After splitting off from the CGQ crew, Deep Eddy team was excited to return to our best site from last year – a dinosaur egg site. We weren’t excited about the hike, which was as bad as we remembered… 3 miles up and down steep, mostly marine shale cliffs, and ankle breaking basalt boulder fields. The first day in was the most brutal, each team member packing in 50-70 lbs of gear including two rock saws, several gallons of fuel, some 50 liters of water, crack hammers, etc… When we finally sat down at the site it was a great moment.
Then of course, picking and shoveling the day away to clear the bone-bearing horizon for quarrying. The mudstone here is particularly hard, hence the saws, but we made good progress with the weathered upper surface. A few interesting things turned up right away here, including an unusual layer of plant material spanning a meter near the east side of the quarry and some evidence of roots on the (former) bank above the plant layer, indicating a tree or shrub once lived a happy life here in the Late Cretaceous.
On the second day one of our team members decided to brave the washed out jeep train with his truck, which was outfitted for the trail as opposed to our museum vehicles, which were decidedly not up to task. So for the next few days we were able to shave two miles total off the hike by catching a lift up the first big hill, and I’ve got to tell you we were really grateful for that!
The next few days the hiking and the quarrying continued. We found another complete egg, taking our total to three so far, and a lot of large egg fragments. the best is yet to come (we hope!) because we are just now moving into the area behind our complete eggs from last year’s digging.
As usual internet service is nonexistant out here, so look for the next post next week when we need to resupply! Until then, wake up to a Mussentuchit sunrise at our campsite. More soon…
Our full team of 11 stared out the Utah expedition with two days of picking and shoveling at the famed Crystal Geyser Quarry (CGQ), tomb of an estimated 300 Falcariusutahensis skeletons. I had worked the CGQ for five years during my graduate work and at the end of that time we had just begun hitting an area of the quarry where the youngest individual discovered (aged 1-2 yrs) was buried. That same area also housed some of the best preserved materials from the site (although not the holotype braincase!). In the years since, we had been working the alternate side of the hill periodically, but this year, with permission from the BLM, we reopened the original quarry in search of better specimens. This meant removing 1.5 meters of carbonate lenses above the bone bearing horizon. With just two days we managed to clear a 4 x 3 meter area for the CGQ team to excavate during the 2 week expedition.
CGQ is next to a beautiful, but dang hot, campsite in the Morrison Formation badlands. The dark maroon hills surrounding camp radiate the days heat back on the crew all night, meaning sometimes the temperature doesn’t drop into the 80s until early in the morning. Nonetheless, the sunsets are some of the most spectacular and there is a river nearby when the mid-day temps soar into the 100s.
After opening the site, the NCMNS team split into two, the crazy half of of the crew heading west across the Swell into an area of the desert we call the Cliffs of Insanity. Here we’ve been doing some extremely rugged prospecting in the Mussentuchit Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation for four years. Last year, a crew member found an extraordinary site and we needed some hardy souls willing to do the hike for a couple of weeks. Next up… meet the site we call Deep Eddy…
On the very last day of prospecting, I turned up a few bones of a theropod dinosaur. The crew was in good spirits given how rare theropod remains are here and how significant they are to our research. The following day I further explored the site with the hopes that more bone would be hidden in the hill. Indeed I was able to expose a metatarsal and a few other fragments before being chased off by lightening storms. We collected a few bones from here, which will hopefully be enough to figure out what kind of theropod we’ve found. As heartbreaking as it is…. The rest of the bones (whatever there may or may not be here) will have to remain in the hillside while we secure excavation permits to come back next year.
In the meantime we’ve dubbed this site Last Chance Theopod, both for the stunning view across last chance desert and because we found this site on the last day of prospecting.
One of our goals this expedition is to find new dinosaur sites to excavate next year. After four unsuccessful days of hiking around southern Utah looking for sites, the team spent four days prospecting the Mussentuchit for new sites. Feeling mind-numbingly exhausted after hiking up and down steep hills for 4-5 miles a day for many days straight, I began to see the lack of luck taking a toll on the team. The only saving grace for prospecting for days in end without reward…, the outstanding views!!
Finally the team got a break yesterday when I spotted a limb bone of a theropod trailing down the hillside. Typically digging into the hill produces no trace, meaning the bone was isolated and entirely weathered out. This time there was actually bone sticking out of the hillside when I dug in. Today, I’ll be digging further into the hill with the hopes that more of the skeleton resides within.
The best and worst part of packaging up a carefully excavated block of dinosaur bones is knowing that the fossils are protected and ready for transport back to the museum. It’s a great feeling to know that these specimens are ready for preparation and study after weeks of digging and a dreadful anticipation knowing that you have to get them back to camp to load into the field vehicles before that can happen. Today we assembled a team to pull a 500 lb block of juvenile Eolambia bones (skull, pelvis, hindlimb, vertebrae) from Suicide Hill, up a mudstone hill, a sandstone cliff, and back to camp. All in all things went smoothly and we’ll be happy to see this one opened up in the prep lab. If you’re around, come watch it being prepared in the Paleontology Research Lab at the NRC.
On our first couple of days back in camp we were pummeled with massive storms… lightening that nearly took out a few of the crew as they crossed the high hills and then an awe inspiring hail storm. These videos say just about it all!
Two of the best parts of the southern Utah prospecting split of were the wildflowers and the incredible vistas. Fossils? Well, that turned out to be less incredible than we were hoping. Still on our fourth day of prospecting we turned up some good finds, including tons of turtle, a croc skeleton, and a claw from a new species of theropod.
After the last day of prospecting, the southern Utah team wrapped it up and headed back to central Utah to meet up with the rest of the crew. We hear told that several jackets are ready for the taking!