Here at Expedition Live! we have some catching up to do. We were so busy this year running 4 different quarries simultaneously, we didn’t have a lot of time for blogging. We were able to squeeze in a lot of Tweets, so if you aren’t following us on Twitter, you might be missing out on a lot of real-time updates! (@Expeditionlive). Nonetheless, we will be updating the blog with stories from our last two weeks in the field just as soon as we can. In the meantime, here is a photo of the crew on the second-to-last day of our Utah expedition 2014.
Today we decided to hike the crew up to a new area for prospecting. To be frank, I wasn’t sure we could get up the cliff face, but as it turned out, a rockslide made it possible to get up to the top. My intrepid students were up for the trip (of course, they didn’t yet know what they were in for…)
We started the hike by heading up the canyon, where we found an awesome little abandoned rancher shack complete with mattress springs, and a broken down (literally) vehicle.
We then ascended to the first plateau on the climb, you can still see the blue Suburban parked at the base of the canyon in this shot.
Unfortunately for us, this was about halfway up the cliff side. The total ascent was 680 feet as marked by our GPS units and of course, once at the top, we then had to go down about halfway into the prospecting basin and climb up and down hills all day. Below is the next photo from the top of the ridge.
The Mussentuchit landscape was different here. More conglomerates and sandstones, perhaps more proximal to the sediment source at the time of deposition. If nothing else, higher energy deposition in many spots, which is bad for bone…
Prospecting did yield some cool stuff however, including a really nice microsite with loads of teeth.
Jared (a student at Appalachian State University in NC) found the tail vertebrae of a little plant eater with a couple of associated bones… perhaps a site for next year.
There are lots of unpredictable things that arise in fieldwork… For example, you never know how much bone is hiding or not hiding in the hillside until you spend a week digging a big hole to find out. You never really know what you’ve collected until it has been painstakingly prepared out of the rock back in the lab, a process that can take years. And, you never know how crew dynamics are going to go when you are living with a dozen people in a camp for a month. But the most dynamic aspect to fieldwork is undoubtedly the weather, which can sweep over you in an instant and change everything.
We can see nearly a hundred miles in some directions from where we are perched atop the western slope of the San Raphael Swell. So often you can watch the weather roll in and wonder if it is going to hit you or some other poor fellow nearby.
So far we watch a nighttime lightening storm pummel the town of Price, Utah, many, many miles away. Spectacular to see from the dry safety of our camp, lightening struck every few seconds.
Yesterday we had persistent small rain clouds causing havoc at our northern sites. I was excavating at Fortunate Son when they suddenly struck. It’s always a gamble… sit at the site and wait out the rain for 10 minutes? collect your things and hide under a rock? decisions, decisions. I sat through a couple of downpours but the air started to get colder so I found a sandstone boulder leaning to the northwest to hunch under. All was fine at first as the rain was coming straight down and I had a sliver of dry ground. Then, the wind kicked up and the rain blew in horizontally rendering my rock shelter a bit silly. Even better, not a few seconds later the rain turned to hail stones, which blasted me against my rock, as if I was in a pellet gun fight with Mother Nature.
Not five minutes later and the show was over. Mother Nature, you win again.
A sad day in the field this morning as our Field Methods course came to an end and our four undergraduates hopped a flight back to North Carolina. We’ve had an awesome crew these past two weeks and have made some great progress on our four dinosaur sites.
More and more bone is turning up at the Blue Bird Quarry (BBQ), formerly known as the sauropod site. Paul Brinkman and his team have been jacketing any and all bones that can be isolated from the main block. That block contains somewhere around 8 articulated sauropod vertebrae which we will try to pull in one extra large jacket. Today, I’ve been engineering a strategy to get that block (which should weight in at around 800 lbs) into the back of the truck… so far the plan involves a ramp imbedded with pipe as rollers, a bunch of cables, and a portable winch… stay tuned to see if we pull this off!
Big Daddy continues to yield more probable skull. We opened the site with a couple of days of picking, shoveling, and jackhammering, and now Lisa Herzog is leading the mapping and collection of Big Daddy bones. We led the students through their first jacket pull, a relatively minor effort moving about a 150 lb jacket a mile back to camp, down into a valley, up a steep hillside, over a sandstone cliff.
Suicide Hill contains the bones of a juvenile duckbill. The site is nice and flat, so not a lot of overburden to remove, which is nice… but many of the bones are imbedded in the top of a 6 inch sandstone block. We’ve been using the rock saw to cut those out and haul them back to camp. One of these jackets is going to be a real beastie to haul back to camp!
As for me, I’ve spent two quiet days deep in concentration collecting the surface exposed bones from Fortunate Son (our new plant-eating dinosaur site). The bones are quite jumbled together and need to be carefully separated. Because this site has the potential to yield a holotype specimen, it’s been slow and meticulous work. The view is incredible and I’ve been enjoying the work and the serenity of the landscape.
Today one of the students taking our Paleontological Field Methods course at NC State University went prospecting for the first time. As luck would have it, he found a new species of dinosaur… one of the nicest sites I’ve seen in the time I’ve been working the Mussentuchit. So far we’ve collected the lower jaw, parts of the backbone, and parts of the shoulder and arm just from the surface of the hill. The bones look to belong to a new species of plant-eating dinosaur. That brings the number of new dinosaurs from the Mussentuchit expeditions to four!
Its only been a few days since we set up camp in Utah and already great things are happening on this year’s expedition. We began by opening up three of the sites discovered last year, including two of our Late Cretaceous localities in the Mussentuchit Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation: Big Daddy skull site and Suicide Hill, the juvenile Eolambia. The third site we opened is actually in the famous Late Jurassic Morrison Formation. This latter site contains a juvenile sauropod skeleton discovered by an amateur family last summer.
Big Daddy is already yielding more skull material and other bones. Here Lisa, Khai, and Haviv excavate the Big Daddy site.
More skull in ground at Big Daddy.
We’re ready and running! You can follow along with this year’s Utah expedition to the Mussentuchit Badlands (July 24th- August 24th) here at Expedition Live! with real time updates, photos, and blogs, and at #UTdinodig14 or @expeditionlive. You can also participate in live Skype sessions with the crew in the Daily Planet Theater at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences beginning Tuesday August 5th.
Wondering what it takes for a dozen people to live in the desert, miles and miles from civilization for 4 weeks? Watch the NC Museum of Natural Sciences pack our field vehicles for the three day drive to Utah below.