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a frigid, fossiliferous end to 2022


Jared C

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@Uncle Siphuncle has a great saying that I think of often - "To the motivated go the spoils". 

To embody that sort of spirit, I have focused my efforts into some hard to reach places in less than ideal conditions, and not always to success. But, now and then it pays off...

 

I was back home for the holidays, with ample Cretaceous strata in every direction. I have been looking forward to this planned week and a half bonanza for months. With the Ochem monkey off my back, my thoughts were now more pleasantly filled with Cretaceous sea life again. Finding it easy to wake due to the dreams I was having about my coming day all night, I zipped up in four layers and shot out. 

 

Temperatures for most of the days of this trip report were ridiculous for Texas standards, at one point dropping as low as 17 degrees F (-8C), but more consistently floating at less than 30 F (-1 C). I figured I was the only person mental enough to do any creek stomping in these conditions, and so soon before Christmas. On my first excursion, hopes were high, as a previous storm several days before brought creeks way up, though now the waters were back to normal levels.  

 

I was delighted to find my my assumption about the extent of my fossil addiction was correct - no one else had hit my favorite gravel bank yet. The flood spoils weren't of their usual quantity this time, but I was happy to see one of my personal best Cretolamna cf. appendiculata teeth. Shortly after, a nice Ptychodus mortoni made an appearance, to my continued delight. Every Ptychodus I find probably adds weeks to my life. 

 

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Other finds included a broken Enchodus palatine, a Scapanorynchus tooth from a gravel bank a little further down, and this interesting bone that I can't seem to make anything of:

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With my first gravel hunt of the behind me, and my eyes finally tuned into the fossil "frequency", I drove home happy to have spent some time outdoors, looking forward to the coming day.

The next morning (Christmas eve day) brought me to a new Eagle Ford spot. As with my hunt the day before, success was limited. This time however, the creek I was meant to be stomping in was completely frozen, so, spending some time on the exposure above the bank, I found some success in the Ptychodus realm again.

 

The best of the few Ptychodus from this exposure is shown below. I assume Ptychodus anonymous, but I haven't seen this exceptionally high-crowned morphology in the species from the cenomanian Bouldin Flags member before.

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I moved downstream, carefully rock hopping, until I settled into an inconspicuous nook sporting some intensely shelly hashplates. The increased current here kept the ice at bay. I didn't hit it particularly hard, as I would like to wait for water levels to drop a bit there, but the look of that layer is exactly what I peel my eyes for in the lower eagle ford, as I have had great success in that horizon in other sites in the past. 

 

Below, in order: Squalicorax falcatus, Cretoxyrhina? and Ptychodus cf. occidentalis. Little did I know that the meager Ptychodus finds were just a build up to a Ptychodus grand finale, only a few days out.

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The next day was Christmas, and I was out again. My family celebrates on Christmas eve, as is German tradition (My family is South African, but my German raised Namibian step mom is boss... not that I'm complaining since the Germans really have Christmas figured out with their interesting cookies and Stollen, my seasonal favorite)

 

My creek stomping efforts at first were thwarted, as the thought of soaking myself to get to the most desirable gravel bars was unbearable. However, I still made a nice find in a less productive spot, Scapanorynchus texanus.

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In the next few days, temperatures began warming, and I made the drive back out to the recent Mosasaur dig site, with the intent of exploring a spot of bone left in the bank. I made little progress, but in exploring a small Atco deposit in the vicinity, I noticed a small Scapanorynchus tooth.

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The day after I found myself wading through deep water for many long stretches. The water physically burned, and I was frozen to the core - the air may have been warmer but the creek itself was unchanged. Despite the admirable attempt, nothing came of that hunt.

 

While I was happy to be out in the field and interacting with the little gems above, I was itching to start making big finds and see redemption for the day I spent submerged with nothing to show. That redemption came from my next hunt, just a few days ago.

 

It was back to looking in gravel at a honey hole I've left undisturbed for nearly 5 months. I was always confident in the secrecy of the spot, as it's pretty hard to get to and quite unassuming once you're there. Much to my dismay, I was immediately met with foot prints - that was a punch to the gut. Rather than moving and stopping along the bank as a fisherman would, the footprints followed in a zig zag, as a hunter would  :Horrified:. I could only hope that I was instead seeing the traces of an arrowhead hunter. While they have sharp eyes, they're more likely to miss a fossil.  

 

My gloom was dashed quickly when, much to my delight, I was met with a tooth that had me whooping and hollering. Sitting like a beacon in the gravel was a preposterously large Ptychodus tooth (also, I guess that guy wasn't a hunter, because you couldn't miss this one...PHEW!)

 

First, the in situ:

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Picking it up, I found it to be quite water worn. That's ok though, how can one possibly complain when they're holding a monstrous beauty like this?

 

...and is that it? Is it's size all that had me excited?

No!! As if it couldn't get better, I quickly realized that this species was a first for me - P. latissimus, and of this I'm about only 90% certain, and take the ID based on the very thick, sharply triangular transverse ridges. I knew some species like P. mortoni, P. marginalis, and P. polygyrus could reach colossal status, but never have I heard of P. latissimus reaching these proportions. 

 

Here it is in hand, below. In it's very worn state, it's still 4cm in width, (about 40-41 mm). I can only imagine the size of this tooth before tumbling into the creek. 

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To be fair though, I also don't have a clear understanding of where to draw the line for Ptychodus sizes. At what width is a tooth considered big? Huge? Not sure, but other Ptychodus enthusiasts like @LSCHNELLE, @siteseer, and @Thomas.Dodson might be able to offer some insight into size ranges, as well as corrective ID if opinions are different. All I know is that this the the biggest tooth I've so far seen in person. 

 

With the adrenaline pumping and the day young, I got right back at it. Not far up, I made another find that had me jumping with joy:

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While a mosasaur vert may not seem like big deal to those accustomed to the North Sulpher River, these are hard to come by in the creeks I frequent, and this is the first I've found in the entire watershed. 

 

Watching the ordeal were several dozen (indeed, dozen) vultures in the trees above me. Being watched by scavengers with an overcast sky and leafless wintering trees, the setting was a stark contrast to the elation I was feeling. I soon found the source of the vulture's attention though. Some paces away laid a freshly dead boar - not yet stinking too badly but already crawling with flies. I decided to steer clear, a mistake that thankfully reversed itself on the way back. 

 

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I traveled up further, finding odd bits here and there, nothing of note. When I came to my usual turn around point, marked by a deep stretch of river, I was pleasantly surprised to find my watery obstacle had been mostly filled in with gravel. Jumping on the opportunity to explore further than I have before, I waded in and discovered a beautiful bluff around the bend. My hopes were not high, as my old turn around point nearby is anyway historically barren, but I didn't mind. Exploring a new spot is usually just that - exploring more than hunting. 

 

The huge sheet of late Cretaceous cliffs along one side of the water was epic, and I spent a lot of time admiring them. Running at the bottom was the clearest water I've encountered in the area, I couldn't help from wanting to drink it (thankfully I left that thought alone. ) In the pic below, the foreground gravel is underwater too.

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I eventually came to another deep section, and not in the mood to swim, turned around once again, this time to be met with a lovely Ptychodus mortoni at the base of one of these bluffs.

 

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I was ecstatic. Gravel finds this well preserved are hard to come by. 

 

The trek back continued, and after lots of sloshing from gravel bar to gravel bar, I finally came ashore to the large bar containing the dead boar. Feeling lucky, I held my breath and walked to it, to  explore the only section of gravel I'd skipped so far. As I approached, I saw this, sitting off to the side of the carcass:

 

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My first glance said "bovid", then it registered that this tooth had actual color to it... Pleistocene! Bison! Picking it up, it then dawned on me that this was not bovid, but rather my first Pleistocene camel tooth - Camelops sp

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What a helluva way to end the day, and my last hunt back at home (for a week at least - work pulled me back to College Station so I'll be back this weekend for sure).

 

In two weeks, a paleo friend of mine is coming down from North Dakota to do some creek stomping with me, so in the best interests of giving him the greatest experience possible, it's time to let these creeks recharge. When I return, it'll be to explore more new spots from the backlog I have marked in my library. I hope you all find some time to get outside this winter, and if the snow is keeping you in, may your prep projects keep you busy and surprised :fingerscrossed: 

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