Back from the Field (Part 2)

This week I’m going to continue telling stories about my trip to Utah with the Burpee Museum, because it was so much fun it deserves 2 posts. Today I’m going to focus on the other part of field work: prospecting! I’ll also list some animals we saw, and share some photos.

First: prospecting. Prospecting is when we go to a new area that has exposed rocks of the right age to try and find fossils. We know where the rocks are because of geologic maps or satellite images. The process is very simple. We drive (or hike) to the area, and then we spend a couple of hours walking up and down the rocks looking for anything that might be bone.

Sometimes we’re lucky. Sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes we find bone, but it’s modern (like in the video) and so we put it back. For these hikes, it’s good to have a lot of water and a snack if you’re like me and get hungry often. It’s also good to take breaks every so often and take in the view, or build a cairn (balanced rock statue or stack) for funsies.

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If we had found something, we would use tools to see how big the fossil is. If it is small, we could take it out and wrap it in toilet paper. If it’s too big, we mark it and see if there’s time to pedestal and jacket it (like I showed last time). Prospecting is really fun because you never know if you’re going to find something while enjoying spectacular views.

Second: animals! We saw a bunch of animals on our trip. The first day we saw a herd of pronghorn antelope. I only managed to get a few blurry photos, so instead here is a nice one from the internet:


Pronghorn are the fastest mammal in the US because they had to outrun American Cheetahs before the cheetahs went extinct.

We saw a rattlesnake, which we decided to escort off the road so that it didn’t get run over.

At night we also saw kangaroo mice and bats. Couldn’t get any photos of them. Lastly, we had some visitors at basecamp – an 8-inch long centipede that we captured and took outside.

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And what was later identified as a sun spider or solifugid: a carnivorous arachnid that feeds on insects and other small things. Scary looking, but usually harmless to humans. It was also escorted outside.

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Lastly: Photos of rocks. We went to [Capitol Reef National Park] on our last day and saw beautiful exposures.

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It’s easy to forget that the planet can look like this when you live in the suburbs. I gained valuable field experience from this trip, and I will not soon forget the adventures I had in Utah. The best part is, you can participate, too! The Hanskville Burpee Dinosaur Quarry offers tours while the site is open and is always looking for volunteers to help dig. See [here] for details. Look for closer opportunities through local natural history museums or universities as well! It’s a big planet. Go out and explore!

Volví del Campo!

Ya volví de un viaje estupendo a la cantera de dinosaurios de Hanksville, Utah (USA). Esta excursión está dirigida por el Museo Burpee de Rockford, Illinois (USA), que es un espectacular museo regional de historia natural, conocido por sus colecciones de investigación de primer nivel y sus maravillosas exhibiciones. Hoy voy a hablar de las actividades diarias y de cómo encontramos y extraímos a los fósiles de las canteras.

Día a Día:

El día empezaba a las 8am con un desayuno delicioso preparado por el restaurante local, Blondies. Después, volvíamos al campamento base para buscar nuestros equipos y llenar las heladeritas con hielo, agua y los almuerzos. Ya listos, partíamos hacia la cantera. Era más o menos un viaje de 20 minutos, mayormente por un camino rural con exposiciones de rocas increíbles.

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Cuando llegábamos a la cantera, la temperatura ya estaba llegando a los 90°F (unos 32 grados Celsius). Trabajábamos hasta las 12:30 pm cuando tomábamos un descanso  para almorzar debajo de una gran carpa. Después trabajábamos hasta las 3:30 pm cuando se alcanzaba la máxima temperatura del día (la temperatura más alta que tuvimos fue de 104°F o sea 40 grados Celsius) y necesitábamos un descanso.

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Pueden ver la carpa azul detrás de los autos.

Luego continuábamos el trabajo hasta las 5 pm o 5:30 pm, empacábamos todo y nos volvíamos a la base para ducharnos, cenar, y realizar algunas de las actividades de la tarde. Unas de estas actividades fue ir a visitar un parque estatal, el Parque Estatal del Valle del Goblin. Otras veces esperábamos hasta que oscureciera y nos íbamos a ver las estrellas.

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El Parque Estatal del Valle del Goblin.

Extrayendo Fósiles

Extraer fósiles de la cantera es algo que no había hecho antes. Se usó una herramienta llamada ME-910, que es básicamente un martillo perforador en miniatura. Esta herramienta martilla la roca poco a poco así podés encontrar los huesos escondidos y sacar la roca de alrededor de ellos sin dañarlos.

Una vez que se encontró un fósil, sacamos la roca de alrededor de él, pero dejamos un pequeño pedestal de roca. Nunca queremos sacar toda la roca de alrededor del hueso porque el hueso se puede romper fácilmente. Dejándolo encajonado en la roca lo asegura hasta que llega a un museo para más preparación.

Después, el hueso de un dinosaurio (un hueso de la cola conocido como chevrón) esta listo para ser enyesado! A mí me encanta esta parte del trabajo porque es muy parecida a los proyectos de artes y manualidades. Primero, cubrimos el hueso con toallas de papel mojadas para protegerlo del yeso. Luego, ponemos una capa de papel de aluminio. Finalmente, usamos arpillera y yeso para cubrirlo.

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A la sobrecubierta de yeso le damos un número de campo y una descripción, y se mapea en la cantera así el administrador de colecciones puede saber exactamente de donde sacamos el hueso.

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Mapeando el fósil en la cantera.

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El yeso terminado con el número de campo.

La próxima vez les voy a hablar de cómo hacemos prospecciones (como encontramos los fósiles en nuevo lugares), de los animales que vimos en el campo, y voy a compartir con ustedes unas fotos de la maravillosa geología del lugar.

Back from the Field

I’m back from a wonderful trip to the Hanksville Dinosaur Quarry in Hanskville, Utah. This excursion is led by the Burpee Museum of Rockford, Illinois, a spectacular regional Natural History Museum known for its top notch research collections and amazing exhibits. I’ll talk about the day to day activities, and how we find and extract fossils in quarries.

Day to Day:

The day started at 8 am with a delicious breakfast prepared by the local restaurant, Blondies. We then headed back to basecamp to get all of our gear for the day, fill up the coolers with ice water and lunches, and head in to the quarry. It was about a 20-minute drive to get there, mostly on a county road with amazing rock exposures.


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By the time we got to the quarry, temperatures would be reaching the high 90s°F. We would work until around 12:30, and break for lunch under the break tent. We worked until around 3:30 when temperatures peaked (highest was about 104°F) and a break was needed.

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You can see the blue tent behind the cars.

Work continued until 5 or 5:30, then we packed up and headed to the base for showers, dinner, and an evening activity. Sometimes that was checking out a state park, like Goblin Valley State Park. Sometimes we’d wait until dark and go look at the stars.

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Goblin Valley State Park

Extracting Fossils

Extracting fossils from a quarry is not something I had done before. They used these tools called an ME-910, which is basically a mini-jackhammer. It hammers away the rock little by little so you can find hidden bone and safely remove the rock around it.

Once the fossil is found, we take away the rock around it, leaving it on a little pedestal of rock. We don’t ever want to completely remove the bone from the rock because the bone can easily break. Leaving it encased in rock keeps it stable until we can get it back to a museum for further preparation.

Next, the bone (a dinosaur chevron) is ready for plaster! I love this part because it’s like an arts and crafts project. First you cover the bone in wet paper towels to protect it from the plaster. Then it gets a layer of tin foil. Then we use burlap and plaster to cover it up.

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The plaster jacket gets a field number and label, and is mapped in the quarry so the collections manager can know exactly where in the rock that bone came from.

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Mapping the location of the bone.

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Finished jacket with field number.

Next time I’ll talk about how we prospect (look for fossils in new places), about the wildlife we saw, and I’ll share some photos of the amazing geology.