What a summer holiday! I spent time at camp with the gang, visited with friends and family members, read some books that had been on the "Must Read" list for years and spent an unforgettable day digging for dinosaurs as a volunteer!
The dig we participated in took place just outside Walhalla, North Dakota. The site contains the fossilized remains of marine life that inhabited the waters of the Western Interior Seaway during the Late Cretaceous geologic time period. This Seaway, also called the Pierre Sea, completely covered the interior of the North American continent about 85 million years ago. Remains of Mosasaurs, Plesiosaurs, Sea Turtles, Sharks, Enchodus and other fish have all been found at the site.
The dig was co-sponsored by the North Dakota Geological Survey, the North Dakota Department of Tourism, the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Did my family of digging volunteers find any remains of mosasaurs or pleiosaurs? No, while digging for dinosaurs I thought of great marketing opportunities for the hardened mud I was chiseling away. The mud looked like the stuff people spend a lot of money to wrap themselves in at an exclusive spa. Ahhhh the therapeutic value of mud and vacations!
During my vacation I had the privilege of helping a paleontologist bring the world that existed millions of years before back to life. What a treasure hunt! We chipped away in 34+ Celsius heat for at least 6 hours. The hours flew by, we met great people and assisted Dr. John Hoganson, the Paleontologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey, and Johnathan Campbell, the Fossil Preparator with the Geological Survey to uncover the creatures that at one time lived in the Pierre Sea. I found nothing but mud but others during the ten-day dig found teeth from the plesiosaur and mosasaurs, a sea turtle claw and fossilized fish vertebrae. According to Melanie Thornberg, our intrepid guide, "the bones from the mosasaurs indicate at least two different species were out there in them thar hills."
We were not exactly volunteers because we paid a nominal fee to participate but one hundred people from Norway, Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Idaho, Arizona, North Dakota assisted the Paleontologist with his work. And I have bestowed a Fridge Hero of the Month award on our spectacular leader Melanie Thornberg. Melanie has what it takes to inspire and encourage people and believe me when it is 34+ Celsius the diggers needed all the encouragement we could get! Melanie organized volunteers from the area to act as hosts during the dig. Our volunteers treated us royally and the town of Walhalla could not have been more welcoming -- from the restaurant where we gathered for dinner, to the hotel clerk who told me "I kept my eyes open for that car with the Ontario license plate to drive up," to the farm bakers who supplied our crew with home baked pies and cookies.
Melanie shouted when someone found something (and sometimes she shouted when nothing had been found) -- that's what I mean about encouraging us! She made sure everyone had water, everyone had breaks and at the dinner that everyone got a prize but above all, she loved her community and wanted people to come back.
Someday I will make a point to go back to Walhalla, North Dakota. Maybe I' ll even stay at the same Bed & Breakfast in Mountain, North Dakota where the President of Iceland stayed. The Icelandic President stayed in Mountain (population 147) in 1998 because he was invited. The volunteer committee extended that invitation. Melanie's extra efforts and the efforts extended by the other volunteers on our dig has me talking and ladies and gentleman, summer vacation memories should keep you talking about them for a lifetime. I thank Melanie and her crew for providing my family with life-long memories and reminding me that learning takes place in the classroom and out.