The Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
was deathtrap for more than forty allosaurs,
a few camptosaurs, camarasaurs, and stegosaurs.
Not much left to look at now in the quarry,
the skeletons, stained black with manganese,
are mounted in museums
all over Utah, the country, the world.
A mounted cast of a juvenile allosaur
stands tall in the visitor center,
with seventeen inches of skull,
twenty feet of body and tail.
Rusty and I talk to the ranger,
a pleasant woman with short straight hair.
This classic pose is deemed inaccurate.
Allosaurs are now supposed to have walked
with bodies horizontal and tails high.
Fine, but raising your head as far as you can
does makes sense when you want to look around.
The sky’s getting darker gray.
The soil around here can still get muddy enough
to trap and kill wandering cows.
This network of Land Management dirt roads
has more shallow ditches than culverts.
I tell Rusty we must leave before it rains.
Thunderstorms all night
wetting tent and sleeping bags,
not raining right now.
Strike camp quickly, load the car,
driving uphill toward the pass.
aspens in golden sunlight
against dark storm clouds.
Slick asphalt, slippery curves,
hard rain blurring the windshield.
Shopping mall laundry,
tent and sleeping bags spinning
in the big dryer.
To another museum,
Permian and Jurassic.
Black bones, white plaster,
dimetrodon under glass,
skinless toothy grin.
Rusty was amazed by Canyonlands,
the weird beauty of layered rock
carved by the Colorado River,
red mesas and white rims peppered
with sagebrush and little desert pines.
He said he never imagined
any place like this could exist.
We climbed up a couple of layers
to the base of a white cliff.
The tiny flies were obnoxious as ever.
Rusty discovered that any swarm
hovering over him would transfer to me,
so he ran back and forth to give me his flies.
We found a couple of lizards
darting around the rocks,
but in the heat they were much
too fast for Rusty to catch.
One of the most fantastic places
in America’s Wonderlands,
a book my parents had about
national parks and monuments,
was Carlsbad Caverns
in remote New Mexico.
Now I was here with Rusty
walking a self-guided trail
around the edges of a room
hundreds of feet across and high,
with stalactites and stalagmites,
curtains of stone like melted wax,
artfully lit with spotlights
too dim for the fastest film.
I knew my flash would flatten
the beauty of the formations,
so I snapped stereo pairs.
It didn’t quite work.
Some of the beauty we saw was
the forms made by dripping water
saturated with limestone,
but much was in the lighting.
We’re out of the desert now,
into southern humidity.
This Austin freeway almost
defies description, with
marginal lanes, central lanes,
elevated express lanes.
The museum’s a miscellany,
with a gun room, an Indian room,
and here’s the fossil skeletons,
a huge Mosasaurus maximus
swimming behind glass,
and what I came to see,
the only mounted skeleton
of a Dimetrodon gigashomogenes,
with wavy fin spines and longer legs.
Camped at Inks Lake State Park,
it was long after dark before I
stopped sweating and went to sleep.
In the morning,
thousands of birds chirping,
a large group of whitetail deer,
fire ants all over my canteen.
At the Field Museum,
I spend more than an hour
in front of the pelycosaurs,
photographing each one
in as much detail as I can,
noting all the specimen numbers.
A gray haired woman who works there,
I wish I’d asked for her name,
gets me in a conversation
about my interests and knowledge,
suggests that the museum
could use somebody like me.
For a moment I was trying
to imagine myself in Chicago,
but living where and doing exactly what?
The forest where I’ve made my home
and the fossils that interest me most
don’t seem to coincide.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller