Searching Paleontological Hotspots

Hey there every peoples.

My last post seemed like a total non starter. I knew it would be insignificant, but damn, did it seem to go unnoticed, even by this blog’s standards. But still, whether I had a billion dollars or just a few thousand, where would my museum go? I have talked about all kinds of places on “The Hit List”. These are extremely numerous and probably unfeasible to try and tackle in my lifetime (of course assuming I even make it far enough to start building a collection). So I have decided to place priority on some select localities I have dubbed “Paleontology Hot Spots”. These are places that boast a long and continuous fossil history. Instead of just a few million years of most geologic formations, these “hotspots” have multiple sequences of formations that really detail the changes in life and environment through time. I have selected 4 that I’d like my museum to focus on should it ever take off.

1. Southern California- Come one, you saw this one coming. I guess I don’t have to talk too much about this one. Basically the fossil record here in southern California is superb. The Central Coast alone has a pretty decent fossil record. Supplement that with localities like the Goler Formation, Sharktooth Hill, Red Rock Canyon, Barstow, The Moreno Hills, and a few other small localities. Southern California still has some fossils to yield. Hopefully I could uncover some of them.

Plotosaurus, a sea going mosasaur from the late cretaceous Moreno formation, Fresno County.

Plotosaurus, a sea going mosasaur from the late cretaceous Moreno formation, Fresno County.

Jaw of Pterodon, a carnivorus mammal from the Eocene section of the Sespe formation, Central Coast

Jaw of Pterodon, a carnivorus mammal from the Eocene section of the Sespe formation, Central Coast

Mesohippus, a small three-toed horse from the Oligocene section of the Sespe formation, Ventura County.

Mesohippus, a small three-toed horse from the Oligocene section of the Sespe formation, Ventura County.

Partial skull of a large, three-toed browsing horse (Megahippus) from the Barstow formation, San Bernardino County.

Partial skull of a large, three-toed browsing horse (Megahippus) from the Barstow formation, San Bernardino County.

Leg and teeth of a hippo-like rhino from the Dove Spring Formation, Red Rock Canyon State Park.

Leg and teeth of a hippo-like rhino from the Dove Spring Formation, Red Rock Canyon State Park.

Partially articulated whale skeleton from Sharktooth Hill, Kern County.

Partially articulated whale skeleton from Sharktooth Hill, Kern County.

Flipper of Pliocene walrus (Valenictis) from the Pismo Formation, San Luis Obispo County.

Flipper of a Pliocene walrus (Valenictis) from the Pismo Formation, San Luis Obispo County.

Tusk of a Southern Mammoth from the early Pleistocene of Ventura County.

Tusk of a Southern Mammoth from the early Pleistocene of Ventura County.

2. John Day Fossil Beds- I have been hooked on this place since I first visited it 10 years ago. The JDB not has a near continuous record of 40 million years, but it also chronicles the evolution of plants, animals, and land in stunning detail. However it’s story isn’t told outside of Oregon. I mean, it’s fantastic that it has good representation in its home state. But there are large and significant collections in Berkeley, Yale, The American Museum, The Smithsonian and others. But none of he John Day stuff (to my meager knowledge, at least) sees the light of day. Instead, it’s always stuff from South Dakota and Nebraska. The JDFB are perhaps the greatest unsung story of paleontology. I want to help tell it.

Plant fossils (fruits, nuts, and woody parts) from the early Eocene Clarno formation (Nut Beds).

Plant fossils (fruits, nuts, and woody parts) from the early Eocene Clarno formation (Nut Beds).

Alligator bones from the middle Eocene Clarno formation (Hancock Mammal Quarry)

Alligator bones from the middle Eocene Clarno formation (Hancock Mammal Quarry)

Skull and forelimb of Nimravus, a sabertooth cat-like animal from the middle Oligocene John Day formation.

Skull and forelimb of Nimravus, a sabertooth cat-like animal from the middle Oligocene John Day formation.

Skeleton of Diceratherium, a cow-sized rhino from the middle Oligocene John Day formation.

Skeleton of Diceratherium, a cow-sized rhino from the middle Oligocene John Day formation.

Jaw of Gomphotherium, an ancient four-tusked elephant from the middle Miocene Mascal formation.

Jaw of Gomphotherium, an ancient four-tusked elephant from the middle Miocene Mascal formation.

Partial jaw of Dromomeryx, a horned deer-like animal from the middle Miocene Mascal formation.

Partial jaw of Dromomeryx, a horned deer-like animal from the middle Miocene Mascal formation.

Teeth of Indarctos, a large short-faced bear from the late Miocene Rattlesnake formation.

Teeth of Indarctos, a large short-faced bear from the late Miocene Rattlesnake formation.

Jaws of Megatylopus, a giant camel from the late Miocene Rattlesnake formation.

Jaws of Megatylopus, a giant camel from the late Miocene Rattlesnake formation.

3. San Juan Basin- This next one isn’t as continuous as John Day but stretches about the same amount of time. As far as I can tell, it contains 5 or so formations stretching from the Cetaceous to the Eocene. The Fruitland and Kirtland formations detail the currently hot topic of the Campanian (~75 mya). Lesser known are the sediments of the Ojo Alamo formation. These date to the Maastrichtian, which was the last faunal age of the cretaceous. These are important because the focus on the Maastrichtian has been revolving around the northern part of North America, specifically the Hell Creek formation. But Hell Creek can’t speak for everything. The Ojo Alamo formation has the potential to greatly increase our knowledge of what was going on in the twilight of the Mesozoic. Andy Farke has lamented about dinosaur formations being picked over. This one may not. As far as I can tell, very little work has been done on any of the San Juan Basin’s mesozoic strata. Hell, Denver Fowler said he published the “Alamosaurus was one of the largest dinosaurs ever” paper to try and drum up interest in the Ojo Alamo. Well it got me hooked. Perhaps if I ever get my museum of the ground, Andy can come join us in trying the secrets of the Mesozoic in New Mexico.

Palm frond from the Fruitland formation>

Palm frond from the Fruitland formation>

Tyrannosaur tooth from the Fruitland formation.

Tyrannosaur tooth from the Fruitland formation.

Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus from the Kirtland Formation. From Wikipedia

Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus from the Kirtland Formation. From Wikipedia

Skeleton of Titanoceratops (or Pentaceratops, depending who you ask) from the Kirtland formation. From Flickr User  jkay2.

Skeleton of Titanoceratops (or Pentaceratops, depending who you ask) from the Kirtland formation. From Flickr User jkay2.

Alamosaurus under Attack by Tyrannosaurus. Alamosaurus and tyrannosaurs are known from the Ojo Alamo formation. Image from Flickr User Rodney

Alamosaurus under Attack by Tyrannosaurus. Alamosaurus and tyrannosaurs are known from the Ojo Alamo formation. Image from Flickr User Rodney

But the San Juan isn’t just about dinosaurs. The basin also chronicles the transition from the age of reptiles to the age of mammals. The Nacimiento formation provides rare and valuable fosils from the Paleocene epoch. This was the time right after the dinosaurs went extinct, when the world was recovering from the K/P mass extinction. Following that is the San Jose Formation, which dates to the early Eocene epoch. This was the time after the Paleocene when mammals were diversifying and becoming the major component of the fauna. So as you can see, the San Juan Basin shows a very very dramatic change in plant and animal life from two of the 4 major periods of life’s history. Much Like the JDFB, I want to tell this incredible story that no one else seems to be doing.

Plesiadapis, a forerunner to primates. (This one is from wyoming but similar animals ahve been found in the Nacimiento formation). From Google Imagaes

Plesiadapis, a forerunner to primates. (This one is from Wyoming but similar animals have been found in the Nacimiento formation). From Google Images

Multituberculate skull (extinct rodent-like mammal) from the Paleocee of New Mexico

Multituberculate skull (extinct rodent-like mammal) from the Paleocee of New Mexico

Skull of stylinodon, a extinct mammal almost twoo wierd for words (this skull is from Utah, but similar animals have been found in the San Jose formation)

Skull of stylinodon, a extinct mammal almost twoo wierd for words (this skull is from Utah, but similar animals have been found in the San Jose formation)

4. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument- This one lured me in because of my initial taking to the idea of dinosaur provincialism. But now I want to go because like the others it represents a detailed stretch of time. The oldest exposures I’m interested in are the 90 million year old Tropic Shale. So right there my museum would have a source of marine reptiles. Then is the ~80 mya Wahweap formation, which doesn’t seem to be getting as much attention as the overlying Kaiparowits formation. The monument just seems like a great place to hunt for Mesozoic fossils.

Lower jaw of a pliosaur from the Tropic Shale.

Lower jaw of a pliosaur from the Tropic Shale.

Front flipper of a plesiosaur from the Tropic Shale.

Front flipper of a plesiosaur from the Tropic Shale.

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Skull of Diabloceratops from the Wahweap formation.

Skeleton of the tyrannosaur Lythronax from the Wahweap formation. From Flickr User *TonyC

Skeleton of the tyrannosaur Lythronax from the Wahweap formation. From Flickr User *TonyC

Skull of Gryposaurus monumententsis from the Kaiparowits formation.

Skull of Gryposaurus monumententsis from the Kaiparowits formation.

Skeleton of the giant crocodilian Deinosuchus from the Kaiparowits formation. From Flickr User *TonyC

Skeleton of the giant crocodilian Deinosuchus from the Kaiparowits formation. From Flickr User *TonyC

Those are the main hotspots I’d like to go looking for fossils. But that doesn’t mean other places are out of the question. These places represent specific times and places. As i can’t stress enough how you can’t generalize based on one species or one place. To understand the big picture, you need to see what was going on elsewhere. For example, the material we find in the Ojo Alamo formation can be complimented from other Maastrichtian units, like Wyoming’s Lance formation or even Utah’s North Horn formation (I have seen Jim Kirkland mention a couple times that more people need to get into the North Horn formation). And none of them talk about the Jurassic or Triassic, or the whole of the Paleozoic. To have a truly comprehensive collection we need rocks and fossils from all time periods. But i want to focus on these hotspots because of their great importance as well as the fact that they don’t seem to be getting the attention they deserve.

Of course none of that will ever happen. I am ambitious to a super high degree, perhaps too much for my own good. And paleontological ambition can only be taken as far as funding and manpower allow. As I detailed in my last post, the funding for this level of paleontological investigation could be easily attained, but never will. That’s because those with the money would rather spend it on themselves (either to fund their opulent lifestyle or to influence government to suit their interests). That could be so easily be proven wrong by donating to causes, like mine. But again, it’s only about what provides immediate benefit to them. So this list of “paleontological hotspots” will never be fully realized. Perhaps someday, a more able person can help tell at least one of their stories.

Till next time.

2 thoughts on “Searching Paleontological Hotspots

  1. The Caliente Formation and underlying and overlying Formations still have much important work to be done. The work to be done there is not easy. Not much has been done there since our work there in the late 1980’s. Given the importance of the region, it is one of the most neglected areas in North America for Neogene terrestriasl vertebrates.
    Alan VanArsdale 801-458-1463

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