Friday, November 27, 2009

My Trip to Ant Hill for Sharks Teeth

I just came back from a solo trip to Ant Hill in Bakersfield in pursuit of prehistoric petrified shark's teeth and sea mammal bones.  It was a good 4 1/2 hour drive from Oakland along an endless stretch of flatlands and farmland to a very commercial town of Bakersfield which is heavily marked with hotels and motels and eateries for wayward travellers on their way to someplace else.  Just beyond the hub of town, just 14 minutes or so away lies a quiet stretch of giant hills that appear to lead one out to nowhere.  One misconception that I arrived with was that looking for shark's teeth would be easy but I discovered that with a lot of time and patience one can find enough to satisfy themselves.  One difficulty is just knowing which place to start as the digging site winds itself around the upper half of the hills and goes on for several miles possibly, which one can easily notice by the scarred line of exposed gray sediment that is exposed years of digging.  It is necessary to bring a shovel to get passed the eroded places where rains have caused the soil to collapse over the productive area where shark teeth can be found.  I have also noticed that greedy minded people have made sure to cover up an area that they have worked on with a piles of dirt and in one case I found a pseudo dirt mound covering a worked area that was constructed of 2, 5 gallon containers covered with a comforter blanket and a couple of inches of soil to keep out anyone from digging where they left off.  As a fellow rockhound I believed this to be very ill spirited and not very community minded.  A day before my trip I constructed my own fossil hunting sifter using an old drawer from a piece of furniture on our patio along with 1/4" galvanized mesh that one can find in the fencing department in any hardware store and heavy duty staples (T-50's) and stapler and wire cutters.    

I wouldn't have found much without the sifter which was an essential tool in finding the teeth.  I worked feverishly for 10 straight hours for two consecutive days hammering out chunks of semi soft sediment and breaking them down in order to sift through the remains for any teeth.  The best teeth popped out of the material easily undiscovered until I picked through the broken sediment and found them with a semi polished luster to them, many of which had a neutral tone leaning towards orange, some bluish white and others black.  In the main dig area there exists a once fairly new Chevy truck that someone tried to drive into the hills with and ended up getting stuck and leaving it there for spare parts.  I was fascinated to find that around the tops and sides of these hills I could find petrified bone fragments sticking plainly out of the ground with various subtle hues of blue, white and cream to them and some really nice pieces where the cells structure of the bone was very marked and pronounced.  In one soft bed of dirt just above a line of bone fragments marked by a orange tinge in the gray sediment, I found areas of green that would often contain some piece of bone or another and stumbled onto a complete limb bone possibly from an ancient seal though I am only guessing.  I also found near this one, a piece of vertebrae which had a small fragment missing but still pretty well defined.  Most of the bone had a rotten look to them being that they had spent some time being worn away by ocean water at the sea bottom before being covered by sediment for preservation.   One has to be extremely careful when digging into the hillside that the dry soil above is very unstable and one can get buried alive easily.  It is best not to dig alone just in case.  The newest area to dig which people say has been productive lies further away from the CALM zoo, across from the near end of the soccer fields where one can pull off the road easily on the left where the dig site is.  Here you can walk in an opening in the fence and can see the dig areas up along the top of the hills to the right.  My favorite spot was to the immediate left when you walk in was on a little hill to the left (you can see the dug out part from the road).  No one goes to this spot but the sediment here is much more soft and easier to work through to find fossils and sharks teeth.  You will find very little without sifting believe me so bring a good one.

I have read that the Ant Hill site may contain bones and teeth that range between 12-14 million year old.  The teeth there ranged all different shapes and sizes from wide to very long, and some so tiny that they could easily pass through the screen of my sifter had they not been attached to the rock matrix that I found them in.  Fortunately most teeth had the root still attached though few were rotten at the ends.  In all I found the exact number of 60 teeth in all, 10 of which unphotographed I gave to Isabella.  The rest you can see below, the biggest of which was given to me as a gift by a friendly guy who gave me some helpful tips in hunting others like it. 
below and to the right in gray are pieces of petrified whale bone that I collected at a beach site close to the Bay Area.  The slightly more colorful fragments to the left are petrified bone pieces collected at the Ant Hill site. 

By the end of two and 1/2 days of rockhounding the area I decided to stop digging and do some hiking to look over the surface of things.  I was surprised to find in one area bits of evaporate material resembling something close to ulexite or colemanite which is almost transparent and clear and will dissolve overtime with exposure to water.  Oh, and as for the animals, I was previlaged enough to spot an owl at dusk, a inch long and clear looking scorpion crossed before me in as I was crouched down in a hole I was digging into, and later that same day I happened upon the largest spider I have ever seen outside a zoo which had all the characteristics of a tarantula with a spiky black furry body about the size of Isabella's 9 year old hand and I watched it move ever so slowly away.  I did see ants about but nothing that would worry anyone and I didn't catch sight of any rattlesnakes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

High Chair

This is a high chair that I embellished by decorating the tray with vintage childrens book illustrations and then covering it in a epoxy resin material called Envirotech which is perfectly safe when hardened.  Jude is yet too small to be eating let alone sitting in a high chair but it is fun to find reasons to make and improve upon things in your home with a bit of creativity.  I am still working tediously on the rag rug which is more than I ever bargained for but it is coming out beautiful and is now the size of our coffee table.  Poor Sam has tendonitis in both wrists and so she is unable to help but I have learned to lace quite efficiently with all the practice I have been getting.  Yesterday, Sam, Isabella, Jude and I ventured off to route 1 along the coast and down to Santa Cruz to visit one of my favorite beaches.  Isabella and I did most of the exploring seeking out places to climb and overlook the ocean and scour along the ground for pieces of polished abalone shell.  We found one of the biggest tide pools that I have yet seen and it was filled with all sorts of sea plants, starfish, crab, anemones, and purple spikey sea urchin stretching the span of 6 feet and 3 feet deep.  There was very little wind but a high berm from the tide that swept in pulling everything out to sea. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Over the Hill for Halloween

Halloween night we went out at about 7 with all of us in painted face except for Jude. I spent a good while trying to make Sam look like a Day of the Dead skeleton but had to keep altering her face painting to look less scary but all in all I believe I heard several small children gasp and cry out when they saw her. Halloween was very different than last year even though we went to the same neighborhood. Sam and I felt that people were a bit put off by our dressing up and collecting candy which we are way over the hill for but I guess we wanted to partake in the fun alongside Isabella. I suppose there is a sadness in knowing that harmless fun that breaks away from social norms and mainstream thinking is often going to be uncomfortable for most people. There were several people that loved that we were all dressed up and congratulated our youthful spirit. To some my ponderings my seem childish but despite all the myriad responsibilities that I have as an adult there still is a childlike part of myself that doesn't want to grow old too soon. Currently I am lacing the rag rug together and seeing it develop little by little, first the size of a potholder, then a table mat, now a small floor mat. I will take pictures of it when I can but it will probably take a few weeks to get to the end of the braided cord.