T-rex Tuesday Road Trip Special

Though I won’t actually be featuring a Tyrannosaurs rex on today’s T.rex Tuesday, it’s still a pretty special occasion for me. I am traveling for work, and on my way home from a successful mission that wrapped yesterday. So Mrs. TrRT, Doggosaurus, and I pushed a little extra to take a slight detour through Vernal, UT on the way back to Colorado. Tomorrow will mark my first ever visit to Dinosaur National Monument, as we get a little sampler of what the area has to offer. That would be exciting enough, but the story of how I managed to prevent myself from making it here before now is too funny not to share.

Dinah, the pink sauropod, greets visitors entering Vernal, UT on Highway 40. The area has really embraced its role in dinosaur history, and rather readily converted it into dinosaur tourism.  

Dinah, the pink sauropod, greets visitors entering Vernal, UT on Highway 40. The area has really embraced its role in dinosaur history, and rather readily converted it into dinosaur tourism.  

I came into the dinosaur thing pretty young, as most of us did. My dream job as a child was to be a paleontologist - at a time when most people were just amazed to hear the word come out of a little mouth. My teen years weren’t kind to that dream, as I have detailed before. But it came with several other compatible interests as well. My love of kaiju movies, for instance, was born from the same passions at around the same time. (Did anyone else see the new Godzilla trailer that dropped today? I just can’t wait another month...)

Those two interests collided hard a little over 40 years ago. My aunt and uncle lived in Ogden, so we were in Utah visiting at least once a year. During one of those visits, my parents planned a big day to Dinosaur National Monument. The night before, however, Godzilla played interference. I went with my cousins to see Godzilla vs. Megalon at a local drive-in theater. We ate way too much candy and junk food, and stayed up way, way, WAY too late. When the much too early hour came to wake me up and head out, I had a full scale toddler meltdown. My delirious mind was still replaying the night’s movie, and was convinced that the dinosaurs were going to come alive and eat me. Needless to say, my parents gave up after a bit, and went back to bed. 

It’s probably a testament to their patience that I made it out of my single digits and lasted long enough to finally make it here. In retrospect, I doubt they got much sleep that night either. My cousins and I couldn’t have been all that quiet. I realized pretty quickly what I had screwed up, but that ship had already sailed. So it’s taken me more than four decades to figure out how to get back here on my own.

Work schedules will make this stop a short one. But it should give us a good idea of what to expect when we can come back again.  Tomorrow morning, we’re going to pay a visit to the Utah Field House Museum and the Dinosaur National Monument Quarry Center. I am really looking forward to it, and am already trying to figure out another trip back to spend more time here. Fortunately, we only live around six hours away now. Stay tuned for a Theropod Thursday update that is a little more on-topic. And until then, happy travels! 

T.rex Tuesday for April 9 - Chomper’s High-Tech Bite

One of the more fascinating specimens in last year’s visit to the Museum of the Rockies was also one of the more diminutive. MOR 6625, also known as “Chomper rex”, is the smallest Tyrannosaurus rex found to date. It is known from, among other things, some fragmentary elements of the tiny skull. The high-tech road he took from there to the reconstructed skull displayed at the musuem is a story unto itself.

“Chomper” is just that - some chompers, if you will. More to the point, the skull reconstruction is based around some fragmentary lower jaw bones and a whole lot of digital work. The majority of the computer modeling involved taking known research and applying it to the model of BMRP 2002.4.1, better known as “Jane”, a younger T.rex specimen. By digitally “De-growing” Jane’s skull and applying information from their study of a similarly aged Tarbosaurus, researchers from the Witmer Lab at Ohio University created a composite model of what evidence suggests “Chomper’s” skull should look like. 

MOR 6625 “Chomper rex’s” tiny reconstructed skull next to a cast of the Burpee Musuem’s juvenile T.rex BMRP 2002.4.1 “Jane” for comparison. The two skulls are part of the T.rex Growth Series skull display at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT. 

MOR 6625 “Chomper rex’s” tiny reconstructed skull next to a cast of the Burpee Musuem’s juvenile T.rex BMRP 2002.4.1 “Jane” for comparison. The two skulls are part of the T.rex Growth Series skull display at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT. 

To date, MOR 6625 is the smallest Tyrannosaurus rex specimen to be studied. An awful lot of what is presented here is admittedly a highly educated fill-in-the-blanks. That being said, Chomper represents a pretty enticing and interesting look at the intersection between old school and high tech. And given its position in the debate over the existence of Nanotyrannus, it’s not without some controversy. Plenty has been dedicated to that on this and other pages, so I won’t rekindle the debate here. But the research conducted by Witmer is of great interest to me, mainly because its a first look at a relatively early version of our namesake dinosaur.

Last year, researchers at Kansas University announced that they’d unearthed a baby tyrannosaur of similar age to Chomper. Further analysis is forthcoming. A few months before that announcement, I was fortunate enough to be invited to take a brief look at the fossil while it was being prepared.  And while I wasn’t allowed to take any photos, it still was enough to whet my appetite. I am looking forward to seeing a lot more as this and other specimens are studied, and as more evidence is uncovered in what is now a gaping hole in the knowledge of one of our favorite dinosaurs. Witmer Lab’s work is commendable, and extremely interesting. It will be interesting to see how well “Chomper” holds up to what is revealed in the future.

T.rex Tuesday for Feb. 5 - A Disney rex As Promised

As we mentioned in November, we made what might be our last T.rex Road Trip of the year to Orlando, FL to celebrate a family milestone for Mrs. TrRT. During our journey to Disney World, we spent a day in Animal Kingdom, which includes DinoLand USA, a dinosaur-themed attraction. I have spoken before about the tragedy that was the auction of the Tyrannosaurus rex we know as Sue. While the Field Museum’s successful bid in the inflated sale of that specimen was fortunate, it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of corporate donors, including McDonalds and Disney. Disney was gifted with a cast of the skeleton, which is on display in DinoLand.

A cast of the Field Museum’s  “Sue” near the Dinosaur ride in Disney’s Animal Kingdom near Orlando, FL. 

A cast of the Field Museum’s  “Sue” near the Dinosaur ride in Disney’s Animal Kingdom near Orlando, FL. 

The cast of Sue is found on the path to the Dinosaur ride (which features a scaled up Carnotaurus in its lobby.) Its definitely worth a look while you are at the area.

T.rex Tuesday for Jan 15, 2019: Denver’s Other T.rex

When you walk into the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, you’re greeted by what might be the most outrageously posed Tyrannosaurus rex to be found. And, after being distracted by the parkour rex cast (see some of the earlier posts on this site) and the other exceptional fossils displayed at the musuem, it’s easy to overlook one of the more interesting specimens in the DMNH collection. Sitting on the fossil-rich Morrison formation, Colorado was an early site for Jurassic-era discoveries, and remains a hotbed of fossil activity today. But it wasn’t until 1992 that the first Cretaceous-era Tyrannosaurus rex fossil was discovered at a building site in Littleton, CO.

The specimen, DMNH 2827, was scattered somewhat by the construction equipment, and likely was damaged as well. When all was said and done, researchers recovered one scapula, several leg bones, some vertebrae and other bones, and three teeth. Amid an impressive collection of fossils and casts, the displayed tooth from DMNH 2827 is easy to miss. But it’s worth a look, as it presents an important part of Colorado’s dinosaur history. It also provides a link to another soon to be displayed fossil - that of a Torosaurus that was recovered near Thornton, CO in 2017. Scientists studying that specimen made the shocking discovery of a fragment of Tyrannosaurs rex tooth embedded in one of the bones. But that’s a story for another visit.

Specimen DMNH 2827 consists of several leg and shoulder bones, ribs, and three teeth of a tyrannosaur found in Littleton, CO in 1992. Two of teeth are displayed in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where the specimen resides.

Specimen DMNH 2827 consists of several leg and shoulder bones, ribs, and three teeth of a tyrannosaur found in Littleton, CO in 1992. Two of teeth are displayed in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where the specimen resides.

As an aside, when Mrs. TrRT and I were at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science today, we went ahead and purchased a year membership. I wholeheartedly recommend supporting your local musuem by becoming a member. In the case of the DMNH, the cost of membership was less than two visits - something that will be easy, since it’s kind of our nearest major museum. Like most museums, our DMNH membership includes reciprocal admission to a host of museums all over the country - another great way to make your local support pay off. 

Fossil Friday: Washington's First Dinosaur - Dec. 28, 2018

Good afternoon and welcome to the last Fossil Friday of 2018! On Fossil Fridays, we explore a fossil or group of fossils that i have found interesting or significant. And today, we’re featuring a special one (to me): the first fossil to be described from Washington State, my home state. The fossil was discovered by researchers from the University of Washington in 2012 on Sucia Island, a horseshoe-shaped island on the far north of the (incredibly scenic) San Juan Island chain in northwestern Washington State. Over the next year, a team from the UW’s Burke Museum carefully excavated and prepared the rock-bound fossil, and began to study it. Their findings were published in the paper “The First Dinosaur from Washington State and a Review of Pacific Coast Dinosaurs from North America” on PlosONE on May 20, 2015.

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In that paper, authors Brandon Peecook and Christian Sidor stated that the fossil was determined to be around 80 million years old, and that it exhibited several important features that revealed that it was a portion of the left femur of a theropod dinosaur. News reports from the time also showed photos of the fragment next to a cast of a Daspletosaurus femur, to which it bore quite a bit of resemblance. The discovery is interesting because that particular part of Washington State would have been beneath the ocean during the late cretaceous. So it isn’t likely that Daspletosaurus or any other theropods were native to the area - the fossilized bone likely was carried away from the animal’s carcass by tidal currents, and deposited in the area that it ultimately fossilized. Still, it was nice to see my home state finally joining the dinosaur club (making it the 37th US state to do so.)

The fossil is currently displayed at the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, WA. I photographed it along with its interpretive display during a visit there in 2016.

Getting Back To Theropod Thursday - Dec. 27, 2018

Well, it’s about time that we get back to some regular posts. I’m not going to lie: the last few months have been a new kind of hectic. But it’s my goal to get back to regular - meaning no less than once a week - posts on the site, as well as finally getting the video editing off of the ground. So, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous Coming New Year. With the holiday spirit still alive and well, I have to present a photo of the Field Museum’s T. rex, Sue, from two years ago. I was fortunate to visit the Field while on a work assignment, and found that, decorated for the holidays, the museum is even more awe-inspiring. It kinda stuck with me, so I have been getting as much mileage as I can out of the holiday photos.

In a scene that probably won’t ever be repeated, FMNH PR-2081, better known as “Sue” basks in the holiday lighting in the Great Hall at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, back in December of 2016. On Dec. 21 of this year, Sue got their own new accommodations, along with a major update to the presentation, reflecting the things that have been learned since the specimen first went on display nearly 20 years ago.

In a scene that probably won’t ever be repeated, FMNH PR-2081, better known as “Sue” basks in the holiday lighting in the Great Hall at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, back in December of 2016. On Dec. 21 of this year, Sue got their own new accommodations, along with a major update to the presentation, reflecting the things that have been learned since the specimen first went on display nearly 20 years ago.

2018 has been the most trying and difficult year I’ve had personally in over a decade. We’ve kind of downplayed it here, but the job change, relocation, and other chaos has really been stressful. But that’s all over with. 2019 is potentially a big year for us, and Sue is on our minds as a result. Earlier in the month, we launched an unsuccessful fund-raiser to try and get to Chicago for Sue’s unveiling at the field. While we weren’t successful, it did serve as a reminder that we needed to get back to posting regularly, and that there was at least an interest in the coverage. So expect to see an uptick in the maintenance to the site and blog, which are long overdue.

2019 is another, even more important milestone for us: When we started the T.rex Road Trip project, the idea was formed around planning for a trip to the Smithsonian for the unveiling of the Nations’ rex and their new dinosaur hall. We now know the date for that unveiling: June 8, 2019. While the scope and scale of the project has changed dramatically in the little over two years since we started down this path, the Road Trip part of our name has always been, at least in spirit, about going to the Smithsonian.

So now we’re just trying to figure out how and when we’ll make that trip, and what our itinerary might be along the way. The personal chaos of 2018 is behind us, and we’ve got a great opportunity to continue to focus on making T.rex Road Trip the online force that we’d envisioned it would be. Look for more updates as we post a lot more to the site, and decide what our big 2019 T.rex Road Trip will entail. And, as always, thanks to all of you for coming along for the ride.

Something Different T.rex Tuesday

Something different for this week's T.rex Tuesday: we have started a campaign to raise funds to get us to Chicago to attend the big unveiling of Sue, along with the new science and the other new exhibitions at the Field Museum. We're hoping that there's enough desire to get some direct coverage of the event. The new exhibit opens on Dec. 21, but we've applied for media credentials for the preview on the 19t and 20th. But we can't make the trip without assistance. We've got some events planned for while we are there, and are discussing some more ideas with the Field as well. If you're interested, please consider donating to the campaign or sharing on your own page. Every bit of assistance helps. Thanks!

Check it out here.

T.rex Tuesday for Nov. 13, 2018: T.rexes in odd places

I had planned a specific post for today’s T.rex Tuesday, but fate had other plans. You see, we’re on the road again for Mrs. TrRT’s “Bonus Day”, the family celebration of the annual passing of the date when she was given one year to live. This is year four. And this year, we’re in Orlando, FL making my first trip to Disney. And Animal Kingdom, with its dinosaur features and Sue skeleton cast, are on the list of things to see and do. But I had no idea that a casual stroll this evening for dinner would yield a Tyrannosaurus skeleton (of sorts) in the most unexpected of places. Even though the name was right in front of me.

The T-Rex Cafe may not be scientifically correct in its spelling, but it doesn’t pass on the opportunity to impress. We’d already finished a nice meal at the Boathouse nearby, and were strolling back to the car. But a meal may be in the works before we leave. But I couldn’t miss the entrance as we walked by. A skeleton cast of unknown origin and accuracy guards the entrance, with a massive sauropod reared up behind him, over the door. I read online that the place also has animatronic dinosaurs inside, and an aquarium.

An unknown (and perhaps not specific) T.rex skeleton guards the entrance to the T-Rex Cafe at Disney Springs in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

An unknown (and perhaps not specific) T.rex skeleton guards the entrance to the T-Rex Cafe at Disney Springs in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

I have no idea if the T.rex presented here is completely accurate (we made a quick walk-by) or if it represents a cast of a specific actual specimen. But it reminds me a lot of the cast of Black Beauty that is at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. More investigation is warranted, sometime during daylight hours if possible.

Either way, even if it’s just kitsch, it’s enjoyable kitsch. And it was an unexpected bonus on our first day at Disney. More to come, without a doubt. This is kind of a last hurrah trip for us, or so it would seem. With the World HQ relocation and change in the day job, we aren’t traveling for work nearly as much. And with this trip, the backlog of points is officially spent, the hotel benefits have been exhausted, and we’re having to plan ahead for all of our travels. On the flip side, when we do get out, it’s more vacation and less work, so that’s a good thing too. And we’ll be trying to make the most of this week’s outing.

T.rex Tuesday Finds a Halloween Art Surprise

For T.rex Tuesday this week, we’re taking a week off of the science for a little more Halloween fun. As we have previously mentioned, T.rRT World HQ has relocated to Cañon City, CO, just south of the Garden Park fossil area, and smack dab in the middle of Dinosaur Country. And our new community has embraced its part in paleontological history with a series of often whimsical sculptures around town.

The Dino Daze public art project features five different types of dinosaurs, spread out around town. The first installation in 2017 featured 11 different sculptures, while the 2018 edition had ten, including the tennis shoe-clad “T.rex” that probably will always count as the closest of my subject matter to home. Though the city has maps to find all of them, I prefer to stumble across them by accident as I explore my new surroundings.

Such was the case the other day, when I found the one featured in the below photo, outside of the Cañon City Fire Department station on the northeast side of town. Like the others, their T.rex sculpture features the long-disproven upright “kangaroo” posture. Normally, I’d gripe. But not today. It’s all in the name of fun, and my recent discovery is decked out in firefighting garb to fit in with his new surroundings, which I appreciate. It may not be a Halloween costume, but I like it just the same. Happy halloween, friends, and thanks for reading. We’ll be back to more serious stuff next month!

The Cañon City Fire Department’s Dino Daze T.rex displays the classically incorrect upright stance, but that just helps him don his firefighting gear just a little easier.

The Cañon City Fire Department’s Dino Daze T.rex displays the classically incorrect upright stance, but that just helps him don his firefighting gear just a little easier.

Saurian Sunday for Oct. 28 - Supersaurus, In Awe of Sauropods

Tyrannosaurus rex was the chosen focus of this site, but none of this would be possible without the enthusiasm for dinosaurs and paleontology that sprouted forth from my childhood. And while T. rex and its contemporaries carry the “Isn’t that Cool!” flag, I have to admit that very few things boggle my mind and leave me utterly in awe quite like the massive Sauropod family of dinosaurs - long necked, long tailed, absolutely massive dinosaurs that defy conventions, and inspire imagination. I think it’s no coincidence that the first dinosaurs to be featured in the movie “Jurassic Park” were brachiosaurs, just for the “wow” factor alone. And for at least a short time, Supersaurus vivianae was considered to be the biggest.

A reconstruction of Supersaurus vivianae at the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, UT dwarfs everything else in the Jurassic room.

A reconstruction of Supersaurus vivianae at the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, UT dwarfs everything else in the Jurassic room.

Supersaurus was first discovered in Colorado in 1972 in a part of the Morrison Formation that dates from about 153 million years ago. A more complete specimen, with about 30 percent of the bones recovered, was found in Wyoming in 1996. Based on the bones found so far, researchers estimate that Supersaurus would have measured around 110 feet long, and weighed an astonishing 35 to 40 tons. A potential second species, Dinheirosaurus lourinhanensis, was found in Portugal in 1999, and recommended as a synonym Supersaurus in a 2015 phylogenetic study.

Though it is one of the longest dinosaurs to be discovered, Supersaurus is far from the heaviest. That title belongs to a subfamily of Sauropods, known as Titanosaurs. The largest known so far, Argentiniosaurus, was similar in length to Supersaurus, but weighed between 80 and 100 tons. Which is just mind-boggling. Its massive legs were like trees (indeed, the discoverer of Argentiniosaurus found a leg bone first, and mistook it for a massive petrified log!)

We already know that Sue, the largest T. rex to be found thus far, was moved from her home in the main hall of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History into a dedicated exhibit in a former theater. Her replacement, a cast of Patagotitan, fills the space she was in much more impressively. And though it was a little longer than Supersaurus, it still weighs in at an estimated 10-20 tons less than Argentiniosaurus.

It’s impossible to guess what discoveries await us in the future, but it’s a sure bet that we haven’t found the largest dinosaurs that roamed the earth. And that’s just amazing.


Tyrannosaur Tuesday - Is Bigger Better?

Good afternoon and welcome to a somewhat rebranded (for this week) Tyrannosaur Tuesday. The recent news on the Perot Museum’s unveiling of  a reconstructed cast of Nanuqsaurus hoglundi has really had me thinking about my favorite dinosaur family. If I am making true confessions here, I have to admit that I am more of a fan of the smaller, more recently discovered tyrannosaurs than I am of this blog’s namesake Tyrant King (though that’s like saying that I like tacos more than enchiladas; I sure do still like them both a lot.)

My interest in T.rex’s smaller cousins probably has a lot to do with how much the family tree has filled in relatively recently. Like I said in last week’s T.rex Thursday post, one of the things that this blog did was help me reconnect with dinosaur science after having abandoned my path to paleontology as fruitless in my teen years of the early 1980’s. Learning about these more recent discoveries - and seeing that the future is potentially wide-open for more discoveries - is one of the most exciting parts of this project for me.

Lythronax argestes (below), announced in 2013, and two specimen of Teratophoneus cureii (above), described in 2011, at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City, UT.

Lythronax argestes (below), announced in 2013, and two specimen of Teratophoneus cureii (above), described in 2011, at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City, UT.

Last year, I was lucky enough to have time to stop in Salt Lake City, UT while driving cross-country. This gave me the chance to see two newly described family members - Lythronax argestes and Teratophoneus cureii - in one place. Lythronax in particular was pretty exciting, as it also was one of the most recently described new species in the Tyrannosaurid family. UMNH has done a fantastic job of reconstructing the skeleton and displaying it to the public.

And like 2011’s Teratophoneus cureii - which is displayed within view of Lythronax - the two Tyrannosaurs are both Utah natives, having been discovered in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. There’s a little bit of time distance between the cousins - T. cureii dates from around 77-76 million years ago, and L. argestes from around 81-79 MYA.

Teratophoneus

Teratophoneus

Compared to the towering Tyrannosaurus rex, these two species are a bit less intimidating. The sole Lythronax is estimated to have weighed around 5,500 lbs and measured around 20 feet long. UMNH features two Teratophoneus - one adult, one sub-adult, which would have been a little smaller. By comparison, Sue, the largest T. rex so far discovered, measured around 40 feet in length and weighed in at an estimated 17,000 to 28,000 lbs.

Despite being in the middle of Dinosaur country, my busy summer hasn’t left a whole lot of time for exploring. But I do expect to have the chance to revisit Albuquerque next month with the hopes of finally catching up with another “pint-sized” Tyrannosaur, Bistahieversor, at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. And of course, I am itching to take another trip to the Perot in Dallas, which was a great museum to visit even without the updated Nanuqsaurus. With all of the recent discoveries, it’s a great time to be an observer.

Fossil Friday - September 28, 2018

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On the bottom floor of the Kansas University Natural History Museum in Lawrence, there’s a small display case. Inside of it, there is a single bone, with the specimen number 1357 etched into its surface. I might seem otherwise unremarkable, but the bone’s story is interesting enough to merit a Fossil Friday edition dedicated to it. In 1895, a team from the university was prospecting in Wyoming. Among them was a young graduate student named Barnum Brown. Now, most of us already know how that story ends - Brown, the colorful fossil hunter, wartime intelligencer, and corporate spy, would unearth the bones of Tyrannosaurus rex seven years later in 1902.

But well before that fateful and productive expedition to Montana’s Hell Creek Formation, Brown was just another student, plodding around Wyoming under the tutelage of the renowned Samuel Williston. Brown developed a reputation for his field work during his time in Wyoming, and the experience certainly informed his later work. It’s easy to imagine that Brown held this bone in his hand at some point and pondered it curiously, without knowing that the bone would later be studied and identified as the pedal phalanx - one of the middle toe bones - of his Tyrannosaurus rex. And as the museum’s collection shows, Brown’s famous 1902 brush with the Tyrant King certainly wasn’t his first.

T.rex Thursday - How this whole crazy plan got started

This was supposed to be a T.rex Tuesday post, but it ran a little over. So I am deferring to a special T.rex Thursday edition instead. Though we aren't doing too much road tripping right now, I thought it would be a good time to sit down and tell you more about how this whole crazy thing got started. And like any good dinosaur story, it starts with a kid, and an obsession.

I am lucky enough that I am able to work in fields that have fascinated me since childhood. My hobbies closely mirror that good fortune as well. In this case, that dinosaur-obsessed kid was me. There was a point in my childhood that I was certain that I wanted to be a paleontologist. Which is a big enough word that it thrills adults a little bit to hear an eight year old say it.

A cast of Wankel rex, our inspiration in all of this, at the University of California Berkeley Museum of Paleontology.

A cast of Wankel rex, our inspiration in all of this, at the University of California Berkeley Museum of Paleontology.

That might have been the end of the story, but teenage me took over a few years later. Awash in hormones, I had discovered girls, irrational angst, and a lot of other emotional range that makes absolutely zero sense to me today. In that hormone-addled fog, I made a crucial life decision: everything that there was to know about dinosaurs had been discovered. My life’s dream, as it were, was pointless. (Teenagers, right?) So began a decade-long stumble through my formative years that finally and very fortunately ended with my going to work first as a newspaper writer and later entering the railroad field - another thing that I had loved since childhood.

It doesn’t take a whole lot to figure out exactly how wrong I was. This was, mind you, around 1983. A quick timeline of T.rex and dinosaur research opens up a lot of what-ifs that I try to avoid. I’ve made some wrong decisions in my lifetime, but it’ll be hard to get anything more wrong that that. It wasn’t all without merit, though. Along the way, I took up photography as a hobby. That has dovetailed nicely into all of the other things that I have done as well. 

Fast-forward another two decades, and my career had taken me to New York, Chicago, and California. And I was standing there looking at the impressive Tyrannosaurus rex display at the Los Angeles County Natural History Musuem in late 2016, when an idea started to form: how cool would it be to take a road trip, from coast to coast, for the unveiling of the Nation’s rex at the Smithsonian in Washington DC in 2019? Starting from that very musuem, we could chart out a route to see as many as we could - LA, Bozeman, Drumheller, Hill City, Chicago, New York, and finally and triumphantly into DC.  The whole thing, it seemed, would be ripe for a documentary. Road trip, science, exploration, fun.

A few weeks later, I’d charted out a course, worked through several themes and story lines, and charted out the basic framework for ten episodes, plus conceptual design for two follow-up seasons that would let me delve deeper into other dinosaurs and more of the science behind them. As an idea, T.rex Road Trip was born. I would learn later that the name had also been used as a hashtag when MOR 555, the specimen destined to become Nation’s rex, left Musuem of the Rockies in Bozeman to begin its trek to the Smithsonian. Fate, it seemed, was on the side of the idea.

Excitedly, I put together all of my materials and pitched them to a documentary producer friend. We’d traveled together plenty of times before, and I wanted his input. The response was a bit more tepid than I expected. He didn’t think there was a market for it, we didn’t have a landing spot for the show, and he figured audience interest was a pretty narrow niche. I couldn’t argue with the first two points, but I didn’t agree on the last. I saw lots of interest online. But how to reach them? Pulling back, I reconsidered my marquis road trip.

At the time, I was traveling a lot for work, and had the opportunity to visit a number of the museums on my list. Why not re-package T.rex Road Trip as an online blog, and try to reach directly out to the audience I had seen online? Which more or less takes us up to where we are today. Over the past two years, I have visited several museums on two continents, and have taken a LOT of video that still needs to be worked up. I have switched jobs, and am not traveling nearly as far or as often. But I have more projects than I can manage in my spare time. T.rex Road Trip, it seems, will keep me very busy.

So what does the future hold? I have been promising to get video edited and put up on YouTube for a long time. That’s still an intent. And I haven’t quite let go of that two week coast-to-coast road-tripping fantasy. This project is nowhere close to complete, and now I am living in south-central Colorado, literally surrounded by fossil beds and additional material, in directions I haven’t even begun to explore yet. Though it sometimes seems like it falls into neglect behind my job responsibilities, T.rex Road Trip is still going strong. I am thankful for all of you who have joined us so far, and am looking forward to seeing what the future brings.

Saurian Saturday - Happy to meet Haplocanthosaurus

Well, here we are again with another Saurian Saturday here at T.rex Road Trip. And of course, it's a road trip memory that actually takes us close to home, by way of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Most of the consideration regarding the dinosaur quarries near the TrRT World HQ in Canon City, CO goes to the competing Marsh-Felch and Cope-Lucas quarries that were pivotal in the famed Bone Wars of the late 1800s. But there are several other significant quarry sites in the Garden Park area as well. In the summer of 1954, a team from CMNH acted on a couple of tips to head from Grand Junction down toward Canon City. There, along the banks of Four Mile Creek, they discovered the first few bones of what would soon be realized as an exciting find: the first and still only adult Haplocanthus delfsi, now specimen number CMNH 10380.

Working under the supervision of graduate student Edwin Delfs, the team worked to excavate the skeleton from between two treacherous layers of sandstone. As they removed bones from the mudstone strata, they used heavy timbers to shore up the upper layer. Over the course of the summer, a good portion of the skeleton was removed, jacketed, and sent to CMNH for preparation. Unfortunately, the skull of the specimen wasn't recovered.

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is the home to "Happy", the sole adult specimen of the Haplocanthosaurus delfsi. The specimen from the Cleveland-Delfs Quarry near Canon City, CO is posed in the museum being harassed by an Allosaurus.

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is the home to "Happy", the sole adult specimen of the Haplocanthosaurus delfsi. The specimen from the Cleveland-Delfs Quarry near Canon City, CO is posed in the museum being harassed by an Allosaurus.

Delfs continued work excavating his find through 1957, fighting against flooding and the potential for collapse of this narrow quarry. He later employed a local rancher to bulldoze parts of the hillside above the dig side, then blasted away the sandstone to continue excavating. In the 1957 season, the team also uncovered the skeleton of a six foot long crocodile-like reptile, eventually named Eutretauranosuchus delfsi.

H. delfsi is a late Jurassic sauropod, dating from around 155-152 million years ago. It is relatively small among sauropods, with "Happy" measuring around 49 feet in length, with an estimated weight of around 12.8 metric tons. Three other specimens have been assigned to Haplocanthosaurus, with others possibly being related as well.

There are only two other sites where Haplocanthosaurus has been found - one near Snowmass, CO, and the other nearby in Wyoming. Its name, meaning Simple-Spined Lizard, references its distinctive spine layout, which is used to differentiate it from other similar sauropods. The skeleton was placed in display in 1963, but it wasn't scientifically described until 1988. At that point, it was noted that the specimen held several differences when compared to the fragmentary remains of the known Haplocanthosaurus priscus, which was named and described in 1903. As such, it was assigned the name H. delfsi in honor of its discoverer. The Cleveland-Delfs quarry has yielded bones from both species.

CMNH 10380 is one of the only mounted skeletons of Haplocanthosaurus to be displayed, and thus is a very rare find. The quarry site is only ten miles or so from my house, and I am looking forward to paying the location a visit when the opportunity arises.

 

T.rex Tuesday - Roosevelt's Napa Valley Getaway

If you look to the intersection of Science and Status, you’ll find Roosevelt staring back at you. Roosevelt - honoring the namesake conservationist president who also gave the Teddy Bear its name - is the monicker given to Theropoda Expeditions specimen TE-036, a composite of three different Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons unearthed in Montana and Wyoming.

While none of that sounds particularly unusual, the context of Roosevelt’s existence is a little less typical. Theropoda Expeditions is a private company that sells the fossils it excavates. While some of them certainly could find themselves in Museum collections, most will end up in the hands of investors who are willing to pay a premium to have real dinosaur bones in their homes.

Theropoda Expeditions’ specimen TE-036 “Roosevelt” takes center stage at the Erin Martin Design Showroom in St. Helena, CA in the heart of the Napa Valley.

Theropoda Expeditions’ specimen TE-036 “Roosevelt” takes center stage at the Erin Martin Design Showroom in St. Helena, CA in the heart of the Napa Valley.

When I first heard of Roosevelt and Theropoda, the skeleton was set up inside of an old church in Dallas that was being sold. By chance I was in Dallas not long after, and made a few attempts to see the skeleton, to no avail. So I was pleasantly surprised when news surfaced recently that he was going on display at Emily Martin Design Showroom in St. Helena, CA - on the swanky side of the famed Napa Valley.

Martin Showroom is only a slightly less quirky landing spot than Roosevelt’s previous abode in Dallas. Among an eclectic collection of custom art and found objects, the towering skeleton seems right at home. And with an attached price tag of $3.9 million, Roosevelt seems to be in the right place to find a home among the ultra-rich elite Napa Valley crowd.

It’s hard for me to separate my awe of any T.rex from the bias that I have against placing Status over Science, so I bristled quite a bit at the price tag. Call it the “Sue” effect, if you will, after the Field Museum’s famed Tyrannosaurus. Sue went through a well publicized custody battle that concluded with a stunning $7.8 million auction. While they ended up in a museum - where such an important specimen rightfully belongs -the damage was done. Fossils now had a tangible price tag. And it was exorbitantly high.

Most of the additional original bone in Roosevelt's skeleton is in the tail.  

Most of the additional original bone in Roosevelt's skeleton is in the tail.  

Fossil prospecting - and in some less ethical corners, smuggling - is a lucrative business, as the ultra rich seek to have their own special piece of pre-history. The cost to science and the gathering of knowledge is offensively high in my mind. Take for example the recent auction of a potentially undescribed Theropod in Paris in June. Though that specimen is now lost to scientific study, the potential naming rights for the species was bandied about as a part of the status of purchasing it. God forbid we end up with a Dino McDinoface because someone wanted to be cute. Not that it would matter. Without study, any attempt to call it something would be nominem dubium at best.

But none of that should reflect on Roosevelt’s present hosts. If anything, the folks at Martin’s showroom are happy to have him about. And well they should be. I’d be pretty excited to share my office with him as well. I had a nice conversation with Whitney, the person in charge during my visit, and it was clear that Roosevelt was starting a lot of conversations about the history of dinosaurs, and about the specific specimen. That’s a good thing, I’d think.

Roosevelt looks right at home amid the Martin Design collection. 

Roosevelt looks right at home amid the Martin Design collection. 

I don’t know enough to really have an opinion as to whether or not that should reflect poorly on Theropoda either. My bias against for-profit fossil prospecting is purely my own, and doesn’t take anything into consideration with regard to the specific methods applied to Roosevelt’s collection. I explained to Whitney why the losses to science can be so profound, and why context - other fossils found in close proximity, things in the general quarry area, etc. - are probably of equal importance to the bones themselves. She seemed fairly sympathetic.

Roosevelt is a composite of at least three different T. rexes, and consists of about 37% real bone by count, 43% by volume. The rest is made up of casts from other specimens, though exactly which ones aren’t clear. I would imagine that the buyer would be a little more well informed. For their part, Theropoda Expeditions provides some pretty interesting reading material on their website, and Martin’s had some as well. The documents indicate that the purchase includes quarry maps, inventory lists of collected material, lab notes and photos.

It’s probably too much to hope that Roosevelt will eventually find its way into a museum property instead of someone’s front room. I’d wager that there are more investment bankers than museums that have nearly $4 million in spare change laying around. It’s all about the status symbol of having at least some portion of extremely rare real dinosaur bones in your possession. If it wasn’t, for that kind of money, you could go to Black Hills Institute and get 39 casts of Stan and his kin, and really amaze your guests with your T.rex herd.

Visiting Roosevelt was an experience not to be missed, and I am glad I had the opportunity. His hosts were cordial, open minded, and friendly. From a scientific perspective, Roosevelt probably has few secrets to reveal. So he’s in a good place summering in wine country waiting for the next chapter in his story to be written.

Putting Our Foot Down on T.rex Tuesday

Good afternoon! I had grand designs for this week's T.rex Tuesday post, after getting the ball rolling with our recent post about footprints at our local museum. Well, as is often the case, that has spiraled out of control. I recently came across another article in Plos One that I wanted to get through before I rushed into my post. Rather than limp along and hope I could get caught up, I wanted to acknowledge that the post isn't ready yet. But when I do get it done, I'm hoping it will be worth the wait. And as if that weren't enough, I have a Theropod Thursday feature planned for tomorrow, AND a Fossil Friday post as well. Thanks for your patience!

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Saurian Sunday - Sophie's a Strutting Stegosaurus

Inspired by today's Science Sunday post, here's a bonus Saurian Sunday: Sophie is touted as the world's most complete stegosaurus, with 85% of the over 300 bones in the skeleton having been recovered. Since its arrival at the British Museum of Natural History in London, the individual bones have been digitally scanned and carefully studied. Part of that study led to the recent publishing of a computer model of the stegosaurus' walking gate. That article was included in today's Science Sunday feature.

Sophie the Stegosaurus takes center stage at the entrance to the Earth Hall at the British Museum of Natural History in London, UK. Sept. 2017.

Sophie the Stegosaurus takes center stage at the entrance to the Earth Hall at the British Museum of Natural History in London, UK. Sept. 2017.

Sophie was found in 2003 in Red Canyon Ranch in Wyoming. The fossils date back to around 150 million years ago, and indicate that "She" was a smaller sub-adult specimen of the species Stegosaurus stenops, one of two recognized species of stegosaurs. With the completeness of her skeleton, scientists were hoping to study her and learn more about her moving and eating patterns when the skeleton was acquired by the museum in 2013. The previously mentioned article is some of the first information released from those studies.

Science Sunday for June 24, 2018

It's been a little while since we've released a Science Saturday/Sunday update, where we share a sampling of dinosaur news, recently released science papers, and other things that I've been reading lately and found interesting. There's a lot to cover, so let's get right to it!

Fossil could help explain growth spurt that led to Tyrannosaurus - A recently discovered fossil believed to be from the tail of a small tyrannosaur might shed some light on Tyrannosaur development. "Scientists at the Hokkaido University Museum in Sapporo and the Mikasa City Museum in Mikasa, also in Hokkaido, concluded that the fossil was part of a caudal vertebra bone in a 6-meter-long carnivore of the Tyrannosauridae family."

Evolutionary trends in Triceratops from the Hell Creek Formation, Montana - "The deciphering of evolutionary trends in nonavian dinosaurs can be impeded by a combination of small sample sizes, low stratigraphic resolution, and lack of ontogenetic (developmental) details for many taxa. Analysis of a large sample (n > 50) of the famous horned dinosaur Triceratops from the Hell Creek Formation of Montana incorporates new stratigraphic and ontogenetic findings to permit the investigation of evolution within this genus. Our research indicates that the two currently recognized species of Triceratops (T. horridus and T. prorsus) are stratigraphically separated and that the evolution of this genus likely incorporated anagenetic (transformational) change. These findings impact interpretations of dinosaur diversity at the end of the Cretaceous and illuminate potential modes of evolution in the Dinosauria." From the PNAS Journal.

Field Museum’s ‘Antarctic Dinosaurs’ exhibit includes new, unnamed species - "The Field Museum's new exhibition, "Antarctic Dinosaurs," follows scientists through an Antarctica expedition and features real fossils of newly-discovered dinosaurs, full-sized replicas showing what the dinosaurs would have looked like in life, and more." By Jane Recker in the Chicago Sun Times.

Zhenyuanlong suni: A Newly Identified Species of Feathered Dinosaur - "A newly identified species of feathered dinosaur – who has been unearthed in 2015 in China – is a close cousin of the Velociraptor, made famous by the Jurassic Park films. It is the largest dinosaur ever to have been unearthed with a well-preserved set of bird-like wings, researchers said." From Paleontology World.

A Stegosaurus brought to life - "Watch a virtual Stegosaurus walk around as Sir David Attenborough explains how this dinosaur would have moved. The animation is based on the most complete Stegosaurus skeleton ever found. Affectionately dubbed Sophie, this specimen is on display in the British Natural History Museum's Earth Hall." From the NHM website. (Note: I saw this specimen while in London last year, and was pretty excited by this tidbit.)

Fowler set to uncover new species of ankylosaur - "Paleontologist Denver Fowler of the Dickinson (ND) Museum Center, is readying for summer field work at Montana's Judith River Formation, calling the site "the most exciting I've ever found." The site already has yielded a new species of nodosaur, belonging to the armored ankylosaur family. It is a low, stocky animal with many side spikes. A portion of skull and fragments of its arm are being cleaned at the museum center." - By Brandon Summers from The Dickinson ND Press.

A dinosaur's rib shows evidence of a traumatic encounter with a carnivore - "This doesn’t look like just any break. Instead, Xing and colleagues propose, the pathology was caused by a puncture - most likely the bite of a carnivorous theropod dinosaur who apparently failed to fell their victim. The Lufengosaurus survived, but the piercing teeth of the carnivore drove bacteria far enough into the bone that infection soon followed even as flesh and bone started to heal. Whether this killed the Lufengosaurus or not is impossible to say, but it certainly didn’t do the dinosaur any favors. " By Brian Switek, From the Scientific American.

Vandals use Hammer to Smash 115-Million-year-old Dinosaur Footprint at Australian National Park - Vandals used a hammer to smash a 115-million-year-old three-toed dinosaur footprint in a national park in Australia. Park rangers at the Bunurong Marine Park discovered the damage to the theropod footprint while taking a school group on a tour" Infuriating news from Paleontology World.

Paleontologists Find Fossil of Smallest Spinosaurus - "A tiny fossil of an early juvenile Spinosaurus has been discovered by a duo of Italian paleontologists." By Natali Anderson, from Science News.

World's Largest Pterosaur Jawbone Discovered in Transylvania - And now from astoundingly small to frightfully big: "The largest pterosaur jawbone on record has just been analyzed, and it's so big that it likely helped the prehistoric beast gulp down freshwater turtles and large dinosaur eggs for dinner more than 66 million years ago, a new study finds." - By Laura Geggel, from Live Science.

Scientists reveal their sacrifices for the sake of work - Passion is an amazing thing. Ever wondered what happens behind the scenes? "Palaeontologists, biologists are among researchers whose social media reflections reveal what they have given up in the pursuit of science." Compiled by Nature Index.

It's a long entry this week, but thanks for hanging in there. I hope you found some good reading as well. I swear I will be a little more diligent in getting these posted more frequently than once every few months. - Jody

Theropod Thursday Gets Real on Jurassic World

It's Theropod Thursday again, and we're excited, because today's feature serves three purposes. First, it gives us the chance to serve up one of the most exciting specimens from the collection at the Museum of Ancient Life. Second, it gives us the chance to talk more about an exciting project surrounding that specimen, and third, it gift wraps a chance to go all fan-boy on this week's premiere of the new movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which opens tomorrow. So who is the star of today's blog post? Allow us to introduce the one and only Utahraptor! (Cue The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper intro music.)

Utahraptor at the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, UT.

Utahraptor at the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, UT.

Utahraptor ostrommaysorum was a large dromaeosaurid (sickle-clawed theropod) that was first found in Utah's Arches National Park in 1991. It was described in 1993 - the same year that the blockbuster Jurassic Park catapulted dinosaurs back into popular cinematic culture, and put Velociraptor on the map. There was one thing that a lot of people noticed about the movie's antagonist predators - they were WAY TOO BIG to be Velociraptors, which haven't been found to be any larger than waist high to an average human. The movie's raptors had been modeled on Deinonychus, a larger and earlier cousin to the late cretaceous Velociraptor. Even so, some Hollywood license was still necessary. (Science has since furthered the validation of feathers on Velociraptor and other contemporaries, but that's another discussion entirely.)

But in Utahraptor, life kind of imitated art. Found in rock from around 126 million years ago, these early cretaceous predators had the size and menace to be more like their movie cousins. The type specimen, CEU 184v.86, is housed at the College of Eastern Utah in Price. This cast is most likely of that specimen. But in 2001, a chance discovery of a bone sticking out of a block of sandstone led to the study and excavation of a nine ton block apparently containing as many as six different Utahraptors, as well as an iguanadontid of some sort. Scientists have theorized that the group was trapped in quicksand while trying to pursue the prey.

The block is at the Museum of Ancient Life, and funding is being gathered up to study it in depth via The Utahraptor Project. See this link for a lot more information, and for a link to their GoFundMe page: http://utahraptors.utahpaleo.org/ There's certainly a tremendous amount to be learned from this discovery, and it's exciting to see how it will all develop. Hopefully, Utahraptor will soon take is place in the imaginations of young dinosaur lovers everywhere. And of course, the most recent movie in the Jurassic franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens up this week as well. So we'll all have dinosaurs on the brain for a while.

T.rex Tuesday Flashback - Getting Ahead in Hill City

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly a full year since our road tripping took us through Hill City, SD. But as today's T.rex Tuesday Flashback suggests, the calendar tells a much different story.

If you're a Tyrannosaur fan, the Black Hills Institute is a wonderland. As if being the home to specimen BHIR 3033 (better known as "Stan") isn't enough, the team at BHI has unearthed several other notable T.rexes, and, along with casts of several other well known rexes, has created an impressive lineup of cast and reconstructed Tyrannosaurus rex skulls.

The lineup of T.rex skulls at Black Hills Institute includes, from left to right: AMNH 5027, MOR 008,  MOR 980 Peck's Rex, LACM 23844, RTMP 81.12.1 Black Beauty, and BHIR 4100 Duffy.

The lineup of T.rex skulls at Black Hills Institute includes, from left to right: AMNH 5027, MOR 008,  MOR 980 Peck's Rex, LACM 23844, RTMP 81.12.1 Black Beauty, and BHIR 4100 Duffy.

In addition to photographs of the skulls of FMNH PR 2081 "Sue" and the holotype, CM 9380, the lineup also includes a who's who of the most impressive Tyrannosaurus rex specimens collected. AMNH 5027, well known from the American Museum of Natural History, starts off the lineup. Found in Montana in 1908, it is the oldest in specimen represented in the exhibit. Next to it, Museum of the Rockies' MOR 008 (Montana, 1967) and MOR 980 "Peck's Rex" (Montana, 1997) are of similar size. Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History's LACM 23844 was discovered in Montana in 1966, and is an impressive bit larger.

RTMP 81.12.1 bears the name "Black Beauty" because of the color if its fossilization. The original is displayed at the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, AB. It was discovered in Alberta in 1946. And on the other end of the display, BHI 4100 "Duffy" was discovered by Stan Sacrison (the same person who found the famous specimen who bears his name) in South Dakota in 1993. His skull was disarticulated, and the area was explored and excavated over five summers to find what was found.

BHIR is an impressive - if not overwhelming - museum space, and it's well worth a visit. I can't wait to go back again.