Road Tripping in the USA: From Montana to Las Vegas.

It’s a well established fact that road trips are the best vacation.  100% of the people I surveyed agreed. The sample size of one may mean the results are not that reliable but still I love road tripping!

America does scenery! America does scenery really, really well! Geologically speaking, the American continent is very young. Its mountains are still forming and they rise abruptly, almost rudely from the surrounding plains. Let’s not worry about foothills…let’s just put a big mountain right here!  Active earthquake zones, hot springs and geysers pepper the landscape. Wide rivers fed by snow, race and rage across the landscape falling to one side or the other of the Continental Divide.

In comparison, Australia is old. The worn down mountains are not as spectacular. The stable continental plate is peaceful and slow. Rarely a rumble disturbs the solid ground. The dry climate means our rivers are mostly small and a bare trickle compared to the wide rivers of the US. What we lack in mountains, we make up in colour. The rich red of the iron laden soil surpasses the grey and browns that predominate in the US.

This short photo essay does not do justice to the more than 2000 km travelled from Montana to Las Vegas via Bozeman, Yellowstone National Park, The Grand Tetons, Jackson, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

The camera can never capture the grand scale of the mountains, plains and rivers. Well at least not my camera! Photos of the boiling springs in Yellowstone with their slimy microbial mats look uninspiring and not majestic. The burbling creeks and rushing waterfalls do not freeze well  in the snapshot of time.

These vistas must be experienced first hand. A slow southward meander through five states surveying the truly amazing geology of the young American continent should be on your bucket list. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

This series of photos were taken with my first “serious” camera. Most are SOOC and becasue they are in JPG rather than RAW,  I can’t do much to “fix” them.

Digging for Dinosaurs.

It’s July, in Hell Creek, Montana. The daytime temperature hovers around 45ºC (113ºF). Your lips crack, and the water you guzzle seems to evaporate before you get a chance to swallow it.

The barren landscape is speckled with low buttes, rounded striated mounds that rise abruptly from the otherwise flat landscape. Tufts of serrated grass struggle to grow in the grey popcorn-like clay that breaks easily under the pick.

Weather-beaten bone fragments are abundant under your feet and ignored by the experts. The real treasure is still underground. The dark brown, almost purple bones that have been encased for millions of years are not hard to find. Isolated fragments of skeletons are common. It’s the whole skeleton, intact and in one place – now that’s the mother lode.

To find these, the researchers concentrate on landforms they call washes. The remnants of watercourses; these are places where bones congregate in a tangle to form bone beds. Here the dead beasts became stuck and then covered in mud and silt in a Triassic flood. They have lain here undisturbed, the bones becoming fossilised as the living tissue is replaced by minerals. Hard and locked in time.

Fifteen long hours of bright sunshine makes sleep a problem. The extended twilight, a photographer’s delight. The six hours of darkness that finally comes is not enough to recover from the day’s hard labour, yet you press on. The heavy pick is replaced by a small hand pick and then a soft brush and dental pick. Your tiny little pick hits something that “tinks” when the metal hits it. You’ve found it! You’ve found the rib of a triceratops. More digging, slowly, slowly with painstaking tedium you brush away more dirt. Wait! Stop! Is that the vertebrae? YES! The joy punctures the eerie mood. You are the only human who has ever seen this bone.

No-one.

Ever.

The feeling of time stretched out behind you becomes unnerving. What catastrophic event lead to these massive creatures being nothing but a pile of bones? Will it happen again?

a women in a straw hat is kissing a dinosaur bone
Bec kisses the recovered rib bone

Dinosaur dig vacations

A dinosaur dig is not your typical vacation destination. It’s not glamorous. You actually have to do some digging!  It’s hot and dusty. Most “holiday” digs are part of research programs, and you become the cheap labour and pay for the privilege.  My dig was with a group called Paleoworld Research Foundation who operated during the summers from a ranch about 50 km out of the town of Jordan. The two women (Hannah and Jess) who ran the operation where both Masters students who were collecting specimens for their studies. We slept in an old caravan and ate simple meals with the family who owned the ranch.

A grren grassy hill in the forwground and a red hill with teh moon rising in the the left hand side.
The full moon rises over the Lervick Ranch at the end of another hard day.

I travelled to America with Bec, a friend I had met at a Science Teachers’ workshop a few years before. Our trip was 100% science-based. After the dig, we drove down through the Yellowstone National Park (geology) and onto the Grand Canyon (more geology)  and Los Vegas. From Los Vegas, we flew to Alabama to join an Educators’ Space Camp at the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center. (Maths and physics!) (Ok…. so Los Vegas wasn’t very scientific!)

Paleoworld Research Foundation are no longer operating. Some internet research shows that Judy Lervick, the ranch owner, sadly died in July 2017. There are other groups who offer a similar experience, although I cannot in any way vouch for them.

 

Magical Chanel

The last 5 mL of rich golden liquid had been lingering in the bottom of that “parfum” bottle for a few years now. Chanel No 5, one of the last gifts the ex had given me. He had always been good with gifts. Much more thoughtful than me. I tended to buy very inappropriate ones at the last minute. His gifts were always something I had wanted. Something I had mentioned in passing and forgotten about.

IMG_0493
Jordan, Montana. USA

I am not really a perfume sort of person so the Chanel, while lovely,  and no doubt expensive, was not in the usual caliber of gifts. Probably hastily bought from the inflight duty free. Still it was a nice thought. I tried to wear it everyday to make it become part of my routine but I’d often forget. I don’t like women who leave a cloud of strong perfume behind them like a invisible marker. Of course, I don’t want to smell bad, but I don’t think I should leave a lingering cloud of esters and alcohols behind.

But here is it was,  the last few squirts left. We’d been divorced close to 4 years and this wretched bottle still sat on my bathroom vanity like a beacon of the past. Why was I saving it? At first, when I was in the “we can fix this relationship stage”, I would wear it when he came around. Maybe he’d notice? Then it just stayed. I just let it sit and every time I’d use it there was a pang. A pang that got smaller and smaller and smaller. Mirroring the contents.

Somewhere along the line I bestowed magical properties on this elegant square glass bottle. It begun to represent my progress to an independent life. When the bottle was empty my life would be mine.

And it happened. Rather than using it less frequently I found I was wearing it everyday to get rid of it.  I was ready. I had been ready for a while. That last squirt in December last year was a milestone even if only metaphorically.

moon rising 4
Once in a pink moon

These photos have nothing to do with Chanel. They represent part of my journey to get to here. They were taken on in Montana in 2012. Some on a tripod and some by my travelling companion Bec! (Thanks Bec)