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Eastern Seaboard Roadtrip: Chicago to D.C (featuring Niagara) - October 2018

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[WARNING: As is my custom, this trip report is exceedingly long, verbosely worded, and copiously illustrated with photos.] :)

(It may be a good idea to find a comfy chair and grab a drink and some popcorn.) :popcorn:

 

 

Since Tammy's retirement earlier this year, we've been busier than ever. We finally made it to Iceland this summer and saw dozens (if not literally hundreds) of waterfalls in that geologically interesting country. While talking about waterfalls ("fossar" in Icelandic), Tammy had realized that I had somehow not yet seen Niagara Falls. Tammy did not do a lot of vacation traveling when she was younger but had visited Niagara several times in her youth. She decided it was high time I experienced the power of Niagara.

 

It could have been a simple trip--a flight up to Buffalo, a day out on a boat getting drenched at the base of the falls, and home again with little more than a long weekend invested. Somehow though, I have a remarkable knack for constructing enormously detailed travel itineraries--and this trip was no exception. ;) Our anniversary month is October and so with the prospect of some multi-chromatic autumn foliar displays we decided that we'd plan a roadtrip that included Niagara Falls as its underlying motivation. It didn't take me long to realize that there are a lot of great TFF members up in the New York and Ontario area. Additionally, some members from the Virginia/Maryland area suggested meeting up during our last roadtrip through the Carolinas but that trip was already lengthy and involved. Perhaps, I could combine visits with a number of TFF members along the way and do a roadtrip down the Eastern Seaboard?

 

As I started contacting prospective members to get the idea kickstarted, the starting point of our trip changed and we tacked on several extra days to the start of our trip. My brother and his wife had just bought a new house in the north side of Chicago. He decided that since all of the family holidays (Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas) were already claimed by other family members that he would start the tradition of Oktoberfest at their house--first Saturday of October. The itinerary for our trip was still in its early stages so we were easily able to incorporate a trip up to Chicago and link it to the start of our roadtrip. We considered flying from Chicago to Buffalo and picking the rental car there but the cheaper airfares were (not surprisingly) at rather inconvenient times (who wants to check into a hotel in the wee hours of the morning?) but an alternative soon presented itself.

 

Since one of the places we'd hoped to visit along the way was the Devonian Hungry Hollow site in Arkona, ON, we'd have to backtrack west if we started in Buffalo but it would be conveniently along the route if we simply picked up the rental car in Chicago and started the roadtrip from there. This also allowed us the opportunity of visiting the small town of La Porte, Indiana where Tammy lived at one time. Things were falling into place. Of course, that is not to imply that my roadtrips are in any way quickly improvised--I think I spend as much time planning them as I do driving them. :)

 

Starting the trip in Chicago allowed us both to visit family and work our way through all of our favorite food groups (authentic Chinese, Indian, Middle-eastern, and deep-dish pizza :drool:) before gorging ourselves on lots of tasty German food and Oktoberfest-themed adult beverages at my brother's new place. Finally, we were ready to start rolling some miles (and kilometers) onto our trip odometer and we picked up the rental car and got underway. We planned on making London, ON for our first night and since it turns out it is only a mere 6 or so hours driving from Chicago, we had a bit of time to drive through La Port. It had been nearly 40 years since Tammy lived there and (as expected) much of the area was barely recognizable and not much as she'd remembered it. There were a few landmarks still in place and it didn't take us long to find the house her parents owned in town. The main floor was the Chinese restaurant they owned and the second floor above is where they lived. It's always interesting indulging some nostalgia and visiting places from the past. After a bit of driving around town we picked up the highway and in time crossed the border into Canada at Port Huron. We got to bed late that night but we had one of the longer driving days behind us already.

 

On the road again--and a stop at a childhood home in La Porte.

 

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We wasted little time getting to bed on our first night as we had plans for early the next morning. @Malcolmt and @Kane had offered to show Tammy and me our first taste of the Devonian in the form of Hungry Hollow near Arkona, ON. Malcolm had a long drive that morning from home and picked up Kane along the way. We had a shorter drive and managed to arrive just about on time at the designated place. Most people might be a bit taken aback to happen upon a car in a remote secluded place with two guys wielding hammers, crowbars and shovels but in our case it was a very welcome site. After some greetings and small talk we were taken to a spot where horn (rugose) corals were superabundant verging on humorously ubiquitous. Kane was itching to get to the "real spot" but indulged our newbie interest in this appetizer to the main course of the day.

 

We don't have anything even marginally close to the Devonian in Florida (Eocene is old for us down here). I was around older rock formations when lived in the Chicago area as a kid but information was not nearly as easily available as it is these days and I had little idea where the few fossils I collected as a kid came from. Tammy and I have poked around in the Cambrian collecting trilobites in Delta, UT some years ago. We have also timed several trips to Chicago to allow hunting in the Carboniferous collecting siderite nodules at Mazon Creek. A few years back we manage to make a day trip to Indiana to experience the Ordovician for the first time at the famous St. Leon road-cut. That was our first collecting experience in the age of brachiopods, horn corals and bryozoans. We were ready for more of these types of fossils and were happy to add Devonian to our checklist of geologic time periods that we've been able to collect.

 

Some autumn color starting to break and the muddy clay slope with virtually paved with horn corals. There are quite a few shapes of horn corals at this locality. I'm not sure how many different species can be found here but I believe some at least are in the genus Heliophyllum (likely Heliophyllum halli). I'm assuming the flat object with the textured surface is likely a bryozoan colony of some sort.

 

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After we had greedily collected enough horn corals to make sure we had a few interesting ones and enough to share with friends (and possibly future forum auctions), we dropped off our booty back at the car before heading out to the more remote site where Kane regularly collects. It was a pleasant walk and the morning chill was already wearing off. In fact, the region was experiencing a bit of what is often called "Indian Summer" where there is unseasonably warm dry weather with into autumn. We were prepared with multiple layers of clothing that we could shed as the temperatures climbed. The morning clouds had also departed and after Tammy had peeled away enough layers to get down to a short sleeve shirt she ended up having to return to the car to summon the sun block which she didn't think she'd be using in order to stave off an incipient sunburn that was starting to turn her arms pink. We may be from sunny South Florida but we we're probably less exposed than most folks--there is just too much chance for skin damage so we tend to cover up a lot.

 

Kane and Malcolm got to work in the main fossil bearing layer that is known to produce interesting items like trilobites. True to his nickname of "Human Backhoe" Kane soon started levering out chunks of rock the size of small apartment blocks. :P I found an area between Malcolm and Kane and whacked at the rock with the tools I had. The layers were all rather interlocked at this spot and there were no nice vertical seams that allowed chunks to be easily pulled out. I had fun whacking away and splitting out smaller chunks which occasionally offered up some nice brachiopods. For those to collect at this site regularly, fossils like horn corals and brachiopods soon have their quota met and they are mostly overlooked and ignored while looking for more uncommon fossils. Malcolm and Kane joked about slipping in handfuls of brachiopod slabs into each other's buckets as a prank to make each other's buckets extra heavy on the walk back out. I could see how these common finds could quickly become like the dugong rib bones of the Peace River in Florida but for now these were still novelties to this newbie and I had a low threshold for happy finds.

 

You can see the glorious foliage color that made this hunting location a feast for the eyes. You can also spot us halfway up the slope working the fossiliferous layer.

 

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It was getting hotter and hotter as the day progresses. We realized that we made the critical error of not lugging in enough drinks and it was a long way back to the car. The breaks from whacking away at the rock were getting longer and more frequent. I thought a trip to a significantly higher latitude would help me escape the South Florida heat but it had somehow stalked me and followed me to Ontario. While our Canadian colleagues were happy as a clam at high tide to have such a delightful day like this toward the end of their season and were busily making progress busting up rock, I decided to stretch my legs and give my soft keyboard hands a rest from hammering. I had to ditch the padded rubber gloves with the fingers cut off--not because they were too warm but the thick padding between the fingers was starting to become quite uncomfortable and so these gloves did not see service on the remainder of this trip.

 

Walking on a steep slope covered with lots of scree is always fun (and challenging). While walking around to check out more of the site (and stretch my legs) I noticed that a number of nice brachiopods could be found eroded out from their matrix. Surface hunting for these little prizes was a fun activity while on break from whacking rock. I told Malcolm and Kane that I'd clean up the site for them by vacuuming up all of the pesky brachiopods and had a great time doing it as I really enjoy surface hunting. It didn't take long to make a nice collection of brachiopods. They were not as insanely abundant as the horn corals earlier but they were good fun to try to spot among the rubble.

 

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I was having really good luck finding brachiopods anywhere recent rains had carved out a bit of a wash. While looking closely in these areas I spotted something quite unexpected that was my trip-maker for the day--a really nice little Goniatite ammonoid cephalopod.

 

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I usually have to be coaxed to leave a fossil hunting spot and I reluctantly leave dragging my feet. The prospect of a cold drink and some air conditioning back in the car were motivation enough for me to easily agree that the day was over when Kane and Malcolm finally decided to pack it in. They both have stories about having exceptional days at this location where they've had to make multiple trips back to the car lugging heavy buckets and backpacks full of fossils embedded in chunks of rock. I was very happy with the day's finds and extra happy that my surface finds were efficiently free of heavy matrix and would be easy to transport back to the car. More importantly, this was the first collecting day of a multi-week roadtrip with lots more collecting in my future. Even though we wisely travel on Southwest Airlines and make full use of the allotted 2 checked bags per passenger with a 50 pound limit on each, we still need to budget our space and weight.

 

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We said our goodbyes to Malcolm and Kane and then set the iPad navigating us a couple hours to our next destination--Niagara Falls, Ontario (the Canadian side of the falls).

 

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We suppressed our vagabond tendencies and based ourselves in Niagara Falls for the next couple of days enjoying not having to lug suitcases and pack and unpack for a bit.

 

While we were in the area we wanted to make a trip up to Toronto to take in the Royal Ontario Museum. I always tend to overpack my roadtrips with activities and never build-in adequate time to properly see these museums. Though we always enjoy our visits we usually end up noting that we'll have to pass this way again and spend more time soaking in all that the museum has to offer. Usually, I tend to gravitate to the earth sciences portions of the museums we visit. This time was no exception--we started out captivated by an excellent display of minerals at the Earth's Treasures gallery. The gallery is packed with an incredible array of minerals, gems, meteorites and other rocks that is almost hard to take in. The variety of colors and forms of the various minerals is astounding and the way my mind works I'm always checking the labels to note where specimens came from in case I should ever gain access to being able to visit those locations and hunt for some prizes of my own. While I usually have the camera at hand to take pictures of things that interest me, I was so overwhelmed by all of the mineral eye candy that I could not possibly have taken enough photos and simultaneously enjoyed displays. Instead I simply soaked in the wonderful artistry that is the chemistry of crystals and only took a few photos of some of the larger displays.

 

 

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Before long we naturally gravitated to the paleontology section of the museum and really enjoyed the section with the aquatic reptiles having recently finished reading a book on Mary Anning and the Jurassic Coast of the Lyme Regis area of Southwest England. The ROM has an exceptionally nice collection of Ichthyosaurs and we were both well captivated by the displays.

 

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There were, of course, some nicely mounted dinosaurs and related beasts. I really liked the giant Xiphactinus audax mounted overhead that makes me happy as a scuba diver that these no longer swim our oceans. Having found a front "fang" tooth from a Pachycephalosaurus last year in Wyoming has pushed this hard-headed dinosaur several spots up my list of beloved dinos. Always fun to see how my tiny insignificant find fits into the overall creature.

 

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After an enjoyable day at the ROM our feet were good and sore and we were looking forward to our post-museum activities. We had plans to drive to nearby Mississauga and meet-up with Malcolm to see his personal collection and then to meet-up with @Monica and family for dinner that evening. All was going well till we got on the wrong street and couldn't easily make it back to Queen Elizabeth Way which would probably have been our best route. Major construction blocking many roads and a number of one-way streets conspired to keep us heading away from our intended passage till we finally gave in and decided to go the route that the iPad suggested. Before long we were caught-up in heavy traffic but the route guidance seemed to account for that since it seemed very eager to route us down an interesting variety of residential side streets. Mostly, this seemed to be working and though the speed limits were minimal, we were not in heavy traffic. That all came to a screeching halt for the last kilometer or so before getting to the entrance ramp to the highway that was to take us to our intended destination. Apparently, every other commuter in Toronto uses these same residential side streets as an approach to the entrance ramp as our forward progress slowed down as if we were reaching the event horizon of a black hole (which frankly would have been more enjoyable). At each 4-way intersection (and there were many of them) leading to the traffic light way off in the distance cars queued up to inch forward at a glacial pace. Since the light that was our immediate goal was letting in traffic from a side street, it only allowed in half a dozen or so cars before changing back to allow cross traffic on the busier street. The number of cards geometrically increased every 4-way stop back from this light and I now know what grains of sand feel like while they are awaiting their turns to pass through the neck of an hourglass.

 

I somehow (surprisingly) showed remarkable patience and I think it must have been all of the podcasts that we listened to while we waited that kept me from cussing like a sailor. Finally, I turn arrived and we passed that chokepoint light and entered the expressway. Unfortunately, this was leading to one of the only toll roads in the area and with automated tolling and us in a rental car we were soon forced back off onto surface roads to avoid the paperwork and costs of Canadian tolls in a rental. As luck would have it, the majority of the route heading in the direction of Malcolm's house was under construction adding a bus or trolly lane. We did not have a working cell phone (as we were in Canada) and slogged along in what was now rush hour traffic. While questioning what we had done to deserve this karmic payback we changed plans and decided to head directly to dinner with Monica. Despite leaving 2 hours ahead of time, what could have been a half hour trip was instead a nightmarish trip that caused us to arrive late for dinner and having to bypass a stop at Malcolm's.

 

Once meeting up with Monica, young Viola, and the rest of her family for an enjoyable dinner, we were able to turn the day around and finish on a high note. We always seem to leave things for a follow-up trip. There is still lots of the ROM that we'd like to have time to see. If we plan a return visit, we'll go to the museum on a weekend hoping to avoid traffic. Malcolm's collection of Devonian goodness remains on our bucket list for a return trip.

 

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We finally arrived at the day of the underlying reason for this trip--Niagara Falls. It was a beautiful morning with cooler temps and a brisk breeze and a lot of heavy clouds passing by. We made our way down to the Canadian equivalent of the "Maid of the Mist" boat ride to the falls--called "Hornblower" on this side of the falls. We were here at probably the lower end of shoulder season. Summer was over and school was back in session so the mass of humanity that this places is geared up for was (thankfully) mostly absent. I can see how this could be quite the zoo during the busier summer months and I'm glad we were not visiting at the peak.

 

Gone are the days of borrowing heavy raincoats for the duration of the boat trip to the falls. These days the more wasteful method of handing out thin rain slickers that felt (and looked) more like a red garbage bag were handed out. In theory these are all collected at the end for recycling but it still seems more wasteful than the old style rubber raincoats. We efficiently boarded our boat and we quickly left the dock for the short run past the American Falls to the horseshoe shaped Canadian Falls. It is a very slick and efficient way of extracting funds from tourists and combined with the hotels and restaurants in the ares, this natural wonder must generate a literal boatload of money for both countries. The power of the falls when you pull up to the base of the spray is quite the experience and Tammy was right that it is something that should be on people's bucket list.

 

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We left our visit to the falls happy and quite soggy despite the red garbage bags. We walked back up the through the tacky shops and restaurants that crowd the are tourist area near the falls. All manner of ways to induce more spending from tourists is present here--including a dinosaur themes mini golf. Who would have thought raptors were fond of funnel cakes.

 

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After an enjoyable lunch and a bit of time to dry out, we returned to the falls in the afternoon. The skies were getting more overcast, it had cooled significantly, and it was drizzling intermittently.

 

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The misty rain didn't bother us much as we were headed back to get close to the falls again, actually behind the falls this time. The first tunnel was dug behind Horseshoe Falls in 1903 and an extension further along was added in 1924. In the 1950's an outdoor platform was constructed to allow tourists to get drenched with spray very close to the edge of the falls. As the old saying goes: When in Rome, do as the Romans do (and go behind the falls). ;) Here we are getting soaked again--yellow garbage bags this time.

 

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The tunnels are pretty cool and offer an unusual vantage point to a waterfall. I can imagine that these tunnels get more crowded than a subway in peak tourist times so again we were glad to be there off season.

 

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Early the next morning we bid adieu to Canada and crossed the border at Niagara back into the States. It was a chilly morning as a cold front had moved through overnight. The morning temps were 41F (5C) so we finally had the cooler weather we were looking forward to but this time in spades. We continued through Buffalo, NY and south to Penn Dixie in Hamburg, NY. We were scheduled to meet Malcolm there in the morning. We arrived early and sat outside the gate waiting for people to arrive. Though this was a Friday (not an open weekend day) there was a school group visiting so folks from the Hamburg Natural History Society arrived at some point and opened up the gates.

 

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After waiting outside the gate for some time listening to podcasts we decided it would probably be wise to see if Malcolm had somehow slipped by without us seeing him. We parked the car among the many others that had arrived by this time. We bundled up in all the layers of clothes that we had and headed out across the site. There were some very nice informational signs at the site which were very impressive and presented the information about this formation very clearly.

 

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It turns out that even though we arrived early, Malcolm had arrived even earlier. He is a member of the society and so has access on weekdays and had already let himself in (and re-locked the gate after entering). We missed the coldest part of the morning sitting inside the warm car (which was not an overall bad thing) and were surprised to spot Malcolm and fellow forum member @Greg.Wood already well underway with their excavations at the trilobite fossil bearing layer. Pry bars, sledge hammers and chisels were being used to break out sections of rock from the selected layer. Site clean-up is a snap if you bring along a repurposed leaf blower.

 

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Before too long other TFF members started arriving and, though it was still quite windy, it actually started to warm up just a bit--especially if you were tucked below ground level where we were excavating. Monica and her daughter Viola arrived and soon got to work helping with the splitting out of sections of rock. Monica also started a nice post (with lots of great photos) for this TFF member meet-up and you can view that here if you haven't already seen it:

 

http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/89199-penn-dixie-with-forum-members/

 

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The school group surface hunting nearby was naturally curious as to what we were doing down in our pit and stopped by to watch us pry out large chunks of rock.

 

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Before long Kane and his significant other Deb showed up and then the earth trembled at his presence--well actually, the trembling was probably due to Kane sliding chunks of rock around with pry bars. Though we were still bundled up in multiple layers (Tammy looks like she was wearing a sleeping bag with sleeves), Kane exhibited his Canadian tendencies and worked in a short-sleeve shirt (what a man). ;) It wasn't too long before we had a large number of chunks pulled and drying out a bit to split at the end of the day when we were too tired to pull out any more large chunks.

 

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Greg had mentioned a creek on the Penn Dixie site where he often looked for brachiopods weathering out of the banks. Despite collecting a good number of brachiopods at Hungry Hollow, these were likely different species and I still had not had my fill of these novel little bivalved fossils. Our first site where we had collected (Ordovician) brachiopods was a few years back at the St. Leon road cut in Indiana. While we were there we, by pure chance, met up with forum members Diane @Mediospirifer and Carl. This time was not by chance as we had contacted them when setting up this trip to purposely meet-up again in the field. They arrived after midday and Diane spent some time collecting and washing some micro-matrix from the site to take back home and search through for any micro-fossils present. Carl hunted around the site and found some productive areas to dig. I met up with Carl on my search for the creek and he was helpful in pointing me in the right direction.

 

The creek bed was mostly dry at this time of the year but it was obvious that the erosion during periods of rain were degrading the matrix and exposing brachiopods in the banks. the creek bed descended quite a bit along its length and it was interesting that the density of eroded brachiopods varied as the fossiliferous layers were encountered.

 

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After having some fun surface hunting for brachiopods in the banks of the creek, it was time to return to the digging area and get to splitting some rock. Some of the members managed to split out some nice trilobites. A gas powered rock saw made quick work of trimming down the slabs to a manageable size. We found several rolled up ("rollers") but did not come upon any nice prone trilobites in our searching. The chunks of rock we had split out was seeming to resist splitting nicely along even bedding planes. Instead it tended to split off in small spalls and chips. In the end we did a pretty good job of aiding erosion and entropy by making a lot of little ones out of big ones.

 

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Diane and Carl finished the day storing their washed micro-matrix and packaging up their finds to take home. It was a really fun time at Penn Dixie and I can see why it is a draw for not only school groups but TFF members from hours away. We headed out to dinner with Diane and Carl to plan our following day with them.

 

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The next morning we met back up with Diane and Carl to visit the Museum of the Earth run by the Paleontological Research Institute (PRI) in Ithaca, NY. It is a small museum but it is packed with loads of interesting exhibits. In addition to the temporary exhibit are (which had a great display of various animal skulls) there were the permanent exhibits which featured a great variety of fossil displays. I was once again lax in pulling out the camera and instead was immersed and absorbed by the information in the exhibits. Diane however took this opportunity to travel through the museum taking copious photos for a planned "virtual visit" to the museum that will hopefully soon be featured here in the A Trip to the Museum subforum.

 

After a couple of enjoyable hours in the museum we headed out back for a repeat of how we had met Diane and Carl in the first place--a fossil hunt at a road cut. They knew of a nice quite road cut that had some good fossil exposures so we followed them to the location and then got out and started hunting for some more Devonian fossils. Here we are assuming the fossil hunting position which closely resembled the "I lost a contact lens" position. :P

 

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It was kind of neat to see small clumps of moss with raised sporophyte structures called setae which support the capsules that contain the reproductive spores. It is also interesting to see the fractures that cause the rock to cleave into such straight faces.

 

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It didn't take too long before brachiopods, bivalves, and a trace fossil (ichnofossil) relatively common here named Zoophycus. This is thought to possibly be the feeding traces of an organism around a fixed point. These swirly forms were easy to spot once you got the search image (shown in first two photos).

 

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Before we left, Carl had managed to find an exceedingly rare Devonian T-rex claw. :P

 

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The following morning we had another great TFF group meet-up. This time it was at another Devonian site called Deep Springs Road. Forum member @Jeffrey P coordinated this meet-up. When Tammy and I arrived at the prescribed coordinates we found Jeffrey and forum admin Tim @Fossildude19 already at the site. This site has a higher biodiversity of mollusks (both bivalves and gastropods) than the Penn Dixie site. I think I remember hearing that it is the same formation (or similar anyway) but that the habitat and faunal composition is significantly different.

 

Throughout the morning we were joined by Dave @Darktooth, Mike @Pagurus and his wife Leila (who brought along scrumptious cookies) and Diane and Carl who were able to join us again for a marathon third day of collecting in the field.

 

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We all scattered about the site and tried different methods of fossil hunting. Surface hunting turned up some nice specimens as did grabbing chunks of weathered out rock and splitting that with a hammer to see what might be hidden inside. Trying to pull out chunks of rock to split on bedding planes seemed to provide some prizes as well. Here's a nice trilobite peeking out of the rock and Tim's sweet Goniatite and a big brachiopod that Tammy found.

 

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Here are some close-ups of some of my finds: the bivalve (I believe Grammysioidea was mentioned but I'm likely mistaken ;)), I believe the next was a Palaeozygopleura (as much fun to say as it is to find), and the last is an unusual gastropod that almost looks like a bivalve shell--Retispira leda.

 

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I tried my hand at attempting to split some rock on the bedding plane and had some success in doing so. Spotted some nice bivalves, gastropods, and a trilobite using this method.

 

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The (potentially) large trilobite Dipleura dekayi was elusive but showed itself in pieces. Here is one of the disarticulated body segments showing the characteristing pustulated surface.

 

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Tim and Jeffrey trying different hunting techniques. Me dislodging a small brachiopod. A slab that gave up a number of individual crinoid stem segments and an orthocone nautiloid.

 

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I was really glad that our visit could act as a reasonable excuse to gather together TFF members from across New York as well as Massachusetts and Connecticut for this meet-up. This was to be our last hunting in the Devonian (for a while) and we were soon to enter the transitional stage in the middle of this roadtrip.

 

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The next morning I did find it necessary to interrupt our steady diet of podcasts while driving on the roadtrip to locate and play the James Taylor song Sweet Baby James. Though it was not the first of December we were indeed on the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston and I could not resist (it seemed like a good roadtrip song):

 

Now the first of December was covered with snow
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
The Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

 

We promised a friend we would stop in Boston along our route. She is the producer of one of our favorite NPR word game quiz shows called Says You. I've contributed some rounds that they've used on the show (and I'm currently working on new rounds). If you've managed to read this far through the trip report, it should not come as a surprise to you that words are one of my "things". :P After an enjoyable dinner, Laura took us out the next morning to show us around Walden Pond. This kettle lake in Concord, MA was formed by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age but its fame would come much more recently. In 1845 writer (and philosopher) Henry David Thoreau built a tiny one-room cabin on the northern shore of this pond on land owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and lived here ("deliberately" as he called it) for two years. This experience was the basis for his book entitled Walden; or, Life in the Woods (would need a catchier title if it were to be published today). It was on our literary bucket list to make this pilgrimage and we had a beautiful crisp autumn morning to do so.

 

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While we were in the Boston area we stopped in to see the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The specific draw was to see one of Harvard's most famous treasures: the Blaschka Glass Flowers. The glass flowers were commissioned in 1886 by the first director of Harvard's Botanical Museum. This was long before materials like plastic were available and fresh specimens of plants or more likely pressed brown herbarium specimens were used for teaching botany classes. The museum's director had learned about a father and son team of Czech glass artists, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, and had them create a unique collection of over 4,000 glass models representing over 800 plant species. Docents in this exhibit probably never get tired of answering visitor's questions of where the glass models are as the models the Blaschkas created defy your expectation of what can be created with glass.

 

Below are just a tiny sampling of some of the more amazing pieces that are truly amazing. Yup. Unbelievably, glass--all of it.

 

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I had first learned of the Blaschka glass artisans a few decades ago as the other topic they tackled were marine invertebrates. Much of this collection is held at the Cornell University and the original drawings at the Corning Museum of Glass.

 

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While we were at the Harvard museum we couldn't pass up a chance to ogle the fossils and the marine collection. @Fossildude19 has a special appreciation for the coelacanth species Diplurus newarki so we had to photograph the specimen on display. I, myself, have an affection (if you could call it that) for Cookiecutter Sharks--extant or fossilized and so had to photograph my favorite miniature bioluminescent ectoparasitic shark.

 

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Before we left the Boston area we had one more bit of National Public Radio geekiness to assuage. We've enjoyed the radio show Car Talk for decades and felt that a quick visit to the Good New Garage, an establishment founded by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, was in order. Tom has since passed and Ray no longer works at the shop but it still a bit of an eclectic pop culture icon that we couldn't miss.

 

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We got up early, said goodbye to the New England charm of Boston, and turned the rental car south for a day of driving. This day would be a multi-state oddyssey worthy of an over-the-road trucker. We began the morning in Massachusetts and crossed through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, clipped the corner of Delaware (for which we paid a $4.00 toll to enter the state and a $4.00 toll to leave it 14.8 miles later :wacko:), Maryland, and finally Virginia. We checked into our last hotel of the trip where we were centrally located for our roamings through Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. over the next few days.

 

The next morning we drove down to the Calvert Marine Museum on the tip of a peninsula where the Patuxent River splits off from Chesapeake Bay. Here we were to meet-up with another forum member Walt @Gizmo to see the museum and explore the Calvert Cliffs. It was no problem meeting up with Walt as he volunteers at the museum and had already been back from a morning collecting trip with the museum when we arrived. Walt introduced us to John Nance, the Collections Manager at the CMM. John showed us a nice sample of the types of Miocene fossils that could be found in the area. After that we got a nice overview of the museum itself. There is more to this museum than just the paleontology exhibits covering diverse local topics like estuarine biology, maritime history, lighthouses, etc. We, of course, focused on the paleo portion (which was presented very nicely). I particularly enjoyed the megalodon reconstruction which, instead of just a tooth-filled set of jaws came complete with more of the cartilaginous portions (including big googly eyes). We were also amused by the fossil display which included some great pseudofossils.

 

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We also spent some time talking with a volunteer in the prep lab who was cleaning the matrix from some sand dollar echinoids in the collection. Walt showed us a really cool chunk of shell hash that he found some time ago that had some fossil sea stars visible on the surface.

 

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We could easily have spent all day in the Calvert Marine Museum but we had other plans. Walt can let John know that we were coming to the area to experience the Calvert Cliffs for the first time and so John had contacted one of the land owners with property that extends to the cliffs to secure us permission to cross through his property to access the beach. Walt mentioned that we had a very low tide this day in the afternoon and so our conditions would be optimal. Actually, it was quite breezy in the morning and there was a small craft advisory issued for parts of the Chesapeake Bay. Our alternate plans for the day were to drive up to where Walt keeps a small inflatable Zodiac style boat. The plan was to pick up the boat and drive down the coast to near where ended up anyway. The path through the forest and down steep slopes and across an incredibly slick layer of wet clay were probably more treacherous than a ride in a small boat would have been. Walt had to laugh when we finally made it to the base of the cliffs and could see the conditions on the water which, instead of the forecasted nasty chop, was glassy smooth and calm.

 

We parked the cars, donned our waders, and gathered our equipment and headed off toward the water's edge. I'm glad that John knew the landowner well and that we had explicitly received permission to cross through this private property as I would have turned around instantly at the posted signs. Instead, we trudged along and slid down steep slopes (mostly on our backsides), and walked along the small creek that led to the opening in the cliff where we could access the beach. The gray clay layer just above the beach sand would have made a room full of oiled banana peels seem like a walk in the park. We opted for a low center of gravity crossing. From this low vantage point Walt quickly noticed some small shark teeth on the beach sand--we were definitely in the right place.

 

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We walked along the edge of the water trying to avoid walking on the areas where the clay layer peeked out from under the sand. John was inspecting the cliffs to see what might be emerging since last he'd been to this stretch of the cliffs. Walt was in search of some nice gravel to start digging and sifting for fossils. We walked around checking out the cliffs and looking at the various layers that look and erode differently. They pointed out the fossil rich layers that were responsible for the majority of the items we'd be finding.

 

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It wasn't too long before Walt noticed a nice Carcharodon hastalis tooth hiding under the slightly murky water at the waterline. Walt was hoping for a larger bed of gravel for us to pick through but recent storms tend to move materials around and coarse gravel was presently a bit scarce along this stretch of the cliffs.

 

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We focused on shoveling and scooping up gravel which we sifted through looking for some additional finds. We had to work hard to come up with finds and I quickly realized how lucky we are to have the Peace River in Florida that is chocked full of fossil shark teeth compared to most other collecting areas. A bit of perseverance soon got us into additional finds. More nice size Carcharodon and Isurus teeth would continue to appear one by one. They were all in very good shape--likely they had not traveled too far from where they had exited the cliff. A beat-up meg tooth and an Aetobatus ray plate and Hemipristis upper tooth widened the diversity a little.

 

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Some really pretty teeth were turning up in the beach scoop strainer we were using to poke around through the gravel bed. It wasn't long before we decided that our first trip to the Calvert Cliffs was an outstanding success. I attribute this in small part to our efforts on site but mainly in the knowledge, experience, and contacts for accessibility to more remote stretches of the cliffs. All that was left to do was to get past that slippery clay layer again and then climb our way back up to where we had parked. Tammy and I have a long-running inside joke about scuba diving. In the dive magazines it is pictured as a glamorous activity with beautiful people modeling the latest in dive gear in exotic locations. The reality of it is that divers often look unsightly after a dive with a mop of tangled wet hair and a line from their mask surrounding their eyes. Often great dive spots are in remote areas and exiting the water in high surf among a slippery rocky shore on hands and knees is often the polar opposite of glamorous. As Tammy crawled her way back up through the sloped slippery clay at the end of this trip I said to her, "Fossil hunting is a glamorous sport" and she laughed at the absurdity of our exit from the site. I count myself lucky to be married to someone who enjoys fossil hunting and puts up with the less glamorous bits (are there any glamorous bits to fossil hunting?) and I appreciate the forum members who go out of their way (and occasionally risk life and limb) to make these fossil hunting excursions possible. Tammy is still in awe over how friendly and accommodating all the forum members are on our trips.

 

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The next morning we were to meet more great folks for our last fossil outing. @MarcoSr had arranged to meet us for a bit of beach-combing and some micro-matrix collecting from the Paleocene Aquia Formation on the Potomac River. We once again bundled up with every layer of clothes that we had brought. Tammy was quite happy that her waders were made of an additional insulating layer of neoprene as we drove to out meeting point. While driving down I watched the digital thermometer in the rental car dip to 39F (4C) and actually sound a tone and flash a snowflake icon apparently indicating that the temps were cold enough to let snow fly. That wasn't going to happen this morning as it was a virtually cloudless clear and crisp morning. The prospect of sunstroke miles north in Arkona, Ontario only 10 days before was just a distant memory as we layered up to keep warm this morning.

 

Marco had brought along his friend and fossil hunting partner, Mike, on this morning to keep us company on the beach. Marco has collected the Paleocene Aquia Formation from this location before and he brought the shovel, sifter, and plastic bags he would need to collect this morning. Tammy was once again astounded by the graciousness exhibited by our TFF hosts along this trip (frankly so was I). While Mike took us up and down the beach and showed us the search image we'd need to find fossils along the beach, Marco took his micro-matrix collecting gear and selected a good spot for the collection. If you are lucky you'll have a few fossil hunting buddies who will take you to places they know where fossils can be found, but it is an entirely different thing to have them offer to spend the time and effort to collect the micro-matrix for you so that your limited time on the beach could be best spent surface hunting for prizes. Once again, we felt like traveling royalty or rockstars with the kindness we were shown throughout this trip by our fellow fossil hunters.:faint:

 

The short hike to the beach helped to chase off a bit of the morning chill. Here is the little beach that we searched for fossils in the tideline. The Aquia Formation packed with shell hash was very visible along the base of the short cliffs along this stretch of the beach.

 

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It didn't take us long before we started seeing the distinctive gray slender enameled crowns of various species of Sand Tiger teeth that are the most common fossil we found here. We widened that biodiversity a bit with some Cretalamna and Otodus and some other items which I still need to identify.

 

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I'm not sure how Marco could stand having his hands in cold water for so long as I had to keep warming mine after momentary dips in the shallow water to recover a tooth here and there. It wasn't too long before Marco had filled a number of zip-top baggies which we loaded into our backpacks for the hike back out to the cars.

 

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We stopped at a store on the way back to the hotel room to pick up some black plastic garbage bags (which we had neglected to pack at the start of the trip) and some duct tape to secure bags of micro-matrix for the trip back home. Before we bagged, taped, and double bagged our micro-matrix stash for packing, I laid out several garbage bags and spread out the cold wet micro-matrix gravel. For the next day we oscillated the temperature control in the hotel room alternating between toasty warm to encourage evaporation and drying of the gravel and max air conditioning to desiccate the moisture from the air in the room. While the room was carpeted in gravel, we hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door to avoid upsetting the housekeeping service. (This is not my first time doing this.) ;)

 

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The fossil collection portion of our trip was complete. I used my digital luggage scale to adjust the placement of bags of fossils in different suitcases and finally got all 4 bags within a pound or two of the maximum weight of 50 pounds (22.7 kg) in each bag. Did I mention before that I always fly on Southwest Airlines for these type of trips. ;)

 

We still had some activities on our itinerary but they'd require less equipment at this point. We downshifted out of fossil hunting mode and entered tourist mode. Tammy has been reading a book called Founding Gardners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation (Andrea Wulf) and has had the desire to visit Jefferson's and Washington's estates. Monticello was a several hour drive and did not make it into this trip (next one for sure) but Mount Vernon was well within reach and so we drove down to Mount Vernon to view Washington's estate. The restored buildings were interesting to see but Tammy's focus was to see Martha's gardens that she had read so much about.

 

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After a lovely day wandering Mount Vernon high on the shores of the Potomac soaking in the sights and history, we were ready for our last meet-up of the trip. We stopped by to see a true legend of TFF--forum Administrator @Auspex. We met with Chas at his birding & nature shop and chatted for a while till closing time. Then we moved over to a nearby restaurant and had some great food that was made even better with sparkling conversation. I have been known to have the ability to talk the oxygen out of a room but Chas had so many interesting stories and family history that we were delightfully captivated. If Chas wasn't eager to get to call it an early night so he could get up in the wee hours to try to see that night's meteor shower, I suspect they might have had to turn off the lights and kick us out of the restaurant. Our visit with Chas capped off a series of great meetings during this trip. I find people who are interested in fossils and fossil hunting to be very interesting in their non-fossil interests as well. I'm not sure if it is causation or merely correlation that links interesting personalities with fossil collecting (not sure it matters). All I know is that the folks we meet may come from a wide diversity of backgrounds, educations, beliefs and interests but when it comes to talking fossils--we are all kindred spirits.

 

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Darktooth

Holy cow Ken! What an adventure! I am glad that you had such a great trip. It was a pleasure meeting and hunting with you and Tammy. So when is your next adventure! ;)

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Next adventure is much more tame (and closer to home). The season is opening up at the Montbrook site so we'll be up in Gainesville this week volunteering at that dig site with the FLMNH. Don't get to keep any of the fossils we find but I do get to take lots of photos. :)

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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goatinformationist

Wow, that took a lot of adult beverages to get through.  I'll reread tomorrow for those parts that kept shaking the first time through.

Thanks so much for the vicarious vacation.  It was worth every penny.

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We enjoyed the entire trip. One of the ways I try to contribute to the forum is with one of my few meager skills--story telling. I take lots of photos on trips so that I can better remember the details of them later. If I can encourage others to get out and plan a fossil hunting trip or even if I only provide some nice eye candy and vicarious vacations, then I've contributed in my way to making this a more interesting and enjoyable forum.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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jpc

Hey Ken.  That was too long to read in a short sitting, but I will say this.  Of all the talk I have seen here about Penn Dixie, I htink those are the first pix I have seen of the place.  Thanks for that.  i will get to reading it later.  

 

Looks like a great trip.  I remember the glass flowers at Harvard from my youth.  

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