Mile High City

February 28th, 2019

Always heard about Denver’s Mile High Capitol Building whose second step was exactly 5280′ above sea level.  With sea level rising and this capitol building sinking, I got curious on my current PLA conference (nope–not a terrorist organization–it’s a National Park trade show) about where things stood, so decided to take a tour of the building.

Well, here we are at the west entrance and sure enough there is the mark engraved into the second step, but three steps higher is an actual bench mark noting the mile mark.  The initial engraving was where the benchmark stood, but folks kept stealing it so they engraved it into the step…..but sure enough, either the land sank or the oceans rose and now it’s on the 5th step which is actually the 18th step with a new flight of stairs below.  Well, I’m confused already, so let’s step inside.

The capitol dome is simply magnificent both inside and out.  This building was built on an old homestead property donated by Henry C. Brown after several considerations for location.  The capitol was never built in Henry’s lifetime so he sued all the way to the State and US Supreme court and lost both times.  He vowed to never set foot in the building but just for spite, the state hauled his dead carcass up into the rotunda’s upper levels after his death to honor him.  It’s still called Brown’s Attic.

Governor Ralph Carr stands out in my opinion and many agree with me because there is this brass plaque in his honor.  I’ll not waste words here, but would add that this was during the last administration of FDR (who incarcerated the Japanese in WWII).  It turns out that Carr, a strict Republican, opposed FDR’s New Deal policies and likely thus, his policies towards the Japanese.  Carr invited the Japanese into Colorado as citizens equal.  Look at where we are today.  For a glimpse of these times read this letter from Harold Ickes to FDR:

And FDR’s response:

In spite of sympathy at the highest levels of our government, this was one of the blackest days of US history.

The lower rotunda has eight murals painted there by Allen Tupper True and the poet Thomas Ferril.  This was WPA era but was contracted by the State of Colorado.  True was one of the great muralists of the last century and a simple internet search will fill hours of your time.  He is also credited with designing the Wyoming buckaroo license plate.

These eight murals all centered on water–a precious resource in Colorado.  Here two farmers tend to the dirt and the sky for the success of their crops.

Framed by broad brass rails to the second level is another mural resembling airliners of San Francisco.  Most of the materials for the building were derived from Colorado including the floor marble (from the town of Marble) and the interior cladding is rose onyx discovered near Beulah Colorado and was mined to extinction for this project.  It exists only in the walls of this building today.   The columns are not stone but cast iron.  The brass is from the mid-west and the woodwork doors are from Missouri I want to say.  Light fixtures were both gas and electric because electricity was still in it’s infancy when the capitol was built and Edison and Westinghouse were still battling over AC vs. DC.  Today they make music, I’m told.

This is the Senate chambers and they serve only two, four year terms and then retire (term limits is built into the Colorado State laws).  The coloration is red, while the House of Representatives is green.  Non-the-less, each chamber was acoustically muffled in the 1950s with tons of glue at 3″ centers which ruined the interior design.

The (green) House kept one small corner panel to illustrate this fiasco.  The plastic protective (of what!) shield reminds us of what was going on in our heads architecturally in the ’50s.  Left to Right–restored panel, plastic over old panel with glue spots,  the acoustical tiles still in place and the original column.  What were they thinking?

This one photo wants to make me move to Colorado.  There are three things that are telling:  1.)
There are three buttons on each desk (red, green, white).  Red is a negative vote, green is a positive vote and the white is not an abstention… as all elected officials must vote or white shows.  2.) The marquee  tells all.  Senators are elected for two four terms and House members are elected for four two year terms.  Term limits are built in.  and 3.)  There is a piano!

My tour-guide, Frank, leads us up to the third level of the rotunda.  (The first level is executive (Governor), the second level is the Legislative who can look down on the Executive) and the third is decorated with paintings from a Coloradan portrait artist.  The State bought the entire collection of all the US Presidents; all but one are signed…..  We begin here with Washington. and migrate around to Lincoln….

By the time we get to Lincoln, there is no signature from the artist.  The original was stolen!  Here is a photo of the copy but the artist didn’t want to sign a second as it would legitimize the original.  Ranger Doug is offering a $5000 reward for the original’s return (along with the remaining two WPA national park posters–Wind Cave and Great Smoky Mountain).  What drives people to steal from the public?

OK–here is the last 50 years ending with Obama.  Imagine who will be placed next beside him?

We plod up another several stair cases to the rotunda.  It was originally clad in copper but it turned an ugly brown so the powers that be had it gilded over and over using this gold foil which is Colorado gold but sent to Italy to thin out to a micron or so thickness.  As a dentist, I was one of the last classes to learn gold foil technique with this very type of gold leaf, and honed my skills on grateful Navajos before my state boards.  I hope the dome and the Navajos are still happy……

Denver view to the mountains this  afternoon and below in 1889.  On to Berkeley California……

Metoposaurs and Aetosaurs

February 23rd, 2019

Matt, the Curator of the museum collection here at Petrified Forest shows me the likeness of a Metoposaur on each side–an 8′ long lizard/salamander type of critter that lived about 220M years ago.  This is my next project.

This appears to be the left clavicle based upon the ray pattern which is bone, not tissue.  This plate was pretty much intact but also collected in the area were dozens of isolated fragments carried down by gravity over time.

Every piece must first be cleaned with a pin-vice, brush and perhaps a light water wash.

The next task is to assemble these parts–here are about 20 pieces that begin to take shape–a three day endeavor.  Some fit perfectly and some not.

While the glue is drying, I clean off this Aetosaur plate, we think–like an armadillo’s that articulate along each side of this critter.  This is very thin and was a challenge to assemble.  We make a top case and flip it over like an omelette.

With more glue to set up, I tackle this “jaw” which turned out to perhaps be a rib–species unknown.

Enter the wet lab.  After all this prepping and assembly, we take the matrix that we’ve saved and sift it through sieves down to 180 microns.

Here’s the washed material.  The right (coarsest) tray is simple to check out but the left one is extremely fine sand-like material

While sifting through this finest matrix, I do a rough calculation that there are 25,500,000 grains of sand here to look through!

This is the microscope view with of the second finest sieve with a 1 cm scale shown.  Each cm2 of the finest has about 2500 grains or 25/mm2.  This tests one’s patience but there are rewards…..

….Finding little critter teeth, also fish scales and the like.  Here are five teeth parts compared with a pencil tip.  The little triangle one at 8 o’clock is about 1 mm wide.  Some of these are Phytosaur teeth fragments (juveniles) and others are fish, perhaps in their diet or just hanging around.

The smallest is believed to be from a Xenosaur, but let me run this by the experts again.  Note the second tooth.

OK–enough dinos (proto-dinos actually).  Here are a few scenes around Holbrook AZ.

Today’s modern dinosaurs are likely ferro-cement or similar.  This is not an authentic teepee either.

This totem pole would never pass in Alaska.  Another roadside attraction.

We had two pretty good storms that closed I-40 and the park, twice–an unusual event.  Here the second storm if seen through the Airstream door.  Note the painted tree around the door frame turns dioramic into the bar at the right….an Airstream with class–and it will be featured in Airstream Life this summer…..   I’ll be on the road for a couple days–Denver, Berkeley, Albuquerque, Jackson Hole and then Washington DC for another stab at lobbying.  Stay tuned!

PeFo Phytosaurs

February 9th, 2019


After a ridiculous 35 day government shutdown our National Parks are finally open so I hurry up to Petrified Forest National Park from Tucson where I’ve cooled (?) my heels for two weeks.  As a former NPS ranger, and now also retired from 35 years of dentistry, I’m anxious to get back into the saddle, so to speak.  National Parks allow volunteers to help out and I’ve always been interested in geology and paleontology.    PeFo supplies me with a simple campground and a magnetic sign for my car, and it’s a short walk to the office……

There are two labs, of sorts;  a paleontology prep lab (my assignment) and a demonstration lab which is available to visitors who can interact with the paleontologists a few days a week.  The staff here is incredibly educated not only in educating the visitors, but extending the science of the upper Triassic fossils in northern Arizona–chiefly Phytosaurs here at PeFo.

I spend most of my days looking through a dissecting microscope picking apart matrix from bone fragments, then carefully assembling the pieces into a complete anatomical structure.  The matrix is chiefly bentonite with calcite crystals and other exotics which are easily teased from the bones.  Take a look:

The whitish matrix is removed with a tungsten-carbide tipped tool.  The bone is a whitish mineral-replacement material surrounded by a thin iron oxide residue which allows separation.  It’s tedious to say the least and this prep lab houses thousands of specimens that need to be cleaned and reassembled–which is why I’m here.  My undergraduate degree was in Geology so here I go!

My first project was to prep and assemble a Phytosaur femur.  Phytosaurs were pre-dinosaurs and looked something like 25′ crocodile except more terrifying.  This was a small one which I named Otto.  Each black/white scale is 1 cm–which took me three days to assemble–about 35 pieces.  See below:

Some are extremely small.  I can’t say how detailed this process is but every piece of bone and matrix must be separated and later screened.  The right hand dot is about 1 mm wide.  The two trapezoid pieces to the left would amount to a large grain of sand in your shoe.  Everything is eventually accounted for.  For those who know me, this a good practice for patience, although not unlike dentistry….

My second project is to dissect out bones in what was thought to be skull fragments, but turned out to be a vertebrae with rib sections.  This specimen was cast in the field by an open “jacket” –a plaster mold poured over a partially excavated find.  It is separated from the earth matrix, brought to the lab and then taken apart.

Half way through, bones emerge.  The matrix flakes away however some of the bone material is very flaky and must be stabilized with a glue cut with acetone.  This is the test–separating matrix from bone!

Along this road to discovery, I uncover a small bone fragment about one inch long–still don’t know what it might be.  It broke in several pieces as I teased the matrix away.

Here the bone fragments can be seen as the matrix is removed.  Fractures are common and frustrating but with glue can be stabilized until exposed.

One can only stare through a dissecting scope for so long so I catch a ride with the road patrol rangers–you’ve seen them–cruising around our parks keeping track of everything.  I did this for 7 years in Grand Teton National Park and loved it.  So, after nearly 50 years am back in the saddle again.  Today, I took a drive into the Eastern Expansion area–a recently acquired region east of the hourglass of PeFo.  It’s amazing country with hints of 100 year old cattle grazing (fences, wells) to ancient Puebloan civilizations.  The scenery is exquisite.

Land forms are bizarre and the colors and geology amaze.  This is near the Blue Mesa stratigraphy which is upper Triassic.  There were no birds then, only reptiles anxiously competing for dominance.  Here and there, petrified logs are perched on tops of mounds of debris.  Utterly amazing.

Here is a 4′ diameter log emerging out of the surrounding debris; this was once a teaming jungle near the equator.  The ground is littered with beautiful fragments; we literally walk through a jewelry store.

Google Earth shows stark differences between each side of the Petrified Forest National Park boundary–here at North Rainbow Forest.  Log miners have stripped everything leaving nothing but tire tracks and pilfered sand.  This is the reason we have National Parks.

A small debris field of iron rich quartzite or chert pebbles exfoliating from the cliffs above–each like a gemstone and undisturbed.

A Marscape perhaps.

An ancient log slowly releases it’s chemistry back into the cauldron called Earth, to be recycled.  I am lucky to happen by–another million years and it would be gone…..  Below is the loop drive beyond the Painted Desert Inn, built in 1920 and remodeled by the CCC in 1938 when the bentonite foundation started swelling and fracturing the building.  This vista captures old and new.  It’s a privilege to be able to work again in our national parks–I hope you visit them and support them.  Stay tuned!