The John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon

You may remember, a few weeks ago, seeing a picture of Neanderthal Woman standing in front of these green clay layers.

N.W., my kids, and I encountered this site as we were driving through central Oregon. Actually, we had to go a bit out of our way to get to it.

Look at that! We’d been driving over fossil beds all day, ever since we crossed the border!

At one time, this whole area was a semi-tropical rainforest. Then, the whole thing was buried in a massive flow of mud. Supposedly, this happened in stages, starting about 50 million years ago, but let’s not quibble about exactly when. The point is, this forest is now preserved. It’s kind of sad to look up at those interesting-looking hills and imagine all the animal skeletons there, smooshed and squished and smothered in mud, just waiting to be dug out.

There is a small museum at the site, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, where we took refuge from the heat. Here is my son drawing an ancient horse skull.

The forest primeval, reconstructed here, left a lot of petrified wood, like this chunk of sycamore …

And Oregon’s state fossil, the Metasequoia, which was later discovered to be alive and well in China.

There were also all kinds of interesting and bizarre ancient mammals, such as tiny early horses, giant rodents, and the “bear-dog” (which, as far as I can tell, was basically a wolverine). The crown jewel of the John Day mammal fossils, however, has to be the entelodont.

It is described as a carnivorous pig/hippo, six feet high at the shoulder. Not a creature you want to mess with. An artist’s speculative illustration showed one devouring a small triceratops.

The entelodont is not perfectly understood, however. As this display points out, nobody knows exactly what these strange bone flages on either side of its head were used for. Consequently, I suppose, we also don’t really know what it looked like.

Speaking of puzzling body parts, have you ever heard of a “horned rodent”?

Even the squirrels were scarier back then!

About Five Weeks off the Grid

Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com

Okay, perhaps I won’t be completely off the grid for the next five weeks … but I will take a hiatus from blogging. The last three weeks of June, plus the first two or so of July, will be taken up with family travels. As I don’t yet have pictures from those travels, I am giving you lots of nice nature pictures in this post to hold you over: old favorites from both Pexels and my own stash of photos.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last time I went “off the grid,” I posted this log cabin. (Not my actual house.)

Sagebrush and Rabbit Bush in eastern Oregon
Terrifying volcanic pool featured in The Strange Land
Kachina Bridge in southern Utah
Hay bale megaliths in Idaho
Proof that Wyoming exists

This year, during our travels, I’ll try to bring along Neanderthal Woman and get some pictures of her in various locations.

Here she was on a wheel line last year.
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

And yeah, I might do some gardening.

You may see a few blog posts go up while I’m gone. I have been trying to get The Long Guest converted to e-book format. If/when that succeeds, I’ll inform you via a post. I also have a special Muppet guest blogger planned for the Fourth of July.

Other than that … Have a great month! I hope you get to do lots of fun, summery things while I am doing same!

Beautiful Description from a Horrifying Book

On the White Sea, where the nights are white for half a year at a time, Bolshoi Solovetsky Island lifts its white churches from the water within the ring of its bouldered kremlin walls, rusty-red from the lichens which have struck root there — and the grayish-white Solovetsky seagulls hover continuously over the kremlin and screech.

“In all this brightness it is as if there were so sin present … It is as if nature here had not yet matured to the point of sin” is how the writer Prishvin perceived the Solovetsky Islands.

Without us these isles rose from the sea; without us they acquired a couple of hundred lakes replete with fish; without our help they were settled by capercaillies, hares, and deer, while foxes, wolves, and other beasts of prey never ever appeared there.

The glaciers came and went, the granite boulders littered the shores of the lakes; the lakes froze during the Solovetsky winter nights, the sea howled under the wind and was covered with an icy sludge and in places froze; the northern lights blazed across half the sky; and it grew bright once again and warm once again, and the fir trees grew and thickened, and the birds cackled and called, and the young deer trumpeted — and the planet circled through all world history, and kingdoms fell and rose, and here there were still no beasts of prey and no human being.

Half a hundred years after the Battle of Kulikovo Field and half a thousand years before the GPU, the monks Savvaty and German crossed the mother-of-pearl sea in a tiny boat and came to look on this island without a beast of prey as sacred. The Solovetsky Monastery began with them …

The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, abridged version, pp. 181 – 182