Friday, June 26, 2009

Fieldwork Friday #8

The last week of May I returned to Nebraska to work with friends in the Oligocene White River Badlands of Shalimar Ranch (my fourth year in a row). As I have mentioned before, during the summer, the Geology Department at Augustana College (where I worked last year) offers a 3-credit course entitled "Fossil Mammals of the Badlands." This 2-week course travels to the White River Badlands of South Dakota and Nebraska to learn about the paleontology and geology of the area. The group camps on the ranch, outside of Harrison, Nebraska, and collects fossils on this privately owned land. This trip has become a tradition, with the first trip in 1982. Sadly, this may have been our last year. The ranch is now fore sale. If you know of anyone with a few extra million dollars you might tell them to look it up. It is a beautiful place.

White River Badlands on Shalimar Ranch

The weather was great when I arrived on the ranch! My first day in the field I had a chance to work with one of the students to remove a beautiful Oreodont skull and arm. This student, one of the geology department majors (we often have non geology majors on the trip) did the right thing. He found a skull and instead of trying to excavate it on his own, he came and found one of the instructors so we could show him how to properly excavate the specimen. I wish I had taken more pictures of the entire process, but here is a picture of the skull before we removed it.

Oreodont skull

I did not find too much this year. Many [fossil] turtles (tons of turtles in this area), occasional disarticulated mammal postcrania, and quite a few dentaries and isolated teeth (some pictures below of some of the random things I collected). The stuff I collected last year was pretty cool [picture].

The ranch has received a higher than usual amount of rain this past year and there were quite a few horney toads out and even a few frogs! Only one rattlesnake was spotted this year.

Horney toad!

Due to all the moisture there were some great mudcracks in the flats (see my new blog background). I got caught up in photographing them which was great when last week I had a chance to see a Jurassic example of curled mudcracks, very similar to what I saw in the field while on the ranch.

Unfortunately, after two full days in the field we got rained out. It rained more in Harrison in one day than it had in the past 9 years (according to the local bar talk). It soaked everything. Several of the students tents quickly became small swimming pools, and I located a new hole in my tent rainfly. And of course it was located directly above my sleeping bag (lucky for me I have a waterproof bag!). Some quick improvising led me to use a car window sun shade to deflect the drips until I could get home and buy a patch. What did I learn from this (and another large hole I found in the tent itself) - never loan your tent out.

During a brief stop in the rain

The rest of the trip was spent visiting the Black Hills, Agate Fossils Beds National Monument, and Fort Robinson State Park, generally dodging the rain. It was a great trip. I hope we get a chance to return to the ranch next year!

At the Trailside Museum at Fort Robinson State Park

At Agate Fossils Beds National Monument

© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster. Please see the "Field Work Friday Rules" about the work I do and collection practicies.


Tony Edger said...

Another great post in this series. Thanks. Hadn't realized that it isn't just the East Coast that's been inundated with rain (a mixed blessing since it does expose fossils).

Doug said...

Not much? You any idea how stoked i would have been to find that much? Anyway, good post. Nice picture of the mammoth. You didn't happen to get any of the dueling mammoths, by any chance?

If you think the badlands are cool, you should try Barstow.

ReBecca Foster said...

Thanks guys :)

I guess the rain can be a good thing. I just wish it would limit itself to Springs.

LOL Doug. I know. I am happy with what I found. It was just not like past years. May of the students found some good specimens. The minuet you collect for a new job/museum it seems harder to find things than before.

I did get some pictures of the dueling mammoths! Check out these pictures (towards the bottom):

I have not worked out by Barstow yet, but I have so friends who have. Sounds cool!

Doug said...

Cool photos. Barstow is pretty cool. But if you're not finding much, I know of a potential sea cow skeleton if you ever need a job.

ReBecca Foster said...

Thanks! I will keep that in mind. You never know ;)