Inspiring a lifetime of learning…

The tours at the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry have been in full swing for about two weeks.   We have had a steady stream of visitors curious about what a dinosaur dig is like.  To get to the site, the tour guests must travel eight miles on a desert surface road, which is about a thirty minute drive.  You might ask if there is a typical visitor; the answer is no. However, all come with curiosity and questions.  Let me share a bit about a few of our visitors. 

First, we do have return visitors.  It is exciting to see people who have enjoyed their previous experience so much that they return.  On my tours this week I can recall at least five groups that have previously visited.  We had one man, tall, lean, and brown from days in the sun.  He walked the hills in sandals.  In his German accent he questioned our progress and delighted in our discoveries, amazed by the number of bones, and by how much the quarry had changed since he was here a couple of years ago.

One of our most exciting guests was a couple from Belgium that had visited us last year.  At the end of a long day at the quarry, as I walked up to our motel door, I heard a voice.  I turned and recognized the couple.  “Welcome.  How great to see you.  You’re back.  You have to get out to the site again.”  The next day, Guy and Sabine drove out to the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry, eager to again have a tour.  They had questions about our techniques and the progress that we were making.  After the tour and checking a few more things, they asked, “With our limited English can we join your dig next year?”  “Your English is great.   We would love to have you.”  Emails were exchanged and they will be watching for the posting of expedition dates come December to register early for 2013.

We have received a variety of new visitors, including a retired family physician and his wife from Arizona, and a mineralogist from New Mexico.  The couples enjoyed their tours, but what is equally satisfying for the Burpee educators is what we learn from our visitors.  The mineralogist told how his grandfather had mined uranium north of the Hanksville -Burpee Quarry in 1958.  He had located the mines and the cabin his grandfather lived in.  A clue for the miners was the petrified wood and dinosaur bones around which the uranium formed.

Today we gave a tour to one of Burpee’s own families.  Peter has attended Burpee Adventurers and Burpee Explorers for the last two years.  His family planned their vacation around the time that the education staff was offering tours at the quarry.  They arrived today, having visited a number of dinosaur sites in Colorado and Utah beforehand.  One of these sites raved about the wonders of the Hanksville –Burpee Quarry to them and said that one day it will rival Dinosaur National Monument.   Peter was thrilled to be at a real quarry and to see Brad, Scott, Lisa and Betsy from the museum there working.  Others on the tour were impressed by Peter’s knowledge, and one visitor who was a teacher wished he was her student.  Peter easily identified petrified wood and bone float on our hill.  After the tour and a snack, Peter was out on the hill for an hour in the noonday sun brushing away sand and using an awl to expose a bone in the side of our hill.  Soon, though, the time came for departure.  He was lured away from his “dig” by the chance to use a rock hammer to collect some petrified wood outside the fence of the quarry and to head out to collect oysters.  Peter’s parents were thrilled by the opportunity for a dinosaur-loving little boy to experience a real dig and to have a first-hand opportunity to see scientists at work answering his questions.

At four’o’clock, a director of a crew of Utah Conservation Corp arrived for a tour.  Soon thereafter four more crew members arrived.  They had been given the time off to visit the quarry and drove nearly forty miles for their visit.  They had many questions about the processes of the dig they were observing.  They were most intrigued by the importance that invertebrates and vertebrate microfossils play in establishing habitat for the Morrison Formation.  For these young adults, visiting a dinosaur quarry was reviving childhood dreams.  The long drive, followed by the forty five minutes over the desert, was most worth the opportunity to see history being made by the removal of bones from a significant dinosaur quarry.

Now I am packing for the two day drive back to Rockford and summer classes at the museum.  I am recharged for the year by giving tours of the quarry to the public.  The public’s questions, interest in science, and their tremendous appreciation that Burpee Museum is providing them with the opportunity to be a part of science, is most encouraging to me.  Burpee Museum is making a difference in peoples’ lives.  We are fulfilling our mission statement to inspire a lifetime of learning about the natural world.

– by Betsy Carlson, Burpee Museum Educator

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