Man and His Horse

In paleontological exploration as in any uncertain enterprise, optimism can get the better of you while luck will only get you so far. I was soon to experience a freakish but nearly deadly incident that forever changed my casual attitude toward a certain form of transportation. Ironically, the accident had an eerie resonance with John Bell Hatchers Patagonian mishap some ninety years before. Our first few days in Chile were pleasant and uneventful. The plane flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago...

Pampa Castillo

The estancia we had reached on horseback, which marked our salvation from the raging winds and treacherous trails of Pico Sur, had an otherworldly serenity. It hardly seemed to be part of Patagonia at all. The majestic spires of Pico Sur, now in the far distance, kept the cold wind away, and the sun was warm, almost hot, as we peeled off our sweat-stained outerwear. Nearby in a fenced patch of grass were odd austral flightless birds, rheas, that Andy and Mark delighted in chasing. The others...

Journey of Death

True to form, Vaughn didn't give much of a briefing for our first day of field prospecting. Just walk around and look, he said. The bone is blue-white, just like back in the lab. Like everyone else in the small crew of five, I struck out alone. I went along, looking at the ground, moving from one gully to the next, avoiding clumps of mesquite and prickly pear cactus. It was hot that's all I could really think about, except that maybe this job wasn't for me. This went on for several days. I...

Badlands Bones and Bone Hunters

In the summer of 1973, Professor Don Savage invited, nay expected, me to join his Berkeley team for an exploration of Montana and Wyoming even before I hit the books the succeeding fall semester. The prospect thrilled me. I hadn't been to the Rocky Mountains for three years the last time with Vaughn in the Sangre de Cristos and in Monument Valley. Since then I had gained much familiarity with paleontology and even some certification, now that I had completed the master's thesis. It would be...

The Paleontological Chain Gang

The drive from now until the end of the summer is spectacular, Vaughn announced as we headed out the next morning from Santa Fe. He was almost entirely right, and the first part of that drive was just about the best part. We threaded our way north through Rio Arriba County, one of the poorest and most stunningly beautiful regions in the United States. The sky was a dirty shroud of clouds pierced by streams of light that burned the red crests and ridges of Permian rock. The elevation was more...

Dinosaur Dreamer

As odd as it may seem, Los Angeles is a particularly good place to become a paleontologist. I didn't always appreciate this. Indeed, as a young boy I sometimes resented deeply an urban incubation that kept me from steady contact with nature. On rare days there were opportunities. When a hair-dryer wind from the desert blew the smog offshore, I would lope up to a hilltop street appropriately named Grandview. From that high place I could see the whole sweep of the basin, from the slate surface of...

Whales on Mountaintops

For years I had heard about blind luck, triumph, and fame in paleontology. A famous skit staged around the campfire mimicked a famous paleontologist as he twirled in a drunken stupor and literally stumbled over the famous skull of an early humanlike primate. Stories were told about how people found famous dinosaurs in their own backyard or, like Jack Horner, identified bits and pieces of baby dinosaurs in a coffee can in a rock shop. One of the most popular famous tales was about George Olson,...

Hell Creek Is for Dinosaurs

The Berkeley plan for my inaugural summer in Montana and Wyoming called for a reconnaissance of a few historic localities in Montana. We then planned to join Professor Clemens's party at Hell Creek and later head south for more scouting in Wyoming, until we ended up in Washakie Basin, in the far southwestern corner of that state. En route we headed over the cool Sierra Nevada and then downward and eastward into broiling Reno, Nevada. From there we took a jog north toward Winnemucca, Nevada, a...

Above the Clouds and the Condors

In 1988 we returned to Chile with the intention not only to keep working Cerro Smet and Pampa Castillo but also to do some far-ranging reconnaissance in the Andes farther north. We could see on geological maps that several deep rivers cut across the range and flowed into the lush agricultural central valley of Chile south of Santiago. Indicated on those maps were some enticing swaths of blue that represented Cretaceous rocks, possibly with dinosaurs, and red and brown that indicated Early...

The Curious Beasts of Old Baja

My first summer in Montana and Wyoming was almost my last. I couldn't see fettering myself to a gully of sandstone, extracting every skeleton I might find there, and trying to draw from that a complete picture of the ecosystem with all its carnival of the animals from the Cretaceous, Paleocene, or Eocene. My work in San Diego had prepared me for this so-called faunal project, a fine undertaking on a multiyear scale, but it wasn't the kind of thing one might tackle in the short span of a...

Road Cuts and Fossil Vermin

Because of its relevance to studying mammalian history during late Eocene time, San Diego with its sporadic outcrops of fossil beds was an enticing target for field exploration. There was, however, a twofold challenge in fossil hunting in this urban realm of course one had to find fossils, but first one had to find enough exposed rock to look for fossils. The lack of good outcrops drove us to desperate acts. We would see a tempting exposure of white Eocene rock sloping down into a set of...