Tuesday, July 31, 2007
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 spot...it'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.
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
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 shutterfly.com (http://dinosaurfieldschool.shutterfly.com) 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
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
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.
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
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
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
Until next time...
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.
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... :)
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
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
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 later...it'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
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 (http://www.mammothsite.com), 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 comments...it makes this a lot more fun for me, certainly. See you then!
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
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
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
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
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
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!