Finally, hunting for some vertebrates!

Hey there every peoples!

Summer has come and gone. And now i have been plunged head first into what is probably going to be my most hellish nightmare inducing semester yet. Spanish might be manageable, but on top of that i have chemistry (which i was never good at, being one of the physical sciences) and geometry/trigonometry (it’s a combined class, but since math has always been my greatest weakness it’s going to be much much worse). I have a five and a half hour break on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so hopefully i can still deliver a blog post now and then.

Before this brutal slogthrough school began, me and my folks managed to take a short camping trip up to Big Sur (I say short, but it was still about five days). It was well worth the limited time we had. The scenery was spectacular and very easy to see why people come from all over the world to see it. But since we were up north i managed to get in some fossil hunting. Bobby was nice enough to point me to one of his old stomping grounds near Santa Cruz. Finding the site was easy enough however i didn’t get to search the full length of the cliffs. High tide was around noon and by the time it had gotten low enough to continue, the sun was hanging low in the sky. But i did manage to find quite a bit.

The mystical cliffs at New Brighton State Beach

The multitude of boulders at the foot of the cliffs were brimming with invertebrates, just like Bobby said:

See all those white streaks? Those are the outlines of fossil sea shells!

Holy hell, that’s a lot of clams! Saw quite a few of these along the cliffs.

The invertebrate layer. You could follow this all long the cliffs. Pretty unbelievable!

I collected a few smaller rocks with some specimens in them. But i wasn’t just here for the clams. As you all already know, i have a burning hunger to search for vertebrate fossils. However, most of the places i want to search are on goverment land and they want the permit applicant to have a curation plan (somehow i doubt they would accept “rubbermade tub in my bedroom” as a curation plan). To do that i need to create a repository and i doubt that will ever happen soon, if at all. But Bobby told of a place where collecting of vertebrate material was allowed. Naturally i was ecstatic! Was i finally moving up in the world of paleontology? Only a visit to the cliffs would tell.

Now Bobby was certainly right about the invertebrates being plentiful. But he had told me that “the vertebrates take quite a bit more looking (especially in the summertime)”. After spending some time at the locality, i wasn’t sure what he meant. With what felt like little effort, i managed to find lots of vertebrate bones poking out of the boulders:

What looks like a whale vertebra

A curious assortment of fossil bones

Probably a rib

Bonanza! Sure not all of it is complete (or even recognizable), but i couldn’t believe how much i was finding. Unfortunately, none of this was within my reach. They were all locked in boulders weighing hundreds of pounds each. Absolutely no way me and my dad could carry any of those out. This fact was especially painful when i encountered these:

A rib or possibly even a jaw bone

A nice looking whale vertebra

The worst offender of the bunch. It appears to be a series of vertebra. It was killing me so much that i couldn’t remove it (it still does).

Note to self: First thing to do if i ever land a job is to invest in a rock saw.
Not all was lost, however. We managed to find a smaller boulder on the main beach:

As you can see, “smaller” is relative.

Relative indeed. Because while this wasn’t as big as the other boulders, the damn thing still weighed 150 pounds! So we had to take a sledge hammer and knock off some of the dead weight (as the fossils were to one side). It was a success! We got it small enough to carry:

Believe it or not, smashing a big rock into smaller ones was a lot of work. Now i understand why prison inmates had to do it in the old days!

Now there is the simple matter of getting the bones out. Since I’m broke and still struggling to find work, the higher tech options like zip scribes and microblasters are out of the question. I remember Bobby mentioning on his blog that he used acid prep on concretions like these. But i have never attempted it on anything this big before. We have an old washtub, and while the rock barely fits, the bottom of the tub has some noticeable crackage going on. So should i just go to Walmart and get one of those plastic tubs that people at parties use to keep beer and ice in? And lastly, there’s this interesting little piece:
So as you can imagine, any advice on how to get the bones out of the rocks is greatly appreciated.

Only time will tell if i got anything good or not. I did save the gps coordinates of that vertebral series should i ever develop the means to extract it. But i must say that it was very gratifying to finally get out and start collecting vertebrate fossils for the museum i hope to start. Having things bigger and more impressive than molluscs should hopefully draw more support when i eventually start the public outreach step. Of course, i i could go anywhere else, i could find even greater stuff (especially the San Juan Basin and such, since people go nuts for dinosaurs). But for now, I’m glad to have found this little tidbit from Santa Cruz, which brings me just one step closer to fulfilling The Grand Vision. Thanks Bobby for directing me to this locality.
Till next time!

One thought on “Finally, hunting for some vertebrates!

  1. Hey Doug, I’m glad you had such a great time at that locality. It’s quite easy to find beautiful display quality mollusks there. Many amateur collectors go to that site and never see the bones. When you start finding them there – which you were able to do on your first visit – they do appear to be everywhere. Those white-cream colored bones are all in slabs of the “concretionary bonebed”, which unfortunately is a phosphate-cemented (rather than carbonate) sandstone, and is therefore resistant to chemical preparation. What really takes a lot of looking is finding fossils in that bonebed that can be excavated, and finding fossils outside of that bonebed occurring in small concretions or in soft sandstone/mudstone. I’ve found a couple of skulls there in concretions I could pick up and walk away with (not easily… a basketball sized dolphin skull concretion took three hours of picking and hammering to reduce from an oven-sized boulder to a 45 pound rock; the other was a 75 pound block with a small baleen whale skull inside), and I’ve carefully excavated two dolphin jaws and a partial baleen whale jaw from soft sandstone. Finds like that averaged about once per year, with weekly visits while I was home in California. It does take a bit of looking, but there is definitely scope to find some scientifically informative fossils.

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