Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Break: A Graduation, with Fossils on the Side

Well, as you can probably tell by the number of posts I've done lately, I didn't spend much time on my computer over the break. I know I should've kept working on graphics projects pretty intensely, but I felt like I needed some time away from my work so I could come back refreshed for my final semester (which started last week). In spite of that, somehow I ended up way too busy to do much relaxing anyway. The break went way too fast!

Mark (my brother) graduated from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology as a mechanical engineer! My husband and I, my mom and dad, Mark's fiance Emily and her mom, and various others made the trek out to Rapid City for the big event. We also needed to help Mark get moved back to the east side of the state where his new job, and us, are located. But I decided that in addition to all that excitement, I needed to visit the Museum of Geology that's located on SDSMT's campus. So Tim and I left early on a freezing Thursday December morning to make it to Rapid City before the museum's 4PM closing time.

Emily, Edmontosaurus, and me

Emily and Mark were happy to bring us to the museum and kindly humored me as I took too many photos, babbled excitedly about the exhibits, and just generally took way too long. Above are Emily and I with Edmontosaurus.

Elasmosaur/Mosasaur exhibit

In the middle and late Cretaceous (around 100 million to 65 million years ago), South Dakota was covered by a shallow inland sea that cut North America into two halves. The sea goes by several names, but I seem to see Western Interior Seaway the most often. It was teeming with life, and many of the fossils at this museum are from that time period. In the main middle area of the museum are the skeletons of the large marine reptiles Elasmosaurus and Mosasaurus.


One of the reasons I really wanted to visit this museum is that I very clearly remember being here as a kid on one of our vacations to the Black Hills. Or rather, I clearly remembered being at some museum with a Mosasaurus (one of my favorites since early childhood). I could also remember that it was my aunt and uncle who had taken me there, so I had to ask them about it in order to figure out what museum it would've been. They were right - this was it!


The massive bony fish Xiphactinus could reach 15-20 feet long and was one of the many badass predators found in the Western Interior Sea.

Titanothere exhibit

Brontops robustus, behind badly glaring glass. I don't know much about Brontotheres/Titanotheres, but they've definitely captured my interest now. They're perissodactyls and certainly look a bit like rhinos, but apparently are thought to be most closely related to horses.

Brontotheres of Charles R. Knight

A cast of an original sculpture of a Brontothere by Charles R. Knight. There were quite a few of his sculptures around the museum. A massive Brontothere skull was in this same case but the glass was reflecting so bad that I couldn't capture it. Sadly, that was a problem with many of the exhibits behind glass.


I touched the legbone of a dinosaur. Pictured is Tim touching the legbone of a dinosaur.


I did not touch the fossil, even though I really really really wanted to.

South Dakota state fossil - Triceratops skull

The official South Dakota state fossil, a Triceratops skull.


Dunkleosteus, another one of my favorites. The size, the armor, the power in those jaws, the sheer bizarreness - everything about this fish leaves me awestruck!


There was a small section on meteorites, which was pretty interesting. But we got quite a bit of amusement from the fact that they included in the exhibit the chunk of roof from a machine shed where a meteorite had gone through. Then, when we realized that it was from Centerville, SD - a tiny town just a few miles from our own tiny hometown - we had to get some photos. You can bet they'll be recounting increasingly extravagant stories over in Centerville about the time the space stone crashed through ol' McMurchie's shed back in the winter of '56 till the end of time.


After the staff member at the Museum of Geology reminded us of the closing time and I carefully chose which toy dinosaur I would buy as a souvenir (Carnegie Collection Elasmosaurus, for the record), Mark and Emily took us over to the bran new Paleontology Research Center building on campus. It's a beautiful building! There wasn't much for the public to see (yet?), but as I peered in the window of a workroom at this Plioplatecarpus, I felt a little pang of regret about my career path. It's unlikely with my math skills that I ever could've made it through a program in paleontology, but I still can't help but have a dreamy, romanticized "what if" moment about it now and then.

Anyhow, the Museum of Geology is a very small museum but I thought it had some really interesting specimens and was definitely worth visiting. It's not the kind of museum that you should drive miles out your way to see, but I would recommend stopping if you're in the Rapid City area anyway. If you're interested in additional photos of the exhibits, I have a few more on my Flickr you can check out.

"Brontosaurus" in the moonlight

Another must-see in Rapid City is Dinosaur Park. Unfortunately, this time we didn't make it there till it was almost dark. If it hadn't been so bitter cold and windy, it would've been pretty fun seeing it at night.

Emily & Mark

It was a great trip! But greatest of all: CONGRATULATIONS Mark!