Guidebook—Geology of Northeastern Kansas

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color map of portions of Wabaunsee, Jefferson, Douglas, Shawnee, and Osage counties, showing field trip route and stops

Map of field trip route, showing major roads and stops 1 through 4.


This field trip will introduce participants to the geology of northeastern Kansas, highlighting rocks and fossils in the vicinity of Lawrence and Topeka. The stops are located in Douglas, Shawnee, and Wabaunsee counties, and, with the exception of Stop 2, lie within the physiographic province called the Glaciated Region.

Between the KGS and Clinton Lake

Moore Hall, the home of the Kansas Geological Survey, sits on the slope of Daisy Hill, a southwest extension of Mount Oread, the site of the University of Kansas. Mount Oread lends its name to the Oread Limestone, the limestone and shale rocks that help form this prominent topographic feature. The Oread Limestone also caps the prominent bluffs to the north of Clinton Parkway and to the south across the Wakarusa valley.

Stop1—Clinton Lake Spillway

The spillway at Clinton Lake provides an excellent introduction to the geology of eastern Kansas. The dam here was constructed on the Wakarusa River in the 1970's. The spillway is a means by which water can move out of the lake during times of extremely high water levels (though the water has never been that high). The bike path along the floor of the spillway was added in the 1990's as part of the construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway.

The spillway is a good place to view a cross section of the rock layers that are typical of this area. These interbedded limestones and shales were deposited during the Pennsylvanian Period of geologic history (also known as the Coal Age), about 300 million years ago. At that time, Kansas was near the equator, the climate was warmer, and a shallow sea advanced and retreated repeatedly across eastern Kansas.

color diagram of outline of North America with shallow sea and other geographical features indicated

Geography of North America during the Pennsylvanian Period, about 300 million years ago. Present-day Kansas was near the shore of the shallow sea (adapted from Wicander and Monroe, 1989).

color diagram showing continent clustered into Gondwanaland and Laurasia during Mississipian and into Pangaea during Pennsylvanian Period

Positions of the plates during the Mississippian and Permian periods, the two periods bracketting the Pennsylvanian Period. During the Pennsylvanian, Kansas lay near the equator (adapted from Tarbuck and Lutgens, 2000).

At other times, rivers deposited mud into the oceans; these muds eventually formed shales, the softer, thinly layered rocks in between the limestones. Occasionally, this area was at or slightly above sea level and sandstone was deposited by rivers into estuaries and deltas.

This guidebook is also available in print form as Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 2000-55, from KGS Publications Sales office, 785-864-3965.

Unless noted otherwise, illustrations by Jennifer Sims, Kansas Geological Survey; photographs by John Charlton, Kansas Geological Survey. Text by Jim McCauley, Liz Brosius, Rex Buchanan, and Bob Sawin, Kansas Geological Survey.

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