Setting the Record Straight

Hey everyone

I don’t know if I’m returning. This was something that happened early in 2014. It has been eating away at me for a very long time. Things didn’t go as i thought recently. This was supposed to be posted as a final post by someone else. But with things as they are, i figured I’ll post it. Still may be the last.

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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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“Better Know Museum Month” Part 1: Behind the Scenes at the San Bernardino County Museum

Hey there every peoples!

Really? It’s been over a month since my last post? I have been so damn busy with school, trips, housework, and now spring break (last week). So in a desperate bid to make this up to my few loyal readers, I am having a “Better Know a Museum” Month! Each week I’ll give you another installment of my long running series, delving into the new, the old, and the spectacular as we look the places that provide us with paleontological wonderment. And what better was to begin than an exclusive (at least for me) tour of the stuff unseen at the San Bernardino County Museum.

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Narrowing the Focus

Hey there every peoples!

You may or may not remember my post about all the places I’d love to look for fossils. Unfortunately, that would be too difficult. Even if i got enough people together to start going into the field, we can’t be everywhere at once. Andy advised that i instead focus on just a few places. Plus you are never guaranteed to find something, so focusing efforts on just a few places increases your odds. So i have begun formulating a plan on how our field activity may pan out once we can get started. It’s not pretty and will need some tweaking, but it’s a start.

Phase 1: Central Coast

The first step would be to search for and recover fossils on the Central Coast (as doing such is the founding ideal of the museum). It would also be more feasible for a fledgling museum, as we’d only have to drive a few hours south, as opposed to traveling off to another state. Plus the fossils wouldn’t be too big; you don’t want to just dive into a dinosaur and be left hanging because you don’t know how to work with large fossils (following Alton’s advice of starting small).

Sespe formation– A late Eocene through mid Oligocene rock unit residing in the Los Posas hills of Ventura County. As i noted in an earlier post, i can’t help but feel as if the Sespe is tapped out. I know it’s a silly feeling but that’s what depression can do you you. Even if there are still fossils to be found, i fear there may not be too many places left to look, either being on private land or, knowing southern California, have been built over.

(Alternative: if no luck is to be had in the Sespe, than the John Day formation of Oregon would be a good substitute. The fauna there is quite similar to the animals of the Oligocene member of the Sespe (the few i have seen referenced so far). It would also serve my goal of telling the stories of under represented fossils. Of course it would be more difficult to start prospecting in Oregon than in California)

Caliente formation- This unit stretches through San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties but most specimens i have found in the literature seem to come from Ventura. Nonetheless, the Caliente formation preserves mammals ranging from the late Hemingfordian to the late Clerendonian. Again i can’t help but feel like it has been picked over. You would think this unease would be put to rest by a paper in 1993 describing  a mess of new camel species from the Caliente, but it doesn’t since the paper does not state when the fossils were found. Near as i can tell, the most major work done in the Caliente was in the mid 1960s when a guy from Berkeley found something like 4500 specimens.

(Alternative: If no luck is to be had in the Caliente, the Mascal formation of Oregon is a good back up. Like the Sespe/John Day, the animals of the Mascal are similar in age and composition to the faunas of the Caliente. It would also serve my goal of telling the stories of under represented fossils. Of course it would be more difficult to start prospecting in Oregon than in California)

Monterey formation– An expanse of shale and diatomacious earth stretching through San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Fossils of fish and algae abound but fossils of whales, dolphins, sharks, and birds are also known.

Pismo formation– Of all the local fossil layers to fret over, this is probably the most legitimate. The main exposure of the Pismo formation lies along Port San Luis Road out in Avila Beach. Based on what i can see driving to the wharf, there’s not a lot of area to search, so it could be very easy to exhaust (that is if it haven’t haven’t already). Lawrence Barnes once said that the Pismo formation was a bonebed on par with such sites such as Sharktooth Hill, Dinosaur National Monument, and the La Brea Tar Pits. Not sure about that, but he is an expert on fossil marine mammals, so there’s a good chance he’s right.

(Alternative- If Avila is a bust, then maybe we could go search the Purisima formation up near Santa Cruz. Some fossils i have seen are from the same time as the Pismo formation, and a couple animals are very similar. It’s a possibility, but i don’t know if Bobby would like other folks moving in on his turf)

Phase 2– Once we have spent a few years sharpening our claws here on the Central Coast, i was thinking we could start branching out to other parts of California, particularly in neighboring counties. We would still make smaller excursions to Central Coast localities; hell they may still make up a significant amount of our field activity, depending upon our success in going further afield.

Sharktooth Hill- A rich marine bonebed outside of Bakersfield. I hope to one day have a large scale exhibit of marine mammals. Also i feel like i need to make up for the Buena Vista Museum debacle. A lot of important specimens were lost. Andy informs me that most of the bonebed is on private land and that access could be difficult to obtain, “But, surely someone must be able to!”

Red Rock Canyon– Red Rock Canyon lies in the Mojave Desert of eastern Kern County. It is home to the Ricardo formation, a well known Clarendonian to Hemphilian layer. May be difficult to get permits, since only established institutions can apparently get access. Plus the LA Museum does work out there so we’d be in competition.

Panoche Hills– Some of the only Mesozoic rocks in California to bear fossil vertebrates. The Panoche Hills harbor the Moreno formation which dates to about 75 million years ago. Mosasaurs, long-necked plesiosaurs, and turtles have all been found here. Why search the Moreno formation? Well i can’t see it as too much of a stretch that these animals also lived on the Central Coast (a couple plesiosaur fossils are known from SLO County, but they are Jurassic in age). Also, most musuems have marine reptile fossils from Kansas. These are from right here in California. Once again we have the picked over mentality going on with me. Lastly he LA Museum will be displaying some of these marine reptiles in their new dinosaur hall.

Phase 3After a while [or sooner, depending on how well funded and equipped (both mentally and physically) we are] we will go deep into the American West to search for dinosaurs. I know i want to create another venue for fossil mammals, but that doesn’t mean i should rob people of dinosaurs. Today there are really only four good size to large scale dinosaur exhibits on the west coast: San Diego Museum of Natural History, San Diego, CA; Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology, Claremont, CA; Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA; and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle, Washington. We could use some more dinosaurs over. And keeping in step with my philosophy, my dinosaurs will be off the beaten path (so to speak).

Morrison formation- I know, i know. *channels Douchey McNitpick* “But Doug, every museum has Jurassic dinosaurs, you paleo-plagiarist!” But remember, fossil recovery is part of my museum’s mission. A few years ago i read in an article that a Utah state geologist said there were around 25 Jurassic sites that needed to be excavated. I don’t know if that is still the case, but if so, that could give us a ready supply of Jurassic fossils. Plus my favorite dinosaur, Allosaurus, is from the Morrison formation.

Two Medicine formation The Hell Creek formation sits alongside the Morrison formation the dinosaur beds that most people focus on. I want to look in the Two Medicine formation of Montana for the dinosaurs that came before. Plus some cool horned dinosaurs are known from the Two Medicine formation, namely Einiosaurus (with it’s huge can opener of a horn) and Achelousaurus (who has no facial horns at all, but roughened patches of bone). Plus the Two Medicine formation plays into a concept that dictates where my final choice for dinosaurs is.

Kirtland formation– Lastly but not least, i want to look for dinosaurs in the Kirtland formation of northeastern New Mexico. Oddly, the picked over mentality doesn’t factor in here in regards to the fossils found. I suspect that it’s just a matter of not enough work being done in the Kirtland formation. More importantly though, i want to search the Kirtland because i have been interested in the idea of dinosaur provincialism. Some of the dinosaurs in the Kirtland have cloudy identities, which i hope to rectify. The Kirtland collection could be combined with the Two Medicine collection to create a side by side comparison of dinosaurs from the north with the dinosaurs of the south. Who knows what could be deciphered.

Some possibilities- These are a couple places that i would love to search, but are likely never to happen. I can dream, but if i get my museum going, i don’t think these will be searched in my lifetime…

Goler formation- the Goler formation is a smattering of Paleocene outcrops in Kern County. It represents the only Paleocene fauna on the West Coast. The Ray Alf Museum has been doing work in the Goler for the last several years and will have a display about it in their renovated Hall of Life. Andy informed me that the outcrops are few and that specimens have proven sparse. Maybe some day in the future, when no one has worked it save for mother nature, maybe we can go out and find some stuff. But in the mean time, Andy said we could trade them casts of Sespe material for casts of Goler material (assuming we find anything in the Sespe).

El Gallo formation– Like i said above, i have become interested in dinosaur provincialism. So far all the fossils pertaining to such come from the east side of what was once the “lost continent” of Laramidia. This is due mainly to the lack of dinosaur bearing strata on the west coast (probably because of all the Cenozoic era volcanism and geologic instability). However one fauna is somewhat known: dinosaurs of the El Gallo formation in Baja California. I talked about them a while back and their place in the scheme of dinosaur provincialism is intriguing. I once mentioned them on Scott Sampson’s blog, and he said “Time to make some more discoveries!”. I would love to make them (they would go great with the provincialism collection i hope to establish) but i don’t know if we could. The book “Dinosaurs and other Mesozoic Reptiles of California” notes that the terrain is very difficult to extract large fossils from. The book also made note of some political tension, in the form of the LA Museum having to return many of the fossils they collected to Mexico. I don’t know if they would let some gringos go poking around for dinosaurs. Again, i’d love to do it but i just can’t tell right now.

(I guess not all was returned, as the LA Museum will have some of these fossils on display in their new dinosaur hall)

So there you have it. It may sound like a lot, but it is a watered down version of my initial list. Further more, depending where we are able to get permits and how much money we can raise, this list will likely get really short if my plans come to fruition. I try to think positively, but such a venture as starting a museum weighs terribly on my mind and little by little the doubts creep in. People are always wishing me luck and i appreciate the sentiment but it’s obvious that it’ll take more than luck to pull this off. Even if i can throw together a pitch to the public and even if i can get some people together to start getting things going, i’l may very well be moving away in a year! I desperately cling to what little faith i have in people, but that faith is rarely rewarded. I need the help of others to make it work, to ply these wonderful stretches of the earth’s surface. Maybe someday i’ll get it…

Till next time!

The Grand Vision vs The Noonday Demon

Hey there every peoples!

Things have been pretty silent around here. I’ll give 3 guesses as to why but you’ll only need one. But with finals over with and no school until the fall I can now get back to writing here and spreading the good word 9whatever it may be).

I am always talking about my foolhardy museum goal. I am also always going on about depression (I have come to refer to it often as “the Noonday Demon”, after the title of a book on depression). I guess it was inevitable that I would do a post on how depression affects my hopes of starting a museum here on the Central Coast. I guess the word that would come to most people’s minds is “detriment” and they would be about right. It is quite crippling, robbing me of vital confidence and creating hurdles where there probably shouldn’t be. Seeing as I am getting school under control (especially after the recent revelation that I have a learning disability) this is becoming one of the bigger parts of my depression.

For starters there is just the daunting nature of such an undertaking. Museums don’t get founded all the time by regular Joes like me. It takes years, often decades, to get these sorts of things established. They require funding which even the larger institutions can have trouble obtaining. And given how our culture is gaining a greater and greater disdain for science and education, I don’t see much hope in pursuing such a cause. At least from where I am standing now.

Then there is the little matter of qualification.  Do I really have the qualifications to get this project off the ground? I don’t feel like I do. People who have done what I have set out to do usually have lots of experience and/or knowledge as well as a fiery passion. I have the passion but that’s about it. I am not leadership material as I lack the confidence and the management skills required. I am constantly being told I am smart but again I don’t feel like it. I would say I am better at regurgitating information rather than the critical thinking skills required for science. My fossil prep experience is a drop in the bucket compared to what most lab volunteers have done. And I haven’t even published anything [as opposed to folks like Bobby, “the Master of Publishing” (let’s see how many people get the Resident Evil reference)]. At this point I am little more than a fossil fanboy: one who babbles on at length without doing anything relevant, acting as if he has something to say and gets in fights with trolls. I have depression and a learning disability. Does that sound the winning combination for founding a new museum?

One of the more outlandish mental blocks I have concerns finding fossils. When I read about fossils or see pictures of them, I can’t help but notice how the best specimens (or all for that matter) were collected decades and decades ago and reside at the big old institutions. Hell most specimens I have encountered from the Sespe formation reside at the LA Museum and were found by Chester Stock in the early 20th century. Same goes for fossils from the Caliente formation, except most are up at UCMP and a few in LA. Two new species and a new genus of camel were named from Caliente formation fossils but the paper never mentioned when they were found. Basically what I am trying to say is that I have this irrational but constantly nagging feeling that, at least in the places I want to look, have been found. I know it’s silly and stupid but that’s how I feel. It may be due to the lack of information, but the fact that everything I find was found so long ago doesn’t instill with much confidence (which as you know by now, I desperately need). Hopefully someone out there can prove me wrong…

Why do I write about this? Am I grubbing for pity? No, because I don’t expect any (probably because I don’t deserve any). I talk about because I need to vent. But more importantly (and likely more foolishly) I write about it to illuminate the tribulations of a depressed person trying to become a paleontologist. I try to make clear how depression affects ones thoughts and paralyzing it can be. It’s nowhere easy to get over. But I am trying. I do my best to soldier on

Since the city hasn’t written back about my proposal, rather than get moppey about it I have decided to fall back to my contingency plan. Basically I am going to have to try to organize interested members of the community. Not sure how yet. I have begun working on a pitch, with Alton and Andy giving me very useful advice. I think I have a venue that should work. Problem though is getting enough information. I need to convince people that this is doable but without knowing where to look, it’s going to be a tough sell. Plus it would help to be able to show them some of the fossils we could be finding, but pictures of fossils from the Central Coast have proven infuriatingly scarce. If anyone has any ideas, I’d appreciate them very much.

Till next time!

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.

Cajon Pass

Hey there every peoples!

Alright, I have a break, so I am going to write a post I have been meaning to write for a very long time but just never got around to it. I have tried to remember as much as I could.

Way back in the early days of april me and my dad attended a second field trip with the San Bernardino County Museum. This trip took us to Cajon Pass, which sits east of Redlands in the “Inland Empire”.  Cajon Pass is a geological and paleontological laboratory, hosting a rich array of fossils and geological features. We spent all day driving around the pass visiting fossils sites and taking in some spectacular views.

The most prominent feature of the pass is the San Andreas Fault. San Andreas is the biggest fault in California and is responsible for many of our worst earthquakes. The falult runs directly across the pass, with the Pacific Plate to the west and the North American Plate to the east.

A view of the San Andreas Fault running across Cajon Pass

The presence of Pelona schist and a sag lake testify to the fault’s presence. Just so you know, a sag lake is a lake that is formed right on a fault when ground water seeps up through cracks created by movement of the fault. In the case of Cajon Pass, this type of lake is represented by Lost Lake. I guess it isn’t really lost if the curators can take people to it.

Another neat geological feature is the Mormon Rocks (or as the curators called them: “Rocks of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints”). This is where we had lunch and a few people had a good time climbing around and exploring the rocks. Me, on the hand, stayed behind with Eric and aggravated Kathleen with our chatter about Diablo II. The Mormon Rocks were once though to be part of the Punchbowl Formation but were later found to be older than said formation. The formation was named after Devil’s Punchbowl, a geologic feature further to the east (we didn’t get to see it).

Mormon Rocks

Cajon Pass has also yielded many fossils. There are many fossil bearing layers through out the pass and because of the constant motion of the earth there, they all jumble together. Take this site for example:

A great jumble of prehistoric rocks

I cn’t remember the name of the formation on the right, but I remember it’s middle miocene in age, abround 16 to 12 million years old. And interesting thing to note is that the formation is a terrestrial deposit but at one point yielded a whale vertebra. How is that possible? Remember, this area has undergone massive remodeling thanks to tectonic boundries. What the curators think happened is that the whale was buried in an older layer at a time when the pass was underwater. The whale died and it’s vertabra was buried. Later, during the middle Miocene, the bone eroded out of it’s origonal geologic unit and was redeposited when the middle Miocene unit was being formed. So instead of a whale finding it’s way inland (like that one whale, Humphry), the vertebra was instead reworked from an older layer. Isn’t geology fascinating!

Now look at the slanted layers to the left. They are cretaceous and paleocene rocks. I don’t remember much but I remember Eric talking about a plesiosaur vertebra being found in those layers, possibly in the paleocene layers. I just can’t remember. Sorry.

Anyway, they even took us to a fossil site with fossils still in the ground! They said that those fossils have been there for 22 years. That’s because they have been left there so that they can take people to the site to see fossils in their original state. The matirx consists of sand mixed with pebbles, which seems like an unlikely place to find fossils. Indeed, the fossils were fragmentary, consisting moslty of teeth:

A fossil horse tooth in situ

Fragment of rhino tooth, possibly Aphelops

And of course, we can’t forget the curators, who braved hell and high water (and me) to take us on another fantastic trip! Can we hear a big round of applause for:

Chris Sagebiel, purveyor of geological wisdom

Eric Scot, Master of Fossil Horses and Pringle Enthusiast

Kathleen Springer, Senior Curator of Geology, Queen of Rocks, Bane of All that is Doug...

Nah, I’m just kidding. She a wonderful person to be around. But all in all, these people really make the trip. Instead of just some tour guide, we get the people who actually work out here. Thanks again for the wonderful trip guys.

Till next time!

Fossils from the Punchbowl Formation, including a horse jaw and a camel skull