Vermont’s Famous Fossils Get New Exhibit

Linda Fitch strolls the Goodsell Ridge Preserve


Seven Days has an excellent article on a new exhibit on the fossils of Isle La Motte:

Take a walk through Isle La Motte’s Goodsell Ridge Preserve, and you’ll have to make an effort to avoid treading on the fossilized remains of prehistoric creatures. It’s easy to spot the whorled forms of ancient gastropods (the ancestors of snails and slugs), and only slightly trickier to recognize the impressions of the antediluvian precursors of modern octopi and squids.

The fossil beds, which are some of the most prominent and geologically significant portions of the formation known as the Chazy Reef, are history written in stone. To stroll among them is to contemplate the history of the Earth: Some of the fossils at Goodsell Ridge are 480 million years old.

I’ve walked around this area before, and it’s an incredible feeling, looking at things that are in the hundreds of millions of years old. Read the full article here.

Week in Geek

We’re going to try something over here, a retrospective on the week, based on the major topics we’ve talked about, with a bit of commentary.

Vermont Comic Con – Word that Vermont was getting its very own Comic Con in Burlington has been huge this week, as has our look at Vermont’s history of conventions in The Vermont Convention Scene. Word of Vermont Comic Con has gotten a number of fans excited on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s easy to see why: neighboring Comic Cons in Boston and Manchester have grown in recent years, and it’s not uncommon to see fans from Vermont in the walkways or behind tables.

We’re cautiously optimistic for this one. On one hand, it’s the first time that this event will be run (although it’s not the first comic con in Vermont, despite the organizer’s claims.) and they’re in a huge space. Hopefully, they’ll attract a good number of people, and it’ll become a center point for people who follow GMS. We’ll likely be there, although exactly how we’ll be there is up in the air.


Geek Mountain State Presents Cold Mountain Stories: A Night of the Fantastic was announced earlier this week, our fourth entry in the Vermont Science Fiction Writer’s Series. We’re pretty excited for this one (as we are for all of them), because we’ve got a really strong lineup of authors. We’ve also started releasing video footage from the first event in the series, Strange as Night, Dark as Fiction #1: F. Brett Cox. We’ve got more footage that’ll come out over the course of April and a new installment will come out next week. Our next reading will take place on April 19th at Quarterstaff Games in Burlington.


This weekend marks International Tabletop Day 2014 in Vermont, and there’s a variety of events taking place across the state with places in Burlington, Danby, Fairlee, and Winooski holding official events.

Lovecraft in Windham County! was also popular this week. The aforementioned F. Brett Cox is talking about famed horror author H.P. Lovecraft at the Rockingham Free Library next Thursday. We attended another talk by him last month in Montpelier, and it was a pretty interesting one. If you’re in the area, check it out. We’ll have a reminder next week.

Second Life for Triple Play Games! Triple Play Games is frequently on our Geek Things event list each morning, and we were pretty sad that the store was closing up shop in Lebanon in March, but excited to hear that they found a new home. They’re opening up again today. Gamers in Lebanon, you won’t be without a gaming store for long: Black Moon Games is moving in.

And finally, weirdly, our 2011 post on Fossil Hunting in Vermont was popular this week. Happy hunting, but you might want to wait until the snow vanishes, which should happen … someday.


That’s what’s been popular this week – what news were you most happy with?



Geek Things for August 18th

  • Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, 9AM–9PM, Bread Loaf Campus, Ripton. Lectures and readings are free and open to the public; see for schedule. (Writing)
  • Basic Bike Maintenance, 5:30–6:30PM, Skirack, Burlington. Free. (Bikes)
  • Mount Mansfield Scale Modelers, 6:30–8:30PM, Brownell Library, Essex Junction. Free. (Modelers)
  • Summer Sci-Fi Film Series – It Came from Outer Space. 7PM, Town Hall Theater, Middlebury. $3. (Movies)
  • Chess Club, 7PM, Faith United Methodist Church, South Burlington. $2-3. (Chess)
  • Zoom In on Zebra Mussels, 12:30PM, ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center/Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, Burlington. Regular admission, $9.50-12.50; free for kids 2 and under. (Kids)
  • ‘Ice Ages, Glaciers and Fossils — Oh My!’ Geological history of Button Bay and the Lake Champlain Basin. 3–3:30PM, Button Bay State Park, Vergennes. Regular park day-use fee, $2-3. (Fossils)
  • Panel Discussion – The role food plays in our lives. 6:30PM, Amy E. Tarrant Gallery, Flynn Center, Burlington. Free. (Food)
  • ‘Cinderella’, 7:30PM, Lebanon Opera House, Lebanon. $25-85. (Theater)
  • ‘Ten-Fest’, 8PM, Valley Players Theater, Waitsfield. $8-10. (Theater)
  • ‘Wicked City’, 8PM, Depot Theatre, Westport. $25. (Theater)
  • Book Talk, 11AM–12PM, Flying Pig Bookstore, Shelburne. Free. (Books)
  • Warmachine / Hordes, 5pm – 11pm, Quarterstaff Games Gamespace, Burlington. (Gaming)
  • Planetarium presentation: KEPLER and the Search for New Worlds 11:00 am, Fairbanks Museum, St. Johnsbury. $5/person. (Science)
  • Color Mixing, 11:00 am, Monshire Museum of Science, Norwich. (Kids)
  • Fossils: Evidence of the Past. 3pm, Monshire Museum of Science, Norwich. (Kids)

Paleozoic Vermont

While looking around for information on Vermont’s fossils, I found this Smithsonian Magazine article on one of the world’s oldest reefs in Isle La Motte:

Nelson Fisk, who was Vermont’s lieutenant governor from 1896 to 1898, was also the owner of a quarry on Isle La Motte, in Lake Champlain. His business card read: “Isle La Motte Grey and Black Marble Quarries.” He was overselling. The rock was limestone.

Fisk limestone was loaded onto boats and floated down the lake to the Hudson River and points south, where it was used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and, in Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Art, among other structures. The darker Fisk limestone came to be known as “radio black” because it was used in Radio City Music Hall. Stone from the quarry was covered with odd swirls and blotches—and therein lies a strange tale of geology, climate change and the history of life on this planet.

Those blemishes are what make the Isle La Motte stone priceless today, so much so that the quarry is no longer available to stonecutters and instead has been preserved as an outdoor science laboratory. The “flaws” in the stone are fossils, evidence of sea creatures of stunning antiquity—some dating back nearly half a billion years, when the only existing animals lived in oceans. And what incredible animals they were! There was coral, of course, but also large, tentacled ancestors of squid; trilobites, arthropods related to horseshoe crabs; and spongy, cabbage-shaped animals called stromatoporoids. Peculiar as it may sound, Isle La Motte, which is some 175 miles from the Atlantic Coast, is the best place to see one of the oldest reefs on earth.

Seven miles long and three miles wide, the island was the site of the first European settlement in Vermont, in 1666. Today it is home to about 500 year-round residents. The fossil reef, called the Chazy Reef after a town in upstate New York where this type of rock was first studied, covers the southern third of the island. What is it doing here? When the reef began to form, 450 million years ago, it lay in warm waters in the Southern Hemisphere. It thrived there for about five million years. Some 250 million years later, rotating tectonic plates deposited the fossilized reef where it is today. Other parts of the reef, which originally stretched a thousand miles, can be found all the way from Newfoundland to Tennessee. But it is in Isle La Motte where the reef best opens itself to scientific study.

You can read the rest of the article, published in 2009, here.

If you’ve never made it out to this site, it’s a worthy visit: it’s a stunning, humbling look at Vermont’s geologic history.

Fossil Hunting in Vermont

I worked at YMCA Camp Abnaki for a number of years, and while there, I found that it’s loaded with fossil fragments. By all accounts, the most abundant that can be found there is the fossil Triarthus, a type of Trilobite from the Odrivician era. I’ve found others around the area, and other types of fossils from around the state, in the Champlain basin (not the mountains, with their heavily metamorphosed roots.

Digging around, I found a very, very cool website that lists fossil sites from around the state, here:

I do urge anyone who’s interested in fossil hunting to take a look around, but at the same time, to be respectful of private property and of the sites themselves: nothing kills access to places like this than people who can’t see that their actions have consequences: don’t litter, don’t destroy and don’t steal.

Geek Things for July 1

  • Historic Tours, 9AM–5PM, Wilson Castle, Proctor. $10. (Castle)
  • High School Book Group, 4:30–5:15PM, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington. Free. (Teens)
  • ‘Birds By Ear’. Meet at History Hike. 10AM, Little River State Park, Waterbury. $2-3; call to confirm. (Birds)
  • David Fairbanks Ford – “Baby Penguins, Two-Headed Calves and the World of St. Petersburg’s Museums.” 6–8PM, Main Street Museum, White River Junction. Donations accepted. (Museums)
  • ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, 8PM, Montpelier City Hall Auditorium, Montpelier. $10-30. (Theater)
  • FNM – Friday Night Magic – Type 2 / Standard – $8 Entry Fee, 6pm – 11pm, Quarterstaff Games, Burlington. (Gaming)
  • Friday Night Magic — Constructed, 6pm – 10pm, The Gamer’s Grotto, Bennington. (Gaming)
  • Color Mixing, 11:00 a.m., Monshire Museum of Science, Norwich. (Kids)
  • Fossils, 3:00 p.m., Monshire Museum of Science, Norwich. (Kids)
  • Planetarium presentation, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm, Fairbanks Museum, St. Johnsbury. (Astronomy)
  • Star Party at GMO. Call Jack St. Louis 802-658-0184 (H), 802-656-1287 or Paul Walker 802-388-4220 (H), 802-861-8640 (W) for invite. 8:30pm-11:30pm, Green Mountian Observatory, Observatory Road, Hinesburg. (Astronomy)