On this trip I have the privilege of collecting fossils from two important time periods, the Paleocene immediately following the K/T extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs among others, and the Eocene where modern mammalian orders emerge. Our crew spent two weeks camping and prospecting for Eocene fossils in the Wind River Basin of Wyoming and two weeks at the glorious bunkhouse in Marmarth ND, screening matrix to find Paleocene fossils from Montana. I have encountered an array of wildlife from bison and deer to prairie dogs and horned toads. I was stared down and barked at by pronghorn and also saw several species of snakes.
Growing up on the east coast I never experienced anything quite like the midwestern terrain. I’m not exactly accustomed to vast open areas with nowhere to escape the intense radiating heat of the sun. There were days where six liters of water and a handful of electrolyte tablets were just enough to remain hydrated. Thankfully there was a steady breeze keeping us cool on top of Camel Butte where we did the majority of our dry screening work in Montana. Unfortunately that breeze also blew all the sand from the screen into our eyes, noses, mouths, and ears. Most days we came off the butte looking like coal miners.
For all the harsh, unforgiving qualities of this region, it is an incredible place. Spending days in the vast badlands where people are few and far between and fossils are abundant and eroding out of cliffs gave me a new perspective on humanity’s place in the grand scheme of time and space. As cheesy as it sounds, I felt a tremendous connection with the past and the events that occurred making my life possible. If it weren’t for the extinction of the dinosaurs its doubtful that life would exist as we know it. It’s a shocking reminder that to some extent life is ruled by random chance and to the degree we can measure and calculate scientific data there is still much that remains out of our control.
I am truly grateful for this experience at the Marmarth Research Foundation and my two weeks of camping and prospecting in Wyoming prior to this. It’s been an amazing and inspiring learning experience with a group of great people. Not to mention a much needed break from day to day life in the city. However, after a month of fieldwork, I have to say, I’m also pretty excited to go back home.