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Fossil Cycad National Monument

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digit

I enjoy reading old books. My grandfather worked for some years as a type setter and book binder and so I've inherited a number of great old reads from him. I'm currently working my way through A Treasury of Science from 1943 which is a compendium of older writings of varying ages. Similar to the nostalgia of watching old movies (or more like curiosity of watching movies that pre-date me) I find it interesting to read about the current level knowledge that is captured in those pages when reading from a vantage point some distance in the future (hopefully with an expanded view on the subject material). What Darwin labored with in chapter after chapter of his On the Origin of Species can now be succinctly stated in a few paragraphs in a Wikipedia article. Reading older or even antiquarian books makes me feel like a time traveler from the future (which, in fact, is pretty much what I am--relatively speaking).

In a chapter of the treasury I'm currently reading called Flowering Earth, the author (Donald Culross Peattie) wrote in 1939 about the history of plant life on the planet. From the first protozoans to gain energy from chlorophyll through the ages of stromatolites, the fern and lycopod forests that gave us our coal, the early conifers including the Sequoia that shared the planet with dinosaurs, the cycads, and finally angiosperms and the rise of the modern plants. Quite an enjoyable read with the more eloquent and flowery (no pun intended) writing style of the 1930s. Here is a page on cycads that I read last night:

Quote

 

What pride, then, and what a ring of age was there in the first set of fossil cycads from the Black Hills rim to reach the men of science at the National Museum in 1893! Professor Lester Ward hastened to the field, and what he found there, besides the bones of a great dinosaur and the petrified logs of old conifers, were not imprints but complete petrifactions. Atom by atom the living tissue had been replaced by stone. Here were hundreds of fruits, all the leaves a gloating paleobotanist could desire, perfect trunks, every detail of wood structure preserved, and dozens of species, some dwarf, some colossal.

Ward took back with him what he could. Other students hurried to the find; Yale and the Universities of Iowa and Wyoming have great collections from Deadwood, and the government museums too. Tourists carted away entire specimens, and what remained might have been utterly scattered and destroyed, had not Professor G. R. Wieland saved the last rich tract in the Black Hills. Close to the mountain where Borglum carved his heroic profiles, the scientist filed on the area under the homestead laws, and then presented his claim to his country. It has since been made Cycad National Monument.

These cycads, when the world was young and they were flourishing, must have brought into the dark monotony of the evergreen forests the first bright splashes of color. For the seeds of cycads are gorgeous scarlet or yellow or orange, borne on the edge of the leaf or commonly in great cones. They are sweet and starchy to the taste, and perhaps Archaeopteryx, that first feathered bird in all time, crunched them in the teeth that he still kept, reminder of his lizard ancestry. So, it may be, the earliest animals came to aid in the dissemination of plants, as squirrels do today, and birds. Somehow, at least, the cycads over-ran the world. Their reign had grandeur, but its limits narrowed. There is evidence that some of the Mesozoic cycads flowered only at the end of their immensely long lives—a thousand years, perhaps. Then, after one huge cone of fruit was set, the plant died to the very root. A hero's death, but a plan ill fit to breed a race of heroes. In the cupped hand of the future lay other seeds, with a fairer promise.

 

What caught my eye while reading this was, of course, the existence of the Cycad National Monument. Why hadn't I heard of this before? Sure, there are infinitely more things that I'm unaware of than what I can hold in my brain at one time but surely I would have come across this before. Last night I made note to formally put this place on my short list of places to visit in South Dakota (there are apparently a couple obscure modest size sculptures to see there as well ;)). This morning while researching the Fossil Cycad National Monument I was disheartened to read that I'd missed my chance at seeing it by over half a century. It turns out that without proper protection that Professor G. R. Wieland's efforts to protect this outcropping of important Cretaceous cycad fossils were in vain. Vandals slowly stripped all the remaining visible fossils from this location and the national monument status was withdrawn in 1957.

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

In an effort to use this sad state of affairs as an example it has become a cautionary tale to inspire existing notable places to better protect their precious treasures.

https://www.npca.org/articles/1008-gone-but-not-forgotten

http://nature.nps.gov/geology/nationalfossilday/fossil_cycad.cfm

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2008/08/pruning-parks-delisted-over-half-century-ago-fossil-cycad-national-monument-1922-1956-cautionary-tal2805

 

I believe our membership has more respect for fossils and would never have taken part in this national monument's decimation and dissolution so I post this here mainly because I found it interesting (and sad) and because this tale seems to have faded from popular memory through the years. It provides a good example as to why some places require management and protection--real protection (not just a proclamation by the President).

 

Cheers.

-Ken

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Canadawest

Quite revealing.

 

I enjoyed the passage.  I had never heard of this Monument. 

 

There's a rich body of science and natural history literature that sprung out of Britain in the early 1800's and continued into the rest of the world. The word 'amateur' didn't mean second best but rather someone who followed a pursuit and studied and wrote  about it with enthusiasm. Nothing was 'dumbed down' and there was a respect for the  intelligence of the coalminer or farmer who might be reading it by lamplight.

 

Re that area of the Dakotas. I had a friend who wanted to go once and I thought  just 'Ok'. But when we returned it was 'Wow'.  Between Badlands NP, the native culture, early settlers, The Old West, etc., mines,  rockhounding, and especially the ecology....a really fascinating trip.

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digit

It's a fun book to read. The writing style seems a bit more poetic than you'd expect from a textbook or scholarly book that you'd read these days and it is fun noticing how things sound different in the older text. Kind of like spotting the differences between American "English" and that spoken in the mother country or any of its colonies (or Canada). There is novelty in unexpected differences in the language.

I'd never heard of this National Monument (apparently for good reasons). I found the concept of a National Monument being stripped of its identity one fossil at a time an interesting enough topic to bring to this forum to share since I'm assuming only a tiny percentage of our membership would likely ever have heard of this (one likely fascinating) place.

If plans don't get too fouled up 2017 should be a year of travels for Tammy and me. We're going to make visits to Kruger N.P. in South Africa for our next anniversary (delayed too long for this year's) and to Greece with a friend who's been there half a dozen times and will act as our informal tour guide. Between those big trips we're going to be in Idaho next August to be under the center line of the next total solar eclipse and we want to travel around west of the Mississippi seeing the sights out west and the Dakotas are high on our list (despite the absence of the cycad monument).

Cheers.

-Ken

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