Utah at the Smithsonian

Utah at the Smithsonian: Click for a larger view of Diplodicus, Courtesy NMNH.si.edu, Michael Brett Surman, Photographer
Diplodicus
Courtesy NMNH.si.edu
Michael Brett Surman, Photographer

Utah at the Smithsonian: Camarasaurus, Camarasaurus lentus (Marsh), Courtesy http://www.nmnh.si.edu/, Michael Brett Surman, PhotographerCamarasaurus
Camarasaurus lentus (Marsh)

Courtesy NMNH.si.edu
Michael Brett Surman, Photographer

Utah at the Smithsonian: Smithsonian Butte, Public Domain, Courtesy National Scenic Byways Online, http://www.byways.org/ and Bureau of Land Management, John Smith, Photographer

Smithsonian Butte
Public Domain, Courtesy
National Scenic Byways Online and Bureau of Land Management.
John Smith, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

You don’t have to be in Utah to appreciate some of its treasures. Examples of Utah natural history can be found in museums around the globe. The last time I was in Washington DC, I explored the collections of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. There turned out to be a whole lot more Utah stuff than I ever imagined.

Many would consider dinosaurs to be our most illustrious museum export. Indeed a 90-foot long Utah diplodocus is the centerpiece of the museum’s Dinosaur Hall.

Not far away is an amazingly intact Camarasaurus from Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument. Its fossilized bones remained in position for over 150 million years. So beautifully and naturally preserved, it still rests on part of the sandstone block in which it was found.

Only a tiny fraction of the Museum’s collections are on display. The vast majority of its 126 million specimens are in drawers, vaults, and freezers. These items are meticulously cataloged and preserved and they serve as primary reference materials for researchers around the world. I found many 1000s of cataloged items for Utah plants, mammals and birds. Less abundant, there are still 100s of records representing specimens of our amphibians, reptiles and fish.

If you poke around in the collections databases you are sure to find something of interest. I found records of some 300 Utah plant specimens collected by Lester Frank Ward, a botanist who worked for John Wesley Powell on his western expeditions. Powell also contributed to the Smithsonian’s collection of flora and fauna. I found 8 bison skulls and one grass species, but there is probably more.

There is the skull and partial skeleton of a grizzly killed in Logan Canyon. Not Old Ephraim–his skull is here in Utah–but another one killed the year before.

In 1950, a meteorite struck a driveway just a few feet from a Box Elder County woman. A few years later, the meteorite was donated to the Smithsonian. But not before it was enhanced by local schoolchildren using crayons of various colors.

The museum’s mineral collection contains 1000s of Utah specimen, some with very strange names : I found Beaverite, Rabbitite Englishite, Coffinite, Psuedowavellite, Cristobalite, Alunite, Apatite and even Bieberite. As in Justin, I guess.

Anyway, you get the idea. The Smithsonian collections form the largest, most comprehensive natural history collection in the world. And Utah is a prime contributor of both collection items and the stories behind them.

By the way, not only are Utah things in the Smithsonian, but there are also Smithsonian things in Utah.

For example, the Henry Mountains in south central Utah were named after the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Joseph Henry.

Another example is Smithsonite–or zinc carbonate–which was first identified by James Smithson in 1802. The very same Smithson left his fortune to the United States government, directing that it be used to create the Smithsonian Institution. The mineral Smithsonite has been found in Tooele and Washington Counties.

Lastly, there’s Smithsonian Butte. When the Powell Expedition traveled through the Zion area, geologist Edward Dutton named the Butte after the expedition’s most generous sponsor. Smithsonian Butte Road is a designated national backcountry byway, crossing over the Vermilion cliffs between Utah 9 and Utah 59.

For pictures, sources and links, go to www.Wildaboututah.org

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Images: Information and photos provided with the permission of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 10th and Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20560-0193. (http://www.nmnh.si.edu/)
Smithsonian Butte, Public Domain, Courtesy National Scenic Byways Online and Bureau of Land Management., John Smith, Photographer
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading


Panoramic Virtual Tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Navigate or go directly to the Dinosaur Hall to see the diplodocus from Utah. (Fossils: Dinosaur 2)
http://www.mnh.si.edu/panoramas/index.html

Dinosaur page of the NMNH.http://paleobiology.si.edu/dinosaurs/index.html

Research and Collections of the Smithsonian NMNH.
http://www.mnh.si.edu/rc/

Access to Smithsonian NMNH Museum Collection Records databases
http://collections.mnh.si.edu/search/

Smithsonite, Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute, http://www.mnh.si.edu/onehundredyears/featured_objects/smithsonite.html

Sereno Watson and the King Survey

Sereno Watson and the King Survey: Click for a larger view of a King Survey Camp near Salt Lake City, Utah. Courtesy USGS, T.H. O'Sullivan, Photographer
A King Survey Camp
Near Salt Lake City

Courtesy USGS
T.H. O’Sullivan, Photographer


Click for a larger view of Ogden Canyon taken by the King Survey. Courtesy USGS, T.H. O'Sullivan, PhotographerThe Mouth of Ogden Canyon
at the time of the King Survey

Courtesy USGS
T.H. O’Sullivan, Photographer


Click for a larger view of Penstemon watsonii. Photographed in Millard County. And named for Sereno Watson of the King Survey. Courtesy PenstamenFestival.com
Penstemon watsonii
named for Sereno Watson
of the King Survey

Courtesy PenstemonFestival.com
Copyright Lisa White, Photographer

The mid-1800s were a transformative period in US history. The bloody Civil War had run its course. Twelve years earlier, the Mexican/American war had forced annexation of a vast territory that stretched from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. Across the northern edge of this territory, a transcontinental railroad was planned. An ambitious young geologist, Clarence King, convinced President Lincoln of the need to explore, survey and map the topography, watersheds, geology, mineralogy, flora and fauna of this vast uncharted region. King mustered 20 scientists, technicians and frontiersmen to form his Survey of the 40th Parallel. The Survey team took multiple years to thoroughly explore and map a 100-mile-wide band from Virginia City Nevada to Cheyenne Wyoming.

Among the men was one Sereno Watson, who at 42, found himself disenchanted by his forays into medicine, teaching, farming and banking. Word of the King Survey fired his imagination, so in 1867 he joined the migration west. A barefoot, penniless Sereno Watson found the Survey encamped on the lower Truckee River south of Pyramid Lake. More from pity than need, Clarence King let Watson join as an unpaid assistant. When illness sidelined the Survey’s botanist, Serano Watson eagerly took his place.

King prized Watson for his diligence and enthusiasm. In June of 1869, the Survey staked out what would become a favorite encampment at Parley’s Park north of Park City. From that base, Survey members fanned out to explore the Wasatch Range, the western spurs of the High Uintas, and the Great Salt Lake. Watson added to his plant collections, ultimately pressing 900 specimens, many new to science. He later curated them back at Yale. Watson honored the Survey’s leader by naming new plant species kingii, including a species each of biscuit root, buckwheat, bladderpod, flax, lupine, clover and ragwort. Asa Gray, then the reigning US botanist, honored Sereno in naming Penstemon watsonii, a lovely species discovered by the mining town of Austin Nevada. You can see the striking sky blue flowering spires of this wildflower amid montane meadows from eastern Nevada across central Utah into Colorado, including the vicinity of Parley’s Park.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy USGS

and Courtesy PenstamonFestival.org, Lisa White, Photographer,
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Lewis and Clark’s Taxonomic Legacy

Clark’s Nutcracker
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer

Lewis’s Woodpecker
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer

Thomas Jefferson will forever be remembered as our third president and author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson oversaw the acquisition of the vast Louisiana Purchase and soon thereafter initiated planning for an expedition that would be named the “Corps of Discovery”. That bold adventure was led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. These two frontiersmen are immortalized by the plants and animals that taxonomists named in their honor.

The arduous 3-year expedition route passed far north of what would become Utah, ascending the tributaries of the Missouri River and later following down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. Jefferson, being an avid naturalist, instructed the explorers to observe and make record of the geography, plants and animals that they encountered and to return with those specimens which they could carry. Hopes for discovery of a navigable inland passage to the Pacific were not realized, but in all other ways, the expedition was a singular success.

Lewis and Clark made collections of pressed plants along the way. These eventually went to Frederick Pursh, a German botanist in Philadelphia. One new genus of plant he named Lewisia. These are the bitteroots, one of which is the spectacular state flower of Montana. Another genus new to science he named Clarkia . Many species names of plants immortalize the men too, such as the blue-flowered flax, Linum lewisii, commonly used today for seeding following wildfire.

Bird names honoring the discoveries of Lewis and Clark include Clark’s nutcracker and Lewis’ woodpecker. Clark’s nutcracker is a big black and gray relative of crows. [Kevin Colver, Songbirds of Yellowstone] This noisy resident of Utah’s mountains is notable for its habit of caching seeds of pine trees to be remembered and found months later.

The age of the pioneer naturalist in North America closed more than a century ago, but the names of men like Meriwether Lewis and William Clark live on with the plants and animals that bear their names.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US FWS images.fws.gov
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver, Songbirds of Yellowstone
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

The Lewis and Clark Herbarium, Images of the Plants Collected by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, 1804-1806, Presented by the University of Maryland and The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in cooperation with Cornell University, http://www.plantsystematics.org/reveal/pbio/LnC/LnCpublic.html

Evans, Howard Ensign. 1993. Pioneer naturalists: the discovery and naming of North American plants and animals. Henry Holt & Company, New York. Illustrated by Michael G. Kippenhan. ISBN: 0-8050-2337-2, http://www.amazon.com/Pioneer-Naturalists-Discovery-American-Animals/dp/0805023372

And for a thorough treatment of Clark’s nutcracker:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clark%27s_Nutcracker

All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/lewiss_woodpecker/id

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Clarks_Nutcracker/id

Last Blank Spots on the Map

Audio:  mp3 Listen to WildAboutUtah

Today the river corridor still retains
its wild and pristine qualities.
Copyright 2009 Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

The Green River is one of Utah’s signature waterways. It begins high in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and winds southward 730 miles to join the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park. 60% of river’s extent lies in Utah– attracting river runners, archaeologists, fishermen, hunters and hikers. And of course, geologists.

Desolation boasts steep dramatic walls.
From the top of the Tavaputs Plateau to the river
is deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Click to view larger image,
Photo Copyright 2009 Dan Miller

It’s hard to believe that less than 150 years ago, most of the Green and the Colorado canyonlands were unlined areas marked “UNEXPLORED” on maps. One such place was the area between Uinta Valley and Gunnison’s Crossing — now called Green River, UT. Another blank spot lay south of the crossing all the way to Paria which is now called Lee’s Ferry in Arizona.

To some folks, a blank spot on a map is an irresistible call to come and see what’s there. So it was with John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran working as a curator in a small natural history museum in Illinois. He became intrigued with exploring the canyons of the Colorado and the Green after spending some time out west collecting rock samples.

Lighthouse Rock 1871
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Impatient for adventure and discovery, Powell quickly assembled a crew of nine men –mostly rough and tumble mountain men used to living off the land. They set off from Green River WY and were making good time until disaster struck in the Canyon of Lodore. One of the boats hit a boulder, and a third of the food and half of the cooking gear sunk to the bottom of the river. A week later, a fire destroyed more food and gear. But eventually, five of the original nine made it all the way to the mouth of the Virgin River in Arizona.

A second expedition benefited from more funding, planning and hindsight. This time round, Powell chose a more scientifically-minded crew including a geologist, cartographer and photographer to research and document the trip. Once again they launched from Green River, WY. Powell perched in an armchair strapped to the middle bulkhead of a boat named after his wife, the Emma Dean . He read poetry to the crew as they floated along calm stretches of the river. The crew ran the Green and then started down the Colorado without any major incidents. After overwintering on the north rim, they ran the rapids of the Grand Canyon in late summer of the following year.

John Wesley Powell with Tau-gu
a Paiute, 1871-1872
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Upon return, surveyor Alven Thompson completed a topographic map of the region, and Powell’s monumental account was published in 1875 by the Smithsonian Institution.

The last “UNEXPLORED”s on the United States map were now replaced by specific landscape features with measured altitudes. Nowadays we still use the many evocative names that Powell and his men bestowed during their travels. Names like Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon, Dirty Devil River, Escalante River, Cataract Canyon, and Desolation Canyon tell us something of the experiences of these brave men as they were exploring Utah’s last mysterious places.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

Additional thanks to Rey Lloyd Hatt and the friendly staff of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:

Images: Copyright Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green

Powell images: Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Aton, James M. and Dan Miller (photographer) 2009. The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green. Logan: Utah State University Press.

http://www.usu.edu/usupress/books/index.cfm?isbn=6523

Stegner, Wallace. “ Green River: The Gateway” in Blackstock, Alan. 2005. A Green River reader. Salt Lake City: University Utah Press.
http://www.amazon.com/Green-River-Reader-Alan-Blackstock/dp/0874808375

John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT http://johnwesleypowell.com/

USGS. 1976. Geological Survey Information 74-24. John Wesley Powell: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist.
http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/geology/publications/inf/74-24/index.htm [Accessed October 30 2009]