Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Rain stopped play....but we soon slipped into fossil action!

Last night it rained. It rained so hard, it sounded like the Dutch clog dancing team were choreographing a new routine in the roof of the motel. Rain in the Badlands is not much fun, as it equates to mud, not just any mud...the sort that stocks to every and any surface that comes into contact with it. As I feared, as soon as we touched foot from prairie to 'solid' was suddenly not so solid after all. As one of the BLM Officers with us commented, 'Slippery as snake-spit'....something I do not wish to validate.
Threatening skies over the Badlands....taken on the road, during a hasty retreat the day before!

We headed down to one of our two dig-sites and were all soon skating through the slippiest landscape I have trodden in many years. Soon our walking boots resembled giant clods of mud...and became heavier with every step. We ended-up tracking along sandy river-beds (that were thankfully not flowing) up to our first dig site. On arrival at the site, we all realized it was pointless trying to start was a mud-bath. To add insult to injury, our first site was facing to the west, with a tall cliff above no sun for us until after mid-day.

We decided to trek the mile or so across the Badlands to our second site...we can see each site across the prairie,  but as soon as we dip into the channels and valleys of the Badlands, almost all landmarks (bar the tallest buttes) disappear.  Luckily the twisting canyons and river beds are becoming more familiar, so we soon wound our way to the other site. I'm pleased that we did!

As soon as we hit the base of the butte for the other site, we found tracks. Not deer, antelope or fox, but of the dinosaurian variety. Dinosaur tracks in the Hell Creek Formation are relatively we were all a tad pleased. Many photographs and measurements were this will be a publication, we hope, in the near future. All I will say now, the track maker had three large toes.

After a quick scan of the bones at the second site, we sat and had lunch in the shade of some channel-laid sandstones, that were deposited over 65 million years ago. It was the same sandstone units that housed the dinosaur tracks at their upper surface. After a swift lunch of water trail mix and beef jerky, we headed back to our slippy site, in the hope that the mid-day sun had dried-out our site a little.
Hadrosaur caudal (tail!) vertebra

Thankfully, our site was quite sandy, so much of the water had either evaporated or drained away by 2pm. We set-to on excavating a femur, fibula, several vertebrae and a rib from a VERY large hadrosaur dinosaur. Our youngest team member, an undergraduate from UPenn named Emma, spent the afternoon hunting for the beautiful fossil leaves and amber that was rapidly becoming the highlight of the whole site. The leaves are simply beautiful and the amber has much research potential. This is Emma's first time into the field and she has made a name for herself by helping collect some gorgeous plant fossils (see below).
65 Million year old fossil leaves from the Hell Creek Formation....gorgeous!

We worked until 6pm, at which time drinking water was running low, it was time to head back to endith another day at the office!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you all are having a blast! Wish I was there. What sort of snakes are you seeing. Oh and how was the big site? I hope it weathered the winter well.