Tuesday, November 14, 2006

November 14, 2006

Again, one of the highlights of this summer's field season was the removal of the "Dodson Block", a 3,500 pound block containing a Diplodocus dorsal series. Here are some photos of the process...

3,500-lb Dodson block is attached to the front-end loader.

Dodson block is moved approximately 3oo meters, uphill.

Carefully moving the block into place.

1,623 miles later at Union Terminal.

The block on its protective support pedestals of 4x4 lumber.

Offloading at Geier Research and Collections Center.

Temporary resting place in Paleontology storage facility.

Monday, November 13, 2006

November 13, 2006

A special "thanks" to those of you who have continued visiting during our lengthy hiatus. All of our dig staff and volunteers returned safely to Cincinnati where the work continues. We have some additional photos which should be posted fairly soon.

Following a productive dig season this summer, we're busily working on a number of projects whose details will be forthcoming on this blog, including the Allosaurus project which Dr. Storrs had mentioned in an earlier post. Beginning in the Spring, you'll be able to join us at Union Terminal as we assemble Cincinnati's first complete dinosaur skeleton in full-view of the public. We're also working on ways in which our visitors from around the world can watch live via streaming video.

There's always something exciting happening at Cincinnati Museum Center, and we hope you keep visiting us to learn more.

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

August 16, 2006

On the road, again…. Yes, indeed. Now a chance to relax. All I need do is drive carefully for three days and I’m home free. This is the first chance I’ve had all summer to breathe easy – you’re always “on” when leading a major project such as Cincinnati Museum Center’s Dinosaur Field School.

What happened on Monday? Clockwork. Although it was a long, hard, worrying day, everything went fine. I picked up the trailer, made the necessary adjustments and changes, found some discarded pallets, cleaned up the “Dodson” Site with Sara, Sam and Mac, got new license plates for the (still sort of) new truck, and waited for the loader to arrive – which it did. Some large nylon tie-down straps and an hour or so of care later and the Diplodocus dorsal series was secure on the trailer. Thanks, all! We really appreciate your help. A visit to some truck scales showed that our minimum estimate was dead-on – 3500 lbs. What a relief to know certainly that we have not exceeded our gross weight limits. Still, pulling a trailer takes some care, so I’ll ease it on down the highway, probably arriving at the Museum on Friday.

The rest of the gang are closing up Mother’s Day in the next few days – finishing up collecting, covering for the winter to protect against exposure and vandalism (we’ve never had any problems), and then – heading to Utah! Don spent a week at his thesis site near Castledale and returned with news that he had found some good material but hadn’t time to collect it. So – everyone jumped to his aid with offers to help him complete his M.S. research and I gave them my blessing to go. They will probably have a week of work before the season ends and all are back in Cincy. Make hay while the sun shines (or the roads are not muddy) as they say. An extra week for the gang will be good experience for all, help out Don, salvage some significant fossils for the benefit of all, and adds little to the total cost of the summer field work (they are camping – and dieting! – after all). I expect that Mason will be able to continue the blog at some point to let you (and me) know how things have gone.

As for me, I’m signing off (for now). Look for an update or two to follow about how arrival at the Museum went and where one might see these fossils now (our exhibit prep lab, I hope). Indeed, we may continue this blog on occasion with info about preparation of the fossils. I also have a great Allosaurus project you may like to hear about. Until then, all the best, come and visit. and keep on supporting those museums!

Cheers, G-

Monday, August 14, 2006

Dinosaur finds!

Field-schooler Bob Bergstein enjoys time with his find.

Diplodocus block at the “Dodson Site” shows signs of real progress.

Sara’s block is nearly ready to go!

Example of in place chert pebble at the Mother’s Day site suggests our dinosaurs carried stomach stones (gastroliths).

Newly exposed radius (forearm) awaits collection.

Juvenile scapula (shoulder blade) lies among ribs at the Mother’s Day site.

Stegosaurus comes to call on Diplodocus caudal vertebra (tail bone)!

The land, the crew and the moose

Textbook example of sandstone cross-bedding shows evidence of ancient river currents in rocks of Petroglyph Canyon.

The Beartooth Highway is again open after last year’s catastrophic landslides.

Crew members seek refuge from the sun at Mother’s Day Quarry.

Mama moose (Cowwinkle?) pays a visit to Glenn’s cabin.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

August 12, 2006

A lot has happened since I was last able to check in. Apologies to those on the edge of your respective seats….

First, my promise to type about the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association – then an update.

The YBRA is a fantastic place. Perched on the flank of Mount Maurice, overlooking Red Lodge and the start of the Beartooth Highway (Charles Kurault’s “most beautiful highway in America”), it has been home to countless geologists and students for 70 years. Begun by Princeton and a consortium of other schools, including the University of Cincinnati, geology majors have repeatedly been plunked here in the midst of spectacular scenery (both aesthetic and geologic) for exposure to basic field geology and techniques. Many YBRA students have gone on to become geologists themselves, frequently professors returning to camp to teach the next generation. Thus, a strong sentimental regard exists for the place among generations of geologists (I myself first came here as a graduate student in 1983).

It has long been my desire to prevent my crew and dino school participants from learning much about the faculty cabin that I have worked my way up to over the years. Starting in a student dorm where these folks now stay – I now find myself with an embarrassment of luxuries. It can’t be helped, however, they inevitably learn of my private cabin complete with shower and bathroom facilities and mini-fridge – also the best view in town. The downside is that no matter how long I stay here, I still find myself out of breath after each short climb to the high-rent district. In any case, no one has yet suggested that I am not entitled. After all, it’s hard work out here for a month straight and would be much more fun, I’m sure to attend field school than to lead it – leadership weighing heavily, etc.

No matter. I’m off to Mother’s Day camp tomorrow after today’s paperwork catch-up and an afternoon at the Bearcreek Centennial celebrations. Camping has it’s own pleasure’s, as you’ve already learned. And who wants to be left out of the shenanigans as detailed by Mason?

This week has been an eventful one. Alex and Jen chaperoned our student band of Jason, Tiffany, Kwaame, Davide, Samantha, Jonah, Teresa, and Lamont (apologies for any mis-spellings) out into the wilds of Montana. I honestly believe that most were happy to attend and truly gained from the experience. They certainly interacted well with our co-guests of the Franklin & Marshall alumni college, not to mention my crew (and me, I think!). They’re off home today, however, terrorist threat complications aside.

On the bone front – we collectively discovered and collected (or are now in th eprocess of doing so, a nice humerus and associated epipodial (forearm) element(s), caudal vertebrae, ribs, scapula of a small animal, foot bones, and others. The best find appears to be a jugal (facial) bone from the skull of a young individual. This year may have been the best ever for skull elements, 2002’s small braincase (cranium) notwithstanding. We also found some more skin impressions adding to our total of soft tissue preservation. These clues, along with many others, lead us to suspect a drought initiated mass-mortality, followed by debris flow mobilization of the bone bed (more on this to follow in the scientific literature in a paper by my former student Scott Myers and me).

Wildlife report adds more golden eagles, turkeys, moose, fence lizards, squirrels and chipmunks, marmots, scorpions, yellow jackets (but no more casualties!), mule deer, field mice, grasshoppers, ants, prairie chicken, pelicans(!!!), etc., and your usual lot of domesticated range fare like horses, sheep, cows, bison, llamas, and even some ole’ time cowboys complete with spurs!

In the small world department, Bob Bakker is apparently working the Cloverly exposures near Edgar as someone matching his description accosted Sam and Mac at the local filling station – “Are you with Glenn? Say hi! I’m Bob. He’ll know where to find me!” (I’m paraphrasing here). My gang is so young, however, they don’t recognize any of the old timers (save me) – even iconoclasts like Bob, so we’re only putting 2 and 2 together here (hope they don’t equal anything other than 4!).

On yesterday’s standard hike into Petroglyph Canyon, I was incensed to find that in the intervening days between now and last Saturday, some bozos had carved their names into one of the west wall art panels! The aboriginal artwork had sat largely undisturbed (OK, with a few bullet holes, perhaps) for approximately 800 years until “ANDY06” and RR06” saw fit to deface them. If you [expletive deleted]s are out there reading this, I hope you get your come-uppance in the very near future. I will see to it that the BLM learns of your (illegal, mind you) transgressions ASAP. Sad to say, they remedy for this kind of boorish, unthinking vandalism may be to restrict access to the canyon altogether. We’ll see.

My primary efforts this week have been aimed at organizing the removal of the “Dodson” block. This is a major effort that now seems to be shaping up. I have searched out a local company (wishing to remain anonymous) that is in possession of a front-end loader capable of lifting up to six tons. After stirring up a hornet’s nest (interesting corollary to the MDS camp!) with my request, the suits with law degrees have agreed to let the local guys do the job for me. Funny how lawyers and can make a whole lot of something out of what used to be accomplished on a kind word and a handshake. In any event, the locals have been very cooperative and interested from Day 1 and I very much appreciate everything that they have done and will do for us. Onwards! As we push back the frontiers of science!

Also on the Big Dig Diplodocus, we have been in need of a trailer to haul the block back to the Museum. I drove the entire northern end of the Bighorn basin over several days checking out leads and comparison shopping. The best I saw was in a small private lot in Cowley, WY. Although twice as expensive as anything else (sorry about that, you know who you are), I want to err on the side of safety as this aluminum trailer, while rated for the same gross weight, is itself lighter that steel and will thus handle a heavier payload. It also has brakes on each axle – surely important when being chased by a dinosaur on the interstates.

OK, so the trailer looked great. Getting hold of the owner/seller proved more difficult. He never seemed to be home, so I checked at the local Post Office for his contact info. Got it and called his house – left a message – no reply. Back to the PO only to learn that his mail had not been picked up for several days. Asked his wife’s name and where she worked. Toddled on over to confirm that they were on vacation, BUT returning today. Left a note at their house. Long story short, I’m meeting up with him today to get the trailer and we have a confirmed appointment with the front-end loader for Monday. Wish us luck!

As I’m camping tomorrow, you’ll have no word of our success (or dare I say it, failure) until I hit the road and the motel scene next week with dino in tow. I’ll report back as soon as I can. Mason will remain at Mother’s Day for a little longer to finish up operations there for the season. Hopefully, she will be able to “blog-on” at least once more. For my part, I’ll try to get some more pictures up too.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

August 6, 2006

Glenn, here. I believe that Mason has had a chance to finally get into town and put up her thoughts regarding the past few weeks activities. Thus, I’m shamed into adding another post. Actually, I have an hour of downtime as the second crew is being exchanged for the third and needed to catch up on where we are.

More bones have been collected at Mother’s Day and others have turned up, including more vertebrae, long bones, a small scapula and two apparent coracoids (being mindful that field identifications can be tricky). Sara’s big block is out (just not carried to the camp – all 200 lbs. of it). We’ve been finding a number of in situ chert pebbles in the otherwise homogenous mudstone that makes us believe that they are gastroliths (stomach stones), as the dinosaurs themselves are the most obvious means of transport of such anomalous items.

My big priority, however, has been the Dodson block. Looks like we will get it out in the next week, assuming that we can find some heavy-lift equipment. I’m meeting Will Tillett, the fossil’s discoverer on-site today and he assures me that he has just the thing. At the same time, we are still eyeing trailer sales yards. Having measured the block at approximately 1.5’ x 3.5’ x 9 ‘ at a minimum and 2’ x 4’ x 9’ at a maximum (even though the block is not rectangular) we get 47.25 cubic feet vs. 72 cu. ft. or 1.75 vs. 2.67 cubic yards of rock. At 2,000 lbs. per cubic yard (estimated from the weight of compressed, crushed limestone), the block is conservatively between 3,500 and 5,333 lbs. in weight (someone shout if our math is wrong!). We think this is easily (relatively speaking!) doable. Look for more adventures on this project as we progress.

Yesterday we had another general geology and petroglyph tour, capped off by an evening at the races (only pigs won, none of us this day, sad to say). Wildlife checklist now includes more antelope and turkeys, fence lizards, a baby “horny toad” (another lizard, of course), another eagle (golden), an two large owls. Hiking down the petroglyph canyon in the blazing sun (oh yes, the fires are out, but the heat is back, at least temporarily) we ran into VERY LARGE cat tracks in the sand along our trail – a cougar! We didn’t see the lion, but I presume he saw us. I wasn’t worried, however, as I know they prefer stragglers (listen up you in the back!).

Today our youth program kids come into camp. These are high school kids that have been volunteering in the Museum and participating in CMC’s youth mentoring program. The idea is to give a diversity of kids with differing backgrounds the chance to closely interact over four years while at the same time providing an expectation that they will carry on with their educations (hopefully getting some quality volunteer efforts out of them too). The capstone project for kids interested in science is to attend the Dinosaur Field School in Montana – quite an undertaking for kids who may never have left Ohio. This effort has been so successful is inspiring kids (some to even go on as geology/paleontology majors – sorry, moms and dads!) that an anonymous donor has stepped forward for 3 years to sponsor the kid’s trips. More sponsors always welcome!

Tomorrow, we’ll have another Beartooth Plateau geology tour and start the process over again. I will also be giving a lecture to them and a group from Franklin & Marshall College about the Mother’s Day Site, Jurassic dinosaurs and the Morrison Formation (one of the premier dinosaur-bearing units in the world). I neglected to mention that the Carbon County Historical Society had tapped me for this talk some month’s ago for presentation at their museum in Red Lodge. It seemed to go rather well, but an attending geologist and YBRA ----

FLASH! - Brief interruption here as I had to look out the back window of my cabin to watch a cow moose and her calf pass within 20 ft. We then followed them across camp as they went on up the mountain (always keeping a respectful distance as it’s never good to annoy a protective mother who is the size of a mid-sized sedan). Nice exclamation point to the Montana holiday of our second week crew.

Anyhow, where was I? Oh yes, geologist and YBRA counselor, Marv Kaufmann was in attendance at my lecture. As a result, I’m giving it again to his visiting F & M alumni group and the CMC kids simultaneously. I’ll lead them all out to MDS next morning.

Next installment I believe I’ll talk about the YBRA itself (because I can’t remember if I’ve done so as yet – time and ideas sort of running together out here) and how it came to be and how we all have ended up here along with a variety of other geology students, researchers, professors and tourists.

Cheers for now.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Home on the Range

I'm the field supervisor, which means that I spend pretty much all my time in the field -- hence this being my first entry, accomplished from an internet cafe in Red Lodge on a mission to procure more burlap. Meet our happy band!

We've been here almost three weeks now and it feels much longer. That isn't to say we aren't loving it; it means that the place hasn't changed a bit, and it feels like we never left. We are the core team of this expedition, the here-for-the-duration people who camp at the digsite and live, eat, and breathe fossils every summer. We look forward to this all year. Within hours of arriving we have fallen back into the good old patterns that sustain us in this place.

Our patterns begin with tent placement. Once we have established that the dirt road up to our campsite has sufficiently weathered the winter to allow us access, we gingerly bump the vans over the ruts and around the ditches to the narrow valley where we make camp every year. We set up personal tents first. I favor a particular low ditchy area despite its proximity to a fire ant nest because I'm avoiding wind; I have a stupidly tall tent (but it was on sale!). Sara knows better, the hard way: HER tall tent was destroyed in our Great Hail Storm of 2004. Sara confidently assembles her low, wide alpine tent right out in the open; she says it doesn't even rustle in the breeze. Mac sets up right at the common area -- he likes to be in the middle of things. Don, who endured the Great Hail Storm from underneath a van, has decided to live IN a van this year -- no tent for him. But true to his nature, Don is going the extra mile to bring civilization to our midst. He's brought a portable gazebo, "suitable for weddings and family reunions," and he intends to fill it with comfortable seating and music and DVDs run off a small generator. The wind takes takes the whole thing down in about five minutes. Eventually we get it standing but only without its legs, so it's about three feet off the ground. We call it the media yurt and crawl in to play board games sometimes.

We arrange crates of gear in a rough square and call it the living room; we put the propane stove and sink at one end and call it the kitchen. Then we grab shovels and pickaxes and trek over the rise to the digsite. It's a short walk but it's steep and we've gained about 4000 feet in elevation since Cincinnati three days earlier. Our goal now is to uncover the digsite, but we're already worn out and not much gets done that first day.

It's 15 miles to the tiny town of Bridger. We stock up on food (Tuna Helper, Chicken Helper, all the Helpers -- it's mainly mush-meals-in-a-skillet from here on). The Maverik gas station graciously allows us to fill our water jugs from their hose. And the Bridger Cafe makes the world's best milkshakes.

Back at the digsite, we are moving a lot of earth. We bury the site at the end of every season, to hide and sort-of protect it, but there's still a lot of bone washing out. We have our work cut out for us. Fossil bone is crumbling from every slope, turning blue in the sun and wind. We collect the stray chunks, called "float," and dig on the spot and there they are: ribs galore, two scapulae, maddeningly complex cervical vertebrae, a perfect and robust tibia, a radius and ulna neatly side-by-side. A whole herd of young sauropods jumbled like pick-up sticks -- an apt comparison, because removing them is LIKE playing pick-up sticks; your'e working away on one bone and whoops, there's another right on top of it. The happy cries of discovery turn to cries of dismay -- "Oh no! More bone!" -- as your initial, say, cervical is found to be blocked in by, say, a rib, and then another, and another. Patience, patience.

Sara is only 18 but she's been working with fossils for years now and she's very good at it. Furthermore, she possesses that knack for knowing where to dig that is beyond skill -- you either have it or you don't. She's found skin impressions here before (very cool) and now it looks like she's got skull. Everyone's jealous.

The cervicals that Don was removing have proven to be heavily blocked in by other elements, ribs and caudels, and yike, yet more cervicals. They will all have to come out together, in one enormous block. How will we ever move it? It keeps getting bigger. Don isn't having fun; the rock is very hard in that spot. His hammer blows are regular and constant but he knows what has to be done; some people would lose their temper and chop the block apart anyway and lose half of it, but not Don. Still, he keeps volunteering for lousy but needful tasks, like digging latrine trenches, just for a break from that awful block. Everything he does is so silent and steady -- so unspectacular are his methods -- that his spectacular results catch one off guard, as does his dark and pointy-sharp wit. I've done field work with Don for three seasons now, and he is always a surpise.

Mac has found a lovely string of tailbones. He is, like Sara, 18, and also a freshman at UC. Also, like Sara, Mac started young -- he first wrote Glenn, my boss, an email declaring his paleontological aspirations when he (Mac) was in the eighth grade. Mac's family breeds Clydesdales. The best qualities for excavating fossils -- patience, care, a steady, smooth hand, the right balance of physical strength and delicacy, intuition -- are perhaps not coincidentally the best qualities in horsework. Mac will do fine.

Dale's little red car came creeping up the path a few days later, diven, as usual, by Sam. Dale curates the Orton Geological Museum in Columbus and digs up fossils at every opportunity; one's first impression of Dale is of a happy man who loves his work. He fairly bubbles with enthusiasm, he bounces on the balls of his feet when he talks, and even his hair has a springy, fresh-popped popcorn look to it. Sam, by contrast, is tall, lean, and rangy and cultivates a Toshiro Mifune scowl, which belies his good nature, most evident when he's trading cheerful barbs with Dale. He calls Dale "Boss," which he hasn't literally been for some time -- they are actually an excellent father-son team, and it doesn't matter that they aren't related by blood. They have been working here every summer for seven years now, and they are essential to the mix.

And then came Glenn, the big boss, my boss. Why does the boss always arrive just when one is taking a much-needed heat-of-the-day siesta? But Glenn was in high spirits. For starters, he had driven out from Cincinnati in our departments' brand-spanking-new Tundra pickup, and the thing rides like a dream. Secondly, he was here, and here is wonderful, even if the temperatures are topping a hundred and the land is not only dry, it's CRISP. We wake up with dust in our throats and cracked nostrils, and everyone's hair looks like something you vacuum up from under the bed. "Good thing it's a dry heat, though," we say to each other about ten times a day -- our brains are too fried to be more creative.

Evenings are different. It cools off fast in the desert; rocks and scrub don't hold much heat. We haul ourselves back to camp around fiveish and slump dull-eyed in our lawn chairs with our backs to the blazing horizon. We slowly recover our senses and fluid levels. Whoever cooks dinner doesn't have to clean up -- that's the rule. It doesn't get dark until 10-10:30, so post-mealtime falls at just about the golden hour, a term that applies here like no where else. I have photos taken in these excellent early-evening hours from previous years, and anyone who sees them thinks I had a colored filter on my lens. But this is what it looks like: us, relaxed, fed, happy, cooling off (even in light jackets by now), bathed in a deep orange glow. We've assembled our chairs in a semicircle by now and we're sufficiently energized for the evening's shenanigans, which could be and have been:

-- board games. Dinosaur Monopoly, Cranium, poker, and weiqi, everybody in the media yurt, hunched like trolls.
-- target practice. Air rifles, bows and arrows, 22 calibers, and a slingshot, all trained on poor Mrs. Butterworth (now emptied of syrup), a half a rancid watermelon, a rubber glove full of plaster.
-- juvenile practical jokes. What if you woke up to find Mrs. Butterworth full of buckshot and a green glowstick in your tent vestibule? What if Sam did?
-- scorpion racing. They flouresce. Once you've walked around at night with a portable blacklight, you find out they are everywhere, and you'll never wear those Tevas out here again -- you're lucky if you can sleep. Or, if you're Sara, you build a racetrack from cardboard tubing and duct tape. Race 'em, trade 'em, keep them in a coffee can and feed 'em yellowjackets!
-- killing yellowjackets. They are everywhere this year, like never before. But, hard up for entertainment, anything can be a sport. Keep score! The battery-powered electric tennis racket provides, no kidding, hours of bug-zappin' fun.
-- stargazing. We all agree that it's impossible to describe this night sky to anyone back home. The Milky Way is a big white SMEAR, if that gives you any idea. We identify constellations, invent new ones. The Perseid meteor shower is in town for its annual run; we are struck dumb with awe.
-- search for topographical features, against all common sense. Don insists that "Depression Reservior" is on the map and within a two-mile radius. We pile in the back of the pickup and head out across the bone-dry, featureless plain. It turns out to be a cow wallow in a ditch about the size of someone's above-ground swimming pool. Don is disappointed -- he actually brought a fishing pole.
-- go swimming, get cleanish! Not in Depression Reservior, but in Cooney Reservior about 50 miles away. Yes it's muddy, but what a treat, not to mention the first opportunity to bathe in a week. Dr Bronner's soap is biodegradable and also has very entertaining label copy. What's a little mud? This is the desert, people, you think water grows on trees?
-- s'mores. Why not?
-- call home. It can now be done. Take a short walk to high ground and talk as long as your overheated cell phone battery will allow.
-- pointless bickering. There are, apparently, only three REAL Star Wars movies, and some people feel strongly about this.
-- the art of conversation. It's not all dinosaurs and Stargate.
-- actual work. Not much. That's one of the great beauties of being out here. No email, nothing you've been procrastinating on at the back of your mind -- the tasks at hand are what we got.

Every now and then someone (usually someone very YOUNG) tries to explain to me how we could get a satellite hookup out here, get online, get back in the real world. Ha. Ha. Ha.

More to come!

Friday, August 04, 2006

August 3, 2006

Right! Back to dinosaur collecting. We’ve had several good days in the MDS quarry and things are going OK at “Dodson”, too. Additional vertebrae have turned up, along with paired ulna and radius of a young animal, and an additional small radius (from a 40 foot? juvenile). We have also found some new foot bones, including several ungual phalanges (claws). Each of these will need to be collected (many already have) by plaster jacketing. This is the same process used by physicians who need to set broken bones for mending. Our dinosaur bones are certainly broken – that is full of post-depositional fractures after 140 million years of compression and tectonic uplift.

So, each bone need to have all of it’s pieces immobilized, or held together in place, just as the bones of your broken leg would need to be. First we expose the bone, impregnate it with an archival consolidant (glue), trench around it so it stands on a pedestal of matrix, cover with a separating agent so that the Plaster of Paris used will not stick to the actual bone (we use wet toilet paper – TP is good for many things around camp!), and apply burlap strips soaked in plaster (people fight for a chance to cut up the strips beneath our only shade tree – a rather sad-looking Pinyon Pine). Once dry, we chisel around the plastered block and attempt to overturn it without bits of bone falling out the bottom. We usually succeed at this. The bottom is then capped with TP and plaster and the block readied for shipment home. Of course, field numbers are given the blocks so that they can be matched up with the contextual data that we have recorded for each fossil. Photos of this process are available on this blog., I believe (after my adventure on Monday).

Mike Papp, an environmental geologist in Cincinnati with a master’s in vertebrate paleontology has arrived to join the crew. Mike is a great and dedicated worker and lab volunteer who has been coming to Mother’s Day every year since we started work here in 1999. He also has a very fine sense of humor. Fortunately he and the rest of the gang have not made use of the food coloring at the site this year. No plaster blocks of bone made out to look like giant Easter eggs as in the past. Somehow, this offends my sensibilities as a traditionalist in the field. Never mind, they enjoyed their green eggs and spam – even Sam (-You-Are!).

On the wildlife front, the turkeys are back at YBRA. Down at MDS, plenty of mule deer and rabbits (cotton-tail and jack), and among birds, some prairie chicken, doves, magpies, jays (of some sort), hawks, and a pelican. Yes, a pelican! They do wander about inland and while the Clark’s Fork is nearby, this one seems to have strayed ever so slightly.

As for me I’m going to stray off to bed. I have to write this darn thing late at night after the other work is done. My big accomplishment today was to make my annual visit to the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) state offices in Billings to say hi (and inquire about a crane or tractor for lifting my “Dodson” dinosaur – they’ll get back to me), buy 300 lbs. more plaster at the Home Depot, and comparison shop for a dual axle trailer. This might be the best option for hauling back the remaining 14 articulated dorsal vertebrae of the “DD.” We’ll try to estimate it’s final weight first. Although, a trailer would not normally be available, I have an anonymous donor who wants to sponsor the big dinosaur project to get this beast back to Cinti (Thanks! - If he’s reading this blog and has a view to the contrary – he should speak up now or forever hold his piece, etc.).


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Field School Field Trip Photos

Native Americans carved these stone figures approximately 800 years ago, now to be seen in Petroglyph Canyon on the Montana-Wyoming border.

A variety of animal figures perhaps provided hopes for a bountiful hunt.

Spectacularly colorful Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks are exposed in the dissected Crooked Creek Anticline at the southwestern end of the Pryor Mountains.

Pigs jump from the starting gate as Montana’s favorite races get underway at the Bearcreek Saloon and bring our first week of digging to a close.

Another batch of photos ...

Four articulated dorsal vertebral centra are exposed along the
bottom edge of the main block of our “Dodson Diplodocus” at Rattlesnake Ridge. Another ten vertebrae in the series are covered with a preliminary plaster field jacket.

Glenn points out the mapped positions of “Dodson Diplodocus” skeletal elements as originally discovered.

Glenn is a walking billboard for Cincinnati Museum Center while in the field!

One of the early homesteader cabins in the region remind us that those who tamed the western country lived not so may generations ago.

Glenn discusses ancient river channel cross-bedded sandstones with Museum Center board member Buck Niehoff.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

August 1, 2006

Success! As you can see, I’ve gotten some pictures up at last. I hope you find them as interesting and inspiring as the crew and our field school participants do the real sights. I’ll be able to file some more shots as the weeks go on.

Aside from my computer issues, success came with an adventure of its own. My off day (from the field, not from work) between participant groups left me with a chance to catch up on paperwork and this blog. My latest idea was to go into town (Red Lodge) and find a high-speed connection. The first problem was that the library was closed on this day, Monday, but I’d been told that the coffee shop has a connection. The second problem was that in exchanging groups, while still getting digging done at both Mother’s Day and “Dodson,” I had been left without a vehicle. Red Lodge is several miles and 2,000 feet of elevation away (I may take up jogging when I get back, but not just yet, thanks) so walking did not seem like a good idea.

I was offered one of the YBRA geology vans (minus students on their field course) if I dropped it in town for new tires. Fine. I’d catch up on a few things and then drive on in. When I turned around, the van was gone (off to the airport, I learned – only to have a flat along the way!). OK. Last resort – the old camp truck. Earlier on this blog I was boasting of the Museum’s new Toyota Tundra. Now, I find myself in a 1970 (or thereabouts) Ford 150 Custom. Try that on the camp road for a bone rattling experience. It’s 3 on the floor with overdrive and a new clutch if you can reach it! I only remembered that it has a tendency to shake itself out of gear while fish-tailing on the way up the long, steep, very rough, dirt road hill, after I nearly rolled back down it. Nevermind. The pictures are up and nothing succeeds like success.

What else?…. Oh, yes, the fire. No sign of it now thankfully. I think it’s still a problem for Livingstone but is unlikely to jump to our area just now. And the weather has broken! Just 60 to 70 degrees today – what a relief (although the new winds bring the dust everywhere and threaten to blow down Mason’s less than quality tent)!

Bob, Brian, Mark and Lily, our new field schoolers, are enthusiastic dinosaur diggers and we got right to work today after the requisite geology tour. Brian has said repeatedly that he feels like it’s Christmas – the excitement of unearthing something not seen for 140 million years makes us all feel like kids. A variety of new bones are evident and we will soon get to removing them. I’ll try to tell you how that’s done soon.

Cheers for now!

Photos of dinosaur finds!

Work during the first week of Cincinnati Museum Center’s Dinosaur Field School has exposed a caudal (tail) vertebra and a lower limb bone (epipodial).

Dinosaur Field School participant Joe Gray uncovers a series of four articulated caudal (tail) vertebrae.

Mason and Joe apply plaster soaked burlaps strips to the block of caudal vertebrae. Note Joe’s wristwatch about to become a fossil!

Joe begins to loosen the capped block from it’s home of 140 million years.

Hands gather around, preparing to turn the block over in one quick motion.

The underside of the block shows no exposed bones – a perfect flip!

The block containing the fossil vertebrae is ready to go!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Photos from the 2006 Dinosaur Field School

Beautiful high mountain lakes on the Beartooth Plateau
are the melted remnants of glacial ice. Such glacial lakes
are known as tarns.

The 1934 Fanshaw Lodge at the YBRA camp provides
all the comforts of home in a rustic Montana setting.

The scenic road to the YBRA camp in Red Lodge provides
good views of the overturned Madison Limestone
(Mississippian, below to right) and Bighorn Dolomite
Ordovician, above to left) at the Beartooth Range front.

The canyon of the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River dissects
a nearly complete Paleozoic marine section of approximately
300 million years duration above the unstratified Precambrian
basement rocks of the Beartooth thrust block.

Glenn savors his hike to the top of Mother’s Day Ridge.

Happy Dinosaur Field School participants on their way to
the Mother’s Day Site quarry, with gear and in fashion!

July 31, 2006

The best laid plans….gang aft aglay, as Robbie Burns wisely noted. I’m having trouble getting my pictures up as “Dial-up Man.” Well, I will try to evolve today and get into town for a high-speed connection. I think you’ll like the results – a good cross-section (no geological pun intended) of our activities so far.

Another issue that has arisen out here over the past 24 hours that has been a little distracting is the threat of wildfire. While fire danger is always high out here in the summers, with activity restrictions and the like, yesterday was a little more problematic than most days. The west is in the seventh year of drought and the snow melt waters that feed the rivers are low. Rainfall levels are also abnormally low. The mountain pine forests are like tinder, ripe for dry lighting strikes and go up like a torch (lots of resin in the wood and the undergrowth and litter is dry).

Remember those hot days of last week? The weather has broken and a front came through yesterday giving us cool temperatures and highs in the 80’s at the dinosaur quarries. However, that front was associated with very high winds lasting almost 24 hours. A small, 2 acre fire near Livingston (the next valley over) was whipped up to 2000 acres over the course of the day and the billowing plume of smoke blanketed the sky here last night. It was truly a sight to see and we were all prepared for a quick evacuation should the fire jump the ridge. Today things seem a little quieter, but I doubt it’s under control. I’ll keep my eye on the situation – just in time for our new group of Field School recruits who arrive today.

Last weeks folks, Buck, Patty, Joe, Matt, Carol, Barb and A.J. have departed after an adventurous, but I believe extremely satisfying week. At least everyone always tells me how wonderful, though hot and tiring, their visit has been. I was very pleased with the rapport and camaraderie of the group – seven folks thrown together with only the common interest in a high country dinosaur adventure – yet finding new friends and common experiences along the way.

Just to sum up the wildlife tally (if I can get the pictures up you’ll see how the fossil collecting works) has expanded somewhat. The turkeys are back in camp – seemingly oblivious to any threat of an early Thanksgiving – so all have had a chance to see them. We’ve run into a couple of rattlesnakes – with no tragic results (they fear us more than we them as they should), at least one more yellow-jacket (Sara is sad to say), have seen several coyotes up close, squirrels, chipmunks, a wide variety of birds – juncos, more hummingbirds and red-tailed hawks, magpies, etc., and some sort of big furry fellow by the side of the road as we returned from our weeks finale at the Bearcreek pig races. I don’t think he was a bear cub, and have my money on a marmot, porcupine or badger, but as it was late at night, the races take place at a saloon, and our designated driver neglected to slow down, I couldn’t say for certain.

The races are a Montana tradition. Started over 20 years ago as a promotional event to bring custom to Bearcreek’s only business (at that time), tourist (and the occasional local) travel from far and wide to wager on the bacon. The saloon is known to see a geology student or two each summer as well! The races are more like a lottery than paramutuel betting, but they almost died an early death as the Montana Horse Racing Association raised some initial objections, even though all profits support college scholarships for local kids. With grassroots political action brought to bear on the problem a special bill was passed in the state legislature to allow pig racing at Bearcreek Downs and owner and impressario Pits DeArmond has never looked back. They serve a great buffalo steak too, by the way. For our group’s efforts at supporting local color, Sam was rewarded with a $100 win. I’m sure he’ll report it on his taxes if he makes enough to file (unlikely as a paleo wannabe).

That’s all for now. Back to work on those picture files. Wish me luck!

Friday, July 28, 2006

July 28, 2006

Wow! It’s hot out here now. When the thermometer tops 100, it just drains your energy. Finding dinosaur bones, however, sort of re-energizes one. And that’s what we have been doing….. Lot’s of bones of various kinds – all Diplodocus, we believe, but from different parts of the skeleton. Since my last report we have already uncovered phalanges (toe bones), an articulated ulna/radius and associated carpal and metacarpal (lower arm, wrist foot), more vertebrae from the neck and tail, and some chevrons and gastralia (tail spines and stomach ribs). Best of all, Sara has uncovered skull bones! A real Eureka moment (although you’d never here this from Sara who is about the most quietly competent teen around – and I do mean quiet). She beavers away in the quarry, uncomplaining, and has turned up the best things so far. Indeed, some of the best things ever out of this quarry. We have only a few skull elements to date from the Mother’s Day Site, and skulls are some of the most scientifically useful things one can find from a dinosaur.

Because skulls of most reptiles, including most dinosaurs, are made of numerous bones that are relatively poorly attached together, they tend to come apart after death. Sauropod skulls, in particular, are very delicate so finding them intact is very difficult (we’re lucky at Cincinnati to have two complete sauropod skulls and parts of several others).

Well, as you can imagine, finding parts of a skull this year have kept us going. Nevertheless, the field school will take a more leisurely day tomorrow, visiting the Dodson site and then hiking down Petroglyph Canyon south of the Pryors to look at evidence of prehistoric Native American graffiti (Hey, you kids, stop drawing on the rocks!) – actually probably shamanistic effigies, but who really knows. We’ll then look at some more interesting geology, and in particular, stop at exposures of the Sundance Shale for some Middle Jurassic seafood. Everyone will be able to find fossil oysters and squid-like animals (belemnites), and unlike the regulated vertebrate fossils, can be collected and taken home by our guests.

I’m still trying to get some photos up for you and will try that now. Look for them soon.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

July 25, 2006

Glenn, here. After four days in the field I’m back in a spot with internet access (dial-up so bear with me) so the story continues….

After arriving at our traditional field camp by the Mother’s Day Site, I found that the crew had gone into town. Who could blame them as it was late afternoon and the mercury was still well above 100 degrees as it had been for close to a week. I set about organizing my own tent and gear, had a look at the dinosaur quarry, and sat down with a luke-warm beer to await the team’s return. They were back with supplies before I knew it and we caught up on progress to date.

I always have a subconscious fear that we’ll get on-site only to find that a disaster has befallen or that there are no more fossils to be found. Not a chance. In actual fact, we always find new material immediately upon arrival. Indeed, this year the first thing spotted was a very nice mid-series cervical (neck) vertebra of a young animal just coming to the surface and ready to be worked. This, after our best efforts to rebury the quarry with protective plastic, winter jackets and dirt and rock at the end of each season. The gully-washers that come through over the winter and spring nevertheless tend to expose new material each year.

Mason, Don Esker, MacKenzie English and Sara Oser (the latter, three students at the University of Cincinnati) had also uncovered a variety of other elements – a large cervical, an epipodial, and a series of four articulated mid-series caudal (tail) vertebrae, among other things. Plenty to work on and a great deal for the Field School participants to work on when they arrived on Monday.

That afternoon, Dale Gnidovec from the Orton Museum at Ohio State showed up with his volunteer Sam Perry as they do each year. These guys are great help in the field and Dale and I go way back to our early graduate student days in Texas. We all spent the night staring at the phenomenally clear sky, brilliant stars and counting meteor streaks (not strikes, thankfully), while telling stories of the “old days”, lamenting our disaffected youth (just kidding), and listening to the coyotes sing. The wildlife out here is great – I’d already seen an eagle, various rodents and lagomorphs, antelope (and turkeys a couple of days later). (We also saw and felt yellow jackets sadly, which this year were to be found in abundance for some reason. Most of us ended up with a sting or two before bringing in some traps to keep them away from camp and the quarry.) The old west is still there when you're camping out under the “Big Sky”.

For the next few days we split up – Mason, Don and Sara working MDS and Dale, Sam, Mac and I heading about 20 miles south the “Dodson Diplodocus” site. This is another Morrison locality near the Wyoming border found by local rancher Will Tillet (of Tenontosaurus tilleti fame) and worked by Peter Dodson and now us. Peter gave us the big sauropod they had begun to uncover as we’d been looking for a relatively complete animal to mount at Cincinnati. Big is perhaps an exaggeration as it is a young adult gracile diplodocid sauropod only 60 or so feet long, but as it’s largely complete and articulated, it’s a major engineering project to get it out of the ground (Peter, of course, knew that when he passed it on to us!). We’ve been at it four years now and only the body block remains. We hope to get the last of it this year.

So, all of this work continues apace, while I have moved up to the YBRA camp in Red Lodge. This is the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association and is a fabulous place to stay – rustic cabins on the mountainside, a grand old lodge with home-cooked meals, showers and real beds. I try not to miss the “old west” camping experience too much. I’ll be up here for the next three weeks with the Field School participants, taking in the scenery and commuting down to Mother’s Day to collect for the Museum. This first week we have a great group – seven people from all ages, walks of life and from as far away as New Jersey. Today, the school’s first full day, we did my grand geology tour of the Beartooths and Bighorn Basin.

We start up on the pass near Hell-Roaring Plateau (I love that name – you can imagine the winter storms up there!) and look at hard, crystalline basement rocks – granites, granitoids, mafic intrusions, various metamorphics, etc. – that underlie the North American continent, and here brought to the surface by major tectonic uplift during the Laramide Orogeny (starting in the latest Cretaceous and Early Tertiary). Some of these rocks are 3.9 billion years (with a B!) old by radiometric dating and are some of Earth’s oldest rocks. From here we move back down the Rock Creek Valley, examining Pleistocene montane glacial geomorphology, down into the Bighorn Basin through the Fort Union Paleocene beds and associated coal fields (now abandoned leaving a somewhat lonely town of Bear Creek standing guard – 100 years old this year – Happy Birthday BC!), and into the Clark’s Fork Canyon. Here is one of the best examples of Precambrian basement uplift, covered unconformably by 300 million years of Paleozoic marine sediments with the most spectacular drag fold and flat-iron palisades at the mountain front that you could ever hope to see (not to mention two great terminal moraines at the valley mouth. Lastly, we cross the basin towards the Pryors moving generally down section from Paleocene to Cretaceous to Jurassic. At Red Dome we get a tremendous view of Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway shales, Cloverly Formation badlands (type locality home of Deinonychus antirrhopus), blood-red Chugwater sands and mudstones (Triassic) and, of course, the famous dinosaur-bearing Morrison.

We do all this to place the fossils in context – the Earth is a dynamic, changing place on which tremendous geologic forces operate over vast time scales. Few places like Montana/Wyoming show this to greater effect. Tomorrow we dig in earnest!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

July 20, 2006

OK, I'm back. I apologize for the lengthy interim, but I've a variety of excuses. Number one, I've been anxiously running about getting my gear together - most significantly a new field vehicle for the Museum - and have not had the time to think much about this blog. Number two, I'm no longer a teen (or pre-teen, for that matter) and have been learning how to "operate" a blog, and number three - for the last three days, I've been driving across country to get to Montana. Tonight I'm in Sheridan, Wyoming and will cross the Bighorn Mountains tomorrow, arriving at our excavation site in early afternoon.

Mason left a few days before me with some volunteer staff from our prep lab and should be on-site already. I have to assume that all is well and we can get right to work preparing for the arrival of our field school participants this weekend. In actual fact, my hope is that Mason and the gang has everything prepared already and that I need merely breeze into camp and provide my seal of approval. I've every confidence in them so, all things considered (like the 100 degree temperates dominating the Bighorn Basin this week), we should be good to go.

I like driving across country (especially in CMC's new truck with AC, automatic transmission, 4WD and grill guard-mounted power winch!) as the landscape evolves (I love that word!) from largely flat cratonic land of eastern deciduous forest and agricultural fields to rolling prairie and then to the continental basement uplifts of the Rockies and the high desert intermontane basins filled with fossiliferous sediment. Even so, the long hours of the drive do wear, and I'm ready to hit the field.

I'll be off-line again for a few days while camping with my crew, but when the Field School begins, and I move up to the Yellowstone Bighorn Research Association (YBRA - more about that later!) camp at Red Lodge, I'll let you know how we're getting on. Cheers 'til then!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Photos from the 2005 Dinosaur Field School

The dig site in Montana.

Making a plaster jacket in the field.

Glenn Storrs picks away the stone from
Diplodocus vertebrae and ribs.

Skin impressions left in the rock from Diplodocus.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

July 11, 2006

I'm gearing up to head west for our dinosaur project. Although we have been running Cincinnati Museum Center's Dinosaur Field School for seven years now, this is my first attempt at a blog. Mason Milam, our volunteers and trip participants will try to keep you up-dated on just what paleontological field work is actually like. We hope to provide postings and photos that document our progress as we work to uncover and collect dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic, specimens that are approximately 140 millions years old. This is a real research project, not merely a tourist opportunity, so everyone pitches in and learns by doing. As it's a real project, conditions are real too. That is, the weather, the discoveries, the events are also real and thus unpredictable. We will not have internet access everyday, and we may not have the time or energy to post even when we do - but we will do our best. I hope you enjoy reading of our efforts and, hopefully, successes.

A bit of background. The Mother's Day Site, in south-central Montana, was discovered (on Mothers' Day, natch!) in 1996 by Kurt Padilla, a volunteer for the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. The site was worked for two years for MOR by Kristy Curry-Rogers (now at the Science Museum of Minnesota). With other projects in the Cretaceous taking priority, MOR was unable to continue its excavations at Mother's Day and with their blessing (thanks again, Jack!), staff at the Bureau of Land Management asked me to take on the excavations at the site in order to preserve its fossils for the benefit of the American people and the scientific community in general. As with all vertebrate fossil sites on federal land, we work under permit to the BLM and all collected specimens are reposited at Cincinnati Museum Center where they can be accessed by all.

The site preserves thousands of bones of dozens of, mostly young, sauropod dinosaurs. We believe that a single herd of gracile diplodocids, probably Diplodocus, became trapped at a shrinking water hole during seasonal drought about 140 million years ago. The site is thus a monospecific, catastrophic assemblage that provides insight into Late Jurassic environments and paleoecology, and on the paleobiology of a single species of giant dinosaur. Of course, the seven years of work up to this point have given us a better understanding of the site than when we began our excavations. A master's degree under my supervision at the University of Cincinnati by T. Scott Myers (now at Southern Methodist University) has been completed recently on the taphonomy (environmental and depositional history) of MDS and has answered many of our initial questions. Scott and I are undertaking to publish this work now.

Maybe that's more detail than you wanted, but now that it's out of the way, we can get down to the fun of letting you peek over our shoulders as we embark upon a nother season of excavations at MDS. More to come!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

About the Dinosaur Field School

Cincinnati Museum Center's Dinosaur Field School invites all those with a passion for paleontology to spend a week digging for real dinosaurs! Participants in the weeklong sessions travel to the northwestern flank of the Bighorn Mountains in south-central Montana to learn to extract dinosaur fossils from rock using hand tools, how to gather and document field data and how to “field jacket” the fossils in burlap and plaster for shipment to the museum.