Hey there every peoples!
I thought I would follow up my last post with something a little more upbeat. I have laid out a few of the things that bring me down. So I thought I’d balance it out with a post about the few things that keep me plugging along in my insurmountable goal. In what seems like a bottomless abyss of depressive feelings these are the shining lights that give me hope and keep me in the fight.
Burpee Museum of Natural History
The Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois has been around for a long time but I only found it a few years ago in one of my random google searches. I thought it was odd that they had an exhibit based on a single dinosaur specimen (Jane) from Montana when they were a local museum. No worries, though, for I later realized what a big screaming deal Jane was. But since I found the Burpee Museum they have been developing a paleontology program focused on dinosaurs. Since then they have found another juvenile T. rex (named Petey), the first known Triceratops bonebed, and the most productive Jurassic fossil quarry since the Cleveland-Lloyd. I have always admired the museum for this success. That a small museum such as the Burpee could be doing so well helps me remember that even if my museum idea gets off the ground, its initial small size might not be as much of an obstacle as one might think. You just need hard work and a dedicated crew. Thank you, Burpee Museum, for being a candle in the dark.
Scott Wiliams, the Burpee Museum's Collections and Exhibits Manager, with field jackets containing dinosaur bones from Utah and Montana. Lucky son of a...
Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology
Another museum that has been around for a long time but I didn’t discover until a few years ago. But this time I found it in an old fossil field guide from the 1960’s! But unlike the Burpee Museum, I have actually been to this one. Hell, since I first visited the place in 2007 I have been making a yearly pilgrimage to there. The Alf Museum has been a source of inspiration similar to the Burpee Museum in the sense that a small museum can do so much. Their curator, Andrew Farke, has made the news recently for his part in the naming of two new ceratopsians from Utah (as well as that paper a while back that found out that Triceratops did indeed fight with its horns). But the Ray Alf Museum has done a little more for me. It has shown me that there are still mammal fossils to be found. As you know I am quite easily discouraged. I have always had this creeping feeling that there may not be very many fossils out there left to find (a stupid notion, but what can I say). I think of the big museums like American Museum, the Smithsonian, and Los Angeles and can’t help but feel like they got all the best stuff and todays deposits are thoroughly picked over. But Ray Alf has helped shake that notion. For example, looking at an old map of the Rainbow Basin near Barstow, it is just riddled with dots of where the Frick Laboratory (who ended up giving all their stuff to the American Museum) excavated fossils. And yet Ray Alf continues to find stuff there year after year. Hell, in 2007 they found the nearly complete articulated skeleton of a camel after all this time. Plus they continue to find Cenozoic fossils in other places. Ray Alf gives me hope yet that my museum full of fossil mammals just might be doable. Good ol’ Ray Alf Museum. Thank you for showing me the way.
The nearly complete articulated camel from Barstow, discovered by the Ray Alf Museum
The Coastal Paleontologist
A paleontology blogger from Santa Cruz or Montana (depending on the time of year), Bobby Boessenecker explores the California coast looking for the critters that used to swim through the state’s ancient seas. I almost got to prospect for fossils with him once in Avila but unforeseen circumstances meant that he wasn’t able to come down here. Nonetheless, he has shown me well that a college student can find fossils on his own (even though I am not in college at the moment). Keep up the good work Bobby.
Bobby, the Coastal Paleontologist, posing with a newly jacketed whale skull (photo jacked from his blog. Litigation imminent)
Like Bobby, Bob Ernst inspires me because he demonstrates that an individual can become a great fossil hunter. But Bob does it in a different way. He was a private citizen with no training in paleontology. But through hard work and perseverance, he became one of the greatest amateur collectors I have ever read about. Bob was dismayed that the rich fossil history of Kern County (the county right next door to mine) was being shipped off to far away destinations (does his sentiment sound familiar? Substitute Central Coast for Kern County and that’s exactly how I feel). He wanted these fossils to be seen in their homeland. So he started selling family land in San Luis Obispo County to purchase land in Kern County. The land he bought contained exposures of the legendary Sharktooth Hill bonebed. With little more than basic tools and what little techniques he could learn about from books, Bob set out in the badlands of Kern County and spent 3 decades digging up tens of thousands of fossils ranging from small fish bones and shark teeth to sea lions and whales. He opened up the Buena Vista Museum in downtown Bakersfield to display his bounty of marine fossils. By doing so, he showed me that a private citizen with no formal training can make such a magnificent contribution. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 70 in April, 2007. But he leaves behind a great legacy. And more importantly, he stands as a shining example that amateur paleontologists are valuable assets to the field, helping to find fossils that professionals either can’t look for or can’t get to. People think professional paleontologists look down on amateurs, despising them because they represent competition. Well certain ones might be worthy of such ire *cough* commercial collectors *cough* creationists *cough*. But Bob is the amateur that paleontologists wish there were more of. He was passionate, dedicated, and brought fossils to a place where scientists and the public can see them. For the time being, I would do anything to be like Bob. If my museum ever gets big enough for that hall of fossil marine mammals I want (or even an exhibit on Sharktooth Hill, one of the principle places I want to search), I guarantee that Bob Ernst will get a small display of his own. For that man was a hero to people like me. Rest well, Bob Ernst. You will greatly be missed.
King of the amateurs himself, Bob Ernst
While not exactly a source of inspiration, I wanted to give a shout out to Alton Dooley (aka “Butch) of the Virginia Museum of Natural History. I stumbled upon Alton’s blog a couple years ago when poking around the Museum’s site. Since then I have gained great insight into the inner workings of a paleontologist that no book or tv special could ever hope to accomplish. Not only has his blog been a gold mine of information, he has also been a great source of support. Even though we live on opposite ends of the continent and have never met, he has always been someone I could go to for advice. He always answers my silly little inquiries and even let me interview him for a career counseling class I took a year ago. He even went out of his way and emailed me to see how I was doing after I wrote that post a month or so ago. I have sent so many inquiries to paleontologists and such and always very few write back. But Alton has always answers my questions, no matter how trivial or how complex they may be. I think that willingness to help those who wish to get into an area of science, not just the people in their current class, is something that all paleontologists (and indeed scientists in general) should aspire to. Thanks Alton. It’s good to know there’s at least one paleontologist I can always count on.
Alton is the one on the right, standing with the Boxley Stromatolite (photo jacked from his blog. Litigation imminent)
So there you have it folks. These are the people and places that help me stay on course. They have shown me that small institutions and even individuals can make it in the competitive and criminally underfunded world of paleontology. I too often despair about how I am going to get to my destination in the future, whether it’s about logistics or if there are any fossils to be collected. But these guys keep me from jumping overboard and inspire me to keep trudging on. In my fool hardy quest to start my own museum, they help light my way and show me that no task is too great or too small. Thank you, all of you. I don’t know what I do without you.
Till next time.