Gallop Thru Time

Gallop Thru Time: The Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens), Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, Courtesy US NPS
The Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens), Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, Courtesy US NPS

Elmer Cook Recognition Plaque Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Elmer Cook Recognition Plaque
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mary Heers' Selfie with the Hagerman Horse Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mary Heers’ Selfie with the Hagerman Horse
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Three Toes on the Kemmerer Horse Utah Museum of Natural History Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Three Toes on the Kemmerer Horse
Utah Museum of Natural History
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Hagerman Horse Equus simplicidens Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Hagerman Horse
Equus simplicidens
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Domestic Horse Equus ferus caballus Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Metacarpal Toe, Hoof Domestic Horse
Equus ferus caballus
Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Cast of Kemmerer Early Horse Utah Museum of Natural History Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Cast of Kemmerer Early Horse
Utah Museum of Natural History
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

In 1928 Elmer Cook, a rancher in Hagerman, Idaho, noticed an interesting bone sticking our of the hillside on his land overlooking the Snake River. Intrigued, he started to dig around and discovered it was a fossilized bone and there were plenty more like it. Elmer alerted the National Smithsonian Museum, who sent out a team. This team determined the bones were ancestors of the modern horse. They were 3½ million years old. In the end, after digging into the hillside for 2 years, they took over 200 fossils, including 12 complete horse skeletons, back to Washington D.C.

My own fascination with horse fossils actually began a few years ago when I was giving tours at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City. A fossil hunter near Kemmerer, Wyoming, had been quite surprised to find a small mammal while digging through layers of fossilized fish in an ancient seabed. This skeleton is now also in the Smithsonian Museum in D.C., but the Utah museum owns a copy.

When giving tours, I always paused my group as we entered the dinosaur floor. “I’m going to pull a whole horse out of here,” I’d say as I pulled a sliding drawer out of a chest with a flourish.

It was a fully grown horse about the size of a small dog – 24 inches long and 20 inches high.

It was over 50 million years old. In that time, the Intermountain West was a lush, swampy place. Fierce predators like the Utah Raptor roamed the land, and the mammals that survived were small and stayed hidden in the dense forested undergrowth.

Over the next 50 million years, the dinosaurs went extinct and the terrain dried out The Hagerman Horse (dating back 3 ½ million years ) stood about 4 ½ feet high. Most notably, it now stood on four hooves. The 3 toes on the Kemmerer Horse had evolved into a single dominant toe, perfectly adapted to running away from predators over dry terrain.

Unfortunately, this remarkable adaptation was not enough to save the horse. The horse went extinct in the Americas (along with other large mammals like the mammoth and giant sloth) about 10,000 years ago. It was the Spanish Conquistadors that reintroduced the horse to North America. When Hernan Cortez and his 200 soldiers landed in Mexico in 1519, they brought 16 horses with them. Over time, some of these horses got away to form wild bands, and others fell into the hands of the Native Americans.

This summer I made a small archeological pilgrimage into Idaho, to see the Hagerman Fossil Beds, now a National Monument. In the newly opened visitor center I found a life size replica of the Hagerman Horse. As I stood next to it, admiring its shapely hoof, I remembered one more remarkable fact about the horse. The bows now used to play violins are made from horse hair It takes 5 horse tails to make a violin bow. To this day, absolutely nothing has been found that makes the strings of a violin sing as sweetly.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Photos: Courtesy
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, History, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://npshistory.com/publications/hafo/index.htm

The Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens), Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/equus_simplicidens.htm

Hagerman Fossil Beds, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/hafo/index.htm

The Horse (Exhibit), Natural History Museum of Utah, July 21, 2014 – January 4, 2015, https://nhmu.utah.edu/horse#:~:text=The%20Natural%20History%20Museum%20of,and%20spiritual%20connections%20with%20them.
Natural History Museum of Utah,https://nhmu.utah.edu/

Fossil Horse Quarry Near Hagerman, Idaho, Worked by National Museum, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, The Smithsonian Institution, https://www.si.edu/object/fossil-horse-quarry-near-hagerman-idaho-worked-national-museum:siris_arc_367758

Plesippus shoshonensis Gidley, 1930, National Museum of Natural History, The Smithsonian Institution, https://www.si.edu/object/plesippus-shoshonensis-gidley-1930:nmnhpaleobiology_3590445


Petrified

Petrified: Shannon Woods by Petrified Wood Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Shannon Woods by Petrified Wood
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
“Charlie climbed onto the bed and tried to calm the three old people who were still petrified with fear. “Please don’t be frightened,” he said. “It’s quite safe. And we’re going to the most wonderful place in the world!”

Author Roald Dahl uses the word petrified as being motionless, stonelike, frightfully frozen, as he describes Charlie Bucket’s puzzled grandparents and his own excitement about a trip to Mr. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Utah’s San Rafael Swell rates as one of the most wonderful places in my world, and not because of an abundance of chocolate or gleeful oompa loompas. Beneath the towering spires on my bucket list-quest to see desert bighorn sheep in the wild, I’ve wandered among the petrified wood fragments scattered in the desert sand, so many that I almost forget to appreciate them for what they are. Petrified wood is a fascinating fossil, colorful evidence that what is now desert was once lush forest. We’ve set aside places like Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and Utah’s own Escalante Petrified Forest State Park boasts something like five and a half million tons of fossil wood.

When I adventure through and research Utah’s geologic history, it makes sense that the Chinle layer is a major host rock for petrified wood and uranium in the San Rafael Swell. Let’s go back in time to find out why: Over 100 million years ago, an ancient sea covered much of Utah. The San Rafael Swell was a large island where tall conifers lined its riverbanks and dinosaurs slogged through its swamps. Evidently, as understood by radiation specialist Ray Jones in a 1997 Deseret News feature titled “Hot Spot,” “Uranium isotopes dissolved in water tend to bond chemically with decaying material, like branches and logs.” Uranium prospectors in the early 1900s would follow petrified branches in the San Rafael Swell to uranium ore-bearing larger stumps buried with almost Geiger-counter precision. It’s no wonder that uranium mines dot the hills and debate continues about mineral resource rights in the area.

Petrified Wood Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Petrified Wood
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
The Greek root petro means “rock,” so petrified wood is prehistoric vegetation “turned to stone.” Permineralization is this process when minerals replaced the organic tree material when the organism was buried in water-saturated sediment or volcanic ash. Without oxygen, the logs, stumps, tree rings, knots, and even bark were preserved, giving paleobotanists clues to relationships between prehistoric plants and those we have today. According to Dr. Sidney Ash, we even find evidence of busy bark beetles in the petrified specimens in the Wolverine Petrified Wood area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

In “Petrified Wood: Poetry Written by the Earth” released by the Myanmar Geosciences Society, I learn there are sacred shrines erected in Thailand’s petrified forests attracting visitors praying for protection. Thai legend states that touching petrified wood will give a person long life. Charles Darwin also mentioned his fascination with prehistoric plants and upright fossilized tree stumps in his naturalist journals during his expeditions, and we know he gathered and catalogued specimens. It may be bad luck, however, to move a petrified fossil from where it lies, a superstition shared by many Escalante Petrified Forest State Park visitors who have ignored the “leave only footprints, take only photographs” warnings. It seems that the park rangers receive packages from petrified offenders returning the fossil shards with apologetic notes, wishing they’d just admired the artifacts in their natural Utah settings. I’ll admit that, had I been able to lift the massive specimen I stumbled upon while I was Behind the Reef this spring, I might have been tempted to take it home. The magic for me, though, is imagining a dense forest once where cactus and rabbit brush now thrive. Whether one uses the word to mean frozen as stone from fear or geologic processes over time, and whether one is searching for uranium or a glimpse into prehistoric biomes, petrified wood is a symbol of long-lasting wonder.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I am wild about petrified Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Ash, Sidney. (August 2003). The Wolverine Petrified Forest. Utah Geological Survey. https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/survey_notes/snt35-3.pdf

Bartsch-Winkler, Susan, et al. (1990). Mineral Resources of the San Rafael Swell Wilderness Study Areas, including Muddy Creek, Crack Canyon, San Rafael Reef, Mexican Mountain, and Sids Mountain Wilderness Study Areas, Emery County, Utah. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1752. https://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/1752/report.pdf

Bauman, Joe. (Nov. 26, 1997). Hot spot. Deseret News. https://www.deseret.com/1997/11/26/19347933/hot-spot

Gordon, Greg. (2003). Landscape of Desire. Logan, Utah: University Press of Colorado. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/10431/

Hollenhorst, John. (May 26, 2014). Fossil-theft phenomenon has petrified forest visitors returning ‘keepsakes.’ KSL News. https://www.ksl.com/article/30052683/fossil-theft-phenomenon-has-petrified-forest-visitors-returning-keepsakes

Htun, Than. (March 6, 2020). P. Wood (Ingyin Kyauk): Poetry Written by the Earth. The Global New Light of Myanmar. https://www.gnlm.com.mm/petrified-wood-ingyin-kyauk-poetry-written-by-the-earth/

Mickle, D. G. et al. (1977). Uranium favorability of the San Rafael Swell Area, East-Central Utah. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/5292653

Rawson, Peter and Aguirre-Uretta, M. (2009). Charles Darwin: Geologist in Argentina. https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/Geoscientist/Archive/October-2009/Charles-Darwin-geologist-in-Argentina

Van Wyhe, John. (2002). The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (https://darwin-online.org.uk/) https://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=side&itemID=NHM-408865-1001&pageseq=1

Viney, Mike. (2015). The Anatomy of Arborescent Plant Life Through Time. https://petrifiedwoodmuseum.org/PDF/AnatomyVineyRevOct2013.pdf

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 https://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, https://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. (https://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)
https://www.mnh.si.edu/panoramas/index.html

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

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

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

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

Yesterday’s Camels

Yesterday’s camel
Courtesy Wikimedia,
Arthur Weasley, Artist
Licensed under
GNU Free Documentation License

Utah locations where
ancient camel bones
were discovered.
Courtesy BerkeleyMapper,
created by
Berkeley Natural History Museums,
UC Berkeley at https://berkeleymapper.berkeley.edu/_

Map data ©2013Google,
INEGI Imagery, © 2013 Terra Metrics

Hyrum Museum
Courtesy Holly Strand, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand.

There’s a small, but very engaging museum underneath the public library in Hyrum UT. This museum showcases a number of artifacts reflecting the history, customs and environment of Cache Valley. When I first visited in 2009, a couple of odd items caught my eye. One was an enormous hairball that had formed in the stomach of a Cache Valley cow. Such hairballs are called bezoars, a Persian word meaning “antidote.” Centuries ago, bezoars were believed to be a universal antidote that could neutralize any poison.

The other odd item at the museum was a camel tooth. Now a cow hairball can seem geographically appropriate as Cache Valley has plenty of cows. But why would a camel tooth be in a museum about the history of Northern Utah?

Well it turns out that this particular tooth belonged to a native Utah camel species. It most likely came from we now call Yesterday’s camel (or Western camel) which lived over 10,000 years ago. This camel was twenty percent larger than a dromedary and had a longer, narrower head and thick muscled lips. Its footpad was soft and toes were splayed, approaching the foot structure of modern camels. We don’t really know whether or not Yesterday’s camel had a hump. Remains of this Pleistocene ancestor have been found throughout the American West and in a number of UT locations.

Further, I was surprised to learn that camels are a purely North American invention, first appearing some 40- 50 million years ago. At the peak of their North American career–during the Miocene–there were 13 genera of camels. Overall, at least 95 species in 36 genera have been described for this continent alone.

The earliest camel was no more than 2 feet high. After that we find camel legs and necks grew longer to allow browsing on trees and shrub tops. One particular species (Aepycamelus giraffinus ) stood 19 feet high. Essentially this camel had become America’s giraffe on what was then a Serengeti-like plain.

Other camels resembled gazelles, and still others looked more like the camelids of today.

4 million years ago, camelids first crossed the land bridge to Eurasia . Living in Eurasian deserts, they evolved into arid land specialists with a remarkable physiological capacity for water conservation.

Other North American camelids drifted south to colonize South America. They evolved into today’s llamas, guanacos, alpacas, and vicunas—all high altitude grazing specialists.

After a few waves of migration, camels suddenly vanished from their birthplace. In fact much of the North America’s megafauna suddenly vanished in the late Pleistocene. Perhaps due to human hunting, perhaps climate change. We may never know for sure.

But one thing is clear to me now–a camel tooth definitely has a place in a Utah history museum.

For more information and sources, and a link to the Hyrum Museum, go to www.wildaboututah.org

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Image: Courtesy Wikimedia, Arthur Weasley, Photographer
          Courtesy & Copyright © Holly Strand, Photographer
          Courtesy BerkeleyMapper, created by Berkeley Natural History Museums,
          UC Berkeley at https://berkeleymapper.berkeley.edu/_
          Map data ©2013Google,
          INEGI Imagery, © 2013 Terra Metrics
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading


Flannery, Tim. 2001. The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and its Peoples, NY: Grove Press.
https://www.amazon.com/Eternal-Frontier-Ecological-History-byFlannery/dp/B004XOXF06

Honey, J. J. Harrison, D. Prothero, M. Stevens, 1998. Camelidae. In:
C. Janis, K. Scott, L Jacobs, (eds.), Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America, Vol. 1. Terrestrial carnivores, ungulates and ungulate-like mammals, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKIrwin, Robert. 2010. Camel. London : Reaktion Books
https://www.amazon.com/Evolution-Tertiary-Mammals-North-America/dp/0521619688

San Diego Zoo Global. 2009. Extinct Western Camel, Camelops hesternus
https://library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheets/_extinct/camel_extinct_western/extinctcamel.htm

Hyrum Museum
50 West Main Street
Hyrum, UT 84319
435-245-0208
https://sites.google.com/a/hyrumcity.com/hyrum-museum/