Monday, June 30, 2008

In the Field Part II - June 3 - 6

Finally, we have good weather for prospecting. This is my very favorite part of paleontology—out in the sun, when it is like this—not too hot, fresh air, and nothing but the sound of birds, or silence.

There is so much to see beyond the fossils, and my mind is totally filled with the sights and sounds around us. Our first stop is where we will leave the cars, and then we split up. Bob and I each go alone, it is what we are used to and love. But the students pair up, and double the eyes on the ground.

Prospecting a new area for potential! My favorite part of paleo.

Because our student crew this year ranges in experience, it is also a great way for the ones with more experience to teach the ‘newbies’ what to look for, and how to see. For me, though, I love the challenge of walking to far outcrops and being the first to see what is there. I set my sights on this one…it looks particularly appealing, with the horizontal stripes of organic muds and sand, representing an ancient river channel, with waxes and wanes in current flow. Differential cementation and weathering result in this spectacular ‘hoodoo’ formations, or capstones.

This region could be called ‘the big empty’ - it is filled with beauty but you have to look hard sometimes.

It is steep, so a pretty rough climb but this is what I love…And just look at all that potential! I did find some material weathering out, but it turned out to be very fragmentary and not worth collecting. Darn it.

However, the stuff that I saw that WASN’T dinosaurian was just about as much fun as a good dinosaur.

One thing I always keep my eyes open for is examples of taphonomy in action—the processes that operate today to destroy a carcass also operated in the past, and by studying modern bones and tissues we can understand better what we see in the fossil record. So, as I walked down the road to the outcrop, I became aware of the odor of decaying flesh.. finally, the source!

This poor little cow had gotten too close to the edge of the road, apparently, and the road gave way, plunging him to the creekbed below, and partially burying him in the dirt. I didn’t get any closer, so the pictures are blurry, but he obviously didn’t get preyed upon…so the patterns we see will make good teaching. I LOVE grossing my students out! ☺

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