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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Crystal Geyser Quarry is known for being hot, dry, and dusty. However, this has not exactly been the case this field season. While there have been plenty of hot, dry, and dusty moments, we have also been experiencing an unexpected amount of rain. As I write, I am sitting in our kitchen tent listening to the rain hit the tarp above my head and the thunder rolling around us. Earlier this week, we were lucky to have two cool nights in a row thanks to the evening rains that doused our camp. And our kitchen tent tried to fly away once again in a larger storm last week.
Although the rain is sometimes an inconvenience, it brings much needed relief from the more typical desert conditions. And these storms are an important reminder to always be prepared with a tidy camp and a well organized quarry.
UPDATE: I could not get this post uploaded before going to the quarry this morning, but of course, after only a few hours of quarry work, we were chased out by a massive storm. The whole time we did spend digging was some of the windiest we’ve seen here at CGQ. The storms have continued to roll through all day.
This is the third post in a series called “Cretaceous Cold Cases” in which the science of taphonomy, or prehistoric forensics, is explained by fascinating cases from the files of Terry “Bucky” Gates, a research scientist with a joint appointment at NC State and theNorth Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
We were into some pretty heavy riding today. One of our crew lost control of his ATV and rolled it down a very large hill and into the river. He was pinned under for at least one roll, but the good news is that he escaped with minor injuries–mostly bruising–no breaks. Tomorrow we have to figure out how to salvage the ATV (if possible). Stay tuned.