THE NEW JERSEY PALEONTOLOGICAL SOCIETY
"2001 FRANTIC FOSSIL FRENZY"
Copyright © 2001-2009 by Mike Everhart
Last revised 09/07/2009
Almost every year since 1991, I've had the opportunity to host a group of very enthusiastic amateur paleontologists from the New Jersey Paleontological Society. They load up their gear and head west in a 10 day marathon of visits to fossil sites that would test anyone's endurance. This year was no exception and the Kansas portion turned to be what was probably the best yet. First, you have to understand that these guys leave New Jersey on Thursday afternoon and drive straight through, 25 hours or so, to get to western Kansas. My son, Matt (center, kneeling above), and I met them at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day. After a quick tour of the exhibits, we stopped for dinner and then headed westward to Wakeeney, where we were staying for the next two days in the field. Geoffrey Nodkin, webmaster at Paleozoic.org was along for the first time. Besides being interested (!!) in fossils, he's an excellent web designer and photographer. He has his posted pictures of the entire 2001 NJPS "Frantic Fossil Frenzy" on the web and took other pictures that he graciously allow me to use on this page. It's unusual that I get to be the subject of the photography, so bear with me as we spend a couple of good days in the chalk........ (All pictures, except as noted, are copyright © Geoffrey Nodkin and used with his permission)
The first day started off with a bright, cloudless sky and warmed up into the upper eighties. Being out in the chalk, however, is a bit like being surrounded by the sun because it reflects so well off of the light colored rocks.... There were no complaints. It doesn't get much better than this. Here Matt and I explore some of the chalk canyons on a site in eastern Gove County.
Shortly after these pictures were taken, I got down to some serious fossil hunting and found two complete skulls of a large fish called Xiphactinus audax in the space of 10 minutes and about 150 feet. These were just 'little guys', probably not more than 10-12 feet in length when alive. Since I already had my limit of X-fish (here's my 17 footer on display in Atlanta; the original is in the North American Museum of Ancient Life in Utah), I gave them away to the NJPS crew. Geoff did the dig on one of them, finding a large number of vertebrae and uncovering a nice skull, and then was nice enough to take pictures while Tom Caggiano and I put a plaster and burlap jacket around the skull.
When Tom and I finished the jacket on this specimen, we went over the hill and put another jacket on the skull that Fred Ackerman had uncovered. Then we had to wait for the plaster to dry. Even in the hot, afternoon sun, it seemed to be taking an awfully long time to set up. We were tired and a bit sunburned by then and looking forward to a meal and a shower..... it was about 7 PM before we had turned both jackets over, and carried them back to the vehicles. It was about 8:00 PM when we got back to the motel.... We were hungry enough by then that we elected to go to the restaurant without cleaning up and changing clothes. The usual "stand around and talk" about the day's finds was rather short that night.
The next day, we went a bit further west (65 miles or so) to a site in the upper Smoky Hill Chalk south and west of Russell Springs, in Logan County. This area had been one of E. D. Cope's favorite sites in the early 1870s. It turned out to be a productive day for just about everyone. My best find... just a couple of very nice mosasaur vertebrae .... happened right after I stepped into the chalk.... the round knob of a medium sized vertebra was coming out of the chalk along the middle of a slope. Several other people had walked right over it but it drew my attention. Under the first vertebra was another, just as nicely preserved, and behind that, a third. I stopped with the first two because the chalk was really tough and I had other places that I wanted to explore. The nice thing about these two vertebrae was their preservation.... essentially uncrushed. The last picture (mine) shows the vertebrae after they had the chalk cleaned off and the loose pieces re-attached. The rest of the mosasaur waits for another day.
The rest of the crew found various other remains, including part of a Pteranodon wing, parts of a Platecarpus mosasaur skull, ribs and vertebrae of another mosasaur, fish remains, sharks teeth and even a snake or two. By about 3 PM, clouds were gathering, and a big storm was moving to the north of us. We decided that was a good time to call an end to the field work and get on the road again. Matt and I returned home while the NJPS crew headed off into the sunset and day 4 of their Frantic Fossil Frenzy....... A big Kansas THANK YOU to Geoff for providing these pictures!