100616: Chazy Reef 2016


Just got back from Isle La Motte, Vermont after retrieving my recent show. It’s always a pleasure visiting with all the fine folks at the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust. It’s also a pleasure to take some time sitting on the shore of Lake Champlain, relaxing amid the surrounding beauty


The water was exceptionally low, something we’ve heard throughout the Northeast for months now. The receding shoreline has exposed usually submerged rocks, giving us a reason to walk the shore and explore.


Aside from the odd apple tree (an escapee from one of the numerous orchards on the island), we found way too many fossils to even count. What a bonanza!


Gastropods, cephalopods, and stromatoporoids.

For those unfamiliar, gastropods are the spirally ones, cephalopods are the straight ones, and stromatoporoids are the wavy ones.


They are all marine invertebrate fossils from the Ordovician Period, roughly 480 million years ago.


This southern part of the island, a world renowned geological treasure known as the Chazy Fossil Reef, is the world’s oldest ecologically diverse fossil reef.


Information on the science and history of the Reef can be found at the ILMPT website. The story of the environmental battles that led to the preservation of the reef sites, “The Quarriers: A Conservation Tale,” written by Linda Fitch, can be found here.










An important part of ILMPT’s mission is public education. Student groups from all over the region make visits to the Goodsell Ridge Preserve, where many fossil outcrops exist. The newly renovated barn, now the Nature Center is a focal point for students, educators, scientists, tourists, and the local population.




I’ll finish for today with these two images, a sponge above and a gastropod below, new additions to the collection in the Nature Center. Plan a visit if you are in the area.


Thanks for the visit.

0917: Chazy Reef This Saturday


This trio of gastropods was found at the site of a barn on the Goodsell Ridge Preserve on Isle La Motte, Vermont. The Preserve, an 81 acre nature and geologic preserve, is home to Chazy Reef, a remarkable and unique 480 million year old fossil reef formation. And on Saturday (Sept. 19) the aforementioned barn, now newly renovated, will open as part of the island’s annual Teddy Roosevelt Day festivities.


The barn will be a multipurpose space for the Preserve, a site used for everything from nature center to exhibition and event space. And I have been asked to provide the opening art exhibit. This first set of images, as well as others I had posted two weeks ago, will be part of the show – all images of the various fossils I encountered during my visits to Chazy Reef.


As for Teddy Roosevelt, this yearly event pays tribute to this most famous conservationist, who had visited this island in September of 1901. Various events will be taking place across the island. The final event of the day will be a reception at the Goodsell Ridge Barn at 4:00 pm. The exhibit will be open all day beginning at 11:00 am.


There are plans currently to keep the show up permanently or, at least, indefinitely. Hopefully, the prints will encourage visitors to take more time to explore the reef and recognize and appreciate its importance.




One more note about ILM – On my last visit I walked all the way to the far side of Fisk Quarry (the other part of the Land Trust) and found this. It is one of two very large stromatoporoids in the quarry. Known as “reef-formers” these invertebrates are classified as sponges.


These are a few close-ups of the stromatoporoid that measures roughly 5’x5′.


I’ll try to have more images next week of the island and all the festivities.




Last week I brought you images from the rocks along the Kaaterskill Creek. This week I have a few more to share. In the interim, one long night of a 5″ rainfall has filled the creek once again. So it may be a while before some of these fossils reappear.


These next two images tell an interesting story. As I mentioned last week, fossils down here appear as the cherty rock surfaces ever so slowly dissolve (thanks to enviromental effects, i.e. the flow of the creek).


The image above was taken in September of 2007. I found it again last week. Take a look at the image below to see the changes that have occurred during the last eight years! Amazing to me, given that this coral has been around for hundreds of millions of years!


And, finally, these little things again! I still have no idea what they are but I do find then strange and interesting. They remind me of aboriginal art!


IMG_3209_01_LR_12 IMG_3198_01_LR_12

Thanks for the visit.

1031: The Best Autumn

IMG_5452_01_LR_10“This was the best Autumn ever!” That’s what I have heard from all my friends.We missed the best part of it while away. That said, it’s still a beautiful place to return to – this Hudson Valley. Each time of year has its special moments. And this special moment (above), during a hike last weekend, captured it for me, in all its natural randomness.


IMG_1933_01_LR_12The weather has been great for a visit to the neighborhood quarry. Since my last visit some major new areas have been exposed and, while I am pretty familiar with the fossils to be found here, it is still and always a treat to find so much in one small place.

IMG_5386_01_LR_12Brachiopods looking like gold nuggets pouring out of the rock




IMG_5510_01_LR_10All of the fossil images above (and many more) came from one rather large rock that I carried back to my studio. Originally it was roughly 2’x1’x8″ . The larger rock (that this was once part of) sits on a large pile awaiting my next visit.


IMG_1932_01_LR_10Last week’s trip to Isle La Motte to pick up my recent show provided me with another view of Autumn, 2013.

IMG_5373_01_LR_12Fisk Quarry – Those two white,chalky spots on the wall (high center) are massive Ordovician stromatoporoids. And below are one of the many gastropods to be found there. All with the crisp scent of crushed apples underfoot!


As I continue to edit my Italian images let me share these with you. The first three are from the Roman Baths of Caracalla. Massive structures and facilities that boggle the mind – especially when considering the date of origin – app. 212 A.D.


_MG_4255_01_LR_12Mosaic tile flooring (from the upper floors)


IMG_5209_01_LR_10And finally, a few random street scenes.



Thanks for visiting.

More images at www.artmurphy.com

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Chazy Reef – Part 3

The Fisk Quarry Preserve

Pre-dawn light pulled me to the quarry. I had seen it briefly the day before so I knew the payoff would be worth the effort. I knew that strange and interesting sights awaited. I was not disappointed.

The long dormant quarry, at that hour of the day, had a captivating feel to it – beautiful yet slightly post apocalyptic. Maybe it had something to do with the uncovered remains of 450 million year old life. Maybe it had something to do with the two hundred years worth of human effort engaged in cutting and carting off, piece by piece, as much of this ancient reef as they could carry. Or maybe in the end it had something to do with the way in which the earth reclaims it – now as a wetlands.

A word about the Fisk Quarry. The site, first quarried by the French in 1666, was one of a handful of quarries active throughout the Nineteenth Century on Isle La Motte. Its unique and highly regarded stone found its way into sites such as Radio City, the National Gallery and Vermont’s State House. All this quarried stone, part of the bedrock, “…was actually the fossil remnants of an ancient reef. A Harvard geologist in 1924 called it ‘the oldest coral reef in the world.'”

Gastropods in the bedrock are, at least to me, endlessly fascinating. Set against the other markings on the face of the bedrock, they constantly reminded me of spiral galaxies. Squint a little as you view some of these gastropod images and you might think you are looking at images from the Hubble Telescope!

Perhaps the most amazing fossils to be found at the Fisk Quarry are stromatoporoids. An extinct ancestor of the sponge, it was one of the builders of the Chazy Reef.

Looking like an ever expanding cabbage, the stromatoporoids seen in the quarry walls are at least several feet in diameter. One has to wonder what else might be hidden in those walls!

The close-up below, coupled with the gastropods, shows the strangeness and diversity of life 450 million years ago. And given what we now know about the atmospheric conditions that existed at the time, one could only assume a landscape worthy of an Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury treatment!

The wetlands, created by time and abandonment, seem to be a fine place to end this final installment of the Chazy Reef story – for now. I look forward to many more visits in the future – if not for the unforgettable fossils to be found then most certainly for the sweeping beauty and the soulful caress of tranquility found there as well.

One last note – The Isle La Motte Preservation Trust (ILMPT), founded and organized by local citizens concerned about local heritage and the world around them, were able to save sites of worldwide significance through determination and hard work. They deserve your support. I’d bet that if you look a little closer to home you might very well find similarly well intentioned groups who could use a little of your help.

Visit Chazy Reef and Isle La Motte – a fine destination any time if year.

Next week – Ausable Chasm!

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Thank you as always for visiting. More images at www.artmurphy.com

Thanks again for the visit.

Chazy Reef – Part 2

It turns out that I came away from Chazy Reef with much more material than I had even hoped for. So, for today I’d like to focus on the Goodsell Preserve. Part 3 will wrap up with a focus on the Fisk Quarry Preserve. These two preserves comprise the land protected by the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust (ILMPT), an organization founded by local citizens in 1998. And, thanks to their efforts, in 2009 the Chazy Fossil Reef was awarded the designation of National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

The Goodsell Preserve

Fresh mown paths met us at Goodsell, allowing for an easy, relaxing walk through lush fields. The breeze off Lake Champlain and a warm early Summer sun made it ideal timing for our visit. The 81 acres are interlaced with paths connecting various reef mounds.

And it’s these mounds that contain some of the oldest fossils I have ever seen. Ordovician Period fossils such as gastropods, bryozoa, crinoids, cephalopods, etal. are present, sometimes only as faint outlines. No matter that they might sometimes be faint, given their age (approximately 450 million years old).

The Visitors Center on site is a converted and restored farmhouse (see last week’s blog for image). It contains, among other things, an instructive video about the two sites, and a collection of local fossils. The next five images are from that collection.

I should take a moment to stress, as I often do, that I am an artist and not a scientist. While I try my best to accurately identify that which I photograph, and I try my best to get good identification from those who know, I recognize that I often fall short where proper identification is concerned. So anyone out there who knows such things is most welcome to comment on any of the images. These next three are fine examples. Stromatoporoids? Algae? Sponges? Or just cool marbleized rock? Either way, the patterns are compelling.

I’ll leave you with one final image for this segment – the old barn at Goodsell, right behind the Visitors Center. The hope, according to Ms Fitch, founder and president of the Trust, is that it become an education center. Like everything else, that will take support. This is a national treasure, saved and protected by ordinary citizens, and united by common goal. They would love your support. Visit if Summer vacation brings you anywhere near. You will be glad you did.

Next week I’ll be writing about current news surrounding Gilboa and the world’s oldest forest. Then the following week back to the world’s oldest fossil reef in Part 3 – the Fisk Quarry Preserve.

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Thank you as always for visiting. More images at www.artmurphy.com

Chazy Reef – Part 1

What started as a brief getaway turned into a trip full of surprises that I wish to share today. We decided to point the car in the general direction of nearby Vermont with only one destination – and that only for a few hours of exploring and shooting. From there the plan was no plan – just wherever whim might take us. A google search for “Vermont fossils” yielded the name “Chazy Reef,” a site unfamiliar to me but worth checking out. And, after a couple of emails back and forth, we were set for a guided tour.

According to Charlotte Merhtens, Ph.D. and geologist at the University of Vermont, “The Chazy Fossil Reef is significant as the oldest known occurrence of a biologically diverse fossil reef, the earliest appearance of fossil coral in a reef environment, and the first documented example of the principle of ecological faunal succession (the process of change in an ecosystem over time.”) The reef itself takes up approximately the lower third of Isle La Motte, which sits in the northernmost section of Lake Champlain. It reaches back in time to the Ordovician Period, roughly 450 to 480 million years ago.

Equally fascinating to me is the story of the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust and its founder and president, Ms Linda Fitch, the indefatigable (and charming) driving force behind it. Linda, one of the 500 residents of this island wonderland, was moved to action back in the 90’s when the sound of a jackhammer signaled the revival of quarrying operations at the old Fisk Quarry, threatening the tranquility of the island but more importantly threatening this storehouse of important information about earliest life on this planet. After years of legal battles, Ms Fitch and her friends and neighbors established the Trust. According to their website: “It was founded in 1998 by citizens who wanted to preserve the historic Fisk Quarry, site of an ancient 480 million year old fossil reef known to scientists as the Chazy Reef. Since then, thanks to partnerships with the Preservation Trust of Vermont and with the Lake Champlain Land Trust,  ILMPT has now acquired over 100 acres of the fossil reef on Isle La Motte. This land is now protected in two preserves: the Fisk Quarry Preserve and the Goodsell Ridge Preserve.”

The lead image is one of many fossils (in this case a gastropod) found in the exposed bedrock. Many more to come in the next installment after I wade through the ample shooting I was afforded. Until then I’d like to share some of the island with you.

Upon completion of my shooting, as we prepared to depart to points unknown, Ms Fitch told us that one of her guest cottages was available if we cared to stay. The stone cottage, built in the 1700s(?), had all the charm one could wish for. Of course we stayed.

And the view out the front door was priceless.

A short walk from the cottage led to the old Fisk Quarry…

…site of some of the strangest fossils I’ve ever seen – stromatoporoids – reef builders that look like giant cabbages. That’s them – looking from afar like whitewashed graffiti (close-ups to come).

Equally amazing is the old Fisk Farm, visited by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 and now Ms Fitch’s home, a compound that includes the aforementioned cottage, main house, barn and assorted outbuildings.

The refurbished barn acts as an art gallery, a performance space touting a pair of baby grand pianos (with an appropriate Summer schedule of world class musical events). Across from the barn is the Tea Room, site of Sunday gatherings throughout the Summer.

So what looks like a sleepy island retreat is in fact a focal point of interesting current activity, historical anecdotes, and profound scientific value. And with Ms Fitch’s ever optimistic bent and boundless energy, the future holds enormous promise.

I’ll have more on this trip in future posts. Until then,I’ll leave you with a few random pics from the visit, including a smile goodbye from Isle La Mott!

Thank you as always for visiting. More images at www.artmurphy.com

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