30 May 2014

Rockhounds Find Dinosaur -- In A City!

By Paula Johanson

There are everyday miracles and wonders all around us much of the time. There are wonders to be found even in cities where the marks of feet trampling the ground tend to hide anything unique. In some cities it seems that everything is the colour and shape of footprints! There are a couple of ways I try to see everyday wonders underfoot -- one way is by being a rockhound.

Rockhounds are people who do a very informal kind of citizen science. They collect rocks and learn about many kinds of stone. Here's a link to a pamphlet on rockhounding from the Geological Survey Branch of the British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines. 

I love to poke around at loose stones and also big rocks that stick up through the ground. Everywhere I go, I try to scrabble up hills and down gullies to find local rocks. There are often park trails to follow, but if all I have time to do is walk in a playground or along a beach, I do it. There's always a pebble or two in my pockets when I go home, except in places like Dinosaur Provincial Park where visitors are asked not to take away rocks that they find.

Bill Graveland took this photo of paleontologist Darla Zelenitsky as she pointed out the eye socket of a pachyrhinosaur skull found in the town of Drumheller, AB.

Now I'm reminded that scientists from universities are rockhounds too, and they are finding everyday miracles and wonders in unexpected places. Take Drumheller, Alberta, for example. This small city was the end point for my kayaking trip on the Red Deer River. I've walked through much of Drumheller on a few visits to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, and can report that there's a layer of amber-coloured dust over almost everything in town. The marks of footprints are everywhere that isn't paved. And in one well-trampled part of town, what looked like a bumpy rock turned out to be a dinosaur skull when some rockhounds took a closer look.

To be fair, after 60 million years in the ground it was also a bumpy rock. The skull had been preserved in rock as a fossil. How many dinosaur fossil fans have stepped on this big ol' fossil in recent years since the museum and rockhound stores were opened? No one knows.

I figure this dinosaur skull is a lesson to be aware of wonders and miracles underfoot and all around us. Instead of dividing the world into "Exciting Places" and "Oh Well -- Dull Old Home" I'm going to practise my rockhound skills at home as well as in distant places.

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