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.

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Aftermath of SVP

Hey there every peoples!

Last week was the first (and probably only, until i either land a job or get funding) time i was able to attend SVP, the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. It was fun, it was informative, it was exhausting! I saw some great talks, some great posters, and some not so great examples of either. Saw all the familiar faces, met some new ones, and got loads of advice and swag. It was a fantastic experience. It has left me a bit drained but not just physically. The conference has brought up a couple issues that no doubt stick in the Society’s craw.

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What Would the Museum Look Like?

Hey there Everypeoples!

Last time we reviewed a decent museum exhibit and a sub-par one. I mentioned that I am always going to museums and how I’m always taking note of their exhibit designs. A big part of trying to start my museum is to teach about and display fossils (as well as rock, minerals, and human artifacts). But what would it all look like? I thought it might be a little fun to see what my museum could look like.

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The Book Route?

Hey there every peoples!

I keep going on and on about this museum project of mine, but what exactly is the purpose of it all? Well the reason i use the most is to create a home for Central Coast fossils. But the Central Coast is really a spearhead for an even greater mission: to give a platform to the fossils who don’t seem to get much exposure

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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.

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A Proper Response

Hey there every peoples!
I know I said I was quitting The Grand Vision for good, but I was weak. My depression got the better of me, but thanks to the support of my parents, my therapist, Meredith Riven, Traumador (everyone’s favorite stuffed theropod), and even Mrs. Olson herself, I have come back into the fold.

You may remember my little piece about the fossil whale brains found here in SLO County. Well it seems it got a response from Peaches Olson (the woman whose daughter was in the accident and sister of the woman who found the fossil). I have now come up with a proper response.

Although, I understand your wish for these rare finds to reside in their “home land” and in a museum of their own……….you have two problems. We do not have anyone qualified to study the calliber of these fossils and WHO is going to FUND this kind of Museum?

First off, this woman is not a paleontologist, so I shouldn’t expect her to understand how the science works. Paleontologists do a lot of traveling. No matter how big a museum’s collection is they don’t have everything. Paleontologists often have to travel to multiple museums for the specimens they use in their research. So obviously scientists could come to our museum to study the brains. In fact I think the Central Coast is an optimal place for a museum. Berkeley and Los Angeles, two world renowned museums, are each 4 hours away. That’s well within arm’s reach compared to some other museums they’d have to go to. What is more, because we would be between these two hubs, it would be easier for paleontologists to visit our collections in one fell swoop (start at Berkeley and go south and vice versa). Even if we wouldn’t have someone qualified, they could easily come to us.
And I’d find a way to fund it. It may not be easy, but I’d find a way. I’ll have a bake sale, I’ll get two jobs, I’ll get a loan, I’ll apply for grants, I’ll set up a donation stall at Farmer’s Market, I’ll sell a kidney, I’ll rob a bank, I’ll black mail a rich person. Whatever it takes, I’ll find a way (although I’m obviously kidding about some of those). And if we had such a rare and valuable fossil we could use to garner attention and support.

Although, I appreciate your passion for our past history, I need to emphasize how little credit or notice the central coast gave us of our finds…..Only until, the LA Museum of Natural History, were we even able to get anywhere. This is also true for the McGilvray Brain as well.

All the more reason the Central Coast could use a museum.

Most people who are in our shoes can not afford to go to these facilities for 3 weeks of their lives and with their loved ones who also miss work. We began to think, what are the odds of this spectacular find of a fossilized whale brain providing for a neuro center to help people regain their lives.? What is wrong with giving people a chance of possibilities, they thought would never happen.

Too true. Well I remember reading that the ideal situation is that someone buys the fossil and donates it to a museum. Who knows how long it could take to sell. What if I got an organization up that the fossil could be donated to? Again, we could use such a rare and important find.

here is an article coming out in the Naturalist and National Geographic. Reading about these great finds and their historical studies is often HOW we learn…..it’s OK that they do not reside right here.

She’s right. I mean, Los Angeles has a a museum for it’s fossils. As does San Bernardino County. Barstow’s “Miocene Motherland” has that museum and the Raymond Alf Museum. San Diego fossils have a home right in Balboa Park. A great deal of Montana’s and Utah’s dinosaurian wealth are nestled in their native range. As are the fossils of New Mexico, Oregon, and northern California. Orange County has the Cooper Center to salvage and preserve their rich paleontological and archaeological past. The tar pits, Diamond Valley, and the Fairmead Landfill all have museums built on site to house their spectacular finds. Nebraska and Florida, two of the best states for Cenozoic fossils, both have committed museums of their own. And don’t forget the Royal Tyrrell Museum. I mean really, why should the Central Coast have one? It’s not like there are any fossil whale brains, butchered mastodons, remains of ice age megafauna, a Miocene version of the Serengeti, the denizens of a sub-tropical rainforest, the transition into open landscapes, a unique island fauna, or dozens and dozens of marine organisms from around here. Nope, nothing that needs an outlet of its own (ok there is the museum in Santa Barbara, but they don’t have much in the way of Central Coast fossils. I would try to realize my dream through them, but they seem happy doing what they are doing and probably don’t what to get caught up in my ambitious delusions).

Why do all those other fossils get to stay in their native lands while ours don’t? I don’t get it. But Meredith Riven of the Cooper Center suggests one possibility:

Another issue is the curatorial crisis – all museums are out of space. LACM, UCMP, SDNHM all have issues finding room for more collections. So at least we can help with some of that. Of course, we are out of space too but since we didn’t start with much at least we have room to grow. Funding that is the next challenge.

See, another reason my museum could be of use. I know museums like to brag about their vast collections, but when does it get too big to manage? Some of these large museums have had new species named from their fossils because they just sat around for 50, 75, even 100 years but because they were “lost” amongst such vast collections they just gathered dust until someone came along. If we were able to bring the fossils of the Central Coast back home, the big museums (Berkeley and Los Angeles) would have some room freed up for their current and future collecting activities. And as noted above, they would still be a relatively short distance away. It’s not like I’m trying to relocate them across the country.

Might I suggest that you volunteer at a Museum or that you further your career in one of these arenas of study?
The archeology at Cal Poly could use a little help……you could start there.

I have tried that. Santa Barbara doesn’t have an active paleontology program. I tried talking to folks at the LA Museum. But apparently I can’t go down for one weekend a month and volunteer there. I have tried going on their field trips to Red Rock Canyon, but those don’t really do much in the way of actually exercising my passion. I mean, yeah I found a fossil, but i couldn’t partake in digging it out or jacketing it, even though I have read about the process all my life, watched countless videos about it, and even practiced it on cow bones in my backyard. Plus, i never really felt like i fit in there. I tried to mingle with the people and the scientists, but i just never felt accepted. Unlike so many of the people there, I haven’t this trip year after year after year (some of the younger folk there are even going to college, or plan to, to pursue a career in paleontology.) so i don’t know many people. I just felt like that weird, stupid, bumbling kid who all the other kids in class just put up with because they are forced to be in proximity to each other. I have done that and trips with the San Bernardino County Museum. But it’s never anything substantive, just pay them and go on a little field trip, nothing like what volunteers and scientists get to do.

I have tried talking to a paleontologist at the LA museum about trying to access their Central Coast material so that i might try to publish a paper on some of it. I thought this would help me get into a university, get to exercise my passion for paleontology, learn more about my home region’s rich fossil record, and share that information with the world. But nope, it got shot down. Apparently community college students don’t count in the grand scheme of things. I have a learning disability and have always struggled with school. God knows if I’ll be able to even get into a university, let alone survive one. All the while i get to sit back and read day in and day out about people going out into the field, finding, and working with fossils. I even read about small museums who managed to create successful paleontology programs but apparently they got something i don’t. I have tried desperately to get off the sidelines but my efforts have for the most part been futile (cause who wants to help a failure like me pursue a career). I am nothing more than a fossil fanboy. I don’t find any fossils, I don’t publish any papers, I don’t volunteer, I don’t teach people about paleontology. I am a ghost in the paleontology community.

People keep telling me that I should to be a teacher. Well i thought with this museum idea of mine, i could not only go into the field and build a collection of fossils, but also share them with the community, teaching people about the science of paleontology, the fossil history of the Central Coast, and the world beyond. It sounds unrealistic, but again Meredith Riven shines some light:

Anything is possible. If brains can fossilize, you can be a paleontologist

The Museum of the Rockies started off with only 3 dinosaur fossils and now they house the largest collection of United States dinosaur fossils known. The little Burpee Museum in Rockford, Illinois was just another small, unknown local museum and now they have a successful paleontology program going. Xiaoming Wang didn’t think there were any fossils in the cliffs above our campground at Red Rock Canyon and yet I managed to find bone fragments up there. And yes, fossilized whale brains. So don’t say something is unrealistic.

The Grand Vision may sound unrealistic, but I’m only 23 (closing in on 24), so who knows what I can pull off in the next 5, 10, 20 years? The Marmarth Research Foundation managed to garner enough funds to build a field laboratory for fossil prep and curation. Marmarth is out in the middle of nowhere. San Luis Obispo County is a well populated, well traveled spot in the most populous state in the country. Who in the world could predict who may show up in support of such a project? Only time will tell.

So I’m back in the game loyal readers. It’s time to stop moping and focus that energy instead on working to bring the Grand Vision to life!

Till next time!

Chasing Ghosts?

Hey there every peoples…

Been a long time since i posted anything. The main reason was i was in Utah for 2 weeks after which i took a week to get back to normal life and at the end of that week i started school. I had a post in mind, but i have been really down in the dumps lately. I am still able to go about my daily routines, but my heart just ain’t in it. A cornerstone of my current slump rests in, what else, paleontology. More specifically, though, is a sense of hopelessness regarding that foolhardy goal of mine.

I’m going on ad nauseum, it seems, about this ridiculous vision of mine where i start a paleontology on the Central Coast. Is it viable? Can it be done? I have a feeling that it cannot. That sounds defeatist for sure, but allow me to explain. For starters, it would require a lot of resources, specifically money. Museums right now seem to be having trouble staying afloat. I mean, i still get donation requests from the American Museum of Natural History. The American Museum, one of the largest and most prestigious institutions in the world, is asking some unemployed hack like me for donations? Maybe that’s not the best example so here’s a better one. The San Bernardino County Museum had planned to open their Hall of Geological Wonders back in spring 2009. Last i checked, nothing has changed and the last time i visited the museum and looked inside, i saw nothing but a bunch of folding chairs. Further still, the Raymond Alf Museum’s Hall of Life renovation was delayed a couple years by funding troubles (it is slated to be finished in October, thankfully). The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History had plans to build a new facility; now you can’t even find a link to the new building project’s web page in the main menus. I’m from a middle-class family whose mother was just laid-off after 30 years of teaching and i haven’t been able to land (or at times even find) a job since 2007. It should be obvious by now that i don’t have the dough to get things going.

That is one hurdle. The other significant hurdle is getting people interested in joining such a project. So far not one nibble on my rally call (though i didn’t expect that to go anywhere). I go to museums a lot. People love to see fossils and skeletons, but from my observations, it’s from a more “ooh, look at that” mindset. Fossils, and pretty much any natural heritage, don’t seem to mean to other people what they mean to me. And most people don’t seem to care about where they live. John Fuhring, who volunteers at the Santa Maria Natural History Museum, laid it out (He is talking about Santa Maria, while i submited my letter to the city of San Luis Obispo, who never responded):

You know Doug, this IS Santa Maria and we are not now nor have we ever been a town where its people are proud of the community they live in and feel any kind of community spirit. All the wealthy people, who have and continue to make millions of dollars out of the ground and soil around here, go off to live somewhere else with never a thought to beautify or culturally enrich the region they have exploited. The rest of the people here scratch a meager living and have little left for over for cultural things after they have paid their cable TV subscription and payments for the large screen TV. They certainly don’t want to pay any taxes that might go for something like cultural enrichment or beautification of their mini-LA bedroom community.

I’ve lived here (off and on) for over 50 years (since 1958) and it’s actually worse today than when the town only had 10,000 people. What I’m saying is that it is highly unlikely that a paleontology museum will ever be built here given our lack of community and cultural taste. Take for example our town’s Natural History museum. It is housed in a tiny, tiny three room shack, the main room of which was built in the 1870s as a bachelor apartment by Mr. Heart.

The Natural History Museum of Santa Maria, in its tiny 3 room shack, is the best this town is capable of and we just have to face the fact that this isn’t a community that supports anything cultural. Consider too the fact that our symphony has to use Baptist and other Fundamentalist Churches to play in since building any kind of municipal auditorium is out of the question in this town.

He does have a point, even if he was talking about a different town. Who out there on the Central Coast, from Paso Robles to Moorpark, care if the fossils documenting the rich prehistory of their home are locked up out of sight in far flung institutions? How of them care about a piece of that heritage (see below) is rotting away, never to be seen again? I could probably count them on two hands. Science has to beg for crumbs when it comes to funding and volunteers and paleontology seems to get stiffed even then. Because people are more concerned with enriching themselves with money and because the right wing and christian fundies have waged all out war on science, can there be any hope getting people to contribute to this ridiculous vision of mine? I don’t think so…

No about that piece of the Central Coast’s fossil heritage rotting away. I am of course referring to my sea cow. I have tried everything to get it dug out: no scientists i referred to it want anything to to with it; i would try to dig it out myself bu i need permission to do that and the fucking Harbor District will not return my letters or emails. I mean, the answer doesn’t even need to be yes, i just want a response. Ok, a yes would be preferred, but not absolutely needed; an approval would be appreciated, a rejection would be manageable, but no response at all is unacceptable. And i wish for permission to collect not just for the sea cow but for other stuff i might find, like this bone:

I'm not sure what bone this is or what it belongs to, but we may never know...

It broke off, most likely due to all the rain we have had this year. I can’t probe around in the dirt to see where it might have been buried by runoff but i can’t without a permission (or for that matter, if i had permission before had i could have salvaged it before it broke off). Bobby said he was working on a permit for a long time, but he’s just so busy with other sites, school, and apparently being a publishing machine. Plus i have seen him taking about going to college in New Zealand, so obviously he and his permit won’t be around forever. Plus he said that he had to go through hell to get the application. If mighty Bobby Boessenecker had trouble going through the right channels to get an application, i certainly would have stood no chance. Don’t worry Bobby, i ain’t blaming you for anything.

My therapist told me to forget about the sea cow, to not go there anymore, but i just can’t. I have know the site since high school and obviously the chance to do paleontology would be a morale booster. If i could dig it out, prep it, and give it to the Santa Barbara Museum (where is the best pace to send it, thy are a regional museum on the Central Coast), that would be a huge boost to my nonexistent self-esteem. Or just a chance to get out into the field. Spending an afternoon at Carrizo Plain hunting for invertebrates was a nice start, but it’s like crack; you can’t have just a sample, you crave more almost insatiably (at least for me that’s how it is). I have gone o a couple commercial ventures, out to Lake Manix an to Red Rock Canyon. I have signed up again for Red Rock Canyon, but even though nothing has happened yet, it’s got me a little down. I didn’t find anything last time (just like at Lake Manix) while other people did (including people who have been doing this quite a while). People keep telling me I’m smart, but i don’t see it. Where i go, I’m not some known or appreciated member of the body academic; I’m just another dumb tourist with a camera. I mean, i have to pay to go prospecting and so far i have yet to produce anything with the exception of Carrizo Plain (that’s 2 to 1 for those keeping track). We will have to see how this year’s goes.

That last paragraph aside, the rest of this post lays out how i often think about giving up on the Grand Vision. The odds just feel like they are stacked against it. I mean, i bought a little book of inspirational quotes about accomplishing your goals at the Forestiere Underground Gardens and have been reading it almost every day but it’s just not cutting it. Truth be told i don’t know why i hang on to such a foolish notion as being able to open my own museum here on the Central Coast. I could be very happy not opening it if i could just be a paleontologist here on the Central Coast. But where would i work? I don’t think i’d be able to due to lack of job opportunities. I would love to help the Santa Barbara Museum build their fossil collection, but i don’t know if they would go for it. I have have toyed with the idea that instead of building a museum up here, maybe try working with the Santa Barbara Museum to create a little satellite down there, like  the Tye Warner Sea Center, devoted to paleontology. But again, i don’t know if they’d go for it. Right now I’m trying to get a permit to go fossil hunting in Barstow to find them stuff (Barstow has many of the same animals found in the Caliente formation) but only time will tell how far i can get. I feel like getting out into the field is the only thing that can get me out of this slump. But i ain’t holding my breath.

Till next time…