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.


Martin said...


My understanding of paleontology is second hand via Mackenzie. However, regarding your Sunday, July 22 post, "while the trio also discovered an ankylosaur vertebrae and a scott from a turtle shell, all from the early Cretaceous (around 146 million years ago)", I believe "Scott" was a former geology student working the MDS, while a "scute" is a plate from a turtle (as well as ankylosaurs). Also, this may be splitting hairs, but most references I have seen place 146 million years ago in the Late Jurassic, with the beginning of the Cretaceous at 144 million.
But then, what's a couple of million years when you are extinct!

Jason said...

Ahhh, the joys of posting at 10:00 at night after a full day in the field. Chalk the "scott" up to a typographical error (spell check would be nice), and "scute" is indeed correct. As for the beginning of the Cretaceous period, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact beginning, but typically, it is held that the Cretaceous began no earlier than 146 million years ago, so I have also adjusted the language in the ost to reflect this.