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


Anonymous said...

Did the recruitees ever show up!? Tell Lynette that her work husband said "Yo Babe!"

Doug said...

So Jason lists himself with the paleontologists?! So, is he living a fantasy with the real geologists? We are looking forward to more updates. Without them we think you are spending all your time running from rattlesnakes and eating!!!

Jason said...

Running from rattlesnakes, no...looking for them under every rock and bush, yes. As far as eating, our guests staying at the YBRA (including Glenn) are eating pretty well every day (lasagna, pork loin, ham, sausage & eggs, etc.). Our volunters out at the camp site, not so much although there are some exceptions (see my July 22-25 post). Even though I've stayed at the YBRA a few nights, I've still managed to lose a few pounds.

Jason said...


By the time you read this, Lynette will probably be back at work (I hope she's feeling better). But, I passed along your message and she said to tell you that, "It's a dry heat."