Monday, December 10, 2007

2008 Cincinnati Museum Center Dinosaur Field School Dates Announced

Cincinnati Museum Center has opened registration for it's 2008 Dinosaur Field School in the Bighorn Basin of Montana. If you’re interested in dinosaurs and want to participate in a real dig, this is the trip for you! This week-long session will give you a wide range of experience in the basic principles and techniques of geology and paleontology. Training and collecting supplies will be provided by Cincinnati Museum Center staff under the direction of Dr. Glenn Storrs, curator of Vertebrate Paleontology.

You’ll 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. You’ll come to understand the dramatic and beautiful regional geology through field trips and informal lectures.

The experience is open to adults and teens, ages 13-17 who are accompanied by an adult. You will be working outdoors and living in a rustic camp setting in mountainside cabins. We are working along the northwestern flank of the Bighorn Mountains of south-central Montana on public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

July 6-13
Week 2
July 13-20

CMC Members: $1250
CMC non-Members: $1350
Fees includes all instruction, collecting tool rental, lodging, meals and transportation to and from camp once in Red Lodge. Transportation to Billings, Montana, from your home and back is not included. Lodging is dormitory-style, with separate men’s and women’s cabins. Private cabins may also be available by early registration.

Space is limited, so please register as early as possible. A full registration packet and medical release form will be mailed upon request. A $600 per person non-refundable deposit is required, together with the registration form and signed waivers to secure your reservation. Please call the Museum's Information and Reservation office at (513) 287-7021 or 1-800-733-2077 x7021.

Monday, November 12, 2007

November 6, 2007

The work never stops. The Allosaurus project, which staff and volunteers have been working on for approximately two years, has been installed on the floor. Hundreds of museum visitors were able to view the assembly as it happened earlier this summer in our "Bone by Bone" exhibit, but the full skeleton is now in its permanent home on the Lower Level of the Museum of Natural History and Science at Cincinnati Museum Center.

The skeleton is approximately 50% authentic fossil and 50% replica bones cast from other Allosaurus fossils borrowed from the Yale Peabody Museum. Originally unearthed in Utah, the Allosaurus had remained in storage until it was decided to resurrect the large carnivore and allow it to "prowl" the halls of Union Terminal. Dr. Glenn Storrs, Withrow Farny Curator of Vertebrate Paleontogy and Assistant Vice President of Natural History and Science, commented that "major league cities are often defined by their baseball or football teams. I believe that every major city also deserves its own dinosaur."

While there are several fleshed out dinosaurs in the exhibits at Cincinnati Museum Center, this is the first complete dinosaur skeleton on display for the public. As visitors round the corner, they are greeted by the Allosaurus staring back at them at eye level. The exhibit utilizes the latest scientific interpretations to place the fierce predator in a head-down stance, using it's hips as a fulcrum and balancing its tail in a horizontal position.

Another unique feature of the skeleton is that individual bones may be quickly removed by museum staff for research without having to dismantle a large portion of the skeleton. This construction project was made possible in part to the financial support of local schools and individuals who wanted to see the skeleton on display.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

One of Our Own...a TRUE Rock Star

Mackenzie English, one of our Dinosaur Field School volunteers, was recently featured in a n official release from the University of Cincinnati entitled "English + Geology = Science Success". The following is from that article:
Mackenzie English has accomplished a lot in his brief time on earth — on earth, under earth, digging earth. This summer, and the summer before, he traveled to Montana with adjunct faculty member Glenn Storrs. Storrs is the Withrow Farny Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) and each year takes a group of volunteers to collect dinosaur fossils. Mac, besides being a second-year geology major at UC, is also a CMC volunteer, so he was asked if he would like to join the team. Sara Oser, another UC geology undergrad and CMC volunteer, also went.

"Mac is passionate about paleontology, which makes him a great fit for Cincinnati," says Storrs, assistant vice president for Natural History & Science at the Cincinnati Museum Center. "The collaborative environment between UC, the Museum Center and the local amateur community is unequalled, providing unique educational and research opportunities for students with Mac's maturity and dedication. We're glad to have his help."

For the complete story, click here.

This is just one story from the many hundreds of volunteers who help Cincinnati Museum Center fulfill our mission everyday...whether under the hot summer sun of Montana or with young children in the Duke Energy Children's Museum. Congratulations to Mac (and Sara) for their inclusion in this release, and many thanks for their hard work over the past several years.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Re-Adapting to Life in Civilization

With the best of intentions, I had planned to quickly follow-up on Weeks 2 and 3 of this year's Dinosaur Field School. They were very successful weeks, with many wonderful fossils being unearthed, but being back in civilization has required a bit more adjustment than I had envisioned. I'm readapting to home life and work life, catching up on the nearly 2000 emails I received while away (not including the more than 1700 pieces of spam) and returning more than a dozen voice mails.There are many great films and Sunday cartoons about what life is like in an office cubicle, but until you've spent 5 weeks under the Big Sky of Montana, it really doesn't hit home.

On our way out to Montana, a lovely woman in Middle-of-Nowhere, South Dakota noticed from Dr. Storr's driver's license that he was from Kentucky. "We were there a couple of months ago," she commented. "It was pretty, but there were too many trees." We got a good chuckle about it for a few days, but when I returned to Cincinnati--which has not only trees but a lot of houses, shopping centers and people--I, too, got a sense of claustrophobia.

It wasn't only the closeness of everything and everybody, but the idea of getting back into a schedule that isn't based on when the sun rises or sets has also been a big readjustment. Jokingly, we refer to the locals in Montana as running on "Red Lodge Time", meaning "I'll get there when I get there." Life in Montana, and elsewhere in the West, runs on a schedule all its own...and that's something that I, for one, certainly miss.

Now, those reports from Weeks 2 and 3 are Red Lodge Time...but they'll be up soon.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Last Things First...

Well, the 2007 field season has come to a close. I know that there are some big holes in the play-by-play, but a family emergency brought me out of the field a little earlier than planned and I've spent the past two weeks or so sorting that all out.

I brought the van back early last week loaded to the gills with plaster field jackets and gear which wouldn't be needed to close the site down. Mackenzie and Sara stayed behind to help close the site down and returned with Dr. Storrs, to my knowledge, sometime late on Sunday evening (Aug 19th). There were several bones exposed and leaving them behind, even if under protective winter jackets, just wasn't an option so they made sure that everything came out before leaving.

I will be providing a final tally of fossils collected, which included some REALLY nice finds, in the next few days and will then go back to recap some of the week-by-week finds and activities including a great week with CMC's Youth Program during Week Three. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the CMC Board of Directors and senior leadership at Museum Center for their continuing support of this worthwhile project, including allowing me to tag along (and hopefully contribute) this year. On behalf of myself and Dr. Storrs, I'd like to thank Sally, Emily, Lynette, Susan, Ian, Bill, Kim, Tom and John for attending the Field School this year and for their efforts in the quarry. An additional thanks goes to the field crew who volunteered a good portion of their summer to making this enterprise a success: Dale, D.M., Angela, Mac, Sara, Sam, Gary and Mike. I hope that each of you can make it out again next summer as we try to teach Sara a few more camp stove recipes (and yes, vegetables ARE a food group) .

In addition to the backtracking I will do in the next few days, we will continue to update the blog throughout the year in preparation for next year's Field School. There is a possibility that we will have a "teachers only" week, pending some grant funding, so be on the lookout for details.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Hiatus...

I apologize for the extended hiatus. Technical and travel issues have prevented posting, but will resume soon...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Pictures: Week Two in the Beartooths

(click photos for full-size images)

Me, with a sinus infection standing at 9100 feet, with a two-week beard and eyes about ready to explode from the pressure.

The classic U-shaped valley carved by a glacier. This is the Rock Creek Valley.

This is an example of a mafic dike (black intrusin in the center) created when magma forced it's way up through the granite rock which forms the Beartooth Mountains.

Here's Dr. Storrs, a sometimes solitary figure, surveying the Beartooth Plateau, somewhere over 10,000 feet.

Here's the Week Two group, looking into the cirque at the head of the Rock Creek Valley. This is where the glacier which carved the valley would have originated.

Here's Tom, trying to get a great shot. He's a few feet from the edge of what is about a 500 foot drop. This cirque serves as a training facility for the US Olympic Ski Team.

In the distant center, you can see the "Bear's Tooth", the namesake for this mountain range.

The Week Two group and Glenn at Vista Point, somewhere around 9100 feet, observing the various features found in the Rock Crek Valley.

August 1, 2007

Today's Mother's Day Site (MDS) temperature: 96 degrees

Back in the field for a full day at the quarry. I did make it out, though decided to come back to the YBRA this evening (hot meals, soft bed and warm showers...who could blame me?). We awoke in Red Lodge to temperatures in the mid-50's, and evidently, it got pretty cold out at the camp site as well. While the temperatures did rise into the mid-90's, a constant breeze (and our new shade tents) made it fairly comfortable. Everyone is making excellent progress on their fossils, with some excellent new discoveries today including a fairly nice skin impression found by Bill and Kim.

Back at the YBRA, after an all-you-can-eat ice cream sundae dessert, John, Tom, Kim and Bill took part in a hotly contested game of horseshoes. After nearly two hours, John & Tom came out on top by a score of 20-19 (we think), though Bill and Kim were making a bit of a run at the end.

Prospecting was pretty productive. Mackenzie found some rather large pieces of what appears to be a long limb bone (species unknown), and another nice stash of petrified wood. The crew also found some trace fossils from a small animal or perhaps an insect crawling in the mud and leaving a trail behind. More turtle pieces were also recovered.

Angela and Gary have been working on some pretty interesting bones which, in the Mother's Day Site tradition, are overlapping one another making for slow progress. Sara and Sam are working in and among some somewhat complex areas but are making nice progress. Mike has been working a few nice pieces but has really stepped in to help the DFS participants with some tips and pointers. I continue to move from one area to another, trying to expose the starts of bones for others to work on, though I would like to at least get one out of the ground myself before the week is over. Glenn is working on the large block of cervical vertebrae that we started working over a week ago, although the new air compressor and tools is making that move a little easier now.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

July 31, 2007

Today's Mother's Day Site (MDS) temperature: 110 degrees

Well, today I had a recurrence of sinus and chest congestion which I first picked up before leaving Cincinnati. The dust, changes in altitude and temperature, and numerous other factors have affected several of us in camp over the past two weeks. We had a beautiful morning up on the Beartooth Plateau, climbing once again to well over 10,000 feet and surveying the 3.8 billion year old rocks lying right next to the much younger sedimentary rocks. We all managed to spy a marmot playing on the rocks, and a few even spotted a pika. For those of you not familiar with this small "rock rabbit", it is a cousin of rabbits but is much smaller and lives primarily in very mountainous areas. They're very skiddish and not very camera friendly.

I ended up staying at the YBRA after the morning drive in order to get some rest and let some cold medicine work its magic, but the rest of the gang headed out to the Mother's Day site for a few hot hours in the quarry. John was hard at work on a metatarsal (foot bone), Tom is working on some limb elements which are still too buried to identify, Kim is making some great progress on some gastralium (belly ribs) and a chevron, while Bill has his hands full with a very delicate and complicated cervical vertebra.

In news from camp, Angela and Gary managed to corral a baby rabbit which had somehow become impaled by several cactus spines. After having the spines removed, it fed on a fair bit of watermelon and appears to be doing better. Another couple of days of TLC and it should be ready to go back out...that is if Angela will let it out of her sight.

Today was a MUCH better day on the prospecting front, with Dale, D.M. and Sam finding more bones today than they had in the previous four days. Included among their finds were more turtle scutes, a few dinosaur vertebra and select other small bones, and a few unidentifiable pieces of float. The problem with this excellent prospecting's about a 40-minute walk across the badlands. Any volunteers?

I'll be posting some photos from today, hopefully first thing in the morning (Mountain Time). Assuming that I'm feeling better, I will be camping tomorrow (Wednesday) night and therefore not posting again until Thursday. Keep cool thoughts.

Week One to Week Two: The Transition

The five DFS participants in the first week had what we hope was a wonderful time. Despite the difficult temperatures on Monday and Tuesday, the week ended up to be fairly comfortable in the quarry…after all, it is a dry heat.

By the time everyone left the quarry on Friday, 40 individual bones, possible gastroliths, plant fragments and other pieces had been recorded and mapped. One of the most interesting pieces (unearthed by Slaly and Emily) was an as of yet unidentified fossil which is unlike anything ever recovered in this particular quarry and one which could be a first for sauropods in North America. This piece will be going back to Cincinnati with us in a few weeks for preparation and further study, and we’ll keep you posted as to our interpretations once that is complete.

The pig races in Bearcreek were as exciting as ever, though the crowds were somewhat smaller than we are usually accustomed to. No one won any money, unfortunately, but it was an experience which none will soon forget.

Photos will soon be posted to the DFS page on ( and those in attendance should be posting their photos there as well (nothing embarrassing, I hope).

As for week two, our participants all arrived safely in Billings, though with some additional airline delays. Tom, John, Kim and Bill joined us at the YBRA on Sunday evening for dinner and a little conversation before settling into their cabins. Today (July 30) was their introduction to the geology of the Bighorn Basin and of the Mother’s Day Site. On Tuesday we will be heading first up to the Beartooth Plateau and then again out to the dig site by lunchtime.

We have also been joined by a few more field crew members who are camping out at the Mother’s Day Site. D.M., a high school biology teacher from Newark, Ohio was on the original crew when the site was first opened by Montana State University more than a decade ago. Mike, a geologist and alum of Ohio University, has joined the Cincinnati-based crew each year since back in 1999 when he and Dr. Storrs made the cross-country trek together. Gary, an undergraduate geology/biology double major at the University of Dayton, is an alum of the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Youth Program through which he first attended DFS several years ago. He has definitely traveled the farthest of of any of us to get here, having been in Cameroon (Africa) within days of his arrival in Montana. That brings our total at the camp site to 8 (9 when I’m camping). It’s the largest contingent in years, and their presence is certainly making work go much faster and smoother than it would without them.

An update on the prospecting front…it’s hard work. New fossils are coming slowly, but there are many promising signs and, hopefully, next year should see us opening a new secondary site looking for something other than the massive sauropods found at the Mother’s Day Site. Sara, Mackenzie and Sam have taken a brief respite from prospecting to focus on our current quarry, but may again be heading out on Tuesday or Wednesday.

I will be spending a few more nights out at the Mother’s Day site this week, but will be posting as possible when I am able to get back to the YBRA.

The Sacrifices of Field-Based Scientists

A belated happy birthday to my wife, Staci. Don’t worry, I did call her and sent some nice flowers, but since it is she who has sacrificed the most to allow me the opportunity to come to Montana again this summer, I wanted to make special note of it here. Which actually brings up another interesting topic, the sacrifices made by field researchers—whether they be paleontologists or a member of any of the other sciences which require fieldwork. It's wonderful as an undergraduate or graduate student, and even as a young working professional. No responsibilities except the work. However, as these scientists mature in their personal lives and start a family, the field work becomes slightly more burdensome.

As young undergraduates, field camps and field experiences are an adventure. Mackenzie, one of our field crew this year, just returned from a three-week trip to India and the Himalayas before joing us for Dinosaur Field School. Sara, likewise, spent several weeks in Utah for a field course this summer. Not to belittle their sacrifices, which are real and financially significant, but they are much different than those made by more established field researchers. Angela, who has just graduated, has been away from home for a total of nine weeks this summer. She is also now in that transition period, having to coordinate her moving arrangements, grad school registration, caring for her pets (thanks, Ben), and numerous other responsibilities.

Now, I can only speak from my experience, especially this summer, but leaving one’s significant other, children, and other responsibilities behind for a month or more at a time can be quite difficult. The advent of cell phones and the Internet (when available) have made this separation somewhat easier, but many field scientists still have difficulties with these sacrifices and even refuse to make the sacrifices and hang up their hiking boots and field gear for more administrative or non-travel oriented tasks. Likewise, the families left behind during these prolonged experiences have to make sacrifices as well. Finding alternate child care, a doubling of reproductive chores at home, keeping track of a dinosaur blog, etc. are added strains on the life of loved ones.

This isn’t intended to be a moaning session, but the realities are just that…real. Field experience is crucial to the development of young scientists at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Fieldwork by museums, universities and individuals is critical to the furtherance of science and our understanding of the world around us. My hope, instead, is to make the readers of this blog a little more aware that, despite the adventure of living in the desert for five weeks and discovering interesting things, field-based science is not just fun and games…though it does have its moments.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday, July 27

It's early a.m. Heavy cloud cover has prevented me from posting over the satellite-based Internet until now. Please check the photos posted below. Yesterday was a nice day in the quarry, only reaching the high 80's with a fairly constant breeze and cloud cover. Today will be our final day in the quarry for Week 1, with a visit to the Bearcreek Saloon and the famous Pig Races, so I probably will not be posting tonight. It's been a wonderful week, and I'll post tomorrow regarding how many bones, etc. have been collected this week as well as some thoughts from the other staff who are out here this summer.

Until next time...

Pictures: Week One

Geology 101 on the back porch of the YBRA.

A typical U-shaped valley formed by glaciers in the Rock Creek Valley of the Beartooth Mountains.

Top of the world on the Beartooth Plateau. Has anyone seen Sally?

There she is! Sally and Emily with Dr. Storrs.

Susan and Ian, who is fighting with a bottle of consolidant (glue) which doesn't always handle very easily in the heat.

Here's Bob, quite happy that his vertebra is ready for a top jacket.

Here's Lynette in a very stereotypical paleontology pose, looking down.

Sara, deep in concentration on a wonderful fibula.

Pictures: Opening Camp (7/19/07)

First things first...setting up camp. This is from the ridge just above the quarry looking back at camp...a 1/4 mile hike or so.

Erosion can be a paleontologist's best friend or worst enemy. Each flag in this photo represents an exposed fossil unearthed by large rain storms since last summer.

Here are Mackenzie and Angela escaping the sun while still doing some work. Dr. Glenn Storrs (boots in the foreground) is not sleeping, just getting a better angle... :)

Pictures (Mt. Rushmore/Devil's Tower)

(click images for full-size version)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

July 22-25, 2007

It's been hot, and I've had a little less time to post that I had originally envisioned, but here we are. Photos are coming, but despite now having "high-speed" Internet, speeds are still a little slow for uploading many images. I'm working on a solution and should be able to post photos soon.

Sunday, July 22
Everyone arrived safely in Montana today, despite some airline issues. We're joined this week by Sally, Emily, Susan, Ian and Lynette, hailing from Virginia, Colorado and Connecticut, respectively. Bob, another volunteer from Cincinnati Museum Center also jined us at the YBRA. Sam and Angela joined me on the first trip into Billings while Mackenzie and Sara joined Glenn on the first prospecting trip of the year. The Mother's Day Site is fantastic, but many of the staff and volunteers are getting antsy for something new. Sara proved (once again) to be an ace in the field by discovering a beautiful lungfish tooth, while the trio also discovered an ankylosaur vertebrae and a scute from a turtle shell, all from the early Cretaceous (as early as 146 million years ago). Prospecting will continue during our stay here in Montana, and we hope to find some really promising locations.

Monday, July 23
Today's Mother's Day Site (MDS) temperature: 115 degrees
Today was "Introducion to Local Geology" Day. While it may sound less exciting than your typical vacation, our group was given a tour of more than 4 billion years of the Earth's history in about 6 hours.

The day started with an overview of the three major principles in evidence here in the area and which really allow us to understand how to read the rocks around us and the story they can tell us. While I won't go into great detail here, the three principles are: Original Horizontality, which states that most layers of sedimentary rocks are deposited in a horizontal position; Superposition, which states that as rocks are layered one on top of another, the layers on top are newer than the rocks on bottom...and vice versa, the rocks on bottom are older than those on top. This can be subverted, however, by the third concept, the Principle of Cross-Cutting Relationships. This principle states that igneous rocks that intrude into sedimentary rocks (e.g., magma) is always younger than the sedimentary rocks into which it intrudes.

These became clear to everyone as we traveled up the nearly 5,000 foot climb to the Beartooth Plateau via the Beartooth Highway (named by Charles Kuralt as America's Most Scenic Highway). After some breathtaking scenery (and altitudes), we headed bck down into Red Lodge for a little local history lesson including the adventures of "Liver Eating" Johnson and The Sundance Kid, both popular figures in the history of this 123 year old town.

Next it was on to Bearcreek and the site of the Smith Mine Disaster of 1943. Coal mining had been a booming business in the Bear Creek valley since before the turn-of-the-century, and had been waning in the days before World War II began, but the death of 74 miners in 1943 effectively ended the industry in the valley. I'll post more about Bearcreek and the Smith Mine later.

Our next stop was at the mouth of the Clark's Fork Canyon near Clark, Wyoming. This magnificent bent rock formation is one of the finest examples of the shear force exerted as the Beartooth Mountains were thrust up and to the east some 55 million years ago.

Finally, we made it to the Mother's Day Site around 3:00 or so, ust in time to get a quick overview of the site and where our guests would be digging on Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 24
Today's MDS temperature: 110 degrees
First full day in the quarry. Still more of an orientation as everyone is getting used to their tools and how to identify fossilized bone from the rock that surrounds it, including the funny but effective touching of the fossils to your tongue -- a true dinosaur fossil will stick.

Red Lodge and the YBRA received a fair amount of rain today, lowering the local fire warnings from VERY HIGH to a more modest HIGH. The MDS site received no rain but once again had its share of windstorms, one at about 6 a.m. and another that hit at about 6 p.m.

I decided to rough it and stay at the camp site rather than the YBRA. Glenn calls it banishment (tongue in cheek), but I really do enjoy being out there...even if I have to wear sunglasses until 10 p.m. in order to keep the dust out of my eyes. As a peace offering to Sam, Mackenzie, Sara and Angela, I bought the ingredients and made Pasta Alfredo (with chicken for our non vegetarian staff) and fresh green beans with garlic. It seemed to go over pretty well. We were also joined by Cathy Lash, the graduate student from the University of Montana working at the nearby Depression Reservoir site.

Wednesday, July 25
Today's MDS Temperature: 96 degrees
First, a much cooler day. Clouds and a few light sprinkles held temperatures at the Mothers Day Site in the 80's or so for much of the morning before climbing into the mid 90's by day's end. Emily and Sally have been excavating a vertebrae and will probably be ready to to jacket the piece by around lunchtime tomorrow. I'll go through a step-by-step preparation for these protective outer casings placed on fossils at a later time, but everyone should be elbow-deep in plaster by the end of the week. Susan and Ian have encountered what we lovingly refer to as the "Mother's Day Curse" where just as you think you've found the end of a bone, you realize that there is another bone blocking you from getting it out of the ground. For those of you who have ever played "pick-up sticks", the fossils at MDS are a lot like that. Lynette has been assisting Sara, Mackenzie and Angela on a large block of fossils which has been producing some really nice things. Unfortunately, it's really slow going. Bob has been working on some pretty tricky vertebrae pieces intermingled with some rib fragments, but is making much progress.

Sara continues to be the star of the show, however, unearthing a potential gastrolith (stomach stone) which is larger than any other discovered in the site. Today, however, she discovered a fibula which is in an EXCELLENT state of preservation. Mackenzie has also top-jacketed a large rib which is also in wonderful condition. Sam is working under the main tent with Susan and Ian and also has several nice bones working. I have several cervical vertebrae on which I'm working. These bones are extremely complex and have been slightly weathered, but I'm confident they'll come out by the end of the week...maybe. Angela, who has had much experience at another dig in Utah, has been working with Sara and Mackenzie to learn specific processes as they relate to this site (which is MUCH different than the Utah site), and her MP3 playlist is keeping everyone upbeat despite the heat. We were also joined by an old friend, Dale Gnidovec from the Orton Museum of Geology at Ohio State University. He and Glenn's relationship goes back to graduate school, and he is a very welcome addition to the crew. He'll primarily be prospecting in some of the new areas with Mackenzie (and perhaps Sam) accompanying him most days.

This evening was laundry night at the camp site. haven't heard yet if they were able to get to the Bridger Cafe for milkshakes, but I'm hoping they did. Back at the YBRA, our guests were treated to a lecture by Glenn on the history and working hypothesis of the site and how it was formed some 150 million years ago.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Setting up camp...and surviving the heat

Wednesday, July 18
We departed Murdo, SD pretty early in the morning and made our way toward The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, as mentioned in the previous post. Glenn headed straight to Hot Springs while Sara, Angela, Mac, Sam and I headed to Mt. Rushmore for some quick photos and then onto Hot Springs. We met up with Don Esker and explored the facility which was truly amazing. We also got a local take on the "Alabaugh Fire" that killed a resident south of Hot Springs and forced the evacuation of hundreds of others. We're hoping to maybe make a retunr visit on the way back through South Dakota, but that remains to be seen.

After departing Hot Springs, we all headed into Wyoming, with a quick detour to Devil's Tower, and then another 5 hours or so to the Mother's Day Site in Montana (except for Glenn who had wisely stopped in Sheridan, Wyoming). We arrived at the base of the access road just after midnight and walked the quarter mile upo to the camp site, checking for potential erosion to the drive which might prevent the van, truck and trailer from making it up safely. Unfortunately, we found that a great deal of the glorified cowpath had washed out, and none of us felt like wielding a pickaxe or shovel at 1:00 in the morning. So, back into Bridger and a nice comfortable motel bed...nope! The Bridger Motel offices close at 9:00, so we headed to a rest area on the edge of town for a few hours of sleep...or at least an attempt at it.

Thursday, July 19
6:30 a.m. and we were all awake...well, almost...and we stopped for breakfast at the Bridger Cafe & Casino. The casino part is really just a few video poker machines which seem to be more plentiful in Montana than prarie dogs. A good breakfast in our bellies and it was back to the dig site for some manual labor. By the time we finished road repairs at around 10:00 or so temperatures were already in the mid 90's and we started setting up tents and re-hydrating ourselves.

Glenn arrived as we were heading out for lunch (again at the Bridger Cafe), so we unhooked the trailer and headed into town. Just as a note to you travellers out there who may find yourselves in Bridger one day, all of us would HIGHLY recommend the hand-dipped milkshakes...though the staff will grumble quite a bit if you attempt to order 6 of them like we did. While in town, we also stopped for groceries...and began to learn about how to make a vegetarian-friendly menu. For some reason, SPAM and Pork&Beans don't fit in that menu, but I think we're making it work...or at least trying to.

We also did a pretty thorough inspection of the Site which the BLM had informed us had been looted after our departure in 2006. While we found no evidence of looting or what might be mising, we did find that the Montana weather had done a great deal of the work for us with some EXCELLENT bones being partially exposed but without the weathering damage one might expect. We were also joined briefly by Cathy Lash from the University of Montana who is working a nearby site with some early marine reptiles.

Right at sunset, I became the first of the group to find a rattlesnake. I'm not sure who was more startled by the encounter, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't the snake. This 3' olive-colored rattler had come right into camp, something which locals have told us is more and more common this year. Plentiful rain in the Spring, and the resulting vegetaion, caused a population boom in both predators and prey, so the snakes have become a bit more agressive. Worse than the snake, though, was the wind/dust storm that kicked up shortly afterwards. Lasting more than five hours, the storm victimized Angela's tent and filled the rest of ours with an annoying amount of dust and sand. Angela's tent is salvageable but if anyone would like to buy her a new one, I don't think she would be opposed.

Friday, July 20
How many 1/2 mile hikes does it take to setup a dinosaur dig? Too many. Before temperatures got too hot (it eventually reached more than 110-degrees), we began the process of carrying plaster (200 pounds to start), water (about 20 gallons), and various tools and other necessities up to the dig site from our camp. By the time lunch rolled around we were all spent, not having full acclimated to the altitude and heat. So, we hopped in the air-conditioned van to do a follow-up inspection of the Dodson Site down near the Wyoming border. This is the site where we removed a fully articulated Diplodocus (the final piece weighing about 3,500 pounds). We took a look for any pieces which may have washed out or been exposed over the winter, and fortunately, found none. Mac and Sara then took us to look for some petrified wood which had also been found nearby.

After some final, emotional farewells to the Dodson Site, we headed to a nearby location well-known for its well-preserved fossil fishes. Sara and Glenn each found a fossils which included soft tissue (very impressive) while the rest of us came up empty-handed. We headed back into Bridger for water and a few more food items and then settled in for the night.

Saturday, July 21 (aka, Harry Potter Day)
Predicted temperatures in the 115-degree range make us rethink our plans, especially since the dig site was a fairly easy one to open this year. We spent a few hours helping Sam build an adjustable tent of tarps which could cover the dig and protect all of us from the sun. A few rope burns later, we had what amounts to a pretty nice structure. I'll post pictures's quite impressive.

We headed over to Red Lodge in anticipation of our first showers in several days and stopped to pick up a couple of copies of the final Harry Potter book which we had pre-ordered from somewhere on the road in South Dakota. Red Lodge is a small town at heart, but sometimes they do things in a very big way. After having gone to the YBRA to take showers, we all headed into town to enjoy the Iron Horse Rodeo, a motorcycle rally that literally takes over the town for 3 days in late July, shortly before the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota. There had to have been a thousand bikes lining the usually serene streets and the diversity of riders was quite amazing.

We left Red Lodge hoping to catch the Jim Bridger Days in Bridger, MT but got back a little too late, though Glenn made it in time to run into Cathy Lash (from a few paragraphs up) who explained that the demolition derby was quite an event.

Our participants for Week One will be arriving on Sunday, July 22. I'll post more about them and their first day in Montana in the next day or so......To Be Continued

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

July 17, 2007 -- Part Two

Well, day two of our adventure has come to a close. We made it from Grinnell, Iowa to Murdo, South Dakota (about 543 miles) but that included a very important stop in Mitchell, SD -- home to two of the must-see places in this scenic state, namely the Cabela's Retail Store and the Mitchell Corn Palace. Cabela's was a last stop for camping supplies, and the Corn Palace added a little bit of culture to the trip. For those of you not familiar, the Corn Palace was built in 1921 as a convention, sporting and exhibition center. That, however, is not its claim to fame. The entire outer facade of the building is covered with detailed murals created entirely of local agricultural products (corn, wheat, soybeans, grasses, etc.). New murals are put up every year and, what the birds don't eat, are stripped down the next year and new murals created.

We also managed to run into a few old friends, Jake and Elwoood Blues. They were taking the night off, but agreed to stop and take a photo with the group (l-r, Sara, Angela, Jake, Mackenzie, Sam, Elwood and Glenn). Tomorrow we will be continuing our way west, making the Mother's Day Site (another 550 miles or so), but with another pit stop in Hot Springs, SD at The Mammoth Site (, the world's largest mammoth research facility. The website does their work far more justice than I can do here, but while there, we will be joining another old friend of the Dinosaur Field School and recent Cincinnati transplant (and former UC grad student) Don Esker who is serving as assistant curator. We're all hoping for a little face time with some of the Pleistocene behemoths (all of our tools are accessible), but we'll have to wait and see.

It is probably going to be a few days until I can post again as tomorrow evening will see us in the desert settling in and and setting up camp. Please feel free to post your makes this a lot more fun for me, certainly. See you then!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

July 17, 2007

We made it well into Iowa yesterday, to the small college town of Grinnell (home of the Pioneers, the 80-oz. steak challenge, and Cincinnati's own Tim McDonald). We managed to avoid some pretty serious storms late in the afternoon as we skirted just north of a cell containing a tornado. Though we didn't see the funnel itself, there were some amazing thunderheads visible from the road.

In addition to Sam, Sara and Mackenzie, we were joined by Angela yesterday morning. These 4 students (well, Angela has just finished her undergrad program and is heading to grad school later this summer) are going to prove very important to the ongoing success of the Dinosaur Field School and the Mother's Day Site. They are all extremely experienced and knowledgeable, and their personalities are making for a good time in the van (which I'm driving). But probably the funniest "crisis" was when a couple of them realized they hadn't made arrangements to have the new Harry Potter book shipped to them in the field. Crisis averted--we called ahead to the good folks at Red Lodge Books to pre-order the book and will be able to pick it up on Saturday.

As we're heading west, we're also trying to keep an eye on the weather. It's predicted to be 101 in Rapid City, South Dakota today (we'll probably reach there late this afternoon or evening) and Billings, MT will be hovering around 100-degrees for at least the next several days. The best part is that the dig site averages about 10-degrees hotter than Billings, so I'll let you do the math.

Well, it's about time to get back on the road, so I'll post again later. Ciao!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

July 15, 2007

Well, today was the day to pack thr truck and trailer for our trek out west. Glenn and I along with the help of three of our students (Sam, Mac, and Sara) managed to get alomost all of the gear stowed before one heck of a thunderstorm rolled through Cincinnati. Hail and more than 1/2-inch of rain in about 10 minutes (and more than a few nearby lightning strikes) made for less than ideal conditions for standing on a 20' aluminum trailer.

We managed to get everything loaded in a little less than three hours and then went our separate ways for one last evening with family and friends. We'll be leaving Cincinnati at around 10 a.m. on Monday morning, aiming for Iowa City or possibly Des Moines on our first day of driving. I will be posting a long the way as possible.

Keep checking back!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Protecting Fossils: Paleontological Resources Preservation Act

"To provide for the protection of paleontological resources on Federal lands..."

So begins the proposed Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, currently before the US House of Representatives as H.R. 554 and the US Senate as S.320.

I am writing this post as a professional paleontologist with an active interest in the rights and responsibilities of amateur paleontologists, I'm writing to say that this is finally the bill that addresses all of our needs and the one that we can, and must, all support. I'll say it up front:

Everything that can be done legally on federal land today, will be allowable after the passage of this bill!

That's it in a nutshell. No one should be afraid of this legislation unless they plan to steal the natural heritage of the people of the United States. There is much mis-information out there, but the Act would not affect private land. It does not affect private collections. It does not restrict individual rights or freedoms. It reaffirms that rare and scientifically significant paleontological resources in the public domain should remain the property of all Americans and thus be available for our children and for future generations. Only the illegal exploitation of public property is proscribed. Period.

What does this bill do for the amateur community? Plenty. It encourages the participation of amateurs in the stewardship of fossil treasures. It reaffirms their right, and maximizes their opportunity, to collect rocks, minerals, and common fossil invertebrates and plants on public lands where they may do so today. It lays out a uniform policy that lets all collectors know just where they stand in regard to the law, rather than their being faced with a multitude of complex and confusing policies from each federal land management agency. It also fosters paleontological education at all levels. We can all be happy with these provisions.

What does it do to protect rare fossils? It ensures that they be collected under permit by responsible parties, both amateur and professional, and be reposited in public collections, just as is required today. It mandates that federal managers use appropriate care to inventory and monitor these resources for scientific and educational use. It requires them to increase public awareness of our fossil heritage. Just as archaeologists are consulted for archaeological resources, so now paleontologists, professional and amateur alike, will be consulted for the management of public fossil resources. Partnerships with the general public are to be encouraged. Again, these are all good things for everyone.

Why is this bill needed? Firstly, to achieve all of the aims listed above. Secondly, because the theft of our country's public fossil heritage is growing and nonrenewable public resources are increasingly at risk. We all know stories of fossils commanding ever higher prices on the commercial market. Sadly, this is also driving a growing black market. Fossils on public lands belong to you and me. We can not allow them to be lost to us through theft, and increasingly, stories about high prices for fossils include stories of their theft from public lands.

Let me emphasize that this is not a bill to outlaw the sale of fossils. There is a legitimate place for commercial collecting and for the sale, barter, trade, and private ownership of fossils. Equally, there are stories of the great scientific and educational role that amateur and commercial collectors have played, and continue to play, for the good of paleontology. I applaud this role and expect that it will continue. This bill encourages partnership between all sectors of the community. The collecting and sale of fossils from private land is not effected.

However, the bill does ensure that fossils in the public domain, those that now belong to you and me, and to our children and future generations, will continue to belong to everyone. I greatly feel this need. Responsible dealers and collectors, i.e. the majority of paleontology "enthusiasts", for I prefer the original French meaning of "amateur" - one with a passion or love for a subject, feel the same way.

Fossils are non-renewable - they can't be grown like forests. Fossils have scientific and educational value - there is intellectual content inherent in them that cannot be mined for profit as one might do with oil and other mineral resources. Public paleontology resources require responsible stewardship and long-term preservation. They need protection from theft and exploitation. Fossil enthusiasts of all levels of experience must have their rights protected and enthusiasm encouraged. The "Paleontological Resources Preservation Act" does just that.

I hope that I've been able to inform you, and calm any fears that you may have, about this long overdue effort in Congress. The report from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists, including a full-text version of the bill, is available on-line at:

Please take the time to read it. There are no hidden issues here. It's available for all to examine. Public fossil resources are in need of protection for the continued benefit of all and this bill ensures that they will have it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dr. Glenn Storrs to Speak at Beartooth Nature Center -- July 29, 2007

Our very own Dr. Glenn Storrs, Assistant Vice President for Natural History & Science and Withrow Farny Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology will be speaking at the Beartooth Nature Center in Red Lodge, Montana on July 29.

His talk will include a discussion of Cincinnati Museum Center's current work in the area around Red Lodge and why the geology and paleontological resources in the area draw so many students and researchers.

The event is FREE, and refreshments will be served. For more information, call 406-446-1133.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Paleontology: The Gateway Science

As we all know, kids love dinosaurs. Whether it is their first exposure through animated films such as "The Land Before Time" or the much larger budget features such as "Jurassic Park", kids are engrossed with longnecks, raptors and their reptilian relatives. As young children, many of us walked in local creeks and streams and pulled out rocks with all types of strange fossils that may have taken us years to learn to pronounce. But the fact is, for many children, their first fascination with science...even if it's not called science at the time...comes in the form of a fossil.

My experience in working with students in this age range (6-10 years old) is that they are sponges when it comes to understanding how these fossils were left behind and how we, as scientists, know so much about these animals that may have been extinct for 65 million years or longer. What does a typical student response to the bird-dinosaur connection sound like? "Well, duh, everyone knows that!"

In order to completely understand (or teach) the earth and life sciences in the here and now, does it not help us to understand the foundations and history of the earth and the life upon it? We don't need to expose first and second grade students to a graduate level seminar on the Law of Superposition, but by encouraging these very same students to look at a road cut and examine how fossils change from bottom to top, we are exposing them to the basic fundamentals of ALL science--inquiry.

This is our in-road, as scientists and as educators, to bring students into the fold at an early age. By building on this fascination with dinosaurs at age 6 or 7 (instead of waiting for the dinosaur fever to die at age 11 or 12), we can engage youth with real, hands-on science that will provide an authentic application of the scientific method. With this foundation in place, the introduction of the physical sciences, biological sciences, and other earth sciences will be a much easier transition.

So, how does this tie-in to the Dinosaur Field School? Following this year's field season, we will begin preparations for a teachers-only seminar including field experiences in the Cincinnati area and in Montana for Summer 2008. Pending a little funding to help us get started, we should have more information in November or December. Check back often for updates!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Responsible and Ethical Fossil Collection - The Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management, a part of the US Department of the Interior, is the federal agency which oversees the preservation of natural and cultural resources found on public land in the United States. They currently manage 261-million acres of land (approximately 1/8 of the United States). Here at Cincinnati Museum Center, we stay in contact with the BLM year-round to ensure that we are collecting fossils in an ethical and responsible manner, and that the fossils in our collections are being maintained in an appropriate way.

Many paleontologists (both amateur and professional) choose to look for fossils on privately-owned property, but the process for working on BLM-managed property is a very rigorous one. Some plant and invertebrate fossils may be collected by amateur paleontologists on federal land, but to prospect or collect vertebrate fossils (including trace fossils like trackways, coprolites, or skin impressions) requires special permits.
"Fossils found on public lands are important for the story they can tell us about the development of life on Earth and about the physical changes in the Earth itself. They provide clues to a myriad of important and intriguing questions, from the “hot” topic of dinosaur extinctions to studies of plate tectonics (the geology of the Earth’s structural deformation). Consequently, the public lands provide great outdoor laboratories and classrooms for the study of paleontology and also contribute significantly to public exhibits found in museums. For example, BLM’s Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah has produced fossils that are exhibited in over 40 museums worldwide. Undamaged, BLM’s fossil resources can reveal not only how the plant and animal communities have changed, but how the face of the Earth has been altered by the movement of continents, the uplift of mountain ranges, the appearance and disappearance of ice caps, and the flooding and drying of huge areas of land.

The need to protect these precious resources is urgent—BLM does not have the luxury of leaving the preservation or restoration of a unique cultural or paleontological resource for another day. As the agency pursues its multiple use mission, we need the help of the public to do so in a manner that meets contemporary economic and community goals, while conserving our priceless heritage for the next generation."
You can find out more about the BLM and the many projects they manage by visiting their website at, or by reading their America's Priceless Heritage: Cultural and Fossil Resources on Public Lands (2003), from which the quote above is taken.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mother's Day Site...revisited

Well, we're gearing up for our return trip to Montana. With less than five weeks until our departure from Cincinnati (egads!), our gear and tools are being counted and checked for damage, vehicles are being procured (and given a thorough tune-up), and we're trying to conclude the more administrative responsibilities we have here before saddling-up for the 26-hour cross-country drive.

Early in preparations for the 2006 season of the Dinosaur Field School, Dr. Glenn Storrs explained the history of the quarry where our dinosaurs are being unearthed every summer. I wanted to share that once again so those of you who are joining us for the first time can have a little 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 (BLM) 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.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dinosaur Field School Featured on

Someone once said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. We tend to agree, especially when it's good publicity. This week's issue of the Dinosaurnews Webzine ( features not one but two articles on the Dinosaur Field School and the DFS Blog. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Blogging about Digging Dinosaurs

When we started the Dinosaur Field School Blog last summer, we had no real goals or targets about who would visit or where they might come from. As the hits kept coming, we were surprised to see where our visitors were coming from. In the 10 months or so since we went live, we’ve seen visitors from 21 foreign countries and 44 states (plus the District of Columbia). If you know anyone in the following states, send them a link and have them add their state to the tally: Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont. (Update 6/12/07: A curious visitor has joined us from Utah...only 5 more states to go!)

What this has proven to me, and to others at Cincinnati Museum Center, is that even in this age of media and on-demand gratification, the simple story of scientists and their love for their work (in this case, paleontology) is still a powerful one.

This DFS Blog is coming back to life as we approach the start of the 2007 field season, officially beginning in mid July when a group of us will be traveling by caravan to Montana. We have several folks already signed up to join us, including a couple of parent/child combinations and participants from the CMC Youth Program, but there is still time to sign-up by calling (800)733-2077 x7021. We’ll have some more posts coming in the next six weeks before our departure, and then we’ll try to post every day we have access to an Internet connection while in Montana.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bone-By-Bone: Assembling A Dinosaur Skeleton

Now on Exhibit, March 31 through July 8, 2007

Cincinnati has never had a real dinosaur skeleton of its own—until now!

Cincinnati Museum Center paleontologists are preparing a skeleton of the carnivorous dinosaur Allosaurus fragilis for future exhibition in the Museum of Natural History & Science. Beginning March 31, visitors can see staff members and volunteers assembling the bones of this 25-foot long theropod, or bird-like dinosaur, in the John A. Ruthven Exhibition Gallery. Allosaurus was a major predator in North America 140-million years ago during the Jurassic Period. Museum Center’s specimen comes from the famous Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry of Emery County, Utah.

Visitors have the unique opportunity of being able to witness the assembly process up-close as the skeleton goes together bone-by-bone. The methods and materials by which dinosaur skeletons are preserved and exhibited are also on display, and visitors have the opportunity to discuss the project first-hand with staff as the skeleton comes together. Visit again and again to see the project progress!

Admission to this exhibit is free!

See an interview with Glenn Storrs about the project, part of the website.

View a live webcam of the exhibit at

2007 Dinosaur Field School Information

2007 Session dates:

Week 1: July 22 through 28
Week 2: July 29 through August 5


Museum members: $1,150

Non-members: $1,250
Fees includes all instruction, collecting tool rental, lodging, meals and transportation to and from camp once in Red Lodge. Transportation to Billings, Montana, from your home and back is not included. Lodging is dormitory-style, with a men’s and a woman’s cabin. Private cabins may also be available by early registration.


Space is limited, so please register as early as possible. A full registration packet and medical release form will be mailed upon request. A $600 per person non-refundable deposit is required, together with the registration form and signed waivers to secure your reservation.

Payment Schedule:

The remainder of your balance is due by June 12. Refunds of the remaining balance, minus the $600 deposit, will be made until June 26. After June 26, no refunds will be made. There can be no refunds for unused options of the planned itinerary.


Plan to fly to Billings or drive to Red Lodge. You should arrive in Red Lodge by 5 p.m. on day one of your session. If you need transportation from Billings, you will be picked up at the airport. If you are driving, directions to YBRA can be downloaded. In either case, be sure to apprise us of your travel details. Plan to depart in the afternoon of day seven. You will need to bring your own sleeping bag and personal items—see recommended field gear list.


Please do not hesitate to call the Museum's Information and Reservation office at (513) 287-7021 or 1-800-733-2077 x7021.