I invite lots of folks to come out and check out what a dinosaur dig actually looks like and/or just prospect for fossils with me. Glad to do it and always have fun with it. Vaughn and Jessica were just silly enough to agree to come out to the ranch with their adorable twin 3-yr old daughters. I sure had a good time and think the whole crew did as well. The girls started truly identify fossils and differentiate them from rocks. Especially broken shards of fossilized turtle shell. I’d say they were close to expert by the time our day was done.
We had a good time doing some shaky climbing of the gumbo buttes and prospecting and following the cow trails from one fossil spot to another. The girls are adorable and each had their own personality, for sure. How cute. I enjoyed hanging out with them and searching away and showing others how this whole thing works.
After the group left I drove rest of the way out to the Olivia dig site to wrap it up for the year. Had the large frill piece to finish jacketing and then recover the rib fragments under it and …. See if the head is hiding right there under the pile of bones? Alas, it was not. Nothing else after the rib fragments. I flipped the frill piece over and the protective wood frame I built worked – supported the fragile piece very well and it flipped without dropping any of its chips! Once flipped over I added some more wood to support the whole piece and help it to be stable for the long drive home.
Unpacked the puzzle of the three or four rib fragment pieces that were poking out from under this big piece of frill. Gathered each up carefully as they were cross crossed over each other making removal just that much trickier.
My friend, Nathan, nicely drove out to the site in a side by side little vehicle and was able to back right up to the frill piece so we could heft it into the lowered tailgate of the bed. Then backed it up to my lowered tailgate and slid it from one to the other. Too, too heavy to just lift (at least for me!). Nathan and I went out for a meal that evening in town instead of me going back to camp to break down stuff there to get ready to leave for home tomorrow. Good idea, go be with friends and have fun on my last day in Montana instead of working all evening in camp!
Went in town for ice (and one of my chai lattes!) first thing then back to camp, made up a lunch box and filled cooler with drinks then off to the Olivia triceratops dig site. Driving is fine again on this trail, but for a few deep ruts made when first passed through when really wet still. Got to the site and backed up the hill to the dig with no issues (this time). Saw a few antelope on my way back to camp. I’ve never been to Africa but these beautiful animals sure look like my image of an animal that belongs on the African savannah.
Worked on pedastaling the large piece of frill bone. It’s very fragile because it’s only about 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick and about 2’ x 3’ around. A big, flat, thin bone. To pedestal a fossil bone is to dig all around it on all sides straight down so the piece looks like it is now up on a pedestal. Then the really tricky part, dig away at the sides of the pedestal so that the you can tuck the burlap plaster soaked strips can go over the edges and “grab hold” of the underside of the piece in as many places as possible. This is so that after this top side is plastered with as many coats of burlap as needed, including draping it over all the edges and getting the burlap to get “purchase” on these edges, the dried, plaster coated piece can be “flipped” over so the bottom can be capped with a coat of plaster. The flipping is particularly anxiety causing. You or a group of yous break the hold of the soil/rock pedestal the piece is sitting on and then in concert, we “flip” the piece over. If it’s a large piece we often build up a pile of softer soils next to it so it can be turned over right on to this soft landing spot. We’ll see!
I plastered the frill piece every which direction and around all edges to make the field jacket as strong as possible. Put about 4 rounds of burlap over every bit of the exposed surfaces. May put more on tomorrow before we try to flip it. Spent the rest of the afternoon building a frame of wood to sit on top of the frill to support it when we flip it and to be a base for it to sit on. Connected the wood on top with two pieces that went under it to tie it all together – like a sandwich with the plastered frill being the baloney and the wood frames being the bread. Umm, I’m hungry! Nathan (one of the ranch owners adult children) came later in the evening to chat and help me carry the heavy, heavy scapula to my truck bed.
We wrapped up and headed back to camp about 8:45 for a nice meal together. Good to hang out with Nathan for a bit before I leave for the season.
Got up and went into Baker to do some chores. Especially stopping by the tire shop to check my right rear tire I keep needing to put air in it. Started there and yes it had a slow leak they patched for me. Found no foreign object but patched a leak. Went into town for a chai at my favorite coffee shop , some groceries, gas and ice, drop off a candy gift for a friend in town, and did my laundry. Spent most of the day in town. Look what I saw at the coffee shop that was new for the month of August –
Back to camp and gathered some snacks for late lunch and drove out to the main dig site; didn’t get there until about 4pm. I set up one lean to tarp but didn’t need the top canopy because the sun was low enough already. Removed the cover over the bones and decided to chip away at the solid rock attached to both the long scapula bone and the frill piece. Frill running under the scapula. I piled loose soil up to brace the scapula when we would “flip” it over. Started by chipping away at the hard stone connecting the two pieces. Chipped out some stone then saw the whole scapula piece move; the link between the two bones was broken. Only thing left to see is how clean the separation is. Once I flip the bone over will the stone connection break clean or will some of frill come with the shoulder blade or the other way around – part of shoulder left stuck to stone stuck to the frill piece? Frill came with the shoulder. See the photos below. Could have been much worse. I’ve noted in our field log that some of the frill (030-042019) is now going to be in the plaster field jacket of bone 030-042-01. Once we open the jacket in the lab and clean the scapula bone we’ll try to carefully remove the frill pieces to see if they can be replaced where they belong on the frill section. Easy-Peasy!?
I also flipped the other long bone (possible other scapula?). Now both are ready for additional wood splits to be added for stability and the bottoms (now rolled over to be facing up) to be capped with plaster and to lock the additional splints into place. Mixed plaster and applied burlap soaked strips to both bones by myself. It’s possible to do the plastering alone but NOT preferred. Either the plaster sets up too fast and gets hard in the bucket or you just struggle to slather plaster on each burlap strip then crouch over the pieces to apply the strips then run back to the bucket of plaster and repeat. Good to have help with this chore and it can be done alone. Finished up late with both bones now totally free and completely plaster on both sides with wood splints added on top and bottom of each. That’s when one stands back, stretches out and admires ones own work. Good thing to remember to do; take a break and admire what you just accomplished. Sat down for a beer and watched the sun set at the dig. Stayed a little too late and drove back to camp in almost full darkness leaving the dig around 9pm. I was fine, but not the smartest idea. It was a good day.
Tim and I had a nice time last night talking and playing cards after our late dinner. Ended up talking until 2:15am and needed to be up at 6:30 for Tim to pack and get something to eat and be ready to leave the camp by 8:30 to catch his return flight from Rapid City to Chicago. We made it and had a nice drive south today. Unfortunately it started raining here at camp before we left for the run to Rapid airport. Hope it doesn’t really rain while I’m gone all day.
We made it when he wanted to arrive and Tim boarded just fine even with misc. fossil parts and pieces in his backpack. I headed to a coffee shop I know in downtown Rapid for a chai and to catch up on to some work stuff. By the time I got downtown it was really raining hard there. Left the shop and drove west into the Black Hills on a road I’d never traveled before. Saw some new sites but was pretty limited in views because 1) it was raining, 2) heavy clouds and fog shrouded everything so hard to see very far at all, and 3) I was driving on a very windy road and needed to focus not site see very much! I popped out from this small road onto hwy 385 north near Deadwood and stopped an an antique shop and at Chubby Chipmunk, a local chocolatier whose specialty is fancy and very delicious truffles. I picked up a few truffles for a friend in Baker, Mrs. G., and got one for myself that was out of this world wonderful. Then stopped by the antique shop not for an antique exactly. I saw they had Sinclair Gas Station bike aluminum dinosaurs. This gas company used an image of a long- necked sauropod dino (think Brachiosaurus) on their signs and also had fleshed-out almost cartoon like metal sculptures painted deep green. These were modern, not from an “extinct” Sinclair station. And we’re pretty cool. We’ll see, no idea how I’d fit him or her into my truck or trailer for the long ride home? Here’s a shot of what they had in stock –
We kind of plodded around this morning, doing things at the pace each thing dictated. In other words, we slow poked around camp, having breakfast and showers, getting lunch ready, etc. The rain has finally stopped after three long days and it’s not a bad thing that we are delaying our departure for the dig site. The more time, wind and sun the better for negotiating the terribly slick, greasy even, trails we drive on out on the ranch. A little bit of moisture and the whole thing can go sideways, literally the truck will just slide right off the trail and not go forward nor backwards.
We left for the site around 11:30am and took off in 4 wheel drive Low. The lowest, meanest, most aggressive setting my truck for traction and ability to stay upright. At first it was okay, as we swayed outside the exact two tire track trails when they clearly went into deep mud/water. At those junctures we bore down and and repeated the mantra – don’t ever stop, keep moving forward even if sliding around. It worked with some puckering and angst by both of us. I think it’s easier on the driver because of the allusion of some control; the passenger has none and just has to have faith. After 12-15 (?) of those slip-slidy encounters we came to a running creek near the dam. We stopped to examine and plot our course. The normal path seemed right but the swiftly moving water was 12” deep or so. So we turned back. No, silly, we gathered a bunch of loose tree limbs and old cedar tree hunks and fence posts and laid them down in the stream, which was perpendicular to our path. Tim stayed out of the truck to document the dash across the “river” and I backed up, revved the engine and took off in a straight line right at our new wood-pieced bridge. Shot right across it and up on high land; what me worry?!
Pressed on to the dig, with several more close calls on super slippery, slidy mud trails. We made it and elected NOT to try to back the truck up the 20-25 foot climb up to the dig and parked below. Have become spoiled by having the vehicle right on top of our dig. We spent the first hour or so shoveling mud out and away from the fossil bones. Don’t know the exact amount of rain received in the last 3 days but may have been near six inches, which is unheard of and a tremendous amount in such a short time in this area of exposed dirt and soils. Tim admitted once we arrived safely that he was pretty concerned we were not going to make it and in his mind was thinking about the distances back to camp if walking was required!
We removed a bunch of muck to gain access to the fossils. It was time for a lunch break sit down then we were ready to start pedestaling bones and applying field jackets. Tim worked on carefully chipping away at solid rock that was attached to the arm bone (radius) and the unknown bone sitting directly below it. After just a little bit of chipping away rock he broke the two bones free of each other! We flipped the radius over and left a only a small chip imbedded in the bone below it. All good . Did more plastering and carpentry chores to use wood supplies we had on hand to make splints and other bracing that we attached to the bones with the same burlap strips soaked in plaster and wrapped around the fossils.
We did a bunch of plastering together and worked very well as a team. Tim slathering the burlap with plaster, striking excess off & back into the plaster bucket then handing to me the soaked strips to apply in criss-crossing patterns on each fossil. It’s much easier with a couple more hands, 1 or two more people but we did fine together. The day was coming to a close and I had the bright idea to back the truck up to the top of our little hill so not have to carry stuff as far to the truck. Tim took off for a short break to walk around and prospect for any new things. The truck was still in 4 wheel drive low, the ground seemed firm enough after several more hours of sun and light breezes so surely it’s cool. Yep. I lined up the truck with the path, put it in reverse like we’ve done many times before and promptly back up the hill; all was going well. Until the driver’s side front tire slipped over the path and headed down the very steeply sloped side of the hill. I was stuck and out all in lock down, in park with parking brake on. The tires were just spinning and I was going nowhere good. With tail between legs (because I should not have tried this maneuver) went back to the dig.
Tim and I finished up, covered everything and got ready to go or to sit down for a drink at the site and admire the scenery and our work. It was then that I shared with Tim what I had done! He took that in stride as a good companion does. Heck, we are only about 5 miles from camp and it’s 8:15pm, we could walk. He was a big help in observing and studying the situation and offering advice on which way I might turn the front wheels to try to get out of this problem as safely as possible. I tried to slightly turn the front wheels to the right and go forward to get back on the path, since the front left tire was up and going over the hill in a bad way. Nope. Just slid a little more to the left making the truck list out farther down the side of this hill – toward the side where we may roll over instead of drive down it?! We agreed to try something else since driving forward was definitely not working. Agreed to straighten the front wheels again and this time try hard to back up further to right the truck and get on top of the hill so we could drive down safely. It was scary, and I drove backward and we did it! Then drove it down in the correct path a bit and was clear we were okay. Put the thing in park and we celebrated with a beer up on top of the butte at the Olivia dig; celebrating all we had accomplished and what we had avoided.
Tim is a special friend and by special, I mean maybe not all there?! You be the judge – here are just a few photos & video showing his exploits just on this one afternoon!
Kind of a lazy day today because it’s raining again. I understand that three solid days of rain, in a row, at this time of year, here in Montana, is really rare. Uggh. People often ask me why I come out in the hottest time of the summer to dig fossils and my answer is that when it rains the trails out into the heart of the ranch are absolutely impassable when wet. And here they get rains in May and June and often not a drop after that. I’ve been out west in July-August in the past for 5 full weeks and not seen a single drop of rain. I don’t know how much we got over the last three days but I heard some people mention over 6 inches of rain. That’s a lot out here.
We messed around and it rained and rained, then rained some more. I laid down for a nap and Tim took a walk around the camp area in the later afternoon when rain stopped. Then it started again. Big time. Hard, driving rain with strong, strong winds. The concession I made to the storm was to get up and put my clothes back on so I’d be more ready to evacuate just before a big one would hit. Tim hid out in the airplane hanger on site (don’t ask) watching the storm and worrying a bit. It eventually passed. I woke up just in time to yell for Tim, “Let’s go, it’s time for Brew Tunes!” We drove carefully on the small roads out to asphalt and into town to the Old Skool Brewery for music trivia night. It’s a once a month affair I really enjoy. I didn’t think Tim was into it but turned out great and we joined up with a team of folks I’ve played with in the past. Good time. We did not win but were in 2nd place before the final “playoffs” where we were not victorious. Good evening and we had a good time.
It’s raining again today. After rain started around 2pm yesterday, it has not rally abated yet all day today. So no digging for fossils. It’s not that a little light rain would stop us but it’s driving to to the dig site that’s the real problem. The exposed bentonite (mostly referred to as “gumbo” around here) clay soils are unbelievably slick when just the slightest bit wet. When soaked with two full days of rain the trails I use to drive out to the site are absolutely unpassable in my truck even in 4 wheel drive low setting. And the Olivia triceratops site is basically in the middle of the ranch and takes 20 minutes to drive to the site on normal dry days. So no go.
We went into town after lounging around the camper all morning. Had lunch at a restaurant and visited the ranch owner, Merri, at her beautiful store in town called Russell’s. We’d may have a chance to get together, she and husband Don, with us for a meal tomorrow, we’ll see. And if I can convince Tim of the righteousness of the plan, we may go to “BrewTunes” at the Old Skool Brew Pub in Baker on Saturday evening where I have enjoyed the music trivia game they have about once a month.
We got some grocery items and ice for coolers then headed back to camp. Stopped by a friend’s ranch and checked out his fossil collection and other neat stuff. Tim got to use an air scribe tool (like a mini jack hammer) to work on a ball of rock holding onto tons of small fossil shelled critters. There’s a site near here where these marine fossils can be found. It’s in the Fox Hills Geologic Formation dating to about 67 million years old. (I’ll post a photo or two in a bit)
Got up and shared breakfast in camp with our guests from Cincinnati area. Fun having David and Cassie here with us at the dig yesterday. After they departed for parts unknown (mostly heading east toward home) we fussed around camp doing some housekeeping chores and catching up on some things. Got a late start into the field to work on the triceratops dig site. We stopped by and visited with a friend then headed to the dig. It was plenty hot by around noon. As we were driving out on the ranch toward the site, I was eerily reminded of the frightful hail barrage we suffered through 3 weeks ago at this same location. We got to the dig site and decided to eat our lunch up on top of the butte where we are digging. That way we had a very good view of the skies all around us.
Um…. It started looking frightening and very stormy; sure looks like it’s raining off in the distance in several directions. We were still eating when we started feeling a few drops of rain and started seeing serious bolts of lightning. We elected to move out of there and left for the @20 minute drive back to camp. Couldn’t help it as we decided to stop a few times to take in the views and grab some photos. As we got a little closer to camp we noticed distinctly twisting cloud formations. Now it was starting to get real serious. Tim called the winds and cloud formations to definitively be “tornadic.” Now I don’t know if that’s a word or not but did seem to fit. Huge, huge anvil like legs sticking out to the sides with a funnel like thin string of cloud heading down and greatly twisting clouds seeming to be sucked into the big cloud. It looked like a tornado was certainly possible. We did get back to camp and tried to make sure everything was buttoned down.
Then the rain came and rising winds until it was moving horizontally from time to time. It rained hard, the winds blew, and was coming down with ferocity. Luckily all was okay in camp (as far as a I know right now). We had a nice dinner Tim had planned and enjoyed it together in the camper. We plan to go into town tomorrow to do some chores and hopefully the rain will abate; although the forecast is now predicting @73%-98% chance of rain pretty much all day on Friday – we’ll see.
Up early in camp for Tim’s first day here. we had a nice breakfast and gathered our lunch stuff, stocked the cooler, etc. Two new friends of mine agreed to come join us out on the dig to see what this work is all about. I met them just last week impact the gas station and as these things go for me, ended up inviting them to come out. I invite a lot of people, some known to me some strangers, and very, very few agree. David and Cassie said yes, so here they are on a Wednesday morning at our camp ready to go. We started at a know site that has micro fossil parts and bits that I knew about so I could help them identify the difference between fossils and rocks. It can be very hard and takes time and practice. It didn’t take long for them to start right in on finding and beginning to identify some fairly common pieces.
We moved on to the Olivia triceratops dig site so they could see how a dinosaur excavation works. They pitched right in and got to work helping to field jacket several smaller pieces with burlap strips soaked in wet plaster. Had lunch breaks and other breaks for hydration because it was a ver hot day. Then we started in on completing the field jacket on an arm bone that was started a few days before. Tim cut some boards to fit and we attached them to the radius. They got locked down in place tightly with the fresh burlap. Then we ganged up on the large bone that I think is a scapula (shoulder blade), undercutting the rock below it to create an area for the plaster field jacket to grip the bottom. Then covered it completely with aluminum foil and we got started in on the plastering. All helped and we had a good time dipping and filling and adhering the long plaster soaked burlap strips to the bones surface. Being careful to take the strips in alternate directions and being sure to cinch it around the two ends of bone we “wrapped up” the first coats of this field jacket. Hopefully we’ll be back on it tomorrow to add more plaster and strips and some wood to act as splints to strengthen and solidify the large field jacket.
We relaxed a bit and then cleaned up the site and our tools and covered the bones up with a tarp and tools and chairs and rocks to weigh it down. We enjoyed a last beverage up at the dig then started back to camp for a dinner meal for all. Tim elected to ride in the back of the truck for the trip back and said he throughly enjoyed the unobstructed views. We cleaned up once at the camper and all pitched in to help make dinner of steaks on the grill, salad and fresh potatoes fried with olive oil and fresh garlic. We don’t suffer much for good food while on digs. We shared a nice red wine with dinner then played some cards with David & Cassie. Not to tell tales but…. Cassie demurred when the four of us talked about playing euchre saying she wasn’t so good at it, would probably need some help, oh poor her! Poor her, right! She dealt the first hand and dealt herself a loner which she called and successfully played, getting her team four points! But she needed so much help, yeah right! The moral of the story is that the good guys did win out in the end; Tim and I were card partners and did capture two of the 3 games played, so basically he and I are the grand champions!
All to bed, David Cassie in their van converted to a fun mobile home for five weeks of travel from Cincinnati around the western US then back to Cincy and Tim and I each in our bunks in the camper.
Tim and I woke up early at Bruce’s ranch and agreed to go on a “short hike,” short said Steve, up to Parker’s Peak, from the guest house we stayed in. Doesn’t look that far or that high, but was both. We had a very good time hiking up to the peak. We climbed the south face, did the Hilary Leap, crawled up the devil’s backbone, climbed on the aluminum ladder over the giant crevasse, then reached the summit just before our oxygen ran out! Not really; we just had a nice walk and talk up to the peak. On the way up I spotted a large bleached white shed angler from an elk. I later asked Bruce if he’d like the antler or if I could keep it as a souvenir. He said I could have it as long as it didn’t have 7 or 8 points. It was a six point elk antler so it’s going home to the shop with me.
We cleaned up back at the guest house and said our goodbyes to Jennifer and Bruce. Then we divided to take the longer way north to camp on the ranch near Baker, MT; we drove through the center of the Black Hills of S Dakota. Tim had never been there before. Stopped for lunch in Custer, SD, then drove past the Crazy Horse Memorial being sculpted into the raw granite then on the see Mt. Rushmore. When we were almost there we came upon a little traffic backup. Many people were out of their cars and looking up in the high stone peaks near Rushmore and Tim noticed a guy sitting down on a tightrope spanning between to distant peaks! Pretty crazy, and we were guessing that no permit likely was sought nor granted? We looked on a Google but could find no mention of an arrest nor an authorized tightrope session at Mt. Rushmore. Just around the corner we pulled over at the spot where you can see Geo Washington in profile. Caught Tim in a contemplative mood thinking of his inner George.
Circled back around Mt. Rushmore to the north to head out of the Hills for Montana. A lot of gorgeous sights and high peaks throughout the Black Hills. We pressed on with no stops to get to the grocery store in Baker, MT before it closed for some food and ice on the way to camp. We made it and had a nice meal back in camp before turning in. It was a long and fun day.