The Irene Mine – Belvidere IL. July 16th, 2017
On Sunday morning the ESCONI (Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois, invited the KMGS to “piggy-back” on a field Trip with them to the Irene Mine near Belvidere Illinois. The open-pit style Dolomite Limestone Mine is known for exposing Gastropods, Cephalopods, Brachiopods, Trilobites, Horn Coral and the Hormotma or Receptaculites layer of the coral fossils.
The sun peaked between the clouds and occasional sprinkles, as the warm summer air was occasionally interrupted with a cool breeze, bringing a welcomed relief and appreciated freshness to invigorate our anticipation and passions, for the archeological expedition we were embarking upon. We arrived around 9:00 am, and drove the twisting paths along the hundred feet tall walls of the crater-like pit. Our cars and trucks resembling toys compared to the enormous excavation equipment, haul trucks, loaders, crushers and the maze of conveyors to various bins, hoppers and mountainous piles.
The backdrop of the cliff-like limestone walls of the mine, rough from the blasting of the bed rock for harvest, provided a sort of solitude and recluse away from the noisy world just a few thousand feet above and around us. The display of shale horizons, skeletal pack-stone and grain-stone beds, of the Ordovician, Galena Group, which was deposited in the second of six periods of the Paleozoic Era. The once calm marine environment, turned into layers of sediment, now makes up the walls, and are a geological masterpiece of history in itself. The mind could not fathom what history was all trapped in the grasp of the limestone layers, and how insignificant a role we as the human race play in a much larger scheme of the earth sciences.
As per the instructions from the Mine Owners; we donned hard hats, vests or bright colored shirts, safety glasses, and durable closed toe shoes, and the two groups armed with rock hammers, chisels and buckets, scattered about fueled by dreams of grandeur of finding fossil specimens, and examples of ancient life encapsulated in stone for the ages to examine and display. We anxiously, but aimlessly wandered and meandered around, between and amidst the small mountains of rocks and tailings, which await crushing for aggregate, to be used in construction and road building. We were all excited for the opportunity to peruse through the piles in search of a prize or memento, worthy of display or of educational significance.
While we all engaged in friendly conversation, sharing our experiences, knowledge and pleasantries, there was a sense of determination in the air, as most of the members worked in two’s or independently, to search for, uncover, and extract their cherished finds from the piled of material. The quiet un-rhythmically broken sounds of the continuous; but sporadic “clinking” of the hammers and chisels, as the novice “miners” broke, chipped and extracted potential specimens from the grasp of a sort of geological prison, to be freed and examined and their story to be disseminated or on display.
A substantial number of or at least portions of gastropods, cephalopods, brachiopods, horn coral and receptaculites layers were unearthed, and several attendees could be seen shuttling their buckets or specimens to their vehicle throughout the morning. Mary and I personally found some partial gastropods, which we will attempt to extract with our dremel tools, a nice horn coral for display and a few specimens to be cut, sawed and maybe polished or clear-coated for their austeric geological beauty, depending upon how well it “cleans up”.
As the day neared its midpoint, the groups began to filter out and reconvene by the cars to share their new found possessions and specimens. Wanting to adhere to the wishes, and to respect the hosts request; to limiting our time to a few hours, so the mine volunteers; who were on hand to monitor and protect against any misguided behavior, could enjoy their day off as well. Our group posed for a few pictures and exchanged pleasantries and expressed our thanks for the invitation, then we all departed to spend the rest of our day individually.
It was a fun and educational field trip, and nobody left disappointed. Friendships were made, education fostered by the sharing of information, and the seeds of alliances for future endeavors were sown. Few other hobbies or activities cost so little, and provide so much fulfillment for so many. We all owe it to our club predecessors and the scientists, who devoted their time and sometimes their lives, to the dissemination of the Earth Sciences, and to carry on the traditions of sharing the knowledge, and educate the following generations of the wonders of the world and the history of the planet, upon which we live. Who knew; the history books of the earth come in the form of a rock.
Mary and John Rettler July 2017