We have wandered northwest to see this wonder. It was a difficult trip over very rugged terrain, but it’s worth it. We are standing on a fragment of Florida looking our at a huge rifting valley. On your left is the Yucatan Block. To the right is North America. 175 million years ago North America was being drawn away from the Yucatan Block. The resulting gorge made Death Valley look like a picnic area. Eventually this valley will flood to form the Gulf of Mexico. In the far distance is Texas and northern Mexico. Tucked in the corner between the Yucatan block and northern Mexico is a tiny hint of central America. Very little can live here. Delicate insects, which are carried in on the wind, last a matter of hours. There is a sand lizard which hunts mostly in the growing evening shadows.
Dinosaurs roam much of the landscape further toward the coast, but this is a very difficult place to make a living.
Now we have come to the Late Jurassic/Cretaceous boundry. To the west (left) of us, lava oozes into the Proto-Caribbean Seaway. The water sizzles and roars. To the north (on the other side of the water) we see chunks which have been torn off of Africa. They will be shoved up against North America to form Florida. Just behind us, tropical forests are home to a variety of dinosaurs. Reptile-like birds catch insects and small rat-like creatures peep out from the shadows.
For millions upon millions of years rain will scour those distant hills. The ocean will pound against their shores. Slowly, those far away hills will disappear under the waves. The Florida plateau will slumber beneath the ancient tides.
Life itself provided much of the building blocks of the Florida we know. (Left) This is central Florida during much of the Cretaceous Period. Sea going reptiles hunted the shallow seas which were so rich in animal life.
It wasn’t the larger critters which helped build this state. It was the tiny ones. Using ocean chemicals like calcium and silica, the one celled animals built their skeletons. As they died, they drifted down to settle on the bottom. It was an endless rain of tiny skeletons. They mixed with sand and clays to form a variety of limestone, mudstone, and sandstone which make up the Florida plateau.
A single piece of turtle shell has been brought up in a coring from a deep Cretaceous layer near Okeechobee.
270 million years ago, the shallow oceans surrounding the great continent were teaming with life. Seashells littered the beaches as well as discarded exoskeleton’s of trilobites and strange giant crab like creatures. Fish were common. Standing on a cliff above the sea, you could have seen the dark patterns made by schools of fish. Behind you the air was alive with flying insects.
Looking down at our earth, in the swamps below us, amphibians, salamander-like animals lived. Burly mammal-like reptiles swaggered along river courses. Here in the high dry mountains, you may have discovered some ancestral lizards, insects and a few hardy desert loving plants.These are the mountains folded up by the collision of continents. One day this will become the Florida we know. By 190 million years ago, strong scars appear between some continents. We are standing on a cliff along the northern margin of Africa. A dinosaur is running across a rifting valley towards Florida. The ocean is still far enough away to keep the amount of rain low.
The cliffside we stand on is green with a ground cover. The peaks in the distance are what remains of folded mountains and ancient volcanoes. Rains form streams heading east. They empty into lakes about the color of this type. They are filled with a chemical brew welling up from within the earth.
Your life, your history, is the most precious thing you own, and it’s linked directly to the story of the cosmos. Like a fiber in a wonderful fabric, you help hold it together and color it.
All the things which are the story of your life are woven into it. You are spun together with the fibers of all time. It’s part of your story. Imagine being a single fiber in a great fabric and trying to find the beginning. The story is so great, that if we spend thousands of generations on just that question, we would only be a little closer to the answer. So, let’s narrow our search. Let’s begin with Florida, because it wasn’t always here. Once, long, long ago, it was part of Africa.
There are hot spots deep beneath the earth’s crust. One of those plumes of heat is located underneath modern Hawaii. This drawing shows a part of North Africa about a billion years ago. It was crawling over a hot spot. As it did, glowing fountains of lava splashed up, flowing across the landscape. This place will become part of Florida.
Along this shore, a billion years ago, if we stooped down, and looked carefully, we may have discovered a few thin, hair-like strands washed up by the tide. These fine strands represent a member of an already ancient lineage of algae.
Out there, below the crystalline tides, 10 feet down, plant cells had spun this wonderful yarn, this precious fiber of life. Solar radiation was too intense for life to exist in the first 10 feet. And so it began below. Huge mats of algae formed to help bring oxygen to our atmosphere.