Wednesday 7/27

Started the day off with a run into town for just a few provisions; groceries and ice, etc. Well, since in town “had” to stop at my coffee shop for a chai! wow it’s a beautiful weather day again today with high predicted to be 78 and low at 51. Could not be any better for prospecting or digging fossils and for sleeping. Jeff seems to deserve most of the credit for this weather we’ve been experiencing almost since the day he showed up. Been just wonderful since he got here. Hope it continues.

Back to camp, we got some lunch stuff made up and headed out to the western most buttes that we’ve visited the last few days. Seem to have found a route to get there and back that’s more manageable. We cut some more burlap strips to the right length and and applied them with wet plaster to the tops of the two jackets we started the day before. Then we “flipped” both over and completed the plaster field jackets to totally envelope the bones. One jacket has the half jaw and the other has two or three separate bones (two vertebrae and something else that will be carefully separated when back at the workshop). We carried the still slightly damp jackets down off the butte to truck at the end of the day for safe transport back to camp where they’ll fully dry.

Jaw bones to the left and pile of vertebrae to the right. All wrapped up in foil and some duct tape to hold the parts and pieces together until we plaster jacketed them.

We separated and started prospecting more buttes that I had never been on before. It’s fun and exhilarating to explore brand new territory as you work your way around, over, and in between new ground not knowing what may be around the next bend. Sometimes I walk for hours or days and find virtually nothing, then other times we stumble across a plethora of bone or turtle shell fragments that are weathering out through the forces of erosion that may lead us to more complete bones just poking out from their long, long slumber. I’m so fortunate to be able to be here to be the first person to ever see this evidence of Cretaceous life just being exposed in fossil forms. Tre cool!

We were exploring 2 or 3 buttes nearby where we had been digging and right at the base, near the flatter land leading up to it, I saw what appeared to be a good sized bush limb poking straight up out of the ground and a small white piece nearby. The “bush limb” looked like it had been sheared off with a straight cut and was the weathered grey of most branches and limbs of scrub bushes and cedars we come across. Take a look and see what you see –

Walkie-talkie linked to Jeff sitting between my sheared off bush limb and a white piece of rock? See the “tree trunk” sticking up at an angle?

Funny thing, that white piece nearby is kind of tapered and a little pointy, maybe? And then I looked behind me and picked up a solid chunk of bone the same diameter as my bush limb. Picked it up and it fit perfectly between the two pieces pictured above. This was getting interesting now. It sure appears to be forming the shape of a triceratops brow horn. You know, one of those long, tapered pointy horns sometimes 24” or longer paired on the skull of a triceratops. Could it be? Could it be a whole skull or a big part of a triceratops skull – maybe?! Alas, it was not; was not big ol’ skull. But does appear to be an approximately 15” long weathered triceratops horn. I’ve seen a few, helped others dig a skull but not found one on my own yet. What fun to sit down and carefully work to expose this neat piece, chasing it down to see how far it may go and what it might be attached to! Did not find more so it seems this horn came from somewhere above where I found it. I searched above for a good while and saw no source, no weathered out bone nor anything protruding from the earth that would help give up the skull’s location (if it even still existed as it may have long ago weathered out to the surface and returned to dust). Here’s what we found, not fully uncovered to protect any loose or broken pieces. We’ll uncover it on the workbench back in the lab in a controlled environment.

The base of the horn is to the far left then the chunk I found a few feet away that fits between base and the pointy end! Once dug out this horn fragment looks to be @15” long.

Jeff called me on the walkie and encouraged me to come join him on a nearby butte we have since named “Tombstone butte” in honor of the stone standing almost straight up at one end of the hilltop. I joined him to confirm that he had indeed found a couple of what appear to be long bones weathering out at the surface up near a the tombstone. Hard climb up then down to them and if they are to be excavated it will take some digging to establish a safe, flat place to work from as they are now on a pretty steep slope and there’s no spot to stand. I was barely able the stand long enough for Jeff to take this photo showing the location –

I’m squatting down above two bones Jeff found. The dark rock is nearby and touching the bones and likely the reason they’re still present. The hard rock matrix around them is preserving and protecting them form erosion.

Here’s a photo of the two bones. We’ll see if they turn out to be collectible or not; often once exposed at or near the surface, fossil bones are being torn apart by the environment. Safe for 66 million years, they become part of the earth again once wind and water and snow and freezing temps get to them.

Two bones in this photo. Each surrounded by, encased (?) in hard black/rust colored “ironstone” common in the Hell Creek Formation. One bone erupting to the left headed toward dark rock, he other just partially exposed at the surface and surrounded by rock.
Close up of the bone to the left in photo above. It’s cracked and broken where exposed, but that’s okay. What now matters is what’s below the surface, how much and in what shape. Could be isolated and turn out to be nothing OR could lead to a dinosaur; stay tuned!

Here are a couple of shots of this fascinating butte and the stone we named it for.

Tombstone butte with a Nittany Lion sculpture above it. What structure do you see in the cap rock on top?
The namesake rock formation we spotted.
Jeff taking a pose in honor of his final resting place maker.

We wrapped up our day of prospecting and field jacket in bones and drove back to camp where we cleaned up and made a nice dinner of hamburgers, salad and rice followed up with lemon cake with fresh strawberries slathered over it. We eat well so no need to worry about me wasting away out here! Don’t normally post photos of food but take a look –

Note that Jeff had to have an olive garnish on his burger!

We finished up our fun day with a rollicking game of 2-handed euchre, but unfortunately Sir Geoffrey (Jeff) won this second game we’ve played. We’ll need a rubber match to settle the score. Stepped out to a super clear and cool night sky to be rewarded quickly with a shooting star and view of the milky-ist of Milky Ways.