If you’re like me, hot summer days are a reminder that it is time to get outside and have some fun in the sun! One of my favorite summer activities is the good old family barbeque. Of course the ultimate barbeque day is here: Independence Day! Every Fourth of July it is time to celebrate our country’s National Day commemorating the adoption of our great Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress in 1776. Freeing ourselves from British control meant that we had to perfect our own system of government. And so it was that the Articles of the Confederation were replaced by the Constitution of the United States, a document written on September 17, 1787 and ratified on June 21, 1788. In honor of our nation’s Independence Day and the ratification of our long-standing Constitution, let’s take a closer look at the United States of America from a Nature’s Art Village perspective!
The national gemstone of the United States is tourmaline. After the birth of the country, it was the first gemstone to be mined by non-native Americans who discovered large deposits in Maine in 1822. Tourmaline is a semi-precious mineral that forms elongate three-sided crystals that can grow to be quite large and impressive or remain tiny and hair-like as inclusions in minerals like quartz and rocks like granite. Black is the most commonly found color, but it occurs in every color of the rainbow – even multi-colored! Though today most of the world’s brightly colored tourmalines come from Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Brazil, the United States is historically one of the world’s most renowned producers of fine, colorful tourmaline. In fact, we were the largest producers of gem-quality tourmalines in the world during the early 1900’s. Our largest quantities were bright pink and bi-color crystals from southern California and beautiful mint-green and pink-red crystals from Maine. These gems were coveted by wealthy collectors and nobility the world over, particularly in China where Empress Dowager Tz’u Hsi purchased copious amounts of it for jewelry and decorative carvings. Though tourmaline is not commercially gathered in the United States anymore due to the high costs of such operations, the splendor of our tourmalines are well-known around the world and boosted the beginning of American mining.
The United States does not have an official national fossil, but we do have some of the most impressive paleontological sites in the world. Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, for example, hosts acres upon acres of fallen fossilized trees from a vast forest existing approximately 225 million years ago during the Triassic. When the trees from this forest died and fell over, many of them ended up in rivers where they were covered by sediment rich in silica from volcanic ash. Most minerals on Earth are known as silicates meaning they contain silica, and silica is key in fossilization. It was silica from the ash dissolving in groundwater that replaced the organic matter of the trees, mineralizing them. Quartz is a major component of these fossilized frees, but more rarely other minerals such as opal, agate, and chalcedony can be found. If the fossilized trees, ginkgoes, cycads, and phytosaurs of Petrified Forest National Park leave you wanting more, you’ll be happy to know that the United States is also home to Dinosaur National Monument. Located on the border of Colorado and Utah, the highlight of this American treasure is the “Dinosaur Wall” which is a large section of sandstone that is chock full of dinosaur fossils. Much like the trees of Petrified Forest, the dinosaurs of Dinosaur National Monument were covered over by river sediments and fossilized. Represented in the wall are hundreds of dinosaurs including: Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodicus, and Stegosaurus. Of course these two wonderful sites are a pretty far trip from Connecticut. While Connecticut does not have many dinosaur fossils or any mineralized trees, we do have a large number of dinosaur footprint fossils. Some of those footprints are even on display here at Nature’s Art Village alongside our museum-quality specimens of petrified wood!
Perhaps this Fourth of July we can create a petition for a national fossil! I’m sure that our good buddy Monty, who stands guard outside The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village, would vote for Tyrannosaurus rex, but he’s a bit biased. What do you think it should be? Ask around at your Fourth of July barbeque, and let us know what you come up with! Don’t forget to continue your Independence Day weekend here at Nature’s Art Village. Come check out our amazing collection of fossils, petrified wood, and minerals before enjoying a leisurely walk on our nature trails where you can meet our life-sized dinosaurs before playing in the largest Splashpad in New England! We look forward to seeing you in your red, white, and blue!