to walk around Goose Island which is accessible by foot in the summer and early fall when the river level is diverted towards the locks and thus exposing the many layers of this ancient Devonian reef.  It won’t be too much longer until the autumn rains replenishes the water along the Ohio River Valley and submerges this part of the park again until next summer.

Dancing Coal figure, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

As before, I crossed over at the Lower Tainter Gates in the eastern section of the park.  I walked along the Fixed Wier Dam reaching the area where some waterfalls that flow into Whiskey Chute remain.  This is where I created my first coal figure of the day.  From above, the figure appears to be dancing and this is one of my favorite images from this new series.

Water flowing thru notch in fixed wier dam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Going around the waterfalls, I walk through ankle to knee-deep water and continue following the dam’s wall westward.  Strategically placed notches at the top of this concrete wall provides a flow of water to a small wetlands area that harbors a variety of life.  In this place natural waterfalls and cascades have been replaced by artificial ones.  As I wade through it is a bit humbling knowing that the level of the Ohio River is at the top of this wall.  I saw many water-loving birds including Belted Kingfishers, Blue-winged Teal, Caspian Terns, Double-crested Cormorants, and Great Blue Herons that favor this part of the park.

A pair of Grass Carp, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Many of these birds were here because this area also attracts fish.  Numerous grass carp were eating algae in the shallows and small schools of juvenile fish were startled by the sudden appearance of my all too white legs as I walked through their space.  If I stood motionless for a while, the carp would return and I could observe them more closely.

Scene along the northwest tip of Goose Island, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Goose Island Coal Figure, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Goose Island has sandy banks.  As I was wading along the southeast side of the island, I set up this figure with up raised arms in an open spot among plants that were growing in a row parallel to the water’s edge.

Bleaching Goose Island Cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Evaporating pond on Goose Island, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I left the water and walked along the edge of the island walking westward.  This section has a cottonwood habitat.  I came across a large cottonwood tree that had fallen off the high bank and was now bleaching in the sun.  Driftwood snagged around this tree’s root mass marks how high the water can get when the river is flowing.  There was a strong smell of urine around this shrinking pond and the many deer tracks proved these animals frequented this place.  Hundreds of tiny toads were hopping through the grass near this waterhole!  I had never seen anything like this out here before.  I wished I had taken at least one image of these toads in my hand for scale.  Although they were tiny, they also looked like perfectly formed adults that had been miniaturized.

Goose Island with distant view of the hydroelectric dam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Continuing my walk on Goose Island, I can see the wall of the Fixed Wier Dam and the hydroelectric plant in the distance which is situated on Shippingport Island.  The plants in the foreground with their prickly, ripening seed pods are Jimsonweed.  Along the sandy bank,  I could see slides where beaver have dragged their tree cuttings from the nearby woods into the water.  There is probably evidence of a dam nearby, but I did not see it on this trip.

Goose Island sand dunes, Lower Tainter Gates in the background, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

This is as far as you can walk in this part of the park.  Goose Island’s western edge ends at the Upper Tainter Gates.  This is a popular area for fishermen who reach this spot by boat.  I did see several Osprey circling the sky here.  There is a small section of sand dunes on Goose Island that are shaped by wind and wave.  In the above image, bird tracks crisscross the sand.  I placed my final coal figure of the day here at the edge of a dune.  This time the figure has been turned on its side. Plumes of sand were blowing up and away at the dune’s edge by wind.  In the image below, the distance from the top of the dune to the riverbank on the right is deceiving.  I estimate that this is a seven or eight foot drop and a short roll to the river.

Coal figure on Goose Island sand dune, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

From this area I start my hike home on the north side of Goose Island and start heading east.  It has been a great day interacting with this environment.  I have several other images to show before closing that were shot on this walk.  Fortunately, there isn’t as much plastic junk to find on this side of the park, but of course there were a few things that caught my eye.

plastic squirt gun, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Here’s another squirt gun to add to the collection.

blue plastic hand on fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

A goofy blue plastic hand rests on a fossil bearing rock .  If you look closely, you can see bits of a crinoid stem by the  thumb.  I did take other images of fossils along my walk.  Here are more crinoid pieces found near the Upper Tainter Gates.  Crinoids are often described as sea lilies and were sessile marine animals that filtered and captured small animals from a flower-like calyx.

Fossil crinoid pieces, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

On the walk home, I kept walking by different fossil corals exposed in this ancient limestone.  Corals are colonial animals and you get a sense for this in my next image.

Exposed fossil coral, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The park prohibits collecting fossils and I begin to wonder if this heavy bag of coal that I have lugged around the island would count?  Technically speaking coal is a fossil material.  Although I found all my coal within the park, it did not originate here.  I retrace my steps crossing the exposed fossil beds and by the time I reach my vehicle…I am one tired guy.  If my luck holds, I might be able to take one more walk out here before this area becomes the bottom of the river again.  If it doesn’t happen…there is always next year!

Fossil beds with the skyline of Louisville in the distance, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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The train and I arrived at the Falls at the same time today.  It’s a frosty cold morning, but the sun is rising.  The only places you can find the icy covered driftwood now is in the shadows.  I’m more in the mood today to just go for a walk with my trusty camera.

I found this little composition and it reminded me of some of my favorite Max Ernst paintings.  I’ve always admired his creativity.  Ironically, the plywood panel with the circular hole is made of plastic!  I have no idea what it belongs to?

I thought I would check out the area near my outdoor studio site.  There’s not much in the way of birds out here in the willows, but on the river, I have spotted Lesser Scaup ducks mixing with Mallards.  The photos I made of them are good enough only for identification purposes. 

I came across one of my recent Styro-figures that I had thought was gone.  The last couple of times I have been out here, I don’t remember seeing it. He or she is still standing in an area where someone has recycled the metal wheels from these tires.  By cutting these tires up it prevents them from becoming mosquito nurseries and at least some element from the wheel gets reused.

Stopping by my trusty site gave me the chance to revisit some old friends.  The wind has knocked a couple of them down and I think they may have had some human help too.  It may only be a few months before this area will get rearranged by the later winter/early spring river overflow.

Walking down to the river it’s much windier.  The reddish bark of the willow saplings adds a note color to the landscape.  The river is a little higher than before and waves are pushing against the shore.  In the air above, Ring-billed Gulls dive into the water when food is spotted.  Yes, there is also trash in the river which gets pushed onto the land.

Objects made with fossil fuels wash over limestone bedrock with its embedded fossils.  A little water seems to make the fossils stand out a little more.  Over 350 million years a go these corals were at home in a marine environment.

Contrasting with the cleanliness of the exposed rock are sections were mud, sand, and silt have been cast ashore.  That’s were I found this image.

To me this also has the feel of a fossil.  This comb is evidence of life and its made from ancient carbon.  I wonder if plastic can fossilize?

I have collected more than one milk crate along the way.  I like to use them to store found objects and wood at my outdoor site.  Walking the river I found this image and was  provoked by it.  It’s a picture that finds some beauty in futility since this crate will never hold water.  There is snow in the forecast for this weekend and I’m anxious to see if it pans out.  More later.

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When last we visited our couple they were checking out the cascades out on the fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  In the presence of fresh running water they made their commitment to one another. 

There was still more to see and so they set out over the fossil beds by Goose Island.  With the river level low, the island was looking more like a forested hill.  The couple walked nearer the island taking advantage of every little bit of shade they could find.  It was still late summer and the sun was very hot.  The limestone beneath their feet contained the remains of ancient marine creatures that lived millions of years a go.  Every once in a while, the couple stopped and took pictures of the odd formations preserved in the rocks.  Their friends back home would want to see this.

One of the brochures picked up back at the Interpretive Center said that more than 250 species of ancient corals have been identified in the stone out here.  Their mineral homes were perfect for fossilization while the small jelly polyps that were the actual animals disappeared completely.

The brochure continued that more that 600 fossilized marine organisms have been identified out here and that about 2/3rds of them were type specimens.  This means that although some of these fossils have been found in other places in the world…they were first described by science from specimens collected at the Falls of the Ohio.  This is indeed a unique window into the history of life!  The couple felt privileged as though they were visiting some important shrine.

These coral fossils were from the Devonian Age and were more than 370 million years old!  This time is also known as the Age of Fishes because this is when their remains first entered the fossil record.  Although fish fossils are rarely found out here…there are many skeletons and bones of contemporary fish present because of fishermen and the retreating river.  Fish were the first animals to develop backbones and are still with us to this day.  Walking along the couple discovered something more familiar and recent not too far away from them.

It looked to be the remains of a stone wall set out in the now shallow river.  On the park map, the couple could see that this was the remains of the Goose Island Dike.  This was a 19th century attempt to manage and shape the course of the river.  Although it wasn’t a fossil, the uniformity of the stones and the ivy growing atop was pleasing to their eyes.  After a long walk, the couple neared their ultimate destination and the terrain switched from being rocky to sandy.  Around the bend, the couple could see the Lower Tainter Gates and they knew they could walk no farther.

The Lower Tainter Gates are on the western end of the park over the fossil beds on the Kentucky side.  Like many such gates along our nation’s rivers, they were designed to regulate the flow of the water to help commerce and to relieve flooding.  Fishermen both human and not use this area because the water is deeper and better oxygenated.  This is a good place to see the Osprey and Cormorant.  Usually the roar of the water passing through the gate can get loud, but today the river was low and quiet.

Walking up to the immense concrete structure, the couple thought of ancient Egyptian buildings and temples.  The scale and ambition of trying to control the river was all so overwhelming and emotional.  Their reaction to this engineering marvel was impulsive and surprising!

The couple embraced and shared a long kiss.  Later they would remark on how wrapping their minds around deep time and the beauty and continuity of life caused them to appreciate their moment together even more.  Having reached the destination of this day’s hike, the couple turned around and retraced their steps.  They had the rest of their lives ahead of them and in the bigger scheme of things…would just be a kiss or the blink of an eye.

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gasoline container at the Falls

I have just posted a new collection of images that can be found in my Pages section.  This selection is of gasoline containers found in context at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  All theses containers reached here by floating down or with the Ohio River.  I find there is a certain level of irony represented in these images since they underscore how important fossil fuels are to us and that a container used to specifically hold this precious liquid should happen to wash up at a site that is famous for its fossils.  Civilizations rise and fall with their ability to harness energy and we have decided to hang our star on fossil fuels.  For now, I’ll leave it at that and let it join my other eccentric collections that are gifts and lessons from the river.

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Styro-turtle head with fossils

I just read that the most primitive reptiles still around are the turtles.  The oldest turtle fossils extend back nearly 230 million years.  It wouldn’t come as a shock to see that pushed further back in time as new discoveries are made.  The fossils at the Falls of the Ohio predate the turtles and represent life during the Devonian Period about 370 million years ago.

Styro-turtle in shallow pool

Normally during this time of year the fossil beds would be exposed and you can walk very far out upon them.  This, however, hasn’t been a normal year!  I’ve dipped into the archives to show you a turtle sculpture I made a couple years ago that remains a favorite creation.  In this image, the Styro-turtle is crawling out of a shallow pool of water that it was using to stay cool.  It can get very hot out on these rocks during the summer.  The remains of ancient corals can be clearly seen in the limestone.

Styro-turtle on fossil rocks

When I make this work I’m really more interested in the images that result.  For me, it’s about seeing the trash I rearrange and reconfigure in the context where these objects were found.  This turtle needs to be seen in this particular environment which has played a large role in shaping the materials I use.  This is meant to be “a collaboration with nature”.  Andy Goldsworthy has used this phrase to describe his work and friends have  compared my work to his.  There are similarities in that we both like working out in the elements, using what is on hand, and taking a photographic image that is the visual record of that day and place in time.  There are also differences.  My work here is figurative while Goldsworthy’s is more abstract.  He prefers working strictly with natural materials while I use artificial ones too.  The state of moving from the natural to the artificial I feel describes our current condition well.  Goldsworthy travels to some of the beautiful places on the planet to make his art, while I decided to interpret this one place near where I live.  I feel we are collectively like the turtle in the above image…on the brink.  Will we turn back or go over the edge?  By using the garbage I find here I believe I’m not only illustrating part of the problem, but also suggesting an alternative.  It’s by encouraging and using our universal creativity that we have the best chance to reconnect with the environment that sustains us.

Styro-turtle, out of context

This piece turned out nicely and so I kept it.  Later it found a good home with my gallery representative…who prefers the sculptural models over the images!  To each his own.  With real turtles, one of the distinctions that shows up even in the earliest animals is the presence of the shell or carapace.  In my polystyrene version, the shell is special too.  It is the remains of an old bicycle helmet.  Other materials used include:  coal for the nostrils and mouth, plastic aerosol nozzle tips for the eyes, a plastic bleach bottle mouth forms the collar where the turtle’s neck joins the body, driftwood legs, tail, and neck, the rest is Styrofoam.  All found on site.Underside of Styro-turtle


The head pivots around where it meets the body and there is one other special feature of this piece.  It can only be seen by turning the turtle over.  The body is a Styrofoam human head used by wig stylists!  For me, it adds another layer of meaning.  This is one of two such Styrofoam heads I have found at the Falls of the years and worked well with the foam helmet.  A pocket knife was the only tool I used to make this found object sculpture.

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Falls Colgate ClockWorking at the Falls of the Ohio is a reflective experience and thinking about the construct of “time” pops into my head a lot.  To reinforce matters even more, less than a mile from my “studio” is this giant clock ticking away in a grand, but conventional manner.  I once read  that the largest clock face in the world was at another Colgate Palmolive plant in Jersey City, New Jersey, but it was demolished in 1988. Our clock, the one in Jeffersonville, IN, I believe is  now the biggest.   At night it glows red.  The building was once a prison before the toothpaste factory relocated here.  Recently, it was sold to another interest and we aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen with certainty,  but it is everybody’s wish that the clock remain.  From downtown Louisville, you can tell time by looking across the Ohio River. 

fossil snail at the Falls of the Ohio

About a mile or so away from the clock is another landmark, the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, IN.   If it had nothing else, it would be one of the most important fossil sites in the world.  In the rocks here you will find more species  from the Devonian Age than anywhere else.  In the time line of life, the fossils here are the high point of life as it existed over 375 million years ago.  Essentially, this bedrock limestone is the bottom of the river.  The best time to see these rocks is in the late summer and early fall when the water level is low.

Horn coral, Falls of the Ohio

Although today’s park is a fresh water environment, back in Devonian times this was a shallow, marine reef ecosystem dominated by various corals.  When these now long extinct animals were alive, they existed somewhere in the latitude of the present day Bahama Islands.  The Devonian age is noted for the appearance of fish, the first animals with backbones, but here at the Falls their fossils are rare.  Contemporary fish bones, however, are not.  Here is a carp skeleton.

carp skeleton

There are many lessons about life in these rocks.  I often wonder as I stand upon them whether intelligence and sentience will prove to be an evolutionary advantage.  I think that’s why we are here.  So far, I think the book is still open on that one.  I found this faux-fossil (one of two such balls found over the years here) and couldn’t resist the juxtaposition.  Fossil collecting in the park is prohibited, but I did pocket this pink ball with its embossed trilobite.

faux fossil with real fossil

Presently, the migratory birds are feeling that rhythm to move northward.  The yellow-rumped warbler is the first warbler to arrive and the last to leave.  This male has staked out his territory and is singing away as his kind has done for thousands of years.  Last year was spectacular for warblers.  Here’s hoping for a repeat.

yellow-rumped warbler, male, 4/09

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