S.O.S.: Save the Buena Vista Museum!

Hey there every peoples!

I figured that for once I won’t be the only depressed person! That’s right I’m taking you all down with me! Bwahahahahahaha!

But seriously, this is depressing news. I just visited the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History in Bakersfield and learned a most awful truth. They’re in danger of losing their enviable collection of marine fossils from Sharktooth Hill! What’s happening is that the fossils have been on display for the last 15 years due to a loan from a private collector (Bob Ernst, who wanted to create a place to display local fossils). Well as noted in my “Sources of Inspiration” post, Bob tragically passed away a few years ago. I guess whoever gained control over his estate has decided to auction off the fossils. If the museum can’t come up with the dough by December 1, their priceless collection of marine fossils will be lost forever. Just look at what’s at stake:

Nearly complete skeleton of Allodesmus, an ancient sea lion

I wanted to weep when i saw this...

A skeleton of a juvenile baleen whale

Seriously, what is anyone going to do with a fossil whale skeleton?

The soccer ball-sized skull of a leatherback turtle

And it's gone. How many of those are known? Jesus christ...

A large case that once housed the the skulls, jaws, and other bones of the ancient dolphin Prosqualidon...

... is now emptier than a tea party canidate's rhetoric...

And those aren’t the only things. They have loads more that is being packed up and shipped to auction storage as we speak (including preciously rare fossils of the giant sea bird Osteodontornis). This is a tragedy of Shakespearean magnitude. Bob spent the later part of his life hunting for fossils to fill a museum that would teach people about Kern County’s rich fossil heritage. And now his dream will be shattered. I admit that the fossils are the property of whoever now possesses them and they are free to do as they wish with their newfound fossils. But that can’t mean I can’t condemn them for their actions! Shame on you for destroying a valued local resource you materialistic weasel! You could very easily have just donated the specimens to the museum. But I guess you heard how much fossils can fetch and decided that getting a fat sum of money is more important than fulfilling a good man’s wish.

But you can help! The museum is trying to raise as much money as possible to save what they can. Any amount will help because it all adds up! Their goal is $150,000. Please do what you can. This collection is the result of one man’s passion and has taught thousands of people about one of the best known fossil sites in the world. And as the pictures show, many rare and important specimens are at risk of being lost to not only science but also the public and most importantly the people of Kern County themselves! Please help the Buena Vista Museum save their crown jewels! (click on the pictures to go to my flickr album and see all the other fossils being thrown on the auction block!)

Help! Save me!

Till next time!

Addendum: new efforts to save the fossils here: https://accpaleo.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/sharktooth-hill-fund/

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Better Know a Museum: Ray Alf

Hey there every peoples…

Same old story. Meant to post this a while ago but have been very busy with doctor appointments, field trips, and something most terrible. On Thursday our beloved black lab Lucy, at only 3 ½ years old, died of a heart attack. Just like that. Her passing has been extremely difficult to bear. I am trying to take my mind off it but it haunts me relentlessly. But that doesn’t mean you guys shouldn’t get your regular dose of ramblings. So here we go.

Ray Alf was a teacher at the Webb School of California in Claremont, a town on the fringe of Los Angeles. A few years after he started he stumbled across a fossil horse jaw in a store in Claremont Village. The shopkeeper informed him that the jaw was found in Barstow, which lies about 80 miles to the northeast. So Ray gathered some students and went hunting for fossils in the beautifully sculpted badlands of Barstow’s Rainbow Basin. Then in 1936 his student Bill Webb discovered a pig-like skull. Ray took the skull to renowned paleontologist Chester Stock who identified it as a new species of peccary. This discovery inspired a lifelong passion for paleontology in Ray Alf. From there, Ray took his students to Nebraska to look for more fossils. Later he went to the University of Colorado to get his teaching degree. After that he returned to Webb Schools and added paleontology to his curriculum. Every summer he took students on “Peccary Trips”, forays into fossil rich areas of western North America named after that iconic discovery in Barstow. His student’s discoveries swelled with each trip, and soon the basement of the library became Ray’s museums where he taught students and gave public tours. But as with any museum it eventually outgrew its space. So in 1968, a permanent building was erected to house Ray’s Museum.

Today we know it as the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology. Still occupying that original permanent space, the museum now houses two exhibit galleries and over 80,000 specimens in its collections. What sets the museum apart is not only its location (the only paleontology museum on a high school campus. Hell, it’s the only museum I know of on a high school campus) but also the source of its collections: over 90% of the specimens in the museum’s keeping were found by Webb students and alumni on peccary trips. Sure it hasn’t produced as impressive a collection as Los Angeles or the Smithsonian or the American Museum. But for student work, I’d say it’s damn impressive!

The museum is divided into two halls: The Hall of Footprints and the Hall of Life. The Hall of Footprints was renovated in 2002 and is the only full size gallery I know of devoted to fossil footprints. I have never been awed by fossil footprints too much since they are always presented the same way: most exhibits usually just have one or two footprint specimens just stuck in an exhibit with the other specimens (and most of the time its dinosaur tracks). But having a display where the footprints take center stage somehow makes them more exciting. And that is probably also due to the fact that the Alf Museum has such a wide variety of tracks. The museum houses over 1000 trackway and footprint specimens from all over North America. The tracks were made by such critters as: dinosaurs, Permian reptiles, spiders, cats, giant camels, mastodons, and even creodonts. But the jewel of the museum’s footprint collection is a bear dog trackway from Barstow:

Trackway of Amphicyon found in Barstow by Ray Alf and students back in the 60's

Footprint of a giant cemel from the Mojave Desert

I wish the Hall of Life was as exciting as the exhibit downstairs. Don’t get me wrong, they have loads of great fossils. It’s just there doesn’t seem to be any overreaching theme other than a journey through the history of life. They just have different fossils on display with little connectivity. But that flaw doesn’t matter now since they are getting ready to renovate it. They meant to do that earlier this year but they hit a few stumbling blocks in their funding. Nonetheless they plan to start spring next year. And what they have now is still pretty cool. They have a brontothere bonebed recreated just as they found it, many superb specimens from Barstow, a giant alligator skull, and much more. I did find the dinosaur section a bit weak though. It’s mostly made up of casts with a few real specimens. When they renovate I hope that they will include more original material collected by the students. Like all that stuff they are finding in Utah! Right now it’s just a cast of their famous Gryposaurus skull and some hadrosaur foot bones. How about throwing in some of those tyrannosaur bones you guys found. And I know that baby hadrosaur is too recent of a discovery to make it in, but will it be in the exhibit in the future? And surely you guys have some other great dinosaur stuff you can show us.

A cast of the musuem's famous hadrosaur skull, Gryposaurus monumentensis

Upper jaws of Megahippus, a large three-toed horse from Barstow

A cast of the peccary skull that started it all!

Well the Ray Alf Museum must be doing something right since I keep going back. No joke, since I first visited in 2007 I have been making a yearly pilgrimage there. I guess maybe it’s the wonderful fossils, the huge display of footprints, and the fact I feel like it’s where I should have gone to high school. If I did, then high school wouldn’t have been a part of my life that I try so hard to purge from my memory. Nonetheless it’s a great little museum and I encourage you to stop by whenever you’re in southern California.

Till next time.

Central Coast Living: Aikido

Hey there very peoples!

Yet again I find myself erecting a post long after my target date (this time: psychological turmoil and a stomach bug). But I’m back now so here we go.

For better or for worse I have always had a fascination with ancient warfare but haven’t always found a way to learn about it. But in the last couple years I have found several books and programs that have helped flesh out my understanding. After learning about various fighting methods and martial arts, I thought maybe I’d ought to take up one of them. What better way to exercise my fascination with ancient warriors than to learn how they fought? Plus, it’d get me out of the house and give me a means of exercise.

Easier said than done. My problem? I gained a fascination for these obscure and little known martial arts systems:

Lua: A brutal form of self defense invented by the ancient Hawaiians. Lua means “to strike the second blow”. It teaches that you let the enemy make the first move and then viciously counter with moves designed to break bones and dislocate joints. Lua fighters were even trained to catch and deflect oncoming spears. But, I’d have to go to Hawaii to learn that and aside from the fact that it costs an arm and a leg just to visit the place, I like it here in California.

Pankration: Originating in ancient Greece, Pankration is believed by many historians to be the first all encompassing martial art. Pankration means “all powers” and it used everything: jabs, kicks, grappling, and just about everything in-between. Pankration was adopted as a sport when the Olympics were created (albeit in a more watered down version). Needless to say, I was unable to get aboard for the same reason as Lua.

Bokator: Bokator is the fighting style that defended the Khmer Empire for 700 years. Bokator was lost to time until it was rediscovered in the 20th century by studying the reliefs on the walls of Khmer temples. As with most of Cambodia’s cultural institutions Bokator was nearly wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. But once the rouge fell and Vietnamese occupation was eliminated, Bokator was saved from a second extinction. Bokator is similar to Kung Fu in that it uses many strikes based on animals (ironically one of the most powerful moves in Bokator is the duck). Yet again I found frustration in wanting to practice a far flung martial art.

There were a few others that I wanted to try but those three were the ones I wanted to take up the most. But that was never going to happen. So I had to see what was available here. While I was desperate and was going to take whatever I could get, I did have one standard: no karate (or as Archer called it “The Dane Cook of Martial Arts.”)! That, unbelievably, really narrowed my options. I found a Krav Maga class and a Judo dojo in SLO. But Krav Maga is really intense and the Judo dojo was a little out of reach. So what was I to do? Well I found another place in the listings: Aikido of San Luis Obispo. They described themselves as open to anyone wanting to try and that they fostered a peaceful non-competitive atmosphere. Sounded like something worth checking out.

I have been enrolled in the Aikido dojo since May. I’m telling you, it is great stuff. It’s easy going, you know; it’s not about tirelessly straining your body to its limits, but slowly building up a catalogue of moves and developing fluid body motions. You see, Aikido is very different from most other martial arts. Most martial arts employ intense and active regimens to train your body in moves designed to maim and cause grave harm to your enemy or opponent. That’s the way it’s been for thousands of years. Martial arts were always a means of defending yourself during combat (that often meant killing your enemy or at least painfully disabling him). One man decided that needed to change.

Aikido was conceived in the 20s and/or 30s by Morihei Ueshiba (we refer to him as Osensei which means “Great Teacher”). Osensei was a martial arts practitioner who was dismayed by the violent nature of mankind’s fighting styles. So Osensei set out to create an art without the martial mindset. His goal was to create a fighting style that would allow the user to defend them self but not harm the attacker in the process. And thus Aikido was born.

Aikido uses the flow of energy (most often the attacker’s momentum) to disable your opponent. Aikido works from the hata or center (I’m still trying to get the lingo worked out). The hata lies where your naval is and is the source of everything in Aikido. Lots of footwork is involved, despite the fact that some moves can be implemented in a sitting position! A great many moves are like machines in that they have lots of moving parts. And take my word for it; the subtle mechanics are the hardest to learn!

But not to worry. If you take it slow and break it down move by move, you’ll get the hang of it. And that is why I like Aikido. It’s non-competitive and everyone isn’t out to prove they can kick your ass. The higher ups are willing to work with you to help you get it right at the pace your comfortable with. And that’s not all the good Aikido has done for me. I have found that it provides a balance in my life. I read so much about ancient warfare and learning about some of the most brutal and horrifying things men have ever done. That could possibly be perceived as a negative influence. And a martial art could bring that out in nasty ways. So I think learning a peaceful martial art really cancels all that out and helps me stay in a state of equilibrium.

If you’re ever interested in trying it out, by all means stop by. We have a little observation area that you can sit in and watch more experienced people practice. And if you think it’s something you want to try, intro classes (at least for now it seems) are every Tuesday at either 7 or 7:15 (I can’t remember). And if you already do Aikido and are visiting from out of town, you are more than welcome to drop by and practice with us (we’ve had many people do so already). For more information visit the dojo website at

Till next time!