Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fossil Quest!

Words: Greg
Photos: Trina and Greg

Fossil Quest!

Sunday was scheduled to be Color Sunday by whoever schedules such things. We, being more inclined to enjoy our mountain-escape-time with a slice of mutual solitude, turned tail and ran the other direction. So instead of wallowing through crowds of people visiting the local high mountain to see if the aspen leaves had turned yellow, we found a more quiet escape. Our escape location even had a few brightly glowing groves of aspen trees. But the main fun-quest was our search for fossils.

Science-y Moment: Upper portions of the cliff area we visited are made up of the uplifted layered sediments of the Green River Formation, laid down beneath intermountain lakes, science says, over a period of 6 million years, about 48 million years ago. "Each pair of layers is called a varve and represents one year. The sediments of the Green River Formation present a continuous record of six million years. The mean thickness of a varve here is 0.18 mm, with a minimum thickness of 0.014 mm and maximum of 9.8 mm." [source] The formation is well known for well preserved and detailed fossils that are found in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. In our area, most fossils are plants and insects. In other areas where the formation is exposed, diggers have found fossilized fish, birds, turtles, palms trees, shrimp and even bats.

This 6 million years about 48 million years ago has been measured with a fair degree of accuracy by, well, science, using at least two systems of measurement: astrochronology and radiometry. Both systems are in close agreement. (Though I'm sure they don't know if it all started on a Wednesday or not.) For those of you using a more crude tool of measurement, like say, the Bible, your results may vary -- er, by about 47,995,641 years -- to a convenient 2348 BC or (2348+2010= 4358, wait! Do I count the 0?) about 4359 years ago. About the time Noah was floating around in a boat with probably the better part of a million pairs of creatures, most of which were probably beetles, (Really! Over 300,000 species!) during a flood that covered the whole earth (somehow missing -- among other places -- Egypt, whose chronology continued throughout) and which layered up what now appears to be 6 million layers of mud interspersed with dead plants and animals, and also birds, for instance, of species which no longer exist these days, which is weird, since two -- male and female -- of every living bird were gathered into Noah's boat and if those kinds of birds were living they should have been in the boat and if they were in the boat it seems like we would have found them flying around somewhere in the time since, but we haven't, which I guess would mean that Noah's boat held creatures that have since disappeared (like maybe even dinosaurs) which means that there actually may have been several million (or more!) pairs of creatures onboard (along with the food they needed to eat) which would have made for a pretty interesting boat ride, and one I guess I'm glad to have missed, and not just because I probably would have gotten stuck in the compartment with skunks and saber-toothed tigers and mosquitoes.

But I digress.

The fossil areas Trina a I visited are well enough known. People more ambitious than us had dug out small areas and scattered rock slabs down the hillsides. We were mostly content to dig through their scraps, seeking small, overlooked fossils, or splitting open discarded slabs to find lots of nothing, and occasionally something interesting. We found a number of partial leaves, a few complete leaves, lots of plant stems and fragments, a few roly-poly-looking critters. And Trina kept finding insects or insect parts, including what looks like a dragonfly wing. Fun!

While we dug rocks, the dogs rousted about digging for gophers or watched ravens fly past dragging their shadows across the cliffs. We found that it was kind of addictive. It was rare that we'd find something, but common enough that we felt impelled to keep looking, even after we had enough to display on a shelf at home, trying further to find something "really cool". We burned through most of the afternoon before we decided we'd had enough.

Then we went for a bike ride on a nice gravel road, the dogs running, me still babying myself while my wrist continues to heal inside its cast. The light turned golden as we rode, and the air was sweet with the scent of autumn. We only stopped our bikes a couple times to look at yet another fossil site or two, and ended up riding back into the last rays of the day's sunshine. Yet another day well spent in pursuit of the Interesting.


  1. I sense a minor anti-bible agenda.

    And I agree completely--that thing is pulp!

    I've since turned my back on it and now look to the Book of Mormon for 'truth'. Y'all should check it out.



  2. Maybe not so much "anti-" as interested in seeing the right tool used for the right job.

    Hey! Speaking of "truth"... I heard 29 inch mountain bike wheels are weak, slow to accelerate, and don't corner well. ?