Tucson Fossil Show

I attended a few days around the opening of this huge international fossil, gem & mineral show in Tucson, Arizona over the past few days that takes place annually at the end of January and runs for 2 or 3 weeks. It’s huge, it’s massive, it takes place in many, many different venues all around town. It’s in huge tents, takes over many whole hotels with all the rooms used as display areas for different vendors, the convention center, a fancy hotel out in the desert that specializes in hosting only exclusive, high end gems (think rubies, emeralds and diamonds). There are dinosaur fossils, mammal fossils, shark teeth, creepy crawly things like trilobites and crinoid plates, there are exotic, fanciful shelled animal fossils full of vibrant mineralized color, fishes from all over the world, and gems and crystals and more rocks and more minerals and more….

It sure is simply overwhelming. So I go and focus on checking out the fossil selections, mostly to just see what’s new and what people are finding and to get to meet and mix a little with collectors and paleontologists who are deep into this fossil world. I’ve not purchased much, I so want to find items myself and then do the preparation and clean up. I did buy a few small, flat slabs of limestone from the Green River Formation in Wyoming from a dealer who had left them raw, unprepared just for people like me! They were very inexpensive and are one or two of the most common fish found in this special “fossil lake” near Kemmerer, Wyoming. I’ve not yet made the opportunity to go there to learn how they quarry these flat, thin slabs of stone out of the ground. I know it’s a significantly different way of working than what I normally do when digging on and removing dinosaur bones. The fish and other marine animals found in this formation are all smashed flat during fossilization so they are prepared and presented on thin slabs of stone and are 2D compared to whole bones. I look forward to seeing how they prep out and glad they are common species so any mistakes I make will be chalked up to the learning curve needed to figure out the methods to prepare them.

The Green River Formation fossil fish I picked up are shown here with a pencil mark highlighting where the row of vertebrae are on each piece. And a handful of red rocks given to me by a friend from Germany. Each is holding a marine fossil like the one that Martin already cleaned up.

Here are a few images from the show venues I toured. Quite a variety of different things for sale everywhere.

Some fancy and rare petrified wood with clear evidence of copper related minerals that formed it (the blues and greens from copper and related minerals).
One of many huge tent cities that appear for the annual show, filled with people and stuff.
I focused on booths and particular show areas know for fossil displays.
Minerals and jewelry quality gemstones are a huge draw to the show as well as fossil stuff.
Huge “plate” of fossil crinoid animals. Like modern sea corals, crinoids were animals, not plants. here’s a large stone record of a bunch of them all together.
More fossils. This looks like a large, scary brontothere/titanothere mammal fossil skull.
Dunkleosteus fossil fish from pre-dinosaur times! Along with some other fantastic fossil plates on the walls.
Blue rock anyone? Overwhelming for sure.

Oh, and did I mention, I got to experience mostly clear blue skies and sunshine here in Arizona this past weekend? It was a nice break from the grey and dull weather at home in Indiana in January. Wonderful to be here in the high 60’s to high 70 degree days!

Misc nonsense…

A friend has come by the shop a couple of times in the past few weeks to work together on a fossil rib he found when we were out prospecting a couple of years ago in Montana. It had been sitting in the fossil workshop just waiting for Jeff to come by and work more on his preparation skill set. I didn’t remember the piece and wasn’t sure what it was; my best guess was a fragmented (broken up) rib. After a day of cleaning work with hand tools, an air scribe tool and some time in the micro blaster (mini sand blaster cabinet) the puzzle started to form. It sure is a rib and it appeared that Jeff did a good job collecting it as he put the rib head together from a series of bits and pieces. Looks good and we agreed to meet up again to work on the balance of all the shards of bone that he collected with it. Who knows?, maybe it all will fit together into an almost complete rib bone?

No doubts, it’s the “head” of a dinosaur rib bone. Likely a hadrosaur species.

I’ll get another photo of the balance of the fossil bone and add it in here later. You’ll see quite a puzzle that’s being fitted back together.

This puzzle almost completely put back together.

I also got fired up and worked on some of Clarence the hadrosaur’s vertebrae that had been started some time ago and just sitting around on the work bench gathering dust and being totally ignored! Good to get back to something that had been set aside for a good while. I had fun working on it and wondered why I ever left it sitting there. And I know why – because working hour after hour on the same piece gets tiring and I get the urge to move on to something else, often something smaller that I can see finished results much sooner. Patience is key and it’s good to set something aside before mistakes start happening because of some monotony setting in but I need a little more discipline to get back to things after a brief pause.

The neural spine was cleaned up some time ago but the base (the centrum) of this vertebra was ignored. Photo to follow soon will show the finished product.
Here it is with clean up and a little bit of restoration. One of the two transverse processes is missing and the centrum at the bottom is normally a round shape but the bottom of it was worn away.

This hadrosaur specimen was dug over the last couple of trips out west and has @100 of its bones recovered and back in the shop. I’ll add a photo soon showing this completed piece once it’s fully prepared.

I’ve also been completing the final preparation on a large turtle specimen found near Clarence’s bones. I’ll also add a photo here shortly to show the final work. It’s about 16” x 16” with both most of the top and the whole bottom shell still intact. I’ve just recently removed most all the sandstone matrix that was stuck in place inside the cavity of the two shells so now it’s showing off the rib cage and vertebrae that attach to the top shell (the carapace). Photo to follow soon!

Preparation almost complete on this big turtle found in & amongst Clarence the hadrosaur’s bones. Making the turtle the same age; approx 66 million years old.
Here’s a shot of the spinal column running along the inside of the shell.

Also just last week I removed the Christmas attire that Sparky the Sinclair dino mounted outside the shop had on. Will have to give some thought, or just listen closely, to see what Sparky wants to wear next?

Fun Dino Talk – 12/15/23

I traveled up to Hamilton SouthEastern High School a week ago to chat with a newly formed Fossil Club. I took some samples of the triceratops we found a year ago and excavated this year from a site in SE Montana. The group was sure attentive and had questions and seemed to really enjoy the short talk and Q&A we had together. I think several of them would consider a future visit to a dig site with SIPI! Here’s a photo from their geology classroom where we got together to talk with their great teacher and advisor for their new club, Mrs. C.

Great turn out for a high school fossil club. Brought a scale map of the fossil bones of Olivia the triceratops, book of photos from the dig, field notebook and paper copy of the database of our collection to share with the group (along with fully prepared bones as well as some still in plaster field jackets).

Thanks to senior student Matthew for helping to organize and lead this new club and for inviting me to share.

Sparks’s ready for the holiday

All dressed up

Got home from a fun trip to a California celebrating Thanksgiving with our daughter and her husband there and set right into helping Sparky the dinosaur get ready for the Christmas holidays. We’ll see how his decorations hold up with winter weather and rain on the way, and so far, so good.

Workshop tour

We had a very fun home school group tour last Friday. There were “kids” of all ages that seemed to really enjoy the tour. I think some of the adults had as good a time as the kids. We learned all about fossils and how we find them, the tools and processes we use to clean and prepare fossils and checked out all the things still in field jackets waiting to be brought to the bench and different pretty things in the show room.

Here are some photos from the day –

Looking over items in plaster & burlap field jackets that are yet to be worked on
Checking out some of the tools we use to clean fossils
Young paleontologists engrossed in the micro fossil samples
One of the older “kids” checking things out
We were checking out a couple of fossils this guy brought with him from his collection.

Jurassic Park is real?!?

While out exploring I stumbled upon something one thought existed only in movies. I came up to this 20’ tall, or taller, electrified fence at the edge of some fantastic limestone cliffs and thick, dense jungle. It got very quiet.

Was something being kept out or I kept in?

Small chips and clucking sounds would occasionally break the dull, hot silence. I saw nothing but “felt” the it’s presence. Elizabeth and I ran back toward the beach where we thought we had come from to find a way out. I went one direction and the last I saw Elizabeth she was exploring the small opening you may notice in the rock formation erupting out of the water below. I can only assume she passed through some portal when she crawled forward into that small gap?

The last time Elizabeth was seen

The noise and my sense of the presence of something bigger than me, bolder, more attuned to the earth’s hold on its ultimate destiny, brought my attention into sharp focus. Hiking back uphill from the small beachhead I heard it. Shaking of limbs, leaves twirling in the wind as they floated away from their holds on trees. My heart beat loudly in my chest, so loud I feared it could find me.

They came from here!

The tree limbs parted and a small quadrant of furry soldiers appeared around me, above me, behind me. I felt their small hands as they drug me unwillingly toward their jungle lair. These may be the last photos I will ever have taken…

An advance guard – young but aggressive!
One of their generals
Contemplative yes, ruthless absolutely!
The cruelty could not be satisfactorily described

What could I do but go along with their evil agenda of which I understood nothing, their language, their gestures, their smells, nothing I had ever encountered before!

Then, in my lowest moment, all was made clear to me. Something snapped and I felt a heavy burden around my swollen left ankle – yes, it was a metal shackle with corresponding metal link chain snaking off into the thick jungle understory growth. The heat, the thick humid air virtually choking all the breath out of me. In shallow gasps I tried to fill my lungs and to right myself but just then burst out of jungle from behind that hideous electrified wall the thing. The thing I can not drag myself to mention. That thing from some past land, some past time (?), intent on what?!

Those claws, the evil “grin,” the horrid row of razor sharp spikes down its head and neck

I screamed the scream of someone who shall not be saved. Nothing I did made any difference in its demeanour. It stalked and harassed me knowing I was restrained and could not defend myself. It must have been 40 feet long and stood 25’ tall on its rear legs.

It is real, it did happen. I may be no more, yet the dinosaurs clearly live on.

Tour Time

We had a few tours in the last couple of weeks. The two middle school science teachers who invited me to come present then picked a handful of their students to come visit the workshop. We had a good visit in person in the shop, many tried their hand at lifting up a large field jacketed shoulder blade (scapula) from Olivia the triceratops, more good questions were explored and everyone got a small sample piece of real dinosaur bone to take home.

Captive audience for Steve; the kind he likes best!
Group shot of gang from Wooden Middle School and a few friends from the YMCA after school program at the shop
I love her expression in this photo; she looks so very interested
Talkin’ bones

Two of our many great teachers here in the Martinsville School system getting a selfie with Sparky outside the workshop.

Here are a few shots from the day presenting in their classrooms at Wooden Middle where we tried to fill in some information about the geologic time scale and where different fossils fit in …

Demonstrating some high level concept for sure (Not!)
Brought some sample fossils to talk about and brought on the foolishness, for sure!
“Yes, you’re holding a real, 66 million year old dinosaur bone.”

We also had a tour of the workshop (and our gardens areas at home) by a group of nurses (and their tag-a-longs) that Steve works with/for at his volunteer role at Bloomington Hospital. Fun group who toured the shop and were not shy when asked “Who wants to work on cleaning up some real fossils?” Several jumped right in and worked on a dinosaur vertebra from Clarence the hadrosaur and on some marine shell fossils. Everyone got to choose a sample piece of real dino bone to take home with them and we all went out for a fun dinner after at our local Mexican restaurant in downtown Martinsville.

Kathy and I talking about how to clean/prepare a fossil
She got right into it with no fear
Rachel working away on separating marine fossils from surrounding rock matrix.
Tonya and Kellie working on a fossil while Tina is up to something sneaky?
The whole crew
Garden tours after dino shop tour
Most joined up after for a meal downtown.
Steve & Elizabeth being a bit foolish

And lastly, in honor of October’s arrival and Halloween coming up, Sparky decided to get in the spirit – crossed up two (?) scary movies; Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre? But don’t cross him!

Sept 28, 2023

It’s been a quiet month & a half since I came home from the summer field work in Montana. Mostly been working on home projects and visited Elizabeth’s Uncle T in Canada. Haven’t worked on any fossils since I returned home nor am I teaching at Franklin College this semester. Turns out I did not have any students sign up for the fossil preparation lab class this term. I am disappointed and okay with this at the same time. Disappointed to not have continuing interest at the College but we are doing some traveling this fall that would have crimped my time to teach in the classroom.

I did a school visit last week and talked with 6 science classes at a local middle schools here in Martinsville. It’s my second year sharing with these teachers and their classes. It was a good day and had smart questions and enjoyed the visits. A smaller group from these science classes is coming to visit the fossil workshop tomorrow so a few students will get a closer view of what we do here. I’ll try to grab a photo or two tomorrow and then add it here later…

The big news here is Sparky the Sinclair gas station dinosaur did get placed up on the exterior of the workshop this week. It was quite a process with a few starts and stops but the bottom line is that he is up atop his new perch and seems quite happy about it! Started with my initial idea of placing him on the roof of the building at the very peak. Here’s the stand I designed for him and installed up top –

First effort; not exactly a failure but clearer heads prevailed.

Notice the electric line precariously close to the stand up on the peak? I did too but chose to ignore it knowing I could somehow lift the dino up there and not touch this live electric line! A friend and my dear wife greatly encouraged some “recalibration.”

Plan “B” was hatched. I built a stand that would mount to the front of the shop, up high, bolted it through the brick wall with carriage bolts into wood supports beyond then added angle brackets also bolted in place; looked good and I think it’s high enough to allow truck to pass by underneath (I think?). Here’s the second effort –

New new perch location, lower and not so near the electric service line.

A friend agreed to help lift the dino into place with his tree trimming bucket truck but was leaving on a well-deserved family driving vacation and would be gone for at least 3 weeks. Could Steve wait 3 weeks? sure, but will he?, Nope. So I called a friend in town who originally helped me unload Sparky the day I got home from Montana and Joe mistakenly said sure! Here’s Joe back in August playing instead of helping unload Sparky –

Joe and Sparky

Joe and Shannon came over at dusk and I’m not saying this caper was committed in the dark of night, but it was committed in the dark of night! We talked over different options about how to possibly lift up the dino to the perch that’s 13’-6” above the ground. Joe wisely threw out my first couple of ideas and he came up with the great idea to stack two pieces (bucks) of scaffolding on top of one another then use m y truck as staging area to lift up the dino and place him on the top of the scaffolding then we “just” lift him from there up onto the wall mounted perch. Nothing to it!

Here we are setting up the scaffolding.

Let’s just say it was tremendously harder than we thought to lift him up. We debated at length how much we each thought he weighed; my guesses were around 150-200 lbs, Joe said no way, he’s only as much as a bundle of shingles, 80-90 lbs! He is hollow and made of aluminum but is awkward at 8’ long with a head sticking up about four feet and a long tail going the other way…. Don’t know his official weight but lifting it up over our heads while standing in the back and on the tool box and on the very top of my truck was no easy feat! We three did manage to get him on his side on top of the scaffolding, but the mission was only beginning. We struggled to right him, getting him rolled over onto his feet. I got out an extension ladder and worked from it while also having one foot on the scaffolding to get the best vantage point to pick him up without me going overboard.

We were tired and hot but we got him up on the scaffold!

Now “just” need to lift him straight up about 16” then move toward the garage and the deed will be done. (A side note here; Joe’s wife, Shannon, was present and fully committed to the project, helping whenever and wherever asked to help. Including at one point pushing against the side of the scaffolding while we were above her trying to lift the dino and she was quite concerned if we failed that the the whole deal, dino and all, would come crashing down her direction. – for sure! She was a trooper.) I had an idea to place blocks of wood under Sparks’s feet while rocking him back and forth to artificially raise him up so we’d have less distance to finally pick him up and move him to the wood perch. Joe would lean him toward himself on back to feet while I slid a 6×6 under the front two feet, then I’d do the same, leaning him my way while Joe slid wood under back feet. We alternately did this step about 6 times, each time raising him up another 6”! Worked well until we ran out of 6×6’s. Then we started using 2×6’s and 2×4’s and things got a little less stable. Take a close look at the photos –

Examining the situation to decide what to try next
Sparky up on scaffold, then sitting atop stacks of wood to raise him further up toward the heavens!

Let’s just say the final few inches were the hardest. I had on foot on a ladder and the other on the scaffold top ready to try to lift him up while Joe insisted he could lift the tail end up while straddling the edge of the scaffold from a seated position. I offered a second extension ladder but he didn’t need it, he was sure. There was considerable grunting and groaning going on from both of us while trying to get into positions where we could do the final lift. Joe: “I think I’m cramping up and I can’t do this.,” Shannon: “we need to stop and just call the local fire department ladder truck – they’ll understand that we can’t raise it up and can’t lower it down and they’ll come help!,” Steve: “I don’t know what to do but I’m sure it’ll be okay.” (making no one feel any better!). Finally Joe agreed to accept a ladder assist next to him to partially work off of. Ladder was set up, we each got under our side of the dino and after a partial lift and set back down on the teetering blocks of wood on top of the swaying scaffolding next to two crazy people on ladders we made a final lift and up he went, over he slid and just like that, Sparky was up on his perch. Only two hours after we started!

Note the pile of wood that tumbled over as we lifted Sparky up!
Ta-Da! It is done!

We had accomplished the unthinkable, the undoable, and we did it! in the dark of night, Sparky took his rightful place on the dino workshop.

The next day with his hat and glasses on; looks like he belongs and has always been there!

Here’s a link to a couple of videos from the final push – you can hear the fear in Shannon’s voice and the ill advised faith in mine!



Saturday, August 12

Stayed the night Friday in Mitchell, SD. Famous as the home of the “Corn Palace.” Look it up if you don’t know what this is. Arrived at the hotel about midnight “my” time (mountain time). Up and going this morning pretty early as I want to make it all the way home, 12 more hours of driving, if I can today. Great driving weather yesterday and again today. Had lunch and evening meal stuff with me so I didn’t stop for any meals, just for gas and to check on Sparky, to insure he was staying put up on top of the tool box in the bed of the truck. He rode pretty well and after a few tightenings of the ratchet straps he settled in and I stopped thinking about whether he was going to fly off or not!

Sparky continues to insist we only stop at Sinclair stations; I have no idea why?
A dino is still following me on my way home down the highway.

I did get lots of stares and some thumbs up gestures from passing cars as they noticed this big green dino riding along with the tattered truck and trailer. A sizable amount of duct tape and bungee cords and ratchet straps were holding the whole outfit together for the 1355 mile drive home. I was getting tired driving so long and listening to podcasts but got a second wind when I switched to local radio and found some NPR reporting then some really good music being broadcast for me. Celebrated by trying to hum the tune to “Back Home Again in Indiana” as I crossed the state line with Illinois and made it home by 10pm my time (now on central time), 11pm here. Elizabeth woke up and greeted me; nice to be home!

The next day (Sunday) I worked on emptying the truck of all the triceratops dino bones we collected and all the other gear shoved into every crack and crevice. And first had to start by removing Sparky from up top. Friends came over to help me get the dino off the tool box and couldn’t resist going for a ride on Sparky! Dinosaurs do seem to bring out the inner child of most of us.

Joe going for a ride on Sparky before helping to offload him.

Friday, August 11

Up early and worked for almost 6 hours to break down everything in camp an d load the trailer and truck and clean up. I never think it will take that long but I am undoing my entire home for the past 5 weeks and packing it all up, including a bunch of triceratops bones in field jackets, and the toilet and the clothes line and the shower tent and, and, and…. It was a beautiful morning, low temps and clear skies with a light breeze – good morning for all this necessary but no fun work.

Last photo from the Olivia dig site last night before I left. The ranchers like the open prairie grass lands, I love the exposed rock buttes full of dinosaur fossils in the distance. Something for everyone!
Last evening at the dig site. Appears nothing left there. But, …. I did leave the control point metal stake in place just in case I see something else here when I come back next year. The control stake allows me to re-establish a North-South sting line to re grid the area and add more items to the bone map – maybe!
Opening and closing my last gate for the season as I leave the ranch all loaded and ready to drive the 1350 miles home to Indiana.

Drove south for a different path home than the one I took to come here on July 5. Headed to Deadwood, SD, in the Black Hills, because I saw a certain little dino who whispered he’d like to be my friend and would I please adopt him (you know how persuasive little green dinosaurs can be!). I acquired him at a cool antique emporium and figured out how to strap him down to my metal tool box in the truck bed. Now have triceratops bones and a whole sauropod dino in the truck bed!

Silly thing climbed right up into the truck; what could I do, had to adopt him.
So far so good. He has stayed put so far although I think I need a leash in case he gets frisky?
There’s a dino following me down the interstate!
Of course he only wanted to stop at Sinclair gas stations.

Made it to Mitchell, SD and found a hotel where both “Sparky” and I stayed the night. On to Indiana in the morning.