Friday 7/29

Dropped Jeff off for his flight home at the Dickinson, ND airport about 5:45am then back to the hotel for a little more rest before I head back to camp. Gassed up, got a chai at my favorite shop in Dickinson, “The Brew,” which is housed in what used to be St. John’s Episcopal Church. such a classic old, small church building. We sit in the main church building and enjoy the stained glass windows and peaceful ambiance still present in this old house of worship. I sure like it! Photo of Brew….

Headed back to camp to do some prospecting this afternoon and pack up for a little trip. Going south to visit good friends who ranch near Hot Springs, SD. Now, Bruce claims their ranch IS in the beautiful Black Hills while I say the ranch is south of and nearby The Hills. No matter who is more correct (and why wouldn’t I be correct, even though they have ranched that area for more than 30 years and love the land?) their ranch property is absolutely gorgeous. Rolling hills, cedar forests, rocky outcrops, bordered by the Cheyenne River, highest point in Fall River County on their ranch, it has it all. The only rub is, no fossils on site. Love Bruce (and miss my dear friend Linda) and look forward to visiting each year. I usually ask to be put to work on the ranch and Bruce usually laughs and says “No thanks” to some easterner pretending to know how to help ranch!

Was thinking the “story” of how a dinosaur gets to be where we eventually find it. How, why, why right here instead of over there, etc. Saw this group of “friends” and snapped this photo. Started me thinking about the comparisons between a herd of cattle and herd of hadrosaurs – who were also grazers of plant material, hung out in groups, needed to drink water, and like everything, eventually each individual died. Photo of cattle water hole…..

Cattle coming to a watering hole mid day to satisfy their daily need for water, like all animals. note the ones in the “cat-bird” seats, lounging in the water while heads resting right on some watery grass they are munching on – almost like cheating!

What happened to cause/allow a dinosaur to die and become fossilised?

We puzzle over why we find fossilized dinosaurs in one spot but not another. Why up so high on this butte top or why down below on the sandy wash of erosion that’s run down the whole hill (butte). Or why somewhere in between. Is there a common elevation, a band of sediment we can follow that consistently produces fossils? Good questions. All kinds of things happened to the landscape we now are looking at in these exposed “badlands” of rock and sand. The area you’re standing on is 200 feet below that big hill over there where we found fossils yet we’re finding similar fossils way down here in what seems like a completely different elevation? Yep. Whole lot of things have happened and are happening daily out here. There’s the constant erosion form wind, rain and snow that are dramatically changing the landscape daily. There’s tectonic forces that have created uplift and slumping; uplift of large areas of land so it seems now that an area of completely different elevation couldn’t possibly be of the same sedimentary layer, and slumping of huge volumes of land, land that can “slide” down the side of a land mass so that material at the bottom of a 300 foot high butte can actually be of the same layer as the top of that thing 300’ above. Water has changed, cut through, swamped, ponded and dramatically altered the landscape eons ago so what we see now being exposed has been greatly altered long ago. Basically, there is no easy path to finding these elusive fossils short of good, hard prospecting and reading the signs in the sediment layers to find some commonality that can lead to discovery of dinosaur fossils.

Back to my friends, the cattle. Look at that photo again; see a herd of plant eating animals that herd together for safety and to raise their young. See them gather around this watering hole. See that older one that seems lame from some accident or run in with a predator. See that other one that has a disease from infection or is simply getting tired from old age. Maybe one of them lays down and simply can not get back up when the herd moves on for the night or for the season to other lands. Our herd animal lays down here, its final resting place on the shore of a lake or pond or river. Rains come quickly and ferociously and the area around our body of water floods; silt from the nearby sandy soils fills a void on the shore that our animal had laid down on – it is now covered but for part of its right side sticking out of this fresh silt. Sticking out just enough that a passing meat eater takes notice of the smell, comes to investigate and tear into this free meal. Our animal’s bones and flesh are torn into, leaving tooth marks of leftover bone. Several bones are pulled away from the dead animal and are never seen from again, while some are left nearby, scavenged but left with no flesh nor muscle for eating. A tooth or two gets shed by our passing scavenger, as normally happens when gulping down ones food in a hurry all the while gnashing and ripping away with those sharp, serrated teeth. Flooding comes and goes and our animal remains buried eventually becoming enveloped by the sedimentary soils that settle over this area.

Then a scant 66 million years later, we walk by and just happen to notice a bit, a scrap of old weathered dinosaur bone poking out of the ground in the Hell Creek Formation of South East Montana. And what can happen next, very rarely, started back on the day we pictured, the herd all together for safety’s sake, drinking water and eating plant material near that watery spot. What happens can be the thrilling discovery of a new dinosaur. I see that herd of cattle and think about the animals that came long before….

Juliet, the hadrosaur, found lying on her left side, with right side of her rib cage scattered about, right leg & arm missing while the almost complete rest of her was sealed in sandy soils 66 million years ago.