Not just dinosaurs ~

Hypacrosaurus

Hypacrosaurus, a duckbill dinosaur of the late Cretaceous

The second day of my trip I also went to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, in Thermopolis. Unfortunately, I was so sleep-deprived that I couldn’t do it justice, which was a shame. This is a fantastic museum house in what is essentially an enormous pole barn. Why is something like this in Thermopolis? Because dinosaurs are being excavated here! The center raises donations to support its excavation work on a nearby ranch, as well as its preparation work, which museum visitors can observe through viewing windows. They’re planning for a beautiful new facility where they can better house their fossils and fossil replicas, and they have lots of both. Visitors also can pay to assist at the dig site, which in turn supports the scientific work.

Not just dinosaurs are on display; the museum is organized to show the progression of evolution from early organisms through the age of the dinosaurs, birds, and early mammals. I found myself wishing I had the time to read every single interpretive sign. Most of these iPhone photographs are of actual fossils, not replicas.

Fossil brittle stars

Fossil brittle stars – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Fossil crinoids

Fossil crinoids (sea lilies) – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

An especially prized fossil here is this one from China, of Microraptor, a small dinosaur with feathers not just on its arms but also its legs. You can see the impression of the feathers on all four limbs and also at the end of the tail.

Microraptor

Microraptor, a small dinosaur with feathers on all four limbs – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

The museum has plenty of large, complete dinosaur skeletons. Among the smaller dinosaur fossils is this beautiful specimen of Stenopterygius, a Jurassic-age ichthyosaur. But not just any old Stenopterygius. To quote the interpretive sign: “Ichthyosaurs are vivaparous, meaning they give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. The baby would come out tail-first to prevent them from drowning. This specimen preserves a mother in the act of giving birth.” Wow! And indeed, in the second photo below you can see the baby’s skeleton dangling below the mother. I’ve also included a shot of just the head and upper body because it is so gorgeous.

A female stenopterygius...

A female stenopterygius…

...in the process of giving birth!

…in the process of giving birth! – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Another surprise: Fossilized dinosaur embryos and a reproduction of a nest of baby dinosaurs.

Fossilized dinosaur embryo

Fossilized dinosaur embryo – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

From tiny to enormous: Kids will love the big dinosaur skeletons.

Triceratops horridus

This Triceratops horridus skeleton is the actual fossil, not a replica – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Pliosaur

This head belongs to a complete replica Pliosaur skeleton – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

I’ve been in a lot of natural history museums, so it’s possible I’m just forgetting, but to my knowledge I’d never seen a fossilized mortichnial trackway before. It’s the track or footprints of a dying animal—in this case, the final 32 feet of life of a horseshoe crab, which extended across nine large excavated panels on display. This particular exhibit, more than any other at the center, really brings it home to you that all these animals once were as alive as you are now.

Fossil horseshoe crab

Fossil horseshoe crab and last segment of mortichnial trackway – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

I’m no paleontologist, but I can hardly say enough good things about the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. It’s only a six-hour drive from Loveland, not counting stops, and I’d gladly make a special trip just to visit here again. I didn’t notice any “No photography” signs, so I’ve taken the liberty of posting all of these photos as a kind of advertisement for the center. Long may it live!

Fossil of whiptail stingray

Whiptail stingray – Wyoming Dinosaur Center. I don’t know what exactly all those filaments are, but the beauty of this 50-million-year-old fossil blew me away.

Hot Springs State Park ~

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

I spent part of Sunday at Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, Wyoming. This site is billed as having “The World’s Largest Mineral Hot Spring” (see photograph). The springs, which feed three bathhouses/pools in the park, were acquired from the Shoshone and Arapaho in a 1896 treaty with the stipulation that they be maintained free of charge for everyone. So far, that stipulation has been honored. I didn’t have time to visit any of the bathhouses—and hadn’t brought a swimming suit, not having read up on Thermopolis before I left Loveland. But that was okay; the previous day’s drive had been hot in advance of a front (87 degrees west of Casper in late September!), and I was relishing the refreshing coolness on Sunday. I was also relishing the lack of crowds while I had the chance; things would be very different at Yellowstone.

The park has several places to see the travertine formations created by runoff from the springs. The travertine is deeply “stained” by heat-loving bacteria, making a colorful sight. One of the most interesting things about the hot springs area is the profuse growth of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in the runoff. These bacteria form long, thick mats that ripple in the current like hair. The water where they grow is about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Reddish and orange bacterial mats predominate where the water is warmer.

Streamers of cyanobacteria

Streamers of cyanobacteria live in the runoff channels at Hot Springs State Park

Heat-loving bacteria

Heat-loving bacteria are responsible for the red, orange, and yellow colors

A mix of thermophilic bacteria

A mix of bacteria (reddish-orange) and cyanobacteria (green)

The park is on the Bighorn River, which is actually the downstream reaches of the Wind River. The dual names resulted from the fact that, until Wind River Canyon was discovered, no one realized that the Wind River cuts north through the Owl Creek Mountains. Just south of Thermopolis, it becomes the Bighorn. The original Crow (Apsáalooke) word for the Bighorn is a whopper: lisaxpúatahcheeaashisee, “which translates to English as Large Bighorn Sheep River” (thanks, Wikipedia).

Bighorn River north of Thermopolis

Bighorn River north of Thermopolis

Besides the hot springs, the park also features a suspension bridge over the Bighorn River and a drive through a hilly range that’s home to a buffalo herd. The red sandstone hills surrounding Thermopolis date back to the early Triassic and are called the Red Peak Formation (part of the larger Chugwater Formation). According to a park sign, the nearly 600-foot-thick formation is almost devoid of fossils because one of the planet’s great extinction events had taken place at the beginning of the Triassic.

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming. The green in the water is long mats of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), which thrive in the warm water.

On the (fenced) range

On the (fenced) range at Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Bison at Hot Springs State Park

Part of the bison herd at Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

I spoke to a man who was using a decoy dummy to train two 8-week-old pups to retrieve ducks. They were splashing in a little inlet of the Bighorn River where there was runoff from a large hot spring. The water temperature at that location stays in the 70s year-round, he said. The pups were having a blast but were more interested in playing and checking out visitors than retrieving the dummy. They were joyful, muddy, and very, very wet.

Pups being trained to retrieve ducks

Pups being trained to retrieve ducks

Next up: A visit to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

Not scenery ~

Some non-scenic sights from my recent road trip to Wyoming/Montana.

 

 

City Museum 2 ~

Granted, this is an awful lot of images for one post, but I’m hoping to simulate for people who have never been there the sensory-overload experience that City Museum offers. This place, like the Gateway Arch and the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden, has become a unique must-see in St. Louis.

Aspens ~

Yesterday I took my sister for a 7-hour drive to see the aspens in their fall colors. We drove from Loveland to Boulder, up Boulder Canyon, down the Peak-to-Peak Highway, up Hwy. 40 to Granby, up Hwy. 34 to Rocky Mountain National Park, and across Trail Ridge Road. We didn’t stop for photos very often, but here are a few.

Arches and Canyonlands: The literal end of the road ~

The north section of Arches National Park, which has the most trails, was closed for road repairs and construction when we visited, and another popular section was so crowded that no parking spots were available. My companion and I found ourselves both suffering from a world-too-much-with-us malaise. (See here my post A plea for public lands, or better yet, read Desert Solitaire by the very prescient Edward Abbey.) We ended up just getting out at a couple of overlooks and then walking a very short trail to Sand Dune Arch. That arch isn’t pictured here: I left my camera in the car because of the strong, gusty wind; sand grains stung the skin and tourists without sunglasses were shielding their eyes. Sand Dune Arch is sandwiched between tall fins of rock that form a little slot canyon, the bottom of which is piled deep with sand of a uniformly red color (due to its iron content). Burrowing my hand into it, I discovered that it was the finest-grained sand I’ve ever felt, almost velvety, perhaps because it is eroded from rock only rather than being a mixture of rock and marine shell.

So the only arch in my photographs was taken, ironically, at Canyonlands. At the north end of this park, a paved road travels south along a skinny mesa appropriately called Island in the Sky. The mesa is a long finger pointing down into the heart of the labyrinthine canyon systems that make up the bulk of the park, hundreds of feet below and extending for miles east, south, and west. Mesa Arch, which is pictured here, stands on the eastern edge of Island in the Sky midway between the visitors center and the end of the road, Grand View Point. By the time we got there, the sun was at the horizon.

Capitol Reef ~

In tiling these photos, WordPress has made the big small and the small big. It’s fitting. This landscape is so vast that gigantic land formations, even mountains, are small on the horizon when seen from distances of 20, 50, 100 miles. And only when you take the time to pay attention close at hand do you realize how many plant species are blooming all around you, dwarfed by the rock.