Last Saturday my family and I visited the ocean in Iowa. You read that correctly: We explored a mysterious sea that sits nearly smack in the middle of Iowa City. Read on to unlock the secrets of the state's unknown ocean.
At one time, present-day Iowa was located south of the equator, blanketed by warm, shallow waters like today’s Caribbean Sea. Over millions of years, as the earth’s continents crawled into their current locations, the oceans moved too.
Fast forward to Iowa, circa 1993, and the historic floods that plagued the state that year. Massive rains pushed Coralville Lake near Coralville to its tipping point, and an emergency spillway inherited torrents of raging floodwaters traveling at more than 17,000 cubic feet per second.
For a record-breaking 28 days, water rushed through the spillway, en route to the Iowa River and eventually to the Mighty Mississippi. Finally, what the flood left behind was nothings short of both devastating and miraculous. The water ripped away a road, a campground, and more than 17 feet of soil and rock. And it exposed the curious Devonian Fossil Gorge, the bed of a prehistoric sea that swallowed present-day Iowa more than 375 million years ago. (Repeat flooding in 2008 widened the gorge significantly.)
The Devonian Fossil Gorge is a beautiful, living reminder of earth’s early life. My sons delighted in running and jumping across the rocky terrain, skipping over sparkling streams, and wondering at wildflowers.
Tasteful interpretive signage teaches visitors about the gorge's unique land formations and fossilized animals, including many species that are more than 200 million years older than the dinosaurs! The gorge is as extraordinary as it is educational, as rare as it is remarkable.
You can’t come to Iowa to surf atop the ocean. But Iowa is an unlikely place where you can walk on the bottom of one.