Monday, October 5, 2009

North Dakota dinosaur Dig: Part 3

Posted by Kirk
(Be sure to read part 1 and Part 2 first)

Tuesday night we heard a rumble in the air. No, it wasn't one of the two nightly coal trains that sped through town about 50 feet from my window, it was a storm. I was dreading rain as it was completely out of our control and would bring all fossil hunting to a screeching halt. This is perhaps a good point to put in a picture of the "roads" we traveled on to get to the sites. These are not roads, they are two-track ranch trails through the Little Missouri National Grasslands and private ranches. Rain is not a good thing for two tracks as it makes them impassable mud pits.

Even at their best, these two tracks are a crazy ride. Both tracks don't have to be at the same height. The kids said it was more fun than an amusement park. It was a lot of fun to drive and it felt a lot wilder than it really was. We paused to take this photo on what was a pretty typical slope. From inside the van it felt like this was an extreme 45 degree angle and we were going to flip the thing. In reality it was probably only about 18 degrees.

It doesn't look that bad you say? Okay, okay, you'll have to check out the video. This was not for people who get carsick! I wonder if this was against our rental agreement? We were listening to They Might Be Giants in the van so that's what you'll hear in the background if you have the volume up.

These were active ranch lands so we often shared the "road" with cattle. They usually got out of the way but the view to the left was pretty common. We often had to get out and open and close gates as we drove along. The rain actually stopped by Wednesday morning but the roads would still be muddy.

Since the back country was impassable, we headed into Montana to the little town of Ekalaka where locals drove by again and again to look at the strangers. I'm glad we could entertain them. Ekalaka is home to the Carter County Museum which has a nice small fossil collection including a large hadrosaur, a copy of the skull of Peck's Rex (pictured to the left), and a triceratops skull. There were other nice small paleo items as well.

Being the county museum it also featured historical items. My brother would have appreciated the two headed calf. Now that's history we can all ogle at and appreciate. Here's a picture for you Erik.

We ate lunch at the historic and sacred native site the Medicine Rocks which locals have taken care of for the tribes by carving their names, two feet high, into the soft sacred stone. Way to go Montana. It was pretty disgusting not to mention horribly insulting. I consider all religion pretty silly but I still don't think it is okay to desecrate someone's holy site by carving your name into it. It would be like going into a catholic church and carving "Class of 95 RULZ!!!" into Jesus's chest over the altar. I found the place kind of depressing.

We finished up Wednesday in town by casting some plastic resin replicas of dinosaur teeth and claws. In the photo, I am showing kids how to add a little natural grit to their replica t-rex tooth to give it that fresh-out-of-the-ground look. Thanks to Doug for letting us work out of his garage as a temporary lab! We learned how to make the molds with real fossils and then how to cast as well. It was a really nice hands-on lesson for the kids in how to do actual lab work albeit in a pretty informal setting. I have lots of other great photos from Wednesday but since they all show the kids faces really clearly I don't think I can use them here.

Thanks for reading, come back tomorrow for part 4.