We’re Off and Running

The crew arrived at the exit to camp after three days of driving from Raleigh.  We knew we were in for a tough camp set up as we drove west through the San Rafael Swell, in the face of a dust storm and dark skies.  After some serious mud-driving, and a couple of mirings (one of which left me stuck in the middle of a mud pit with bear feet), we made it to camp with just enough daylight to scramble up the shelters and our personal tents.

The following morning we gathered our gear and headed to two of our Mussentuchit localities.  This year we have four intrepid undergraduates from NCSU along with us to learn the ropes as part of our Paleontological Field Methods course.  It is always a joy to watch the new cohort scramble down the drab gray badlands that weather into “popcorn” and powder.

NCSU students scramble down the Mussentuchit badlands (grey hills) into the valley below.
NCSU students scramble down the Mussentuchit badlands (grey hills) into the valley below.

Our first query was to uncover Suicide Hill, the burial ground of a juvenile Eolambia (duck bill dinosaur).  Here we spent a few hours picking drainage tunnels and shoveling off the sediment we had covered the site with at the end of the season.  Almost immediately we found more bone and had to slow down.  Suicide Hill is still quite a productive locality.  So far the most interesting turn of events has been the sudden appearance of several theropod teeth near some of the bones…. a feeding site perhaps?  Only time, maps, more excavation, and careful research will tell.

Later in the day we hiked another short jaunt over to Fortunate Son, the home of our new undescribed species of plant-eater.  Last year we took 25 jackets or so out of a single square meter at this site.  There were not bones left exposed here at the end of the season, but we are hopeful that there is a lot more in the ground here.

The crew works carefully to explore Fortunate Son.  No one knows if more of our new dinosaur remains in this little hill.
The crew works carefully to explore Fortunate Son. No one knows if more of our new dinosaur remains in this little hill.

The following day we headed deeper in time into the Late Jurassic, to reopen our diplodocid (probably) sauropod site in the Morrison Formation 6 miles or so from our Cretaceous sites.  This is an area we pulled nearly 3000 lbs of jackets out of last year.  Its always gratifying to see that the site looks relatively “reclaimed” by the weather and undisturbed.

BBQ after being undisturbed for a year.
BBQ after being undisturbed for a year.

After several hours of overburden removal we uncovered some bones we left under a protective plaster jacket at the end of last season, when we didn’t have enough time to get them out of the quarry.  More picking around with hand tools reveals at least one huge bone diving under that plaster jacket (a limb girdle element perhaps?… too soon to say).  At any rate, BBQ is going to keep being a logistical challenge for years to come.  Ah, sauropods.

A bit of shoveling reveals a plaster jacket containing a single sauropod vertebra, left over from last year.
A bit of shoveling reveals a plaster jacket containing a single sauropod vertebra, left over from last year.
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One thought on “We’re Off and Running”

  1. Good luck to the team. Hope you are feeling better. Remember, soft matrix, little matrix, thin jackets and plenty of bone.
    Dick

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