Friday, February 3, 2012

Southern California Research Trip, Part 5: Highway 1 and 101

After leaving the Page Museum, we tried our best to get the heck out of Los Angeles. Don't get me wrong, I love fossils from the LA Basin... but I can do without the city. The San Francisco Bay Area is big enough for me, and generally unlike LA, all you need to do in order to find yourself outside of a city setting is drive in nearly any direction away from San Francisco and within 30 minutes you can find yourself in redwood forests, beautiful (and often sparsely inhabited) beaches, oak woodland, or green rolling hills. In LA, that same endeavor could easily take a couple of hours. And as we found out trying to head up towards Malibu from Santa Monica - LA can try its damndest to keep you from leaving, and have you sitting in traffic sucking down someone's exhaust fumes. On the other hand, driving through Malibu was an absolute treat, and that part of the coastline was fairly spectacular - very unlike what the coast looks like central and Northern CA, which has coyote brush, and abundant pampas grass and monterey cypress (and apparently, I've just found out that monterey cypress grows abundantly in New Zealand); the coast along Malibu is instead barren and desert like, much what I would expect the coast of Baja California to look like.

Eventually we reached Santa Barbara, and went to visit the small and quaint Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History; historically speaking, there are two important vertebrate fossil specimens at the SBMNH: the holotype of the early Late Miocene walrus Imagotaria downsi, and the holotype of the gigantic bony toothed bird Pelagornis orri (originally Osteodontornis orri, and also from the same stratigraphic unit - the Sisquoc Formation - as Imagotaria). Previously, at the LACM, Morgan and I had examined casts of the Imagotaria downsi holotype, which I assume is back at the SBMNH collections. After our visit, we stayed the night in the quaint and adorably bizarre Danish-themed hamlet of Solvang, California (did you get the double entendre?). From there, we spent another day up the coast driving through Big Sur, concluding the trip (meaning I had to get back to work).
A rescued Peregrine Falcon at the SDMNH, displayed by someone more concerned with his next break than educating people.
A modern whale vertebra at the SBMNH, damaged from collision with a ship.

A pygmy mammoth (Mammuthus exilis) skeleton from Santa Rosa Island, on display at the SBMNH.

An unpublished and unstudied physeteroid sperm whale whale skull with a really weirdly done reconstruction of the rostrum and facial region. The reconstruction was evidently done by someone unfamiliar with sperm whale cranial anatomy, and a long time ago, at that.

The holotype specimen of Pelagornis orri; both the slab and counterslab are on display.

Above the slab and counterslab, a painted life size reconstruction of Pelagornis orri hangs on the wall, giving visitors an idea of how absurdly large these birds were. And Pelagornis orri is one of the smaller species of pelagornithids; the specimen that Adam Smith and I published would have been even larger, closer to the size of Pelagornis chilensis.

A mounted skeleton of a blue whale; this is one of the better mounts I've seen, and the jaws are (almost) in correct articulation - the mandibular condyle is still a bit far from the squamosal, although the jaws are rotated correctly.
My wife doing her jonah impression.

My wife begged me to go to Ostrich Land when she read about it in the information binder in our hotel in Solvang.

These signs didn't help any feelings of apprehension about our decision.

They pecked at the food bowls really, really hard! As you can see here, it was pretty intimidating.

Morro Rock, at Morry Bay, California: this is a huge, ~600' tall Cenozoic volcanic plug (that's right, Oregon coast: over twice the height of Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach) that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. It's basically a huge tombolo.Elephant Seals at an overlook near San Simeon, California. A bull can be seen hauling out in the center of the photograph.
An neat bridge near the southern end of Big Sur.

The famous waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur. The timing
worked out perfectly to watch the sun go down here, but unfortunately that
meant the rest of the drive was in the dark.

1 comment:

circuitmouse said...

Originally, there was substantially more mass (and height) to Morro Rock, but it was quarried extensively for building material from the end of the 18th through the early part of the 20th century.

Enjoyed your post --there's a great deal more to discover on your next trips down the California coast!