Friday, February 17, 2012

Coming soon: Oregon coast road trip with Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll

Later today, my wife and I will depart on a four day road trip along the Oregon coastline. We were invited several months ago for this trip by the dynamic duo, shortly after meeting them in person back in October. Kirk and Ray are putting together a new book as a sequel to Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway. The new book project is titled "Cruisin' the Eternal Coastline: the best of the fossil west from Baja to Barrow". The new book will cover all sorts of paleontological sites along the west coast, including Alaskan dinosaurs, the La Brea tar pits, Californian marine reptiles, the John Day fossil beds, and due in part to the coastal focus of their new project – the extremely rich and diverse marine mammal assemblage from the west coast.Kirk Johnson and I checking out a slab of the Concretionary Bed of the Purisima Formation near Santa Cruz, California. Photo courtesy Ray Troll.

An articulated baleen whale vertebral column sits in a multiton block in the foreground, with Kirk and I looking for smaller fossils in the distance. Photo courtesy Ray Troll.

Here I've spotted a baleen whale skull to show Kirk - I first spotted this specimen in 2002, and it's still there. It's in a 400 lb block, so it is likely not going to go anywhere for a while unless some heavy machinery is involved. Photo courtesy Ray Troll.

One of the most notable series of fossil localities are exposures of various strata in the Newport Embayment (a geological basin), including the Alsea Formation, Yaquina Formation, Nye Mudstone, and Astoria Formation. The eccentric, extraordinarily gifted, and tragic figure Douglas R. Emlong amassed an incredible collection of marine mammal fossils from this area and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest during the 1960's and 1970's, prior to his premature death in 1980. One of the purposes of our trip is to visit several of Emlong's famed fossil localities as a pilgrimage of sorts, and pay homage to the great collector.

Douglas R. Emlong, with the partially prepared skull of USNM 215068, a male skull of the early walrus Proneotherium repenningi. Presumably this is during preparation in the Paleobiology Department at the Smithsonian Institution, during one of his visits to the east coast museum. From "The Ore Bin".

Previously, in October, I met up with Ray and Kirk when they were in California for a week. We took a day trip down to Santa Cruz where I showed them some fossil localities, and all in all had a rather nice day – although I didn't find a damn thing (thanks to there being little erosion over the prior 20 months). As it turns out, Ray and Kirk have increasingly been picking my brain for details on fossil marine mammals from the eastern North Pacific, and I am pleased and excited to help them with their project; most popular books on paleontology deal with dinosaurs, and very few have ever really touched the subject of marine mammals (Neptune's Ark by David Rains Wallace is an exception). Needless to say, I am very excited for their project to take off.

I found out that if the first fossil locality you go to is kind of ugly and has few fossils (but used to have a lot...), Ray Troll will make you pose with the crappiest fossil you find and a bunch of garbage he finds laying about. Included is a toothbrush, a cardboard mayan calendar, a random photo album (yes, we looked through it) and some other odds and ends; I'm pointing to a rather unassuming scrap of sea cow (Dusisiren jordani) bone. True story.


Doug said...

"It's in a 400 lb block, so it is likely not going to go anywhere for a while unless some heavy machinery is involved."- My cousin's horse is part Percheron, so maybe i can borrow him, lol! Seriously though, i'd take a whack at that thing.

But best of luck on your trip. I can't imagine how much of a treat that must be. And if they are interested in the fossils of the coast, remember to send them my way. I might even be able to take them out to a spot or two and look for stuff.

gack said...

I know that skull. I'd like some advice on working on similar rocks. I found a vert in a mere 60 lb chunk. It might as well be in cement it's so hard to work.

Robert Boessenecker said...

Yeah, those are a serious pain in the ass. A 60 pound concretion can take up to a month or more of preparation (~3-4 hours a day), in my experience. Generally, it requires a combination of hand tools or a small handheld jackhammer, a pneumatic airscribe, a microblaster, and acid bathing.

Nick said...

Hey good luck in Oregon. If you guys get over to Devil's Punch bowl I recall seeing alot of large whale material in creeks just south of there and interesting pinniped remains south of Beverly. Im sure you guys have some super secret spots that have all the good stuff. I'm hoping to make it out to the Oregon coast sometime this week. I cant wait to see your photos.

- Nick