Jump to content

Recommended Posts

digit

Tammy and I had to stop in Winnipeg on our way up to Churchill further north in the province (with hopes of seeing Polar Bears and the Aurora Borealis for our anniversary). While doing a little research on Churchill I discovered it is the type locality for the world's largest trilobite. Now I'm not talking something that is a little bit bigger than some of the really large Paradoxides or Cambropallas trilobites you see from Morocco (fake or otherwise). I'm talking taking trilobites to a whole new extreme (but more on that later).

 

We flew from Miami to Winnipeg on a flight that connected through Toronto. I really don't know why the computerized reservation systems conjured up by these airlines let you make routes with tight connections--but they DO! We planned on spending an extra day in Winnipeg as the tight connection in Toronto seemed highly optimistic at best. We were late out of Miami when the first officer didn't show up and they had to call in a substitute. The pilots didn't even try to make up the delay in the air and we arrived well behind schedule. I doubt that we could have made the connection anyway (> 1 hour) having to go through customs/immigration and travel to the far reaches of the airport to catch the connecting flight. Our flight had left before we even cleared processing in Canada but we were able to book a follow-up flight a few hours later. It still took us over 2.5 hours to reach our gate for the connecting flight and so (without the aid of teleportation--or maybe a large canon) we were doomed from the start. We got in later but well in time to make our exceedingly expensive flight to Churchill. The rail line is down (washed out this spring) and there are no roads up to this isolated corner of Manitoba.

 

I had heard that a truly enormous trilobite had been discovered in Churchill and that it currently resides in the Manitoba Museum so promptly after breakfast we grabbed a cab to the city center and arrived at the unassuming (from the outside) museum. We didn't even make it inside before my gaze was captured by the beautiful stone slabs that clad this building's exterior. Soon I was to learn that this was the locally famous Late Ordovician (~450 myo) Tyndall Stone.

 

IMG_0120.JPG    IMG_0116.JPG   IMG_0118.JPG

 

IMG_0121.JPG    IMG_0122.JPG    IMG_0126.JPG

 

The interesting two-toned appearance of this dolomitic limestone is said to be ichnofossils from some sort of burrowing animal. It really makes the stone quite striking from far away with this unusual patterning. I can see why they have used this stone to face the surfaces of many prominent buildings in Canada (and abroad).

 

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

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
digit

After gawked the architecture for way too long we finally got to walking through the exhibits. The Manitoba Museum is a really great little museum for learning about the natural history and culture of the area and we could have easily spent several days looking at all the exhibits and reading all of the associated text. We didn't have the luxury of that much time and so we strolled through the museum picking and choosing the things that caught our interest. We slowed down when we came to the paleontological section of the museum and checked out some great informative displays about the Devonian and Ordovician. We had to stop and take a look at the hadrosaur as we had found some hadrosaur teeth and bones on our previous collecting trip to Wyoming.

 

IMG_0158.JPG

 

It didn't take us long to find what we had come to see. In a nice exhibit with a bit of explanatory text we found Isotelus rex (the king of all trilobites)! This bad boy clocks in at around 70 cm (28 inches) and looks to be something of the megalodon of trilobites. They had a few specimens and a trackway (ichnofossil) that they had recovered from a beach in Churchill.

 

IMG_0162.JPG    IMG_0163.JPG    IMG_0166.JPG

 

IMG_0161.JPG    IMG_0165.JPG

 

Later in the week while up in Churchill we'd get a chance to walk along the beaches where this Ordovician giant hails from. While walking along the beach at this time of year before the sea ice has formed and the Polar Bears have left requires some caution and having some dogs with you and a bear guard toting a shotgun to scare away any large white lumbering bruins that take any interest is always wise. I'll have a look through the images of the fossils that we found on the beach and try to get some photos up to add to this topic. As Manitoba takes a dim view of people removing fossils from the province we chose to respect the laws and take only photos to share here.

 

We later learned from some of the locals who were there at the time just exactly where the beach was that these specimens were found. It turns out that the locals had known about these curiosities for many years and would occasionally take visitors out to see the unusual fossils on this beach at low tide. It wasn't till 1998 that a group of scientists caught wind of this record breaking trilobite and mounted an expedition to recover a few samples (and the trackway) for further study. The Eskimo Museum in Churchill has a nice story about this trilobite as well as a cast of the original (though they would love to have the actual fossil). 

 

It turns out that the people who run the B&B where we stayed during our week up in Churchill are good friends with the old couple (in their 80's) who still live there and maintain a large greenhouse in an effort to grow some fresh veggies that are expensive to get shipped in. When we visited, Bill (age 82) was up on the roof of his greenhouse repairing some gaps due to some damage that was inflicted by a storm this summer. You have to be a hearty lot to survive in Churchill. Just below Bill and Diane Erickson's house on what is known as Boreal Gardens Beach is where the narrow shelf that gave up its giant trilobites (working during the stretches of low tide). It was too difficult to get down on that section of the beach as the large black boulders that fringe the beach tend to provide poor sight lines when watching for Polar Bears. It is known as "Churchill Quartzite" but really more properly, if not tongue-trippingly, "Churchill Metagreywacke" which are Proterozoic rocks that date back to around 1.8 byo (that's 'b' as in 'billion')--super old stuff, much older than the light tan fossil-bearing limestone that it underlays. While we were not there at low tide to stand on (or very) near the exact spot where the huge Isotelus was pried out of the rocks, the entire shoreline is composed of the same fossiliferous layer and we spent as much time as we could peering down at the faint fossils here and there hoping to catch a glimpse of something that looked trilobite-like. We went out with a local (Paul) from Nature 1st tours on a sightseeing trip around Churchill with hopes of spotting a bear along the way (we did). At the start we visited his fossil collection which had many great finds but only a partial negative impression of a trilobite so these have to be rare if even a local hasn't found a complete specimen. Photos of Paul's collection when I have a moment to peruse through my photos from that day's outings.

 

Churchill is crazy difficult and expensive to get to these days now that the train is not running. Not many fossil hounds are likely to follow our footsteps to make the pilgrimage to Churchill to pay respects to the locality of Isotelus rex but Winnipeg is much easier to get to and the Manitoba Museum comes highly recommended.

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nimravis

Great posts, very informative and love the pictures . 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
digit

Would you expect any less than a rambling photo-laden trip report from me? :P

 

Sitting in the Sheraton in Seattle where it is drizzly and cold (more like Churchill than South Florida). Here for the Geological Society of America (GSA) annual meeting this week. I'm not a real geologist but I won't tell if you won't tell. ;)

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Douvilleiceras

Thanks for posting! Isotelus rex is truly an amazing asaphid! 

 

For anyone interested, below is a link to the paper from 2003 which initially described this gigantic specimen:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228608132_The_world's_biggest_Trilobite-Isotelus_rex_new_species_from_the_Upper_Ordovician_of_northern_Manitoba_Canada

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ludwigia

Thanks for the great report. As an ex-Ontarian, I've always dreamed of taking the polar express up there for a look-see. Still haven't gotten around to it, but maybe one of these days once they've cleared the track.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
LordTrilobite
10 hours ago, digit said:

IMG_0158.JPG

:wub:

 

 

 

Nice report!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
minnbuckeye
12 hours ago, digit said:

Churchill is crazy difficult and expensive to get to these days now that the train is not running.

 

Ken,

 

Nice trip report! Is the "Polar Bear Express" down for good??? If so, that is disappointing. Were you able to take in the northern lights? How often were they visible? I was thinking of taking a cruise ship, something I would normally NEVER do, that specializes in Aurora Borealis. My wife is BIG into astronomy as her hobby and would love it. A trip to Churchill instead, could provide her with the lights and it would allow me to visit Churchill again, this time to enjoy it's fossils that I never knew were there. So hopefully you were successful!  Also, do the locals feel the polar bear numbers are plummeting as quickly as my readings indicate?

 

 Mike

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
digit

The "Polar Bear Express" aka the slow train from Winnipeg to Churchill is currently out of commission. Two powerful blizzards in March swelled the retention dams in the area causing them to have to release a lot of water which caused catastrophic flooding in the area. This wiped out at least 19 sections of the track between Churchill and Thompson (the next town south on the line). The rail still goes that far but as there are no roads into Churchill that means that close is not good enough. While we were up there we heard talk on the radio about a proposed temporary fix that might allow emergency supplies to make it up there but not heavy cargo or passenger traffic--all for the low low cost of between $5-10 million. There is also talk of building an ice road to complete the 200 miles between these towns to complete the connection. It would only be temporary (for a few months during the winter) and would be dangerous to drive and risky to ship goods. The cost by air is at least 5 times the rail cost and so expensive things in Churchill could get more dear as time goes on. They did get one last ship in port which delivered an emergency stockpile of supplies for the winter (including a huge amount of propane for heating/cooking). The ship loaded the train which was stranded in Churchill at the time of the flood to bring that back down by water. The sea ice should be forming within the next couple of weeks and while that is great for Polar Bears so they can return to feeding from the ice it means that there won't be time to get another ship into Churchill this year.

 

The Aurora Borealis put on a spectacular display at about 8:30 on the evening before we arrived in Churchill (at about the same time as we were having dinner down in Winnipeg). When we left on the (very expensive) plane ride up to Churchill the next morning the skies had clouded over (didn't see the ground at all on the flight up) and we were socked in for the duration. We could have had the most spectacular northern lights ever (though the auroral activity index was pretty mild) and we would never have been able to see it through the thick blanket of clouds.

 

I too would need to be chased by a Polar Bear or a pack of ravenous wolves before I'd consider setting foot on a cruise ship again. I like (some) people one-on-one or in small groups but turn distinctly antisocial when cooped up with several thousand of my own species on a floating buffet. Made the mistake (ONCE) of getting talked into a short cruise and my relatives will not make the same mistake again. A trip on a smaller ship to be out under clear skies with the intent of seeing the northern lights would seem to be a good way of accomplishing the task of seeing them efficiently. The ship is mobile and should be able to position to avoid clouds and maximize being under the proper patch of sky. Unless the sun is acting up and tossing out copious solar mass ejections, you might need to stay in Churchill for several days to see the aurora. We tried for 5 and were skunked--10 might have been better. It's not a cheap place to get to and not a cheap place to stay so it may not be the ideal place to see the aurora but probably one of the better options to try to see the combination of Polar Bears AND Aurora Borealis.

 

They have about 1100 Polar Bears that are in the general Churchill area which return from the ice sheets when they break up in the spring/summer. They spend the time on land while the ice is absent and generally end up migrating through the area from the west (where the currents drop them off when they have to ditch their shrunken ice rafts). The sightings are apparently different each season and the time we were up there they were very difficult to find. The only reason why we spotted any was that we were out on (paid) trips every day to try to locate some close enough to see without powerful lenses or binoculars. We did okay on that front but there were many fewer than I thought we'd encounter. As a species they may not last this century and will probably come to an end as a species when the last of them morph into hybrids with Grizzly Bears (forming Pizzly Bears--it's a thing).

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ynot

Nice Ken!

Thanks for another wonderful virtual tour!

(They are always so enjoyable.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×