Wooster Geologist on the Blue Ridge of Virginia

The summer field season has started for Wooster geologists. Greg Wiles is now in southern Alaska with his students doing dendrochronology and geomorphology. Meagen Pollock and Shelley Judge are running an integrated project in west-central Utah with their students doing structural geology, geochemistry, vulcanism and petrology. Watch these pages for their reports!

As for me, I’m on a short vacation. A geologically-rich vacation, of course! My wife Gloria and I are visiting the Shenandoah region of Virginia. We started today in Shenandoah National Park, driving south down Skyline Drive along the Blue Ridge. The weather is spectacular as you can tell from the above image. This is a view near Mile 61 looking west across the Valley and Ridge Province.
The Blue Ridge Province has a bedrock made of igneous and metamorphic Grenville basement rocks up to a billion years old. The Blue Ridge itself, which runs north-south from Pennsylvania to Georgia, is mostly an eroded anticline overturned westward. Directly west is the Valley and Ridge Province. In the image above, the “A” is at the spot where the top photograph was taken. You can easily pick out the physiographic and geological provinces.

Most of the rocks exposed along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park are metabasalts of the Catoctin Formation (Ediacaran, about 570 million years old). A metabasalt is a basalt that has been metamorphosed (unsurprisingly). The original basalts of the Catoctin were erupted during the rifting open of the Iapetus Ocean, a precursor of the Atlantic. Many of these eruptions were on this early seafloor, forming pillows and thick flows. The total basalts in this formation piled up in layers to almost 800 meters thick.
The metabasalt of the Catoctin has a greenish color in many places, giving it the common name “greenstone”. Veins of green minerals, primarily epidote and chlorite, run through the rock, especially in the northern part of the Blue Ridge. This greenstone is occasionally mined to produced chemical-resistant lab surfaces and facing stones.

The dramatic geology was accompanied by beautiful wildflowers. The rocks, flowers, views and weather combined to make an extraordinary day of natural history. Tomorrow we’ll explore how this geology affected human history in very direct ways.

Aquilegia canadensis (Red Columbine).

Penstemon canescens (Hairy Beardtongue).

About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster. He specializes in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate sedimentology, and stratigraphy. He also is an expert on pseudoscience, especially creationism.
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6 Responses to Wooster Geologist on the Blue Ridge of Virginia

  1. Callan Bentley says:

    I was in the park today too! You’ve got a great image of the volcanic breccia lithology of the Catoctin there: ancient lahars petrified for half a billion years!
    Enjoy. Today’s weather was great along Skyline Drive – hope you get more of the same!

  2. Mark Wilson says:

    Thanks, Callan — quickest comment ever! Thanks as well for adding to the content. Glad you were also able to enjoy a special day in the park.

  3. Richard Kerr says:

    Mark, what a gorgeous day to be on Skyline Drive. Wish I had been there too. Looks like my wife, Julie, and I will be out to Wooster for the 22 September alumni soccer game (I’ll play, not Julie). Will be continuing down to Lexington, KY, and Mammoth Cave before driving back to DC. I’ll be in touch sometime for any tips on good hiking/geology you might have. Enjoy the rest of your trip.


  4. Mark Wilson says:

    It will be great to see you again, Dick! Maybe even watch you kick the ball around on the soccer field. Will enjoy giving you some geological ideas for you trip. Thanks for the note!

  5. Sophie says:

    Greetings from Baltimore- more specifically, the Mass Spec Lab in the basement of the Earth and Planetary Sciences department at JHU. I encourage you to keep driving eastward and come for a visit! You are almost half way here.

  6. Mark Wilson says:

    Wish we could visit, Sophie!

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