Andrew Alden over at About.com Geology asks an interesting question: What was your first fossil? It took only a split second to take me back forty years to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where a 10 year old boy was on his first trip to the beautiful national park. But I had found out something strange at the small visitor center there. The ground I was walking on at more than 8,000 feet had once been on the bottom of the sea! Say what? How could that be? I was already at an age where I had figured out that Noah's Flood couldn't account for this. Where was all the water that it could even cover Mt. Everest and all the other mountains of the world? It was clear that something had happened, but I wasn't quite in a place where I could understand the idea of vast uplift across an entire region. I spent days musing about this, enough that the memory is clear after all these years.
After a few days camping and hiking around the rim (it would be quite some time before I would actually walk into the canyon, an event that caused me to become a geology major) we set out to see more sights in the region, but as we left the park, we drove through the long stretch of highway to Jacob Lake that passed through a beautiful forest and meadowland. We stopped for a few minutes and wandered into the meadow, and looking down I saw some little miniature poker chips, and realized that these were some of the ocean floor fossils I had seen pictures of in the visitor center! They were pieces of the stems of a crinoid, or sea lily, and after a few moments of searching, I had found a fossil sponge as well.
It was a seminal moment that I can count as leading directly to my choice to pursue geology as a career, and one of the great moments of my childhood. I really have to thank my folks for taking me on so many wonderful excursions when I was growing up. Life was such an adventure during my father's ever-so-brief two week vacation.
The pictures above: a view from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the less crowded, more verdant part of the canyon, a view of one of the numerous karst meadows north of the rim, and a sampling of some brachiopods, crinoids and sponges found in the Permian Kaibab Formation.