With time on our prospecting trip running out, we hit the hills early yesterday. The ridge we hiked down had some great exposure and the area turned out to be littered with fossil bone. Around every corner we found piles of Triceratops bone many of which had just been resting on the surface degrading for a long time. Sometimes I’d stumble across a nice bone on the surface, but a little digging into the hill revealed it was just a lone bone, resting out in the Montana sunlight.
Early in the morning I spotted a foot long thin ridge of bone protruding from a hillside well below where I was hiking. I made my way down to check it out and noticed the distinctive triangular bones on the margin of a frill just peeking out. Holding my breath a bit, I started peeling sediment off the bone, which continued improving in condition deeper into the hill. It was a good sign! Clearly there was a large portion of the frill diving into the overburden here. Since we only have a prospecting permit, and could never take out a whole Triceratops skull without an excavation permit, I chose to stop digging there, consolidate and cap what was exposed. It could be that this piece of frill is not attached to anything at all. OR it could be that the entire skull is waiting just beneath the mudstone layers of that hillside. We’ll only find out when we come back to excavate what we’ve found.
More hiking brought more sites, including these huge eroding bones on the top of a butte that could be spotted from 100 meters away. There were at least five bones exposed here and this is a site that will merit further excavating.
At then end of the ridge there were some beautiful views including a broken down cabin in the valley. But alas, this is clearly then end of this hike, time to head back to the hills behind to search for more bone.
Our second day of prospecting was spectacular as we hiked amongst a rainbow of wildflowers. There was no shortage of bone either. We spent a couple of hours collecting from a micro site (a sediment layer loaded with tiny bones and teeth). Here we collected fossils of many different species including croc osteoderms and teeth, different turtles, gar scales, and meat and plant eating dinosaurs.
Later we hiked further into the badlands and found several promising sites including at least two horned dinosaur localities, a possible theropod site, and tons of other sites we didn’t have enough time to dig into.
At the end of the day we made some friends including this awesome salamander!
It was a hot one yesterday and looks to be even hotter today! Still waiting for something special to turn up at the surface but who knows what’s hiding just under the surface at he sites we already found.
After two weeks of prospecting and finding only a handful of localities in New Mexico, it was a joy to spend a day poking around the bountiful Hell Creek. Of course in New Mexico anything we found was likely to be new, here in the Hell Creek much more of the ancient fauna is already described.
Mary Schweitzer and I found bone within the first half hour and by the end of the day had run across bone at almost ever turn. I spent the morning checking out a fair weather turtle.
The afternoon we dug on a duckbill dinosaur site that Mary found with good success. I hauled a vert up the hill, but with only a surface permit, the rest will have to wait!