Tag Archives: fun in the field

The Cliffs Close In

Our most difficult prospecting spots in this area are up in the Cliffs of Insanity, our term for a very steep section of outcrop that rises 1000 feet above Last Chance desert.  These beds are only accessible from the bottom in most areas and so it takes a fairly intense hike (long and sometimes treacherous) just to get to the prospecting area, let alone the hike up and down the steep hillsides in search of fossil bone.  The past few days we’ve had teams hunting for fossils in the Cliffs of Insanity and collecting from some sites.  We’ve also borne witness to the start of the rains and an end to the intense heat and dryness of the past two weeks. Although, the temperature drop is welcome, the storms have been intense, and dangerous for those of us up in the cliffs when the thunderheads roll in each afternoon.  It’s made for some scrambling out of the back country and a few muddy drives, not to mention some mucky crew members.

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The hike to the Cliffs of Insanity begins far below the red cliffs in the right of the photo… the outcrop we prospect is the rolling grey hills at the top of this rise.
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As is usual for our Utah expedition, the trucks and the crew are laden with mud.

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Meanwhile, the bone at Last Chance quarry continues, and continues to dive deeper.  We pulled out around 100 bones from this site and the overburden continued to rise as we went further into the hill.  We pulled our biggest jacket containing several dozen elements on the last day.  It was about a mile hike to the truck with this 250 lb jacket and the crew did well bringing her down the slopes safely.  We also had a bit of fun with summer movie madness, since the jacket reminded us of Slimer from Ghostbusters.  We didn’t manage to clear the entire quarry this year, and several croc bones turned up near the back wall, so we have at least two individuals here and will have to reopen the site next season.

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Last Chance quarry getting deeper and deeper.

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Slimer is all strapped up and ready to haul.

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With our Cliffs of Insanity prospecting finished for the year and our two quarries closed down, we are headed south to hunt around in some new areas for the final week of our expedition.  Stay tuned for some amazing landscapes and hopefully, some great finds.

 

 

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Storms Greet Us Back In Camp

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!

Grape-sized hail anyone?
Grape-sized hail anyone?

Southern Utah Team Split Off

With things going great at our main Mussentuchit localities this year, and an abundance of crew, we decided to carve off a handful of our team and hunt for new dinosaur sites in southern Utah for three days.  Our target area consists of poorly mapped Late Cretaceous sediments near Bryce Canyon National Park.  Yesterday we did our first prospecting run and came across a few microsites containing croc, turtle, and fragmentary dino material.  Today, we took it up a notch, deciding to trek down a 900 foot section from the top of the stunning Claron Formation, to sediments of the Kaiparowits and Wahweap formations below.

At the base of the canyon was a creek bed with a clear flowing stream. Fragments of the Claron Formation lining the creek bed, made for a beautiful site.  We named it Rainbow Creek and sat for lunch under some pines before working up the energy to prospect the steep terrain in front of us.

"Rainbow Creek"
“Rainbow Creek” dotted with rocks of the pink, white, orange, yellow, and gray Claron Formation

Fueling up before hitting the outcrop.
Fueling up before hitting the outcrop.

The outcrop here was no picnic, in this image you may be able to make out two of the team clinging for dear life to a grey patch of sediment on the left side of the picture.

Bucky and Chris cling to the grey outcrop on the left side of the image.
Bucky and Chris cling to the grey outcrop on the left side of the image.

After scrambling around the hillsides for a few hours, we had very, very little to report, two croc teeth, a gar scale, a gastropod impression, a bit of eggshell, and some trace fossils.  The best things we’ve seen on the prospecting trip so far were alive!  We’ve stumbled on mule deer, pronghorn, gopher, prairie dogs, snakes, and some horny toads.

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On our way to the outcrop, we drove by a whole field of prairie dogs, many of whom chirped at us.
On our way to the outcrop, we drove by a whole field of prairie dogs, many of whom chirped at us.

It was a tough and disappointing prospecting day. But that is how it goes.  The best way to tell if an area is good for fossils is to get out, climb around, and look with your own eyes.  With the news that no one had had much luck came the joy of the ascent 900 feet back up to the top of the plateau.  The views here really were worth the climb, sore feet, sore shins, backs, lungs and all!  Boy are we a tired crew tonight.

Nearing the top of the plateau again, on the hike out... still a lot of hill above me.
Nearing the top of the plateau again, on the hike out… still a lot of hill above me.

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My What Wicked Teeth You Have

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.

An abandoned shelter up the canyon.
An abandoned shelter up the canyon.
Arden something Creameries...
Arden something Creameries…

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.

Big Blue (our suburban) is the tiny dot at the base of the canyon in this photo.
Big Blue (our suburban) is the tiny dot at the base of the canyon in this photo.

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.

Total ascent to here 680 feet.  The suburban is still visible, at the base of the canyon, but good luck finding it!
Total ascent to here 680 feet. The suburban is still visible, at the base of the canyon, but good luck finding it!

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…

Mussentuchit landscape is full of sandstones in this area. Blinding white and full of little hoodoos very cool.
Mussentuchit landscape is full of sandstones in this area. Blinding white and full of little hoodoos very cool.

Prospecting did yield some cool stuff however, including a really nice microsite with loads of teeth.

Raptor teeth to the left, croc teeth to the right.
Raptor teeth to the left, croc teeth to the right.

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.

Jared hunches over his new find.
Jared hunches over his new find.

Weathering the Weather

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.

Lightening strikes the town of Price.
Lightening strikes the town of Price.

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.

Mother Nature, ah how she is temperamental out here... 5 minutes of sunshine and roses to my left... dark and stormy to my right.
Mother Nature, ah how she is temperamental out here… 5 minutes of sunshine and roses to my left… dark and stormy to my right.

 

Untamed Paleontology

Last month the awesome folks at Untamed Science came to visit us at the Paleontology Lab.  They wanted to know how we dig up dinosaur bones and we were happy to oblige.  Have you ever wondered?  Check out the video for a crash lesson in digging dinos.

River Crossing

Driving down from the top of the cliffs on the last day in the western canyon we were greeted by a a reminder… we were far from the first people to explore this rugged terrain.  Just on the other side of the river crossing, we spotted a series of pictographs, painted images left on the rock cliffs by the native americans who inhabited this area.  I couldn’t help but wonder from the artwork if this same spot has been the place to cross the river for hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years.

Three people and three canoes (below)… feel like crossing a river?