Salton Sea sunset

There rolls the deep where grew the tree.

O earth, what changes hast thou seen!

There where the long street roars, hath been

The stillness of the central sea.

Ammonite display at Dinosaur Journey

The hills are shadows, and they flow

From form to form, and nothing stands;

They melt like mist, the solid lands,

Like clouds they shape themselves and go.

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But in my spirit will I dwell,

And dream my dream, and hold it true;

For tho’ my lips may breathe adieu,

I cannot think the thing farewell.

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* * * * * * * * * *

Photos by me, except where noted. From the top down:

  • Sunset at the Salton Sea, October 12, 2013.
  • Ammonite display at Dinosaur Journey, Museum of Western Colorado, May 1, 2014.
  • Sunrise at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, May 26, 2012.
  • My hand with fossil eggshell from the Cedar Mountain Formation, May 5, 2014. Many thanks to Sharon McMullen for the photo.
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On Monday we visited the Prehistoric Museum in Price, Utah, the Cleveland-Lloyed dinosaur quarry, and sites in the Mussentuchit member of the Cedar Mountain Formation. Many thanks to Marc Jones for the photos.

1 - CEU Prehistoric Museum

In 2010, the College of Eastern Utah became Utah State University – Eastern, and the CEU Prehistoric Museum in Price is now officially the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum. The dinosaurs in the center of exhibit hall are being remounted. These include Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Camptosaurus (mounted, toward top of photo), and Camarasaurus (dismounted, on floor). Most of the mounts are either real material or casts of real material from the nearby Cleveland-Lloyd quarry.

The museum has many other exhibits besides the one shown above. The paleo wing alone covers two floors, and upstairs there are great displays on Cretaceous dinosaurs from the area, including Jurassic and Cretaceous ankylosaurs, a ceratopsian, and numerous tracks.

2 - Cleveland-Lloyd orientation

After leaving Price we went to the Cleveland-Lloyd dinosaur quarry, which has produced over 20,000 separate elements, including the remains of something like 50-60 allosaurs. The smallest ones are hatchlings–several elements from literally cat-sized baby allosaurs are known from the quarry.

3 - Mark Loewen teaching

Mark Loewen (right) talked to us about how the quarry might have formed, and what it’s like to work there. On the left in the above photo you can see a bunch of disarticulated Allosaurus bones suspended above the floor on wires. These are placed to give an idea of the three-dimensional jumbling of the bones in the matrix. It is almost impossible to jacket one bone or even several without hitting others. I remember how that goes from working at the OMNH sauropod bonebed in the Cloverly–it’s almost impossible to avoid blowing through some bones just to get others out of the ground.

4 - Camarasaurus pelvis with bite marks

Here’s one of a handful of bones from the quarry with bite marks. This is the pelvis of a Camarasaurus, lying upside down, anterior toward the wall. The back end of the right ilium is heavily tooth-marked.

After Cleveland-Lloyd we stopped at a couple of sites in the Mussentuchit. I’m not going to blog about those because they are active sites that are still producing fossils. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for fossil localities on public land to be looted and vandalized by unscrupulous private collectors. I don’t want to give those a-holes any help, so I’ve deliberately not shown any photos of about half a dozen of the most interesting sites that we visited during the conference. It sucks to know cool things and not be able to tell people about them, but if I blab then I put those cool things at risk. Happily there is a lot of active research going on, including one or two projects that got hatched at this conference, so hopefully I will be able to tell some of these stories soon.

5 - MMFC14 conveners Jim Rebecca and John

Instead, I will close this series (for now) with a shout-out to the people who convened and ran the field conference: Jim Kirkland (left) and ReBecca Hunt-Foster (middle). John Foster (right) also contributed a lot of time, energy, effort, and expertise.

Jim Kirkland is amazing. If you know him, you know that his heart is as big and outgoing as his booming voice. His knowledge of and enthusiasm for the mid-Mesozoic sites in western Colorado and eastern Utah have driven a lot of science over the past quarter century, and he shared that knowledge and enthusiasm compulsively on this trip. My head is so full of new stuff, it’s honestly hard to think. I wish I had a solid week to just digest everything I learned at the conference.

My highest praise and thanks go to ReBecca. Thanks to her hard work and organization, the whole field conference ran about as much like clockwork as something this complicated can–and when it didn’t run smoothly, like that flat tire on Saturday, she took charge and got us back on track. She was basically den mom to about 60 folks, from teenagers to retirees, from at least ten countries and four continents, and somehow she did it all with unflagging grace and good humor. The fact that she had her appendix out just two or three days before the start of the conference only cements my admiration for what she pulled off here.

I had a fantastic time. I hope they do another one.

I actually have no photos from Saturday morning. One of the vans had a flat tire, and we didn’t have enough reserve capacity in the other vans for everyone from the afflicted van to go on, so a handful of people had to go back to Green River. My talk wasn’t finished and I needed time to work on it, so I was one of the volunteers who went back to town.

1 - Crystal Geyser

Happily the flat got fixed pretty quickly and we were back out in the field by lunchtime. We met up with the rest of the convoy at Crysal Geyser, a cold-water carbon-dioxide driven geyser—basically a giant seltzer bottle—right on the shore of the Green River. They geyser goes off about twice a day at irregular intervals, and the water brings up minerals that stain the riverbank with shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple. We were there at the same time as a hydrologist who was studying the geyser, which explains the equipment set up around the geyser on the far right in the photo.

2 - Hanksville rock shop

After lunch we passed through Hanksville on the way to the Hanksville-Burpsee dinosaur quarry. We stopped for a few minutes in front of the currently-defunct Hanksville rock shop, which has big chunks of fossilized wood and several ammonites built right into the facade.

3 - strata

Some cool finely-laminated sandstone on the way to the quarry.

4 - Hanksville-Burpee quarry sign

The sign at the entrance to the Hanksville-Burpee quarry.

5 - Katie teaching

Katie Tremaine of the Burpee Museum explains some of the history of the quarry and what it’s like to dig there.

6 - channel sand

The quarry lies at the top of a massive channel sand laid down by a Jurassic river.

7 - the long view

One of my favorite things about the desert is the frequent absence of any clues about scale. More than once I have started out hiking to a feature that I thought was about a quarter of a mile away, only to find out that it was actually a mile or more away and much, much larger than I had originally thought. I like that—it’s nice to be forcibly separated from everyday assumptions.

8 - skyscape

We had very nice weather for the entire field conference. It was a little warm on Friday, but not sweltering. On Saturday and Monday, scattered clouds gave us a frequent break from the sun. And they looked pretty cool, too.

A short post this time, partly because it’s late, partly because the hotel internet is sucking bigtime–probably as the hotels fill up for the weekend. I simply don’t have the bandwidth to post more, and in fact I had to downsize these few photos to get them to upload in polynomial time.

Today we left Fruita, Colorado, and hit several Lower Cretaceous sites in eastern Utah on our way to Green River, Utah. Highlights were the Copper Ridge and Mill Canyon dinosaur tracksites.

Copper Ridge theropod and sauropod - 1200

Here’s a tridactyl theropod track between two sauropod pes prints at Copper Ridge.

Mill Canyon small therpod track - 1200

Here’s a little theropod track at Mill Canyon…

Mill Canyon large therpod track - 1200

…a big one…

Mill Canyon Dromaeosauripus - 1200

…and one that I had never seen before in person: Dromaeosauripus, the two-toed ichnogenus left by dromaeosaurs. Utahraptor or a close relative is a likely culprit for the Mill Canyon Dromaeosauripus.

Mill Canyon large theropod trackway - 1200

 

Actually we had the Jurassic talks today, but I can’t show you any of the slides*, so instead you’re getting some brief, sauropod-centric highlighs from the museum.

* I had originally written that the technical content of the talks is embargoed, but that’s not true–as ReBecca Hunt-Foster pointed out in a comment, the conference guidebook with all of the abstracts is freely available online here.

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Like this Camarasaurus that greets visitors at the entrance.

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And this Apatosaurus ilium ischium with bite marks on the distal end, indicating that a big Morrison theropod literally ate the butt of this dead apatosaur. Gnaw, dude, just gnaw.

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And the shrine to Elmer S. Riggs.

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One of Elmer’s field assistants apparently napping next to the humerus of the Brachiosaurus alithorax holotype. This may be the earliest photographic evidence of someone “pulling a Jensen“.

Cary and Matt with Brachiosaurus forelimb

Here’s the reconstructed forelimb of B. altithorax, with Cary Woodruff and me for scale. The humerus and coracoid (and maybe the sternal?) are cast from the B.a. holotype, the rest of the bits are either sculpted or filled in from Giraffatitan. The scap is very obviously Giraffatitan.

Matt with MWC Apatosaurus femur

Cary took this photo of me playing with a fiberglass 100% original bone Apatosaurus femur upstairs in the museum office, and he totally passed up the opportunity to push me down the stairs afterward. I kid, I kid–actually Cary and I get along just fine. It’s no secret that we disagree about some things, but we do so respectfully. Each of us expects to be vindicated by better data in the future, but there’s no reason we can’t hang out and jaw about sauropods in the meantime.

Finally, in the museum gift shop (which is quite lovely), I found this:

Dammit Nova

You had one job, Nova. ONE JOB!

So, this is a grossly inadequate post that barely scratches the surface of the flarkjillion or so cool exhibits at the museum. I only got about halfway through the sauropods, fer cryin’ out loud. If you ever get a chance to come, do it–you won’t be disappointed.

You know the drill: lotsa pretty pix, not much yap.

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Our first stop of the day was the Fruita Paleontological Area, which has a fanstastic diversity of Morrison animals, including the mammal Fruitafossor and the tiny ornithopod Fruitadens.

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Plus it’s a pretty epic landscape, especially with the clouds and broken light we had this morning.

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I found a bone! Several bits, actually, a few meters away from the Fruitadens type quarry. I’d like to think that this proximal femur might be Fruitadens, but I don’t know the diagnostic characters and haven’t had time to look them up. Anyone know how diagnostic this honorary shard of excellence might be?

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After lunch, John Foster took us on a short hike to the quarry where Elmer Riggs got the back half of the Field Museum Apatosaurus. The front half came from a site in southern Utah, several decades later.

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The locals brought Riggs out in the 1930s for the dedication of two monuments–this one at the Apatosaurus quarry, and another like it at the Brachiosaurus quarry some miles away. Tragically, both monuments have the names of the dinosaurs misspelled!

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In the afternoon we visited the Mygatt-Moore Quarry and the Camarasaurus site in Rabbit Valley. Can you see the articulated Camarasaurus neck in this photo?

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Here’s a hint: the neural arches of two posterior cervical vertebrae in transverse horizontal cross-section.

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This Camarasaurus is apparently a permanent feature. If you’re wondering why no-one has excavated it, it’s because it’s buried in sandstone that is stupid-dense. The expenditure of time and resources just isn’t worth it, when right down the hill dinosaurs are pouring out of the much softer sediments of the Mygatt-Moore Quarry like water from a hydrant. This is the lesson I am learning about the Morrison: finding dinosaurs is easy. Finding dinosaurs you can get out of the ground and prepare–that’s something else.

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Our last stop of the day was Gaston Design, where Rob Gaston showed us how he molds, casts, and mounts everything from tiny teeth to good-sized skeletons.

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Like this Deinosuchus that is about to chomp on Jim Kirkland. Jim doesn’t look too worried.

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Here’s a nice cast of a busted sauropod dorsal, probably from Apatosaurus or Diplodocus, showing the pneumatic internal structure. Compare to similar views of dorsals in this post and this one. This is actually one half of a matched set that includes both halves of the centrum. I left with one of those sets of my own, a few dollars poorer and a whole lot happier.

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The end–for now.

I need to be sleeping, not blogging, so here are just the highlights, with no touch-ups and minimal commentary.

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I don’t know what these real street signs were doing sitting on the ground when I walked to the museum this morning, but it was a good omen for the conference.

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Home base for this part of the conference. We head to Green River, Utah, on Friday for the Early Cretaceous half.

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I had never seen this on exhibit. This is not the Brachiosaurus scapulocoracoid formerly referred to “Ultrasauros”, this is the other big scap from Dry Mesa, from the giant diplodocid Supersaurus.

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Seems legit.

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This is not Dinosaur Baptist Church–it is a cathedral of an entirely different order.

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And that order is Sauropoda.

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The sauropod bones are entombed in a matrix consisting of super-hard sandstone and non-sauropod bits.

I got about 150 photos of the Wall, but only because I ran out of time. You probably already know what I’m going to attempt with them. (If not, here’s a hint.)

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Jim Kirkland (center left) literally walked us through the Morrison and Cedar Mountain Formations at this set of exposures north of the visitor center. The reddish stuff on the lower left is Morrison, and after that it’s CMF all the way up this ridge and next two behind it.

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A cast of Diplodocus carnegii at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, signalling that we’ve come to end of this tail–er, tale.

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Further updates as time and opportunity allow. If you tweet about the conference, please use #MMFC14!