Summer is approaching.
Its time for geology students to go outside. Here are ideas from Marina
and Celina Suarez, twin sisters who have loved fossils since they were in first
grade. The sisters are working on their undergraduate geology degrees at Trinity
University in San Antonio, Texas, and will graduate in May 2003. Here, Marina
and Celina each tell the story of one of their favorite days during their summer
internships last year.
This summer, Celina and Marina will both do some paleontology research at the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah. Yes we will be going together this summer, Marina says. I promise we didnt plan it that way. It just worked out that way. The sisters plan to attend graduate school to study paleontology and geology.
Searching for fossils in the Baldlands
Discovery in the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
inthe Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
When Mike Leschin, a geologist for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Price, Utah, called me last summer to offer a Student Conservation Association visitor education position at the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, I didnt hesitate for a second. Sure, it wasnt as academic and research-oriented as some other projects I could have chosen to do over the summer of 2001, but it was an opportunity to do something I really love: paleontology.
Ive always been interested in rocks and fossils. In first grade, my sister and my friends found a large rock on the playground full of marine fossils. We used pencils, plastic cafeteria spoons and forks, pens, other rocks, anything we could find to pry the fossil out. Unfortunately, the teachers didnt think this was a very safe playground activity, and so they made us stop. In second grade we studied dinosaurs. I was hooked on dinosaurs; they were so interesting. I did whatever I could to get my hands on anything about fossils and dinosaurs.
Celina Suarez smiles as she works in
My childhood fascination has continued into college, and has now become my career aspiration. Working at the famous Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry was the opportunity I was looking for. It is one of the largest deposits of Allosaurus fragilis in the world. I worked as an interpreter at the visitor center, explaining the history and mysteries of the quarry. After visitors finish their tour of the center, they can walk through the quarry buildings. The north building is open to the public, and has a catwalk in it so visitors can see bones in-situ, and see what a dinosaur dig site looks like. The south building is not open to the public, but while staff and volunteers from the University of Utah were there digging, they openly invited people in to see what new things were being discovered, and were happy to answer questions.
Scott Sampson, a paleontologist at the University of Utah, generously added the other three BLM volunteers and me to their excavation permit and allowed us to dig too, as long as we were officially trained by Mike Getty, director of collection at the Utah Museum of Natural History and the leader at the site. After a day of learning to dig properly, we were allowed to begin.
During my internship, I spent some days giving tours at the visitor center and other days working on cleaning bones taken out of the quarry. But my favorite days were those I spent digging in the quarry.
My main job was to lower mudstone in the area to a certain level, so that Bucky Gates, a masters student at the University of Utah, could start excavation on his research square. Buckys project on the taphonomy of the quarry was the reason university paleontologists were there that summer.
My first really big discovery didnt come for a few weeks, but it was the coolest feeling. It was my turn to dig that day. I busied myself moving small chunks of mudstone with my awl, and making sure there were no other pieces of bone in the chunks I took out. I moved a small piece of mudstone and revealed a section of a bone that had small divots lined up in a row. These divots were the places where nerve endings came out from the roots of the teeth. It was a jawbone, probably of an Allosaurus. I was so excited. I covered it with some vinac, a consolidant, and got up to run to the visitor center and spread the joy to the other volunteers. But when I got to the entrance of the building, I saw some visitors coming down the trail toward the building. I had to stay and answer questions, so I shared the joy with them. They left, and I ran up and got one of the other volunteers, Jon, who stay and answer questions, so I spread the joy with them. They left, and I ran up and got one of the other volunteers, Jon, who also had a little more experience excavating, to help me excavate the jaw further. As we cleaned, we discovered that it still had its teeth. We found that it was the dentary or lower left jawbone of an Allosaurus.
I had a great time digging, and I am even more determined to become a paleontologist. Its a great feeling looking at something that hasnt been seen for more than 100 million years. Imagining the Allosaurus in the flesh, walking around on the ground we were digging through, is just amazing. If you ever get a chance to pass through Price, Utah, you should go to the quarry. You might be able to see people actually digging while you are there.
For information about internship and volunteer positions, check out SCA and the GeoCorps program from the Geological Society of America.