Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dinosaur Dig (Part 1)

Last summer I taught my regular Fossils to Feathers summer camp and fellow Warner naturalist Bekah Dalen brought in some fossils to show me. She said she got them on a dinosaur dig while working at the Children's Museum. Hmm, we thought, why don't we lead a dinosaur dig though Warner?

Here were the two selling points.

1. Digging up dinosaurs
2. Getting paid to do it

Need I say more?

We offered the summer camp this summer and a little over a week ago we took seven kids on a 10 hour van ride to the far nether regions of North Dakota to root around in the famous Hell Creek Formation. (Okay, famous to other geeks, geologists and paleo-types.)

We worked with Marmarth Research Foundation and the week was tons of fun. Fossil wise we found many pieces of trionychid turtles and parts of another species of turtle I need to identify. We found champsosaur bones, a hadrosaur femur, a triceratops femur, a triceratops tooth, a dromeosaur tooth, fossil trees, crocodile teeth, freshwater ray teeth, triceratops frill and more. The pictures tell a good story so let's start there.

We set out on Sunday for the 10 hour ride to Marmarth, ND. The highlight of the trip was of course stopping at the Middle Spunk rest stop in Minnesota (purely because of the name) and stopping to gawk at Salem Sue the world's largest holstein cow statue in New Salem, ND. That's six tons of reinforced fiberglass in the shape of a cow up there on that butte. She's actually the world's largest fiberglass animal. Okay so the picture is awful. Follow the link for up close giant cow bliss.

We arrived in Marmarth just in time for some Tater Tot hotdish. We found this quite hilarious as we were joking with the kids that dinner would be tater tot hotdish and there it was like culinary destiny. Little did we suspect at the time (how foolish) that hotdish would grace our lips at several dinners. The only one that was vile was the chow mein hotdish, the rest were edible. Oh I now wish I had a photo of the tater tot hotdish! There were some folks there from the east coast who were completely perplexed by the hotdish phenomenon. The term casserole was only slightly less alien.

That night we got our room assignments in the Marmarth Bunkhouse. The bunkhouse was built for railway workers back in the old days. As far accommodations for a dinosaur dig this was posh. Most digs involve sleeping in tents so this was nice. There was a phone, showers, private rooms and satellite TV. Weirdly, the kids all wanted to watch shows about serial killers while I preferred spongebob. Go figure.

Monday morning we headed out to a site where kids a few years ago uncovered a hadrosaur femur. There is still probably more of the dino inside the hillside but a LOT of rock would have to be removed to get at it. Maybe someday, but for now there are easier quarry. I found one of my first cool things here. It was a little piece of a trionychid turtle. It was thrilling but little did I know I would be seeing thousands of such parts in the next few days. This site was also home to many many modern rodent bones as a large owl roosted in the area and the ground was littered with bones and owl pellets. Our leader, Doug Hanks, showed us a profile of the rock in the area and taught us how to read the record of what had happened there.

Monday afternoon we headed out to another area to work on a site rich in turtles. It is apparently one of the richest turtle sites in the world. We didn't see any. I used an exacto knife to slowly carve out a one foot square area. In an hour our so I went down about four inches. This is the very unglamourous part of field work. Carefully looking for nothing. The area I worked in was where they had just removed six complete turtles so it was important to keep searching. It was too bad we didn't uncover anything but that's part of the job too.

Dinner Monday was meatloaf hotdish. When I say meatloaf I mean many many pounds of ground beef tossed into a pan, covered in ketchup and baked. I think there may have been a can of "cream of something" soup mixed in. Welcome to flavor country. Why didn't I take any pictures of the food?

That's it for the first installment. I'll post up the rest of the week soon.



Katie said...

I like the term "nether regions of ND". As if the whole place wasn't a nether region of sorts...

Kirk Mona said...

I thought it was nicer than saying "the armpit of ND." Geographically it really is in the bottom most corner.