Guest Blog: Josh Malone

Josh Malone is a recent graduate of Augustana College, where he earned a B.A. in Theatre as well as minors in Geology and Art. Burpee Museum has been fortunate to have Josh participate in its expedition programs since 2007.  Josh has also volunteered with the museum during PaleoFest and many other events over the past seven years. This was Josh’s first visit to the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry in Hanksville, Utah.

There really is nothing like it. Sitting in the dry dust, staring back at something that hasn’t seen the light of day in over 147 million years. It is something that few people get to experience in their life time. Fortunately for me the Burpee Museum provided me with an opportunity to have that kind experience, multiple times.

Finding out about Burpee Museum in ’05 was literally one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. I was a teenager in love with dinosaurs. I had been in love with dinosaurs since I was two years old and saw Jurassic Park when it was in theatres. These giant beasts fascinated me and I was only two years away from starting high school and six years away from college. I knew… or thought I knew for sure what I wanted to do. Then storms in Jane. My uncle and aunt in Rockford told me about Jane and would send me newspaper clippings of this amazing find. I had to see her for myself and when I finally did, like most others, I was in awe of her. But it wasn’t just Jane I was fascinated with. Where had the Burpee Museum of Natural History been all my life? This small museum with this amazing natural history collection ranging from the Carboniferous to modern-day biology. It had everything. And there, sitting disguised as a simple flyer at the front desk was a key to a big part of my future. A flyer that was promoting the museum’s summer expedition to Montana’s Hell Creek formation, where they had found Jane. I knew, there and then, that I would be going on one of Burpee’s expeditions.

Over the next year I worked for various farmers around my hometown of Kempton, IL so that I could save up enough money to go on this trip and in 2007 I went on my first dig with the Burpee in Montana. It was an experience I will never forget. Not only did I find some amazing things and work with an awesome team (shout out to Jim Holstein, and Erin Fitzgerald, Joanne, and my cousin Mark) I got to work with Dr. Thomas Carr and got to meet Dr. Jack Horner. It was a dream come true. I was told that I had an experience that even many vets weren’t lucky enough to have.

For the next few years I came out to the Hell Creek with Burpee on the odd numbered years (so ’07, ’09, ’11, and ’13.) Each time offered a different experience- all of them good. Even those gusty cold winds in early August while the sun hides behind the clouds and you stand atop a high ridge. I cherish those days because it is all experience gained. An important thing to note, that I feel a lot of people don’t realize, is that field work isn’t always easy and nice. The weather can suck a lot of the time and you can go days without finding anything. Then there is Scott with his blowhorn at 7 am. There are bad times. But I loved those moments because it just added to the well roundedness of the experience that the Burpee offers. Those experiences also humble you and make you realize just how much these professionals go through every season, all season.

But with the bad there has also been so much good. Over the past several years I have made so many connections, and worked with so many amazing and influential people. Honestly, when I was eight years old watching Walking With Dinosaurs I would have never imagined that I would someday be laying next to Thomas Holtz or Jim Kirkland with my face in the sand looking for dinosaurs. Yet here I am, having those exact experiences. I would randomly look over and have to suppress the urge to have a mini freakout moment. I needed to remain professional… but you know what? I can have my moment now. THIS IS AWESOME. I’ve worked with Holtz, Kirkland, Carr, Goodwin, and so many others! I’ve interviewed them all at PaleoFest or at other conferences I’ve gone to with the Burpee. I’ve sat next to giants in the paleo-community and had conversations, found bones, and yes- even thrown back a beer or two with them. The Burpee offers that opportunity.

One of the things I wanted… no, needed to do, before I graduated was come out to the Hanksville-Burpee site in Utah. Mainly because of my wishfullness to uncover a stegosaur. But also so that I will have had that “other” experience with the Burpee before my adult life starts after college. The opportunity arose for me to go to Utah the week after graduation, which in my book still counts because I don’t have a job yet and I haven’t moved far away. So, I latched on to the opportunity to essentially intern under Scott and Katie for the Burpee at the Utah site. And it has been every bit the experience I hoped it would be. No… I didn’t find my stegosaur. But we have several sauropods, some Allosaurus and Ceratosaur material, and an ankylosaur!? I mean, honestly we have some of the best stuff ever here at this site, and I can officially say “Hey, I have been there. I was a part of that team!”

Recent Augustana graduate, Josh Malone, joined the Burpee Field Crew in Hanksville, Utah.

Recent Augustana graduate, Josh Malone, joined the Burpee Field Crew in Hanksville, Utah.

It has all been very humbling. The past several years my relationship with the Burpee has helped me grow as a student an as a person. No matter my interest or area of study the Burpee with their different types of programming was always there to support and help me in any way they could. Scott, Katie, Josh, Hillary, Maureen, and so many others at the museum who encouraged and facilitated my growth as an individual. I would not be the person I am today without the experiences the Burpee has offered.

There are times in your life… well, in my life at least, where everything seems perfect. Like where I am at is where I am supposed to be at that moment, and that I am on that right path. Trust me when I say that this past year has been missing a lot of those moments. As a senior at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL this past year I have never felt more unsure of myself and where my future is going to take me. I have my BA in Theatre and ADs in Geology and Art. I have no clue where I will be a few weeks from now to be honest, let alone next year. But coming out to the Hanksville-Burpee site in Utah this summer, on my fifth expedition with the Burpee crew, has given me that feeling I’m supposed to be here, at this moment. It’s a blessing.

Late Jurassic Ankylosaur at the HBDQ!

(C) H. Parks

McLennan student excavates the first of the osteoderms.

Burpee Museum Field Crews have been working at the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry for a little over a week and are squarely into session one of the Jurassic Journey Expedition Program. And already, the crews have an exciting new find to share!

On Sunday, May 25, 2014, students from McLennan Community College’s field camp program worked the site with the Burpee Crew. They helped finish opening the site and then set to work excavating on both sites within in the quarry. One of the McLennan students quietly worked one edge of the Middle Quarry site, near what the crew had initially thought to be some crushed, fragmentary bones. After a few hours of very careful work, he approached Scott Williams, Burpee Museum’s Director of Collections and Exhibits with a curious bone. This bone wasn’t just any bone, it was an osteoderm – a piece of an ankylosaur’s armor.

(C) H. Parks

The first of the osteoderms.

Many people know of Ankylosaurus, the armor-plated, tail club-wielding dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous, but the ankylosaur family tree reaches back into the Jurassic with species like Mymoorapelta and Gargoyleosaurus. Even more exciting, ankylosaurs are some of the rarest dinosaurs to find in Late Jurassic sediment. Burpee Crews have at least 10 osteoderms so far, and are continuing to excavate the area with hopes of finding more elements.

And they’re off!

On Sunday May 18th, the Burpee Field Crew left Rockford, Illinois and headed for Hanksville, Utah to begin readying the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry for the 2014 field season.

Morrision FM

At the end of each field season most of the traces of an active dinosaur dig are taken down, cleaned up, and removed from the site. All that remains over the winter is an information sign and a log fence. The fossils are re-buried to protect them from the elements, as well as to deter fossil poachers. This means that at the beginning of each season, crews must un-bury the dig pits, reconstruct the shade tent, reset (and reorganize) the supply trailer as well as make sure that all the machinery is in working order. The Burpee Crew is making good headway on setting up the site for the 2014 season – the shade tent frame has been erected, the trailer is in position and organized. Next comes, un-burying the dig pits and checking machinery!

However its not all work and no play for the field crew –  on the way to Utah they stopped at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to check out their paleo hall and incredible dioramas in their biology halls. They also had the opportunity to observe a small herd of Big Horn Sheep as they passed through the Rocky Mountains that was grazing near the road.


One final note, Happy 215th Birthday to Mary Anning! Check out today’s Google Doodle!


From the Pod Farm: Ceratosaurus?

A few weeks ago, Burpee Museum Lab Staff and Volunteers opened another “pod” from the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry in Utah. This pod was removed from the site several years ago, and has been known as the Ceratosaurus Pod. Early on in the excavation at HBDQ a section of articulated vertebrae was discovered and, based on the visible portions of the vertebrae, the field identification of Ceratosaurus was given.

Ceratosaurus was not an unreasonable identification for theropod-looking vertebrae in the HBD Quarry. Ceratosaurus is known from quarries similar to HBDQ in both Utah and Colorado, including the Cleveland Lloyd Quarry and the Fruita Paleontological Area. (A special shout-out to colleagues and collaborators attending the Mid-Mesozoic Field Conference who just visited both Cleveland Lloyd and FPA this week!)

However, now that the pod is open and the matrix is being worked away the characteristics that fueled the field identification are also being worked away. Such is the case with more field identifications than not, as prep work progresses the identification must be reviewed and refined. So, for now, check out the pictures of the “Ceratosaurus” and stay tuned for more updates as the Burpee Lab Staff reviews and refines their identification of this specimen. (Or, if you like, leave us a comment with your proposed identification!)

The pod, the whole pod, and nothing but the pod

The pod, the whole pod, and nothing but the pod


A closer view of the right side of the image where most of the prep has occurred.

A closer view of the right side of the image where most of the prep has occurred.

Detail of the most prepped area.

Detail of the most prepped area.

Expedition Orientation Meeting

No Stone Unturned has been woefully neglected as we’ve been planning the wrap-up and deinstall for the “Rick’s Picks: A Lifelong Affair with Guitars and Music” and the installs for “Treasure!” – a joint traveling exhibit with the Discovery Center – and “Homer’s Odyssey: From the Badlands to Burpee.”

Through all of that we’ve seen steady sign ups and inquiries about this summer’s expedition programs. We still have room in Utah, Week 2 and Montana, Week 5. We will also be hosting an Expedition Orientation at Burpee Museum on April 20, 2013 from 1-3pm. Anyone interested in expeditions is welcome to attend and learn more about our expedition programs.

We have lots of information to share from the past several weeks, so be prepared for more posts in the near future!

2013 Expeditions Are Go!

Who wants to come dig up dinosaurs with us this summer?! Seriously, who wants to sign up?

After a little deliberation, we are set to move forward with finding some awesome expedition crew members for this summer’s dinosaur digs in both Utah and Montana.

Our expeditions work a little differently than traditional geology or paleontology field camps. Our field crew members range in age from high school students to retirees, and they bring with them a diverse range of life experiences and skills to the team. The one thing that they all have in common: they all have a passion to dig up dinosaur bones. And, instead of tent-camping for weeks on end all of our expedition crew members have the opportunity to come back from the field each night, get a hot shower and sleep in a bed. (However, if you really enjoy tent-camping that can be arranged for you too!) Our crew members can also vary their length of time that they are in the field. The Jurassic Journey program in Hanksville, Utah allows members to stay any length of time between three days and two weeks. In the Highway to Hell Creek program in Ekalaka, Montana the minimum stay is one week and the maximum stay is two weeks.

2012 Highway to Hell Creek Field Crew (C) Burpee Museum

2012 Highway to Hell Creek Field Crew (C) Burpee Museum

We are incredibly lucky to have two highly successful field programs that are productive year, after year, after year.  We have been going to Ekalaka, Montana and staying at Camp Needmore for a decade. Camp Needmore serves as a great base camp with plenty of space for even our largest field crews. From camp we head out each morning to the beautiful Montana badlands to dig for dinosaurs in the Hell Creek formation. The Hell Creek formation is one of the classic Late Cretaceous formations, and has yielded Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops sp., Edmontosaurus sp., Dromaeosaurus sp., Thescelosaurus, and Pachycephalosaurus dinosaur fossils as well as an astonishing number of microvertebrate fossils from fish, mammals, salamanders, frogs, and turtles. Our Highway to Hell Creek program is the same program that allowed us to find and bring home “Jane” the juvenile T. rex and “Homer” the juvenile Triceratops. Recently we have been working on an important site, affectionately called the Ninja Turtle site, where multiple fossil turtles have been uncovered, as well as sites containing a large Triceratops specimen and an Edmontosaurus specimen.

Longtime dig participant Frank Tully with some of the "Jimmy" fossils. (c) Burpee Museum

Longtime dig participant Frank Tully with some of the “Jimmy” fossils. (c) Burpee Museum

We have been digging in Hanksville, Utah since 2008 – it is a truly amazing site. The locality is found in the Morrison Formation and is Middle Jurassic in age. Once a braided river system, the sauropod-dominated site is a log-jam of bones. In true Burpee fashion, the fossils are smaller than expected and may represent a collection of juvenile sauropods. Here we have uncovered a substantial portion of a juvenile Diplodocus nicknamed “Jimmy” as well as fossils from Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, and Barosaurus. In addition to the sauropod fossils uncovered, we have fossils from Ceratosaurus and Allosaurus specimens as well. The Jurassic Journey expeditions to Hanksville, UT allow for some of the poshest fossil dinosaur dig amenities around. The town of Hanksville is our home-base, many crew members stay in a local hotel, The Whispering Sands, and enjoy breakfast at Blondie’s Cafe each morning before we head out to the field. Most field weeks are wrapped up by an evening adventure up into the Henry Mountains for a crew cook-out and bonfire.

Henry Mountains from the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry  (c) Hillary Parks

Henry Mountains from the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry (c) Hillary Parks

If you are interested in joining us check out the 2013 Expeditions Page or download the Registration Forms.

A Breather….

As I have been alluding to in my previous posts, the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry field season went very well.  In fact, this has been one of the few years we wrapped up on schedule, and removing the large plaster jackets went swimmingly.  My only concern was what sort of weight limit our new field trailer could handle.  We were able to fill it with all of our supplies, the new bones from this year, and two large (and I mean large) jackets from 2011.  Rough estimate on the weight was easily 4000 + lbs.  We left Utah on a Saturday and slowly made our way through the Rockies, arriving in Northern Illinois late on a Sunday; all in all, about 24 hours of driving- which isn’t too bad considering our cargo.  We unloaded all of our material into the Burpee Collections and began to catch up on work that waits for us while we are on the road.

A forklift loads the "Jimmy Jumble" jacket into the trailer in Utah in preparation for transport to Burpee Museum.

A forklift loads the “Jimmy Jumble” jacket into the trailer in Utah in preparation for transport to Burpee Museum.

I’m happy to say we had a few weeks at home, which allowed me to divert some attention to our upcoming Homer’s Odyssey: From the Badlands to Burpee exhibit, which we plan to open in the spring of 2013.  Additionally, I was able to catch up on lab work, collections organizing, and emails (which are actually very time-consuming).  While all this is going on, we are switching gears and preparing for the last bit of our field work, our Highway to Hell Creek Program.

The Hell Creek Formation is a geologic formation which is significantly younger than the Morrison Formation, where our Hanksville-Burpee Quarry is located.   The Hell Creek Formation records that last snippet of the Cretaceous Period, or the end of the age of dinosaurs, about 67-65.5 million years ago.  Despite the difference in time, the depositional processes that created both the Morrison and Hell Creek are similar- fluvial or river-borne deposition.  Like the Morrison, the Hell Creek is comprised of mudstones, sandstones, clay, and siltstone; all the “stuff” that rivers leave behind.  During the end of the Cretaceous parts of southeastern Montana and the western Dakotas were coastal floodplains and river systems and provided perfect conditions to bury large (and small) animals after they die.

Of course, by the time of the latest Cretaceous, our dinosaur fauna had changed dramatically.  Gone are the large sauropods and Stegosaurus, replaced by other herbivorous dinosaurs like the duckbilled Edmontosaurus and the horned Triceratops.  We have a large theropod, (without a doubt the most famous of dinosaurs) Tyrannosaurus rex; we also have smaller theropods, like the ostrich-mimic dinosaur Struthiomimus and the fleet-footed raptor Dromaeosaurus.  There are large armored dinosaurs like Ankylosaurus (probably one of the rarest of the Hell Creek dinos) and the “bone-headed” Pachycephalosaurus.

In addition to the dinosaurs, there were smaller vertebrate animals scurrying around like: crocodilians, turtles, lizards, snakes, gar, freshwater stingrays, other fish, birds, and mammals. The flora included ferns, cycads, ginkos, and conifers, but also flowering trees and plants.  If you were able to take a time machine back to southeastern Montana 66 million years ago and you didn’t immediately see a dinosaur, the other plants and animals might trick you into thinking that you have ended up in modern-day Florida or Louisiana.   However, if you hung around long enough eventually you would see a Triceratops lumber by, or a pterosaur fly overhead, or worse yet, the roar of a T. rex in the distance.

We have been collecting material from the Hell Creek Formation since 2001.  This is where we found Jane our juvenile T.rex, Homer our “teenaged” Triceratops, several other partial Triceratops specimens, a “pachy” dome, a new alligatoroid, a nearly complete fossil turtle, and lots of microvertebrate fossils.  The Hell Creek is a superb locality to collect material that gives us a snapshot of life just prior to one of the largest mass extinctions that occurred about 65.5 million years ago.  Everyone knows that the dinos died out, but the story is much larger than that.  Not only did the dinosaurs go extinct, but all the marine reptiles, pterosaurs, coiled ammonites, many species of mammals, coral, plants, and much more.  Think of collecting material here as adding another page or two to a book that has chapters missing.

That being said, we have a lot of work to do this summer; as mentioned, we have a large (presumably) adult Triceratops skull and skeleton to finish collecting, a new juvenile “trike” skull to collect, a possible Edmontosaurus to excavate, and a very exciting locality where we have articulated turtles and other small “stuff”.   A lot of this material will end up in our upcoming Homer exhibit, so as soon as we get back to Burpee we will begin preparing this for research and exhibit.  I’d like to say that the work Burpee has been doing in Montana has contributed to our knowledge of the latest Cretaceous of Montana and, in my humble opinion, we continue to make important finds out there….and it’s just plain fun!

So the last few days that I am here will involve making sure our permits are in order, getting our field vehicle serviced, checking our supplies and reloading our trailer, making sure all the trains are still on their tracks for the Homer’s Odyssey Exhibit, beginning a teaser exhibit for our Green River/Fossil Lake Fish, loaning some bird specimens out to a neighbor museum, etc.  Did I mention laundry, packing, and visiting friends and family before I/we leave?  So as the title says….we got our “breather”.

Keep checking back for our Montana updates!


Home again . . . at least for a little while.

06.25.12 – The Burpee Crew made it safely back to Illinois with a trailer full of fossils in tow. We made it most of the way with no problems, but noticed a bulge in one of the trailer tires part way through the second day’s drive. We took things slow from there and made it back late Sunday night. (Or really early Monday morning, depending how you look at it.)

Wrapping up the site went very well. We have a lot of exciting things waiting for us next year! Stay tuned for an update about the trailer’s arrival at the Burpee Museum sometime later this week 🙂

Moving the biggest jacket off of Limb Bone Ridge

A Successful Tour

We wrapped up the last of the official free tours at the quarry today. Over 300 people visited the quarry for a tour. Some came from the surrounding area, others traveled from across the state, country, and even the world. We had several visitors from overseas – including Germany and Belgium. We’ll share numbers and locations once we’ve tallied the data!

Next week we’ll work on closing the site and removing the last of the bones that can be taken out this season.