Citizen Science at Badlands National Park

Steve & I spent 5 days at Badlands National Park in South Dakota last week. One of the highlights of our adventure was finding what I think is a fossilized bone. This post is my way of reporting that find to a Physical Science Technician in Paleontology at the park. I don’t have a GPS device to help him locate the find, so I’m walking him (and any other readers) to it through this blog post. If you happen to visit the park and find this bone (or any others), please leave it undisturbed. It is essential to have it in its original place in the sedimentary layers of rock in order to determine vital information. 

I initially spotted and photographed the bone on September 22 and filled out the reporting form at the Visitor’s Center. The next day, I returned to take additional photos to help lead the paleontology team to its location.  I just got home last night, and can now download my photos to this blog and share them.

The crosswalk over Hwy 240 at the Visitors Center leads to a creek wash that starts at a lone cottonwood tree and goes west toward the rocky ridge. There is a separate rocky hill to the right of that wash. Follow the wash beyond that hill as it curves to the left.  The peak with the squared-off top is a primary landmark. The fossil I saw is in the face of a hill to the left of that peak. Click on the first photo of this gallery to see the series in a slideshow. 

I was absolutely thrilled and humbled to discover this little white tubular thing. I hope it’s a genuine fossil. Even if it’s not anything significant to science, the invitation to observe and participate in sharing this observation is significant to me.

I am a huge fan of the National Parks and happy to purchase an Annual Pass in support of America’s Best Idea. I hope that future generations continue to value, respect, and protect these places that show the unique and autonomous nature of the Earth.

*** Update 10/4/2018***
From a letter from the Paleontologist at the Park:

“That is a humerus or upper arm bone (the bone that articulates with the scapula in the shoulder).  It looks to be in relatively complete condition, albeit weathered and fractured.  It also looks like there may be additional fragments of bone eroding on that slope.  Unfortunately, I can’t see enough of them to make any interpretations on what they might be.

Based on the size of the humerus and it’s general shape, however, I would make an educated guess that it probably came from an oreodont (of the family Merycoidodontidae).  As you may be aware from your visit, oreodonts are the most common, abundant, and widespread mammal found in the fossil record here at Badlands.  From 36 to 27 million years ago (during the Eocene and Oligocene Epochs), they were an exceptionally prosperous group of herbivores that dotted the landscape, probably living together in large herds.  They would have been a key prey item for many carnivores, such as dogs and the ancestral cat-like lineage called nimravids (family Nimravidae).  As a group within the animal kingdom, the last known oreodonts finally disappeared from the planet during the Pliocene Epoch some 4 to 5 million years ago.”

So very cool! *smiles*

 

 

An American Adventure: Part Thirteen

Geography 101 with Ranger Erin

Dinosaur National Monument is probably the coolest thing in America for dinophiles. I don’t mean because of the kitschy colored brontosauruses advertising every roadside establishment within 100 miles. I mean because it has 1,500 actual fossilized dinosaur bones on display, still embedded in the rock quarry where they were found. For real!

Driving up to the park entrance, you can see right away that these rock formations are unusual. They look so much older and seem to be at an odd angle compared to the surrounding mountains. If I were simply scanning the landscape for a dinosaur bone, I might pick this spot just because it looks…likely. It turns out there’s a good reason to look here. The deep layers of  rock stick up at a 70 degree angle, giving a vertical look at hundreds of millions of years of history.

Picking a particular age is like selecting a product in a grocery aisle, according to Ranger Erin. And how did these layers become exposed like this? Ranger Erin demonstrated with a thick catalog of pages, striped horizontally on the edge. Pressure from the movement of the Rocky Mountains in the east and the Uinta Mountains in the west squeezed this section of Earth’s crust up into a kind of bell curve shape. Then the top was sliced off over time by the Green River. This provides unique access to layer upon layer of fossil history. It’s called the Morrison Formation.

In 1909, Andrew Carnegie hired Earl Douglass to hunt for a dinosaur skeleton for his museum. Douglass (who was really into mammal fossils) went out to the Morrison Formation and found 8 tailbones of what came to be known as Apatasaurus louisae (named after Carnegie’s wife).

“This discovery was the beginning of a dinosaur quarry that achieved worldwide fame. In 1915, Dinosaur National Monument was established to protect and conserve that dinosaur quarry.” 

Ranger

 Erin called it a “dinosaur logjam”. I call it breathtaking. 

There is so much here to learn, so much to imagine, so much to study. This one slice of Earth is fascinating, ancient, and full of stories yet to be discovered. I had to wonder at all the young children running through the exhibit. How much do they comprehend about dinosaurs? What is popularity of dinosaurs about, really, to them? How might their visit to Dinosaur National Monument inspire them?  

 

Advent Day #16 – Sleep

Reblogging my list of free gifts from the Universe:

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
~D.H. Lawrence

Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep!  It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.  It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even.  ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605

All men whilst they are awake are in one common world:  but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own.  ~Plutarch

I imagine that sleep is a gift for all, but some may disagree.  They might attribute sleep to the just, the innocent and the carefree and argue that it is refused to many who would try to attain it.  I propose, then, that it is meant for all, for health, rest, and restoration.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, “New evidence shows that sleep is essential to helping maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. It also plays a pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. In fact, studies show a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.”  Two of my family members were diagnosed with sleep apnea, one with the addition of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder.  For each of them, a CPAP machine was prescribed.  That’s a Constant Positive Air Pressure mask which blows air into their nose and mouth all night long to keep their airways open.  How anyone could sleep with that thing on is a mystery to me.

The CPAP seems like a very scientific approach to something that may be more of a spiritual process.  Sleep, relaxation, the natural cycle of repair and regeneration can be picked apart and studied, but will chasing it down and corralling its components help us to enter into its presence?  If we approach it calmly and reverently, will we be more likely to be invited into its sanctuary?  It seems like such a gentle grace, a benevolent angel of mercy.  I’d be afraid to scare it off.

Many people contend with sleep.  I do a bit.  I gave up my super-comfy, air-controlled, king-sized bed to my daughter, and now I sleep on a futon mattress with a sleeping bag and a suede comforter tucked under the sheet to make it a bit more yielding.  It’s not really the same, but I could do worse.  I’ve always been a light sleeper, a result of having 4 children, but I’ve always gone to bed pretty early.  I’m not good at sleeping late, and I do enjoy napping.  Sleep is not elusive for me, simply delicious.  And I dream.

I was thinking this morning that I live in two alternate universes, something like Plutarch mentions in the quote above.  In the world of my sleeping dreams, my dead husband keeps popping up.  He very calmly occupies a place beside me, and eventually in the course of the dream, I will mention that he’s supposed to be dead.  Last night, he was driving when I mentioned it, and then suggested that I take the wheel.  I have the feeling that he’s supposed to vanish when I say that word, but he didn’t.   He just slid into the passenger side and kept talking.  This is my brain working on “what’s right” and “what’s real” about death.  I still don’t have it figured out.  I have a lot of anxiety dreams that also have to do with this preoccupation of mine about “doing things right”.  Performance anxiety is a big theme.  I’m often onstage, backstage, in front of a classroom, or trying to get to a class.  When I was married to Jim, the worst nightmares I had were about the two of us being angry or false with each other.  I feared anything that would threaten our togetherness, and it was manifested in some social context.  I never had a big monster carrying me off or something adventurous like that.  I suppose you could call that a “girlie” nightmare.  My son has huge, plot-driven adventures in his dreams.  He’s got to fight, to battle and overcome in his dreams.  I just get upset and wake up.

I did have a nightmare two nights ago.  I had indigestion when I went to sleep, and I dreamed a horrible dream that ended in watching someone eat their own limbs.  “Someone” in that weird way where you are everyone in your dream.  So I was eating myself.  It was unsettling for my brain.  My stomach was already unsettled.  Peculiar how the sleeping mind works.  I do have a favorite phrase to throw in when someone is describing a dream.  The disjointed narrative goes on and on, and then I interject, “Oh, I know that dream!  Yeah, that all happens, and the next thing you know, the pope comes in with a tray of enchiladas and…”   Yup.  Absurdity.  It’s pretty entertaining, really, this alternate universe.

I feel lucky to be able to sleep when I am tired, to dream when I am perplexed, to regenerate every night and wake to a new day each morning.  Wagner describes it musically when Brunhilde wakes to Siegfried’s kiss.  Listening to it is like going through the resurrection, weeping tears of joy and wonder.  Once again, music gives voice to life’s mysteries.

Well, the sun is shining through the west window making puddles of warmth on my bed.  Think I’ll take a catnap.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

Complexity.  Wow.  There’s an important concept that we’ve invented to describe our Universe.  It’s based in observation and experience.  We can feel that our world is complex and give myriad examples.  And we often have a reaction to that complexity.  Awe.  Anxiety.  Does simplifying make you feel more comfortable….or uncomfortable?  Does digging deeper or looking wider make you feel more anxious or less?  Does acknowledging the limitations of your grasp bother you or free you? 

I actually feel both.  I like to be in control, and I like to be reminded that I’m not in control.  I often set out to “fix things” and then realize that they don’t need to be fixed, and so I let them be.  “How does it work?  Oh, never mind.  It’s amazing.”  I have seen a few David Copperfield shows, and I laugh at my reaction.  I’m not content to be entertained; I want to figure out how he creates those illusions!  And then I give up and admit I’m amazed.  Visual aides of this complexity concept are always engaging to me because of that dynamic.  Here are a few examples: my photo and a link.  First, the photo…

cone headNow, the link.  This is a Science Project created by two 9th-graders, and it is absolutely outstanding!  I may have posted it before, but I don’t hesitate to do it again.  Enjoy The Scale of the Universe 2! 

When 900 years old you are…

…look this good you will not!!

yoda selfieStar Wars Day at Discovery World museum is this Saturday.  I’m the OLDEST female guest service team member; most of my colleagues weren’t even alive when the first movie came out!   Yoda is going to be my alter-ego for the day.  I’m old, wise, and I know what an introductory adverbial clause is! 

Things I Learned on Mother’s Knee (or some other joint)

Steve’s mom had knee replacement surgery yesterday.  He called his sister after work to see how the procedure went (all well), and then asked, “So, did you get the old knee?”  She laughed, of course, but I was thinking it would be a great addition to our museum cupboard in the dining room.  Then Steve asked if it was legal to keep human bones.  Huh?  Hmmm.   I’ve discovered that there are no federal laws prohibiting the ownership or sale of human bones.  Prior to 1987, most bones were imported from India, and until 2008, China also exported human bones.  No more.  There are some state laws restricting the import and export of human remains across state lines, and Native American material is very much protected under the Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.   So we have a right to bear arms and bare bones.

She had her hip replaced a few years ago.   I wonder what they did with that?

The Museum

And It’s Still a Mystery!

Yesterday’s post featured some views of Aztalan State Park in Wisconsin.  You can read about it in the Wikipedia article here.  The pillars formed a stockade that enclosed an open area that contains a few pyramid-shaped, flat-topped mounds.  Excavations have produced some burial remains, but re-constructing the way of life of these Mississippian people is still largely guesswork.  It didn’t help that the area was sold for farming and plowed in 1838 after its initial discovery and survey.  In 1941, the stockade was re-constructed from post holes that were excavated, but there were gaps…were there always gaps?  No one knows, for sure.  So all of you who guessed that the area may have been used for keeping animals in or animals out or for fortification or for rituals or for farming…you may all be absolutely correct!  And you may all be incorrect.  Pre-history is great for people who like open-ended answers.  It’s humbling to those of us who tend toward perfectionism.  We can’t ever really know The Truth, but we can observe and imagine and learn about ourselves by the stories we tell about the world.  Change is all around us.  Our experience seems to be the truest thing…until the next experience comes along.   Maybe a good way to look at all of life is with a wink and a smile!