Monday, July 6, 2015

'Tis the season for digging Triassic beasts! Part 1

Today we set out for the badlands of New Mexico and had a rather productive first day.  It was a scenic drive and as you get further out, civilization begins to disappear in your rear view mirror.  On our way, we enjoyed a wonderful geology lesson via Dr. Axel and also fancied our new field vehicle!  Yup, you heard right, we now have a new truck.  Complete with air conditioning!  Our last truck was very old and has been put out to pasture.  I will miss that suburban.  She was a good ride and I will always have fond memories of her.
Our old truck.
The new Beast!
On our way into the field.
I was up at 5AM and waited to get picked up by the good doctor.  He was there right on the tick as always and soon we were on our way to the museum to load up.  There we would meet up with the others.  Loading up the trucks is the first important thing we need to do.  You definitely don't want to forget anything or you will be up a Triassic creek without a paddle!
Getting the lab ready the night before for when we return.
The first day in the field is usually comprised of uncovering the site and getting organized.  Sometimes you have specimens in the ground that could not be taken out during the last class or field season.  That being the case, these finds need to be tended to ASAP in order to get them out safe.  After a brief lecture, we set out around the site to secure any finds that were left behind.  Specimens left behind are wrapped in plaster casts or covered with tarps to keep them safe from the harsh elements of the desert.  Along with uncovering the finds, we all have the pleasure of unloading the equipment we will be using for the time we are at the site.
Tarp covering important specimens from last field class.
The first day is mostly about prepping the site, but just by prospecting around, you can see evidence of what this area once looked like.  Fish!  Yes, fish scales, fish parts, and lots of fish fossils liter the quarry floor.  They tend to look exploded, but overall they are very beautiful to look at.  They are a perfect fossil in which to gauge what the area must of been like during the Late Triassic.
Fish fossil.  Notice the beautiful scales.
At our locality, fossils we find are sometimes found on the surface.  Trace fossils are often seen in the area.  Gretchen, our museum director, found a gorgeous example.  A trace fossil is an imprint of a specimen.  Dinosaur tracks are good examples of trace fossils.  Plants, insects, and other types of organisms can leave fossilized imprints for us to find.  Below are a few examples of burrows found in the area.  These are trace fossils that have become very prevalent in recent field seasons.
Burrows from an overturned piece of mud stone.
Gorgeous piece found by Gretchen.
You can also find bone material out on the surface at times.  While unwrapping a site we call Bravo West, Gretchen our museum director found a small bone.  Finds that are found out and about are sometimes labeled as a "Float."  Float meaning we don't know for sure where the fossil might have come from.  A good example would be a couple of turtle shell pieces I found while prospecting about.  Way above our dig site is a formation from the Pleistocene. In seasons past, large turtle shells have been found at the base of the cliff side.  Now, where is the source of these pieces?  That is yet to be discovered!

Small bone found by Gretchen while uncovering Bravo West.
Turtle shell pieces that were transported down a steep hill.
Out in the field, you sometimes encounter wildlife.  While it is rare to spot something like a wild boar or mountain lion, little creatures scamper about.  I was lucky enough to get up, close, and personal with a Collard Lizard.  He was very calm as I approached him.  Probably doesn't get many Jersey Boys bothering him, so he let my presence slide.  No spiders thank the maker!  I am terrified of Tarantulas.  Hopefully I don't encounter any this field season.

I really enjoyed our first day in the field.  Always something new and exciting to learn. I had a productive first day and so did our team!  We have a great group this year as always and we all made fantastic discoveries.  All this on the first day!  Not far from where I am currently working, the previous field team uncovered a phytosaur mandible!  It will take some time to get out, but it looks sweet!  The first thing I uncovered was a tooth.  Right under it was a vertebrae.  These two items remain as it is pouring rain outside.  The weather outside is pretty nasty at the moment.  In all my years coming out here, I have never seen the weeds so high from all the rain.  Everything I found was located several centimeters below the quarry floor.  My best find of the day was a piece of a phytosaur skull!  A decent size too!  We shall see what tomorrow brings.  
Tooth I found.
Looking good, but not the smartest field gear to wear out in the desert. This was during the cool morning.
I mentioned yesterday that I would be posting live from the field.  Well, by live I mean whenever I get a chance ha ha.  As things progress, I will be limited on time, but I will post whenever I can from out here!  Until next time, have a great night everyone.
Fossil of a fresh water clam Dr. Axel found while examining my phytosaur skull.

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