Where to Look: A Necessary Headache

Hey there every peoples!

Long while since my last post. I have had to deal with another loss. Over a week ago my cousin was killed in a car accident. He had gotten out to help with someone else’s accident and ended up getting hit by another car. I wasn’t particularly close to him, but he will be missed so much; mainly because he was supportive of my paleontological interests. He always thought it was interesting. He also supported my habit of collecting animal bones , never thinking it odd or creepy, and even took me to the ranch he worked at a few times to gather livestock bones. Somewhere on that ranch this year he found a fossil whale vertebra. He invited me to look at the site where he found it some time and maybe even look for where it may have come from. But I got too distracted and never called him up. And now he’s gone. This one’s for you Warren.

My quest to found my own museum of paleontology (and hopefully archaeology as well) looks to be fraught with pitfalls and hardship. But what do you need most of all to start your own museum? That’s right: specimens! The majority of specimens in museums were collected by going out and looking for them (other times specimens were obtained by either buying them from other institutions or absorbing collections the original institution could no longer curate). You have to know where to look for fossils to better your odds of finding them. But even if you can find the locality, getting permission may be even harder. Nonetheless, this tedious task is essential if you ever want to get anything for display and research.

There are so many places I want to look. There are so many places that have just yanked me in and made me dream of one day plying their sediments for the remains of ancient life. So allow me to list the localities of utmost importance.

Main targets

Sespe formation- The Sespe formation is a late Eocene/early Oligocene deposit residing in Ventura County. This formation has yielded hundreds of fossils of animals from Eocene swamps and Oligocene woodlands. Being on the Central Coast, finding fossils here is of the highest priority.

An outcrop of the Sespe formation

Caliente formation: The Caliente formation runs through San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties. It is middle Miocene in age, ranging from 14 to 12 mya, I think. I haven’t been able to find out much about it. Again, being on the Central Coast, it has top priority.

Pismo formation- The rare instance where I actually do know where to prospect, but finding permission has proven difficult (lousy Harbor Authority won’t return my emails!). The Pismo formation is a series of sandstone bluffs running along San Luis Bay drive out in Avila Beach. The formation has yielded abundant remains of mid-Pliocene marine mammals. The last of highest priority targets on the Central Coast.

Secondary targets

John Day formation, Oregon- Ever since I first visited the John Day Fossil beds National Monument in north central Oregon, I fell in love with the place. Not just the beautiful rock formations, but also the variety and richness of the fossils that have been found there for over 100 years. I particularly love the John Day formation, for it provides a fauna similar to but somehow different than the ones we always see in museums (who come from South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming). Large museums such as Yale’s Peabody and Berkeley’s “Museum” of Paleontology have good size collections from the John Day beds but we never get to see them (Yale may have a few on display, but I’ve never been. Can anyone help me out?). I wish to search here so that these amazing fossils can get a little more exposure in the public eye.

Antlers formation, Oklahoma- One of the few dinosaur localities that I actually want to search. Everyone searches for dinosaurs in the Morrison formation and the Hell Creek formation. But I’m all about the lesser known stuff and few formations are lesser known than the Antlers formation. The Antlers formation is an early cretaceous bed in southern Oklahoma. It has produced a few dinosaurs, namely two of the three known skeletons of Acrocanthosaurus. It has also produced the remains of Deinonychus and Tenontosaurus and of course the monstrous vertebra of Sauroposeidon. As far as I can tell little work as been done in the Antlers formation. Perhaps I can change that someday, because who knows what the Antlers formation has to offer.

Barstow, California/Mascal formation, Oregon/Coal Valley and Truckee formations, Nevada/Valentine formation, Nebraska- The Miocene is very well known across the US. So what makes these special? Well for one, Alton Dooley said no good Barstovian collection exists outside the American Museum. He said he wanted to try and build such a collection. But given how busy he is with Carmel Church, the site in Wyoming, and other projects I wonder if he would even be able to get started. So maybe I can take up the task. Also, these are well known Miocene beds so hopefully there’s still some stuff to be found.


The Barstow syncline, featuring the many layers of the Barstow formation

Two Medicine and Judith River formations, Montana- Late cretaceous dinosaurs enjoying a high level of diversity. Everyone has Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and Edmontosaurus. I want to have their forbearers. Besides, like the Antlers formation, it’s a breath of fresh air in a museum world dominated by Morrison and Hell Creek dinosaurs.

Sharktooth Hill/ Santa Cruz area, California- I hope that one day my museum could have a hall devoted to fossil marine mammals. Sharktooth Hill and the area around Santa Cruz (where The Coastal Paleontologist finds his stuff) have both produced many remains so they sound like good places to search.

Third tier targets

Anza Borrego, California- Seems like the only place I can go and search for Pleistocene fossils.

Morrison formation, Utah/Wyoming- Yeah, I know I said dinosaurs from here are over done in museums. But one of my favorite prehistoric beasties is there (Allosaurus), and I’d also like to try and find more fossils of his contemporary predators.

Dinosaur National Monument, he most famous outcrop of the Morrison formation

Cedar Mountain formation, Utah- Like the Antlers formation, I want to search this one because of its early Cretaceous dinosaurs. Not sure how much I’d be able to do here, given how Utah’s own institutions are plying its rocks. But I’ll take what I can get.

Bridger Formation, Wyoming- For those wonderful Eocene critters. Do I need any other reason?

So that’s the jist of it. I don’t know how many of those I’ll be able to search in my lifetime. Or now, for that matter. I have even started thinking of trying to start a club or association here on the Central Coast to help things along. I figured more interested people pooling resources and energy would make some progress. Hell I have even thought of a three phase plan for collecting: spend some time collecting on the Central Coast and neighboring Kern County; After we’ve developed our skills doing that, move out to other parts of California; After that, branch out to other states, all the while still making small collecting trips here on the Central Coast. But seeing as I might be going out of state for college, not sure how that would go over (you know, the founder and probable leader suddenly leaving for a few years after just starting).

My own efforts haven’t gone so well. Alton was nice enough to direct me to where I could get information on where to look. One was Google Earth. Apparently the USGS has an overlay application for Google Earth. But it hasn’t worked so well for me thus far because California is such a large and diverse state that I don’t have time to try and pick through all the fluff. Of course there always old fashion geologic maps. My geology teacher informed me that the Diblee Foundation (who mapped half of California) sold geologic maps. So I got in touch with the Santa Barbara Museum and they took over the foundation when the founder passed away. So looked in the online catalogue and damn are those maps expensive! Seeing as I don’t have a job, I can’t afford any. Oi, will I ever get off the ground?

Till next time.


6 thoughts on “Where to Look: A Necessary Headache

  1. Very sorry to hear about your cousin.

    It probably wasn’t fair for me to say that there are no good Barstovian collections outside AMNH, especially since I haven’t been to most of the museums in California. Nebraska certainly has a decent Barstovian collection, and the Smithsonian’s isn’t too bad, just surprisingly small given that it’s the Smithsonian. There are small collections at Florida, LSU, and SMU. I also have no idea what the Field Museum or Texas have.

    Even so, I think additional large Barstovian collections would be great! I think it’s a fascinating time period in North America, with all kinds of neat things going on both on land and in the ocean.

    • Errors in communication happen. However, i took what you said to mean diverse Barstovian collections ie from more than just one locality. I have talked about how the Ray Alf Museum has a large collection from Barstow as does the San Bernardino County Museum (LA and Berkeley undoubtedly have lots of material too). And i’m sure Nebraska has a solid collection from their Barstovian age deposits. And the museum at the University of Oregon must have a good collection from the Mascall. And all the others you listed. But most of those are restricted to their local deposits. I’m thinking more in terms of a comprehensive collection from a number of Barstovian localities.

  2. I do believe that the San Bernardino Natural History Museum (naturally…) and LACM both have good Barstovian collections, and close enough to the Central Coast to check out. Also this – http://www.co.san-bernardino.ca.us/museum/exhibits/geological_sciences/slideshow.htm

    Don’t forget in California that most of the large collections nowadays come from development projects. Working for a CRM firm is a great way to get some experience collecting and in many of the local formations that you mentioned. Of course you don’t get to keep the fossils, but it got me in the door!

    • 1) See comment above

      2) I don’t think there are any in my area. Plus, as stated in the post, i might be going to school out of state so i’m not sure how that would work out.

  3. i stumbled apon your blog here- and I just wanted to shout out some kuddos to ya. You have a great writing style and voice! I really enjoy your articles and hope to read more of them!
    I am a early mammals fan- and a artist. I understand your disappointments in some museums- I just moved to Southern CA from Colorado…I went to the LA museum of natural history and was just shocked at how little they had (in all departments)…and what they had was not shown well. I mean in a time where every kid is glued to animal planet/discovery channel- I would think the museums would step it up a tad in the display department. Just having a labeled skull on display is not enough..I mean what about the story behind it?? who collected it – when? – what was thought when it was first found- what ideas have been yielded from it?
    Ok I am ranting here…i’ll stop now.

    • I did a review of the new mammal and trust me, it’s a real step up from the old museum. They do tell a story, of how mammals changed in response to climate change. And i thought they did a good job of talking about how science works. Nonetheless, i was still dismayed at how some truly remarkable and unique fossils were not included (Capricamelus and Gomphotaria, namely).

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