Saturday, 8/7

What a day I had today. It was a long one that turned out to be pretty productive, in spite of myself!

My plan was to go the the site of the triceratops frill piece and add some more burlap & plaster to the side that was originally up; to really lock the 3 wood splints in place in the field jacket. Then go over to Clarence the hadrosaur site, to peel some more sidewalls down, looking for any sign of more bones. That was the plan…

Started out okay. I grabbed a piece of old conveyor belt (?) laying near the corral at my camp location to maybe use to help the Tric frill slide down the butte? Carried more water and plaster up to the dig which is @100’ up the side of a fairly steep sloped badlands butte. I carefully turned the large & heavy specimen over so it was back to its original position up. Cut some burlap strips to length, mixed up the plaster & got started. Mixed smaller batches of wet plaster since I was working solo. Nothing worse than having the bucket of plaster get hot and then in an instant turn into a solid; all that plaster wasted.

Slapped a good amount of new strips all over the piece and locked the splints down well to the top side. Took a lunch break and then mixed some more plaster and added more strips around all the edges to lock the plaster on top to bottom. Cleaned up and judged the piece done and ready to somehow be slid down the hill (once today’s coats of plaster dry).

I carried all the extra gear down the hill and left in a pile there. Decided to drive my truck down to the base of this butte instead of carrying the gear the additional 200 feet. I’ve driven down there a couple of times so I know I can make it. Do you sense what’s coming?

I drove down just fine; it’s rough but no problem. Offloaded the heavy rubber conveyor belt piece that might become my “sled” and loaded all all the gear. I had energy left to spare; let’s go to Clarence site and see what can next be discovered…. What next happened goes down as one of my very best moves! 30’ from the loading place I drive up onto a little flat area not really noting that my previous tire tracks were about 8’ over there. I did it! Got solidly stuck as the two front wheels started down off the flat to a much greater drop off than expected. Let’s just say I was left with only 3 wheels touching the ground as the truck slammed down. One of the front wheels was suspended up in the air. Back wheels just started digging in deeper. No moisture, no mud issues just bone dry dirt that I’m now digging deeper into which is driving the undercarriage to “bite” into the dirt even harder. No problem for a guy like me, just slip into 4-wheel drive and all will be well. Trouble is, can’t auto shift into 4WD when one of the wheels is dangling in the air! Okay. Tried everything I could think of to get rear tires to get purchase, stop just spinning. Tried pushing spare wood boards under the wheels but can’t. So I got the truck jack out and carefully jacked up each rear tire then shoved wood under the tires, added some craggy dead sagebrush woody pieces and spare burlap. Put into gear and said go but just spinning and smelling smouldering sage, burlap & wood! No go. Not forward, not backward. Nada.

That’s me and MY truck; good and high centered. Can’t see it but driver’s side front wheel is about 10” up in the air while the undercarriage is solidly resting on the ground = stuck!

Great. Now it’s @4:30, I’m hot & tired and embarrassed & stuck. I scramble up the butte to try to get a cell signal on my phone. Nothing. I go higher, nothing. Finally about 50’ above where the frill piece is I get a signal and call a neighboring rancher who has helped me out of my dumb mistakes in the past.

Unfortunately, he was not near home and wouldn’t be until around 6:30-7pm. Okay. I said I’d walk back to camp and he agreed to meet me there in about 3 hours to help pull my truck out. I guessed it was about a 3-mile stroll back to camp, not what I wanted to do but, no problem. Then another thought came to me. Why not carry, drag, fight that piece of conveyor belt @100’ up the hillside and maybe try to attach it to the frill jacket for future sledding. I’m here, so I did. Somehow fought that 4’ x 4’, stiff, heavy rubber piece up to the dig. Got out my cordless drill and some long screws and attached it to the two wood runners previously attached to wood splints which are plastered hard into the field jacket. Figured it out and attached it. Then drilled a couple small holes through the belt on the leading edge (picture the curved front of an old fashioned kids sled), passed rope through holes, and pulled hard to get the belt piece to kind of curve making a sled-type front profile. Added a long piece of rope to hold to act as a “brake” when sliding it down the hill. Looks like it might work.

But now I’ve spent another hour messing around at this dig site and I’m to meet my help back at camp. So I left everything behind, grabbed a cold water and started trekking. My only encounter along the way was a group of around 50 head of cattle. They pretty much just stopped in their tracks, stood still, and watched as this weird thing walked by. When one of the ranch hands drives up near them they expect something good but it seemed it had been “a while” since someone on foot just strolled through their ranks. As I walked over a cattle guard, where I knew they could not follow, I gave a simple wave and bid them adieu.

They seemed puzzled by my presence on foot in their midst.

An hour later I got to camp, scraped off my clothes, changed and just sat down with a cool drink. It had not been especially warm during my walk back but my heavy boots I wear in the field aren’t the best for just plain straight ahead walking. About 20 mins after I got to camp Don showed up. I suggested we just postpone until the morning, but he encouraged me and said let’s go have a quick look.

We drove right back over the 3 miles I had just walked to camp to see my truck sitting high centered and going nowhere. Quick work was made of it and with me in reverse and Don pulling me backward with his truck I rolled right back onto firm ground, all 4 wheels touching again. Of course, before Don got his chain out to pull me, he “had” to take a photo to remember this new chapter in what funny people not from this area will do if left on their own. I knew better so I got what I deserved. And am glad again to have him as a friend I can call when I’m in need. (See photo above of me & my stuck truck!)

Truck unstuck, Don then mentioned he’d like to see what I’ve found. Couldn’t deny him, so we walked up the butte to check out the plaster jacketed piece of frill. Don asked how I planned to get it down, noticed my improvised “sled” now attached to the fossil, and wanted to see the proposed route. He kind of agreed and said, “Let’s see if we can do it.” Ah, … okay. So we did.

Checking out my proposed route down.

With Don in front guiding & pulling the big fossil sled and me behind holding onto a long length of rope we started lowering it, sliding down the side of the butte. In amazingly quick time we had pulled the brakes on this juggernaut and Don started directing me as I backed my truck, with tailgate down, right into the side of the gumbo butte about 10’ below where we had brought it to a stop. I got back on the rope and with a heave by Don and me holding back to lower it slowly, we actually lowered the fossil right into my awaiting tailgate!

Just like I drew it up?
It actually did slide right off the hillside onto my tailgate!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I certainly didn’t get over to the Clarence dig site today but did make a full & eventful day of it.