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Exploring a bit of UCMP in Oregon
by Kaitlin Maguire

Continuing in last year's footsteps, a group of UCMP and IB students, led by Jere Lipps, went on a field trip during spring break. The goal was to learn more about the geology and paleoenvironments of well-known UCMP localities in Oregon. Despite inclement weather, we also prospected for fossils and collected plant and invertebrate specimens. This year's group included graduate students from the UCMP (Sarah Werning, Jenny McGuire, Susumu Tomiya, Emily Lindsey, and Kaitlin Maguire), graduate students from the Integrative Biology Department (Nick Matzke, Chris Nasrallah, and Simon Sponberg), Carly Tribull, an undergraduate student in Kevin Padian's lab, and Liz Lovelock, a graduate student from UC Santa Barbara.

We left sunny Berkeley on Saturday, March 21, and spent our first night camping in a storm that left three inches of snow on the ground. The next morning, we stopped at Fossil Lake, a dried Pleistocene lake bed, located near Christmas Valley in Lake County. Prospecting in the snow did not prove a great enough challenge to hinder finding fossils. Several fish vertebrae were found as well as a complete operculum and several mammal limb bones.

From there, the group headed northeast to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument where we met up with a group from the University of Oregon led by Edward Davis, a UCMP alum. Ted Fremd of the John Day Fossil Beds introduced us to the complex geology of the area. We stopped at Longview Ranch (UCMP locality V6681) to prospect in Oligocene beds where several specimens were found, including a partial maxilla of a carnivoran, a hypertragulid (an extinct atriodactyl) jaw, and a mammal calcaneum.

Prospecting at Fossil Lake Students collecting at Longview Ranch, John Day Fossil Beds
Click on any photo on this page to see an enlargement. Left: Snow covered Fossil Lake. Nick Matzke and Kaitlin Maguire prospecting for fossils in between the snow piles. Right: Students from UCMP and the University of Oregon collecting at Longview Ranch in the John Day Fossil Beds.

The following day, we went to Fields Creek Roadcut, a diatomaceous outcrop from a Miocene shallow lake, and collected beautiful plant specimens including oak and maple leaves as well as several large gastropod shells. Afterward, Ted gave us a tour of the collections and prep lab at the Condon Visitors Center, and then we headed out to the Painted Hills section to view Oligocene paleosols. It was here that the group met up with Caroline Strömberg, a UCMP alum, and her graduate student from the University of Washington. According to Ted, this was the first time that three institutions had converged on the John Day Fossil Beds; therefore, a celebration was in order for the evening. But before any beer was poured, the group toured through the Sheep Rock Unit and a special stop was made at Hatch's Gulch (UCMP-807), one of John C. Merriam's localities. The third and final day in John Day was spent hiking through the Clarno Unit at the Hancock Station to see the well-known Hancock Tree, Hancock Mammal Quarry, and the Clarno Nut Beds.

Checking out the geological map of the John Day Fossil Beds before heading out to look for fossils UCMP group at Hatch's Gulch in the John Day Fossil Beds
Left: Simon Sponberg, Jenny McGuire and Emily Lindsey check out the geological map of the John Day Fossil Beds before heading out to look for fossils. Right: UCMP group at Hatch's Gulch, one of John C. Merriam’s localities in the John Day Fossil Beds. From left to right: Susumu Tomiya, Kaitlin Maguire, Emily Lindsey, Jenny McGuire, Carly Tribull, Sarah Werning and Jere Lipps.

From there we headed to Eugene to meet up with UCMP alum, Samantha Hopkins. We toured the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History Museum as well as the paleontological collections in the Condon Museum. Highlights included seeing part of the Cophocetus type specimen, the saber-toothed salmon Smilodon ichthys, Carol Hickman's MS invertebrate collection of the Eugene Formation, and Howard Hutchison's MS insectivore collection. Afterward, the group headed to the coast and spent the night camping near Newport at South Beach State Park.

The remaining days of the trip were spent prospecting the coast. The group visited several UCMP localities in the Miocene Astoria Formation and found several bivalves (including scaphopods), fish scales and plant material. Susumu found several bones, and further inspection revealed at least four ribs coming out of the wall over a space of about one meter. The group left the material in situ because the site is on Oregon State Park land. Edward Davis will return to the site for further collection. After this successful find, we headed south to Coos Bay, getting up early the next day to prospect at Sunset Bay, another UCMP locality. Strongly dipping beds with faulting made collecting at this fossiliferous site a great way to learn about some geology. We tried to relocate other UCMP localities, but the tide came in fast, along with the rain, and we were forced to retire for the day.

We returned to Berkeley the next day with a van full of fossils, wet gear and a lot of knowledge about UCMP sites. Of course, on the ride back, the group was already discussing where to go for 2010. Not surprisingly, everyone wanted to head south next year where warmer weather would be guaranteed.

Fossil Lake photo by Susumu Tomiya; Longview Ranch and map reading photos by Sarah Werning; Hatch's Gulch group photo by David Levering