Tag Archives: outdoors

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?
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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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Dinosaur in a Cliff

Removing the bones of long dead animals from their rocky tombs is never an easy task, but sometimes the magnitude of what we’re doing really hits home.  On May 24th we met up with our friends and colleagues at Colorado Northern Community College (CNCC) to excavate a rather difficult site: a duck bill dinosaur buried in the middle of a 20 foot channel sandstone in the Upper Cretaceous Mesa Verde Group.  We teamed up with CNCC to lend them a helping hand since they had a summer field course they wanted to run at this site and in order for the students to actually dig up bone, we had to first plow through a 10 foot ledge of sandstone overburden.

The white plaster caps mark the level where the dinosaur bones are buried.  First job, clear all the sandstone on top!
The white plaster caps mark the level where the dinosaur bones are buried. First job, clear all the sandstone on top!

Typically removing overburden only requires hand tools (picks and shovels).  Sometimes we speed things up with a jackhammer, especially when the surrounding matrix gets too hard to pick through.  With sandstone, there aren’t many options, power tools are the only real way to go.  In this case, we used a jackhammer to plow through the ledge about 1-2 feet per day.

Even with a jackhammer, it was SLOW going.
Even with a jackhammer, it was SLOW going.

The other useful technique, especially when we get closer to the bone bearing layer, is using a rock saw to cut blocks and chiseling or picking them out.  This reduces the vibration on the bone as we get closer.

The quarry face is dropping.
The quarry face is dropping.
Cut block and chisel method, working well just above the bone layer.
Cut block and chisel method, working well just above the bone layer.
The team and the quarry back wall at the end of week 1.
The team and the quarry back wall at the end of week 1.

At the end of week 1, we’re still only half way there!

Getting ready for our next expedition!

Excitement is brewing in the Paleontology Research Lab as we organize essentials for our month-long expedition to dig up a new species of plant eating dinosaurs in the Utah desert.

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We’ll be blogging in real time during the expedition and you can follow our Twitter feed (@expeditionlive) for up-to-date, moment-by-moment connections with the team.  We’ll also be live streaming back to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences Daily Planet Theater each week to talk to folks from our quarries.  If your in the area, come talk to us! Tuesdays at 11 am EDT, starting July 21st!

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.

It’s All Downhill From Here (literally)

Expedition Live! crew at the end of week 2.  Crew includes four undergraduates in our summer Field Course at NCSU the staff from the PGL at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and NC State University, and volunteers.
Expedition Live! crew at the end of week 2. Crew includes four undergraduates in our summer Field Course at NCSU the staff from the PGL at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and NC State University, and volunteers.

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.

Big Daddy keeps getting bigger...
Big Daddy keeps getting bigger…
Sunlight fades as we finish jacketing a Big Daddy bone for transport.
Sunlight fades as we finish jacketing a Big Daddy bone for transport.
Rain sweeps in as we ready a Big Daddy skull bone for the haul!
Rain sweeps in as we ready a Big Daddy skull bone for the haul!

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!

The students hone their quarrying skills at Suicide Hill
The students hone their quarrying skills at Suicide Hill

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.

View from Fotrunate Son
View from Fotrunate Son
Newly discovered bones eroding out of the hillside include a rib and a centrum
Newly discovered bones eroding out of the hillside include a rib and a centrum

 

More Rain at CGQ

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.
The kitchen tent, home sweet home.
The kitchen tent, home sweet home.
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.
View of camp from nearby the quarry site.
View of camp from nearby the quarry site.
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.

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