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BentonlWalters

I’ve decided to take a break from dissertation writing and write up something else instead, one of the greatest fossil hunts I’ve been on, my trip to the Burgess Shale. Its been a little while since I got to go but here is the story as I remember it.

 

I’ll write this up in a few parts since I took a lot of pictures and I’m going through and editing them as I go.

 

Part 1: Going on an Adventure

 

A little bit of background to start off. When I was younger (around 12 I think) I got the opportunity to go to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. Of all of the displays my favourite was a small board under glass with a half a dozen  or so small dark slabs of shale, the museums display of the fossils of the Burgess Shale. I can’t remember if there actually was a Pikaia on display but I distinctly remember the Pikaia and when it came time to exit through the gift shop I went the book which had the closest looking thing on the cover. That book, needless to say, was Stephan Jay Gould’s ‘Wonderful Life’, a book which was admittedly a little above my reading level at the time but one that I was enthralled with nonetheless. I knew that one day I had to go see where they came from for myself.

 

Fast forward to five years ago now, I had finished high school a few months previously and was one week away from starting university. For my graduation present I had been given tickets for a guided tour, my father and I were going, I was going to get to see the Walcott Quarry in the Burgess Shale. The whole trip was going to take three days, my father’s car (a beaten up red Ford Windstar which we weren’t sure was going to survive the trip) was packed was packed with tents, a small amount of other camping gear, my trusty blue backpack, and the requisite 5lb bag of trail mix and we set off on our way since the driving would take the better part of the first day. The folks at the border were a little suspicious when we told them we were going to Banff for only two days but after a half an hour or so of checking over the car we were allowed on our way again into Canada.

After a few hours we started to get into the Rockies. Growing up in western Washington I’m used to big mountains but while the Cascades were large these were different. I took a  few pictures out the car window, the sharp treeless peaks of some almost looked a little like teeth.

 

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After a long day’s drive we reached our campsite, just a few miles away from the parking lot where the tour would start the next day and set up camp. The next morning we were up with the sun. Our tour group consisted of about 8 of us in total, my father and I and a handful of others, mostly retired petroleum geologists. Just a few minutes up the trail and the scenery was already breath-taking with a waterfall thundering over the nearby rock face.

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Soon we had properly left civilisation behind and after about an hour or so of hiking, stopped at the edge of a crystal clear glacial melt water lake where the ranger went over a little about geologic time, using the ever popular calendar analogy (that humans have been around only for a few hours on the last day of the year compared to the age of the rocks we were going to see).

 

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The hiking became tougher as the incline increased, through the forest. I’d been on a fair number of hikes during my many years with scouts but I was definitely out of practice compared with the rest of the group, mostly septuagenarians,  who seemed to make it up the trail like they were part mountain goat. After another little while there was a sign on the side of the trail and even though the surrounding mountains were shaded by the trees I knew we were getting closer.

 

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We stopped briefly to go over the regulations of the area, there is of course no civilian collecting in the Burgess Shale. The ranger also explained how rare the soft bodied preservation present was and passed around a map dotted with the locations of all the spots on the globe with Burgess Shale type preservation. I quickly took a picture in case I was ever nearby another one before we started on our way again.

 

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Continued in Part 2 . . .

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BentonlWalters

Part 2: Getting There

 

The hiking continued, pausing only briefly to put rain jackets on against a sprinkling of rain that made it through the trees. Before long we cleared the tree line and the trail, now little more than a narrow goat path wound along through fallen stones along the edge of the slope. With the trees behind, the landscape opened up to a grand vista of jagged rocky slopes, glacial lakes and alluvial fans.

 

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From this point I could finally see the first hallmarks of what made the site we were headed to so special, the slope we were walking across resembled finely bedded layers. The closer to the quarry we got the more interesting the stones became. Some were the dark shale I knew the Burgess Shale creatures from, but others were orange, and it made the rocks look almost tiger striped in places.

 

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Finally, after hours of hiking the path began to curve upward, we had reached the slope below the quarry. But before we could even make it to the quarry something caught my eye: the first Cambrian fossil, a section of trilobite poking out from within the layers of the orange rock. I excitedly showed it to the rest of the group before carrying on upward and into the quarry at last.

 

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Alas I don’t know what species this little bug is, and these are the best pictures I have of it but it still remains one of the coolest things that I have found. For the first time since that trip to Washington DC I was seeing a Cambrian creature, and this time it wasn’t under that horrible reflective sheet of plexiglass! If anyone has a guess as to what type of trilobite it is I’d be thrilled to know, and now that all of the build up is out of the way there are many more amazing fossils in Part 3: the Walcott Quarry.

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Beautiful report! The scenery and the history of that location create such a perfect experience. 

I know some people who worked the Burgess as researchers, and it was said that just about every split had a trilobite in it. :default_faint:

Looking forward to the Walcott Quarry writeup! They used to find Walcott's broken tools. 

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A man after my own heart--a detailed story with lots of great photos. ;)

 

Visiting the Burgess Shale has been on my fossil bucket list for years. I'd love to go on a guided tour to this fossil mecca. BTW: Your "tiger striped rocks" are likely examples of the ancient Banded Iron Formation (BIF) which are a "trace fossil" of sorts showing evidence of the first photosynthesis and the oxygenation of our planet back in the Paleoproterozoic era some 2.4 Ga ago.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banded_iron_formation

 

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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BentonlWalters

Part 3: The Walcott Quarry

 

The quarry itself was a shelf, twenty-five or so metres long, cut into the side of the slope to reveal thinly layered deep grey stone. There were two or three people already on site, if I remember correctly, conducting research on the stratigraphy. At least they said they weren’t collecting the fossils. They pointed out one particular stone which was completely unlike the others, a massive conglomerate, likely the result of one of the mud flows which buried the fauna.

 

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This was all very interesting, but after several hours of hiking I was determined to do what I’d been dreaming of for years, to find something, and we were allowed to look through the loose stone so long as all of it was left when we departed. I immediately began scampering about turning over rocks left and right. Even the rain, which had begun in earnest now, wasn’t going to stop me. I took a picture of everything that I found, many of the photos aren’t very good as the stone was wet and I was using an Iphone 3 but here they all are. I’ve arranged them roughly into groups based on type, first off trilobites.

 

These were easily the most numerous thing that I found, both positive and negative impressions. Alas I’m not very good with trilo-bit identification, if anyone has a guess please let me know.

 

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And the best trilobite I found, complete and articulated

 

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In order to fit in all the pictures I'll split Part 3 up into a couple of posts so stand by for more.

 

 

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BentonlWalters

Next most numerous is something I can identify, Vauxia gracilenta a species of sponge, the last one of these is probably my favourite find of the trip.

 

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BentonlWalters

 

And lastly a group of things that I’m unsure of the nature of:

 

-          Part of a sponge, possibly Vauxia but its exterior looked more rough

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-          Possible worms or traces, the second might be Ottoia?

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BentonlWalters

 . . . and it doesn't want to let me put in any more pictures. Looks like I need to make a 'The Burgess Shale Continued' thread in order to finish the story. 

 

Thank you all for bearing with me, I hope you enjoy all the pictures.

Benton 

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Just now, BentonlWalters said:

 . . . and it doesn't want to let me put in any more pictures. Looks like I need to make a 'The Burgess Shale Continued' thread in order to finish the story. 

 

Thank you all for bearing with me, I hope you enjoy all the pictures.

Benton 

Just refresh your browser and try again. :) The 3.95 mb limit is per post. 

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BentonlWalters

And we're back again, Many thanks to @Kane for telling me how to sort out the problem. Here's the last few unknowns and the end of the story. 

 

-          Parts of some sort of creature, the first might be part of a trilobite but I’m not sure

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While I was busy hunting for an elusive Pikaia, several trays of fossils found previously were taken out from a bear box stored on site to show us up close some of the fauna found in the Burgess Shale. The best part was I got to hold a few examine them up close, far closer than I could ever get in the museum.

 

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-          The feeding appendage and mouth ring of an Anomalocaris canadensis

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-          The iconic Marrella splendens

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Alas, after what seemed like no time at all, and before I’d found the Pikaia it was time to begin the long hike back, we made it back to the parking lot an hour or so before sundown, and exhausted, legs not wanting to move made our way to the closest restaurant for celebratory burgers and poutine before heading back to camp. It poured down rain that night and the tents went back into the car still drenched the next morning, everything was damp, but the trip was a resounding success. Ever since, whenever I travel I make sure too check the local museum to see if they have any more from the Burgess Shale.

 

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I hove you've all enjoyed my story, last but not least, here's a few pictures of me at the quarry courtesy of my father. 

 

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Thank you all for reading,

Benton

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18 minutes ago, BentonlWalters said:

Alas, after what seemed like no time at all, and before I’d found the Pikaia it was time to begin the long hike back

It was an admirable effort but since Pikaia gracilens makes up 0.03% of the fossil community it would have been amazing luck to have found one that the others had missed in the pile of loose rocks.

 

Looks like the rain and the wet rocks made some specimens easier to discern. If I were you I'd have this framed and hanging somewhere that I'd walk by often. ;)

21 minutes ago, BentonlWalters said:

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Cheers.

 

-Ken

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Fantastic views and atmosphere

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The Amateur Paleontologist

Beautiful report, with some really nice pics and details :D

I've always loved the Burgess Shale - thanks for this wonderful tour!

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TOM BUCKLEY

Benton,

Thank you so much for the wonderful narrative and photos. Really inspiring.

 

Tom

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Excellent report and photos i really enjoyed it, thank-you for sharing the experience of your trip.

 

John

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Fossildude19

What they all said. :) 

Thanks for the wonderful report and pictures. 

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deutscheben

Thank you for taking us along on this incredible experience. Just the scenery alone is jaw-dropping, and then you add the history and prehistory of the site and it becomes something beyond special. 

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What an amazing story, Benton - thanks so much for sharing it with us!!!  Hopefully I can make it out west sometime to take on such an adventure :fingerscrossed:

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FossilNerd

I doubt I will ever make it up to see the Burgess Shale, but with your wonderful pictures and report, I almost feel like I have been there already. Thanks for sharing! :) 

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Some awesome finds and absolutely beautiful scenery! Great trip report.

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bcfossilcollector

Awesome!  Thank you for the excellent account and photos. Fascinating. 

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Bobby Rico

Fantastic story, you are very lucky to experience this location. Thank you for taking us with you . It was really cool to see the landscape of and around Burgess Shale. A place of incredible interest to the understanding of the beings of life.

 

all the best Bobby 

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Beautiful trip report! Wonderful location. :envy:

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dinosaur man

Wow!  Amazing trip!  Hopefully one day I can go there, last time I was in the area I didn’t have enough time to do it, i stayed not to far from where the Burgess Shale and Field BC was, as I stayed in Golden BC.

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What everybody else already said! Can't add much more to that except to say thanks.

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