Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Death March (a.k.a. The Ring of Hell That Dante Forgot)

Paleontology is not all glamorous, there is a lot of dirt, very hot days, and back-breaking work. However, on July 20th we all got to see a side of paleontology that many of us would like to forget (but none of us ever will).

The Beartooth Butte lies on the Wyoming side of the Beartooth Mountains. Geologically speaking it is a phenomenal location where igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks lie side by side. Paleontologically speaking, it is home to many fossil specimens (primarily fish) which exist in only a few widely spread museum and university collections. On this trip we found out WHY these collections are so rare.

First, imagine a picturesque “Sound of Music” setting where spinning in circles on a mountaintop actually seems like the right thing to do. Melting ice sheets, abundant wildflowers and alpine grasses, the occasional Grizzly Bear track…BEAUTIFUL. The hike across an alpine meadow bisected by a meltwater stream…EXCITING. The majesty of the Butte towering 2000 feet above your head with its talus slopes exposing new fossils every spring…INSPIRING. This is what the first mile, or roughly 45 minutes of hiking, are like.

Now, we hit the tree line where a few million vicious, blood-thirsty mosquitos are waiting for us. Add to that the fact that the fossils slab we had come to find was now covered beneath a few tons of fresh landslide debris and you have the start of an idea of how the rest of the day went. What had been an exhilarating one-and-a-half mile hike to the fossil site became an excruciating three-mile trudge back out using our trusty “dino-wheel” gurney. Time wise, it took 45-minutes to get in and nearly five-hours to get back out.

I asked some of our crew for their quotes to help sum it up:
Mac: “This is Dante’s Eighth Circle.”
Mike: (speaking to the mosquitos as he waves his arm around) “Fly my minions!”
Sara: (quoting a line from The Chronicles of Riddick) “If I owned this place and a place in Hell, I’d rent this one out and live in Hell.”
Ian: “All of this pestilence for some fish?”
Craig: “Uphill bothways just will not cut it anymore.”
Jason: (trying to keep everyone from losing it) “There will be no mutiny on this Bounty!”
Dr. Storrs: (repeated several times, I might add) “From the top of this ridge, it’s all downhill…until it’s uphill again”

BUT, the moral of the story is that we DID find some nice specimens, even if it was extremely difficult to get them out. For those of you eager enough to try hiking the Butte for fossils (with a permit, of course), Dr. Storrs is planning another trip…and at present he has a shortage of willing volunteers.


Minna said...

Well, I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for having had such an opportunity to attend the digging at MDS. I was back home in Finland on Wednesday and flights went well.

It just seemed a bit weird to be back at home, I guess I got accustomed to the nice american people and the beautiful nature, especially mountains.

Anyway, thanks for everyone and I wish you good luck in digging. Hopefully you find many more amazing bones. Maybe we'll see again someday. ;)

Greetings from Finland,
Minna Viljamaa

P.S. The temperature is as hot as 77 degrees F (and this is warm in Finland)

ceratopsid said...


Good to be home but still would like to be back at the quarry. It is pretty boring w/o the wind storms, 130 degree ground temp, constant dirt, bugs, fearsome jackalopes, ripped pants......!

Anyway, come home safe everyone.

Sara—A quick SG Atlantis update before you come home. Teyla back safe and sound with husband and baby. Don't know what happened to Michael. Carter is gone and Wolsey is in command now. He seems less of a jerk this time around...comedy relief I guess.

Lauren Scallon said...

Jason & Dr. Storrs - Please don't kill our volunteers!! :)

On a brighter note, if you live near the Cincinnati area and are interested in volunteering at Cincinnati Museum Center. Please visit our Volunteer Services Website for more information:

Click here!

Lauren Scallon
Administrative Assistant, Volunteer Services
Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal