This is the next installment in my series of posts on the best holiday/field trip/museum trip combo I ever took. Previous posts covered (part of) the AMNH visit and my stint in Salt Lake City. From there I drove to Denver, where I had an appointment with none other than Ken Carpenter.
Edmontosaurus annectens mount in the DMNS.
Another panorama image from, in this case, four pictures – sorry, if one steps far enough away for a complete view, exhibition labels hide the feet. And yes, I screwed up the single pic I have of the feet in perfectly lateral view, so that part of the image is blurry. It is not the fault of the panorama software.
Before I could dive into the Denver Museum of Nature and Science dinosaur (and other) exhibits, I first had to get there. I left SLC shortly before midnight, having calculated with an average speed of 50 mph for the drive. All went well for the first few hours, until I hit that most dreaded of all events on roads through the US midwest and west: road construction, with the sole possible detour roughly 15,971.23 miles longer than the planned route. In one place I spent over half an hour waiting, then a single oncoming car passed us, and the backlog of traffic was allowed to negotiate the uneven gravel of the construction site at 25 mph. AAAAAAAAARGH!!!!!
One very unwelcome result of this delay was that I spent a lot more time driving into the rising sun that I had anticipated. From Rock Springs all the way to Laramie I had the sun in my eye, and sought whenever possible to stay very close behind a truck, because I had inadvertently packed away my sunglasses the day before and now had to make do without them. I managed to shoot a few nice pics on the way, one-handed while driving – I didn’t want to take any breaks because I hate being late, and I knew already that I would miss my appointment with Ken.
Near Laramie I stopped on the roadside to take a leak, and found myself a scant 10 meters from an supposedly oh-so-shy pronghorn (Antilocapra americana). It was feeding on some of the prairie flowers at the rest site, and ignored me studiously. Later, I encountered pronghorns near Boulder, where people had to honk at them so they’d get off the road – within city limits! I guess pronghorns have a very good understanding of hunting seasons, and that humans without sticks on their backs are harmless. It was quite fun to see them take off, as did the cars. The prongs clearly won that race, easily pulling away by about 100 meters in mere seconds, then going offroad, stopping, and looking at the passing cars as if to say “What? You want anything?”
When I reached Denver I made one of the worst mistakes I could make: I asked for directions to the Museum. And, thinking this an especially smart move, I asked a cop. Baaaaaaaaaad mistake! he told me to “go straight to W Colfax, go right, then follow the signs”. I repeated what he had said, he looked at me as if I had had a frontal lobotomy (or maybe rather as if he had had one), thus I simply thanked him and drove off.
Suffice to say that I should have gone left on W Colfax. End of story: I was an extra hour late. My reception was thus rather cool, but I soon realized that Ken was simply preoccupied with other matters. I had a good look around the exhibit, in search of easily scannable mounts (which there were several of), then Ken came back and asked how I liked them. I was enthusiastic, and asked who was responsible. Ken dryly said “I was” and led me to the prep lab. There, he finally got around to asking me what I was doing, and I told him about my ideas on kinetic/dynamic modeling. For example, I said, we could model stegosaur tail swings to see if they used their spikes for defense. At that, Ken’s face lit up like a 1 billion Watt bulb! He exclaimed “But we know they did!”, literally flew across the room, yanked open a drawer and shoved two bone casts into my face. One was a stegosaur tail spike, the other a pretty f-ed up caudal of an allosaur.
With a vengeance, Ken shoved the spike into the holes and damaged areas of the vertebra, a nice tight fit! Obviously, the allosaur had had a very bad day……. Back in 2003, nobody knew of this stuff, but two years later Ken and several colleagues published the find (Carpenter et al. 200). Utterly amazing stuff, and I am extremely grateful for this sneak preview!
OK, this is getting long, more in another installment tomorrow.
Carpenter, K., Sanders, F., McWhinney, L.A., and Wood, L. 2005. Evidence for predator-prey relationships. Examples for Allosaurus and Stegosaurus, p. 325-350. In Carpenter, K. (ed.), The Carnivorous Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.