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In the summer of 2020 jpc and I had planned to get together in Eastern Wyoming to collect. That trip was unfortunately aborted by the coronavirus outbreak that year. This year, that conversation resumed and a new plan for a three day excursion in June emerged. I decided to make it a two week long car trip, driving all the way from New York, a longer car trip than any I've made in the past 25 years. That would afford me the opportunity to stop at some other sites on the way there and back, plus see some family. Another big reason for driving was an opportunity to visit and collect at the Big Cedar Ridge Cretaceous plant site. Having the car would afford me the opportunity to bring the necessary tools and be able to transport the fragile specimens safely. The rising price of gasoline certainly had an impact, and my plan was to cut costs as much as possible wherever I could. Part of that plan was camping 10 nights


I departed the suburbs of New York City on Saturday, June 11th. That evening I arrived at Sturgis, MI, just off interstate 80. Spent the night in a motel and headed off the next day, driving through the heart of Chicago enshrouded in mist. It was my very first time driving through that city. I headed north and in the middle of the day arrived at my cousin's place in Madison, WI. He had moved there from Manhattan five years ago to teach music at the University of Wisconsin. This was my first time visiting him there, my first time in Wisconsin, actually. He took me on a lovely tour of the school and the town. 


I spent the night and was on my way again just before noon the next day. It rained off and on as I drove through Western Wisconsin and crossed the Mississippi into Dubuque, Iowa. From there it was a short drive to my first fossil stop- at Graf. This Upper Ordovician site in Maquoketa Formation is famous for its nautiloid death assemblage. I have found quite a few nautiloids over the course of my collecting career, but I've never encountered a site where they are thoroughly dominant. There was a layer of limestone, a few feet thick that was in many places just packed with their shells. 








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Here are a few loose specimens of nautiloid orthocones I picked up. The box size is 5 by 7 inches. The dominant species here is Isotheras sociale, in fact all of these might be that. 


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I also picked up a number of pieces of matrix that are packed with shells. That often wasn't easy given the matrix was often very hard or crumbly. Still, I managed to get some decent pieces. This is one I prepped: 


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While digging out chunks of matrix I encountered the imprint of a much larger nautiloid. Then I spotted it lying below me. I picked it up, admiring it. A few minutes later I noticed there was more of it in the rock and so spent the next twenty minutes digging it out. Finally, I was able to release it and the two pieces fit snuggly together. I glued them once I returned home. It is about five inches long. I haven't been able to ID this one yet. 


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I spent the night camping at George Wyth Memorial State Park located on the Cedar River between Waterloo and Cedar Falls. This is a view from my campsite:


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The next morning I was up early and after breakfast and breaking camp, I took the relatively short drive up to Rockford Fossil & Prairie Park, a place that like Graf has been on bucket list for quite some time. It is an exposure Lime Creek Formation, Cerro Gordo Member, of the Upper Devonian Hackberry Group in an abandoned brick quarry. We have Upper Devonian marine sites in New York and PA., but the conditions were not as favorable as they are here. The abundance of fossils is awesome and the completeness and preservation is especially noteworthy. Brachiopods are the primary fossils, but there were also gastropods, rugose corals, small crinoid stems and bryozoans. This is definitely a place where Adam should visit if he ever makes it to the U.S.




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The conditions were very challenging. The temperature was a 100 degrees and there was a stiff and relentless wind blowing most of the day. I actually lost a few specimens that were blown out of my hand. Despite the conditions I was able to pick up dozens of specimens. Most were very tiny, the biggest, just under an inch and a half. Half to three quarters of an inch in length was more typical. The fossils were mostly lying loose. In a few cases I used a screwdriver to pry some from the clay they were embedded in. 












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Some representatives of my finds there:

1.) Pseudoatrypa devoniana- a species I have found in New York's Middle Devonian. The rest were new for my collection 

2.) Cyrtina iowensis- very tiny- less than half an inch across.

3.) Spirifer whitneyi- the most brachiopod I found.

4.) Spirifer whitneyi productus- the only specimen of this subspecies I found.

5.) Sulcatostrophia camarata- these were very tiny- less than a half inch across

6.) Spinatrypa rockfordensis

7.) Spirifer hungerfordi

8.) Cyrtospirifer whitneyi- the one on the left was the largest brachiopod I found.

9.) Platyrachella macbridei

10.) Cranaenella navicella

11.) Rugose corals- Homalophyllum- the biggest is an inch and a half. 

Edited by Jeffrey P
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I spent the night recovering in a motel in Iowa Falls. The next day was a very long drive on Route 20 to Fort Robinson State Park in Western Nebraska. The country around there was more open and rugged of typical western landscapes. 




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After breakfast I went to visit the Trailside Museum which featured fossils from the University of Nebraska collection. The centerpiece was a pair of mammoths found with their tusks locked in combat at the time of their demise. 















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After leaving Fort Robinson State Park I was headed for Lusk, Wyoming, my next destination, just over an hour away when I decided to take a detour and visit the Agate Fossil Beds. I spent some time looking at the exhibits in the air conditioned visitor center. Also, I walked the trail to visit the sites where the disarticulated skeletons of over a thousand rhinoceros, Menoceras were left during the Miocene Age. This had been the site of waterhole and scientists believe there was a severe drought. Desperate for water, the rhinoceros crowded around the waterhole, drinking, but also eating all of the vegetation that was nearby, till they starved. Later their bodies were scavenged. At the lowest level of the waterhole they also found a herd of camels and nearby populated dens of the predator, bear dog. 






















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I finally arrived in Lusk, Wyoming. I hadn't looked at the internet in a few days and when I opened the Fossil Forum on my IPAD there was a message from jpc. Unfortunately, he had contracted COVID and was in quarantine. Our excursion was cancelled. I wished him well, but I was heartbroken having travelled all this way and so looking forward to what I had hoped would be the centerpiece of my trip. I asked him if there were any places nearby I could collect. Over the next few hours, thanks to the efforts of jpc, a Plan B emerged. I would visit a Pierre Shale site on BLM land just north of Lusk that afternoon. The next day I would spend it on a private ranch with Tom K., a veteran collector of vertebrate fossils in eastern Wyoming and Montana. My spirits rose considerably. Here are some photos of the BLM land where the Upper Cretaceous marine sediments of the Pierre Shale were exposed. The big blocks of sandstone were unfossiliferous. However, on the ground beneath them were concretions busted open and in some cases exposing fossils. 



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Some chunks of the concretions were packed with the shells of the Cretaceous clam, Inoceramus. 



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There were other bivalves too, but not as common as the Inoceramus. There were often very tiny. The ones in the second photo are less than a quarter of an inch. 



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Ammonites were a primary goal and on a couple of rocks found near one another I found a number of small scaphitid ammonites. The one in the second photo Appears to be Hoploscaphites. It is about an inch and a half across.



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I was invited to visit Tom K's ranch just south of Lance Creek on my way back to Lusk. Tom had an enormous area for storing and prepping vertebrate fossils, especially dinosaurs and marine reptiles which he showed me. We discussed our plans for the following day: The next morning Tom picked me up at the campground where I was staying and we headed up to Jeb's ranch where there is a large exposure of the Orellan Member of the White River Group, Oligocene. Getting to the ranch was no problem, but one there we had to travel for miles on what I learned was called a two track which is a very rough and sometimes indistinct trail only suitable for the biggest four wheel drives. Riding shotgun, I was tasked with opening and closing a number of gates. Here are some photos of our day:









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Here are some of the finds; some random mammal bones, probably mostly Oreodont. The box is 5 by 7 inches. An Oreodont skull just over 6 and a half inches long. Tom found this at the bottom a gully. I excavated it with Tom's instructions and he gifted it to me. Oreodont jaw pieces. The distal humerus of an unidentified mammal- 5 inches long. The shell of a tortoise, possibly Testudo, just under four inches. Tom found this and gifted it to me. He found two mostly complete shells. Two boxes of tortoise shell pieces and bones, mostly Stylemys.





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I was offered some choices for the third day and I ended up picking another Pierre Shale ammonite site. I arrived there and walked about wondering where is the rock? After a while of search I began to find broken up concretions in the grass and often times these contained fossils. I was told the Pierre Shale lies just a few inches below the topsoil and fossils work their way up through it till they are exposed on the ground. 




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Ammonites were again a primary goal. I found both Scaphitid coiled ammonites and baculites. The individual Scaphitid ammonite is an inch and a half across. The individual baculite is two inches long. 





Edited by Jeffrey P
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What were also interesting for me were the bivalves and gastropods. There were Inoceramus of course, but also a number of others often packed tightly together. This tiny half inch long tall, spired gastropod, Drepanochilus was one of my highlight finds of the trip. 





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The next day I drove up to Worland, Wyoming. On the way I stopped at the Tate Geologic Museum in Casper. By this time, jpc had recovered and was back to work. We met in person and he took me on a tour of their collection in the backrooms which included the partial skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus, the only one that remains in the state of Wyoming.  Unfortunately, the battery on my IPAD and phone had just run down and so I didn't get any photos of this or the rest of their collection. Maybe next time. The next day I visited Big Cedar Ridge. It was fifteen miles outside of Worland and then another fifteen miles on a rough dirt road deep into the heart of an arid unpopulated BLM wilderness. People sightings were few and far in between, but cattle were abundant and I couldn't drive through there without encountering some blocking the roadway. On the second day, as I headed to the site, I encountered a whole herd of about fifty in the middle of the road and two women on horseback herding them. For all of the times I've been out west, this was a completely new experience. Here are some photos of the site and drive there.  










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I spent two days at Big Cedar Ridge- an Upper Cretaceous Meeteetse Formation site. I dug two pits. The first one turned out to be a dud- turning up only plant stem material. The second, I hit the jackpot, especially the second day; a lot of ferns, some conifers, a few flowering plants. Most are not identified and over the half the species found here were previously unknown to science. This was once a coastal location bordering the Western Interior Sea. Nearby volcanic activity sent a mudflow of ash and mud which quickly buried the site. The plants were preserved where they lived, in 3D. The stone here is very soft and crumbly. All of my finds were laid out in the sun to dry, then, at the end of the day, gathered up and carefully placed in open cardboard boxes lined with bubble wrap. The pits were filled in before I left. Here are informative panels that can be seen from the parking area just below the site. 




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I'm happy to say almost all of the plant specimens made it back with me intact. 














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I want to thank Randy B for his tips on collecting from this site. Although I thought this would be a one time visit, the nature of the site and how the flora was buried right where it lived the fact that you can dig in another pit just a few feet away from where you dug before and encounter a completely different flora might draw me back there again someday. So, after two days of digging and collecting I drove from Worland all the way to Colorado Springs through a busy traffic-filled Denver. The next day I went up to Florissant, a place I collected from last September and vowed I would return if I was ever in the neighborhood again. I didn't bother taking any photos of the site since those are in my last trip report. Unlike my previous visit, I didn't find too many leaves this time. This Fagopsis leaf was my best:


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I did a bit better with the insect finds this time:









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