Travels with Mike and Scott

Burpee Museum’s paleontologist, Mike Henderson, got up at 3:30 to prepare for his morning trip to Los Angeles via Midway Airport. His Cretaceous comrade and fellow Burpee employee, Scott Williams, would pick him up at 5. But at 4 o’clock, one of the worst storms in Rockford’s brief history struck with determination.

“It was raining horizontally,” said Henderson. But “Montana Mike” took it in stride and, as planned, he and Scottie were on the road by 5. By the way, the date was July 5.

“We knew the storm did some damage because of the downed trees we saw, and many stoplights were out,” said Mike. Mike and Scott kept the course; the L.A. County Museum beckoned. On they drove like the museum anti-mercenaries that they are. Only once did they pause, after a bird flushed from the roadside thicket met death on the windshield. Mike grieved the loss; perhaps he was mourning a modern feathered dinosaur.

The sights of L.A. filled their eyes and minds, but the real deal waited at the Los Angeles County Museum. In the museum lay tyrannosaurids similar to Jane. One collected in 1973 was at the time identified as a Gorgosaurus; 10 percent of the actual skeleton was collected. It contained some nice leg and foot bones and a finger bone with claw, which may be the only finger and finger claw of a tyrannosaurid ever collected. This specimen is 25 percent bigger than Jane and is now believed to be a juvenile T. rex.

Another museum specimen originally identified as a Baublysodon is about half the size of Jane. It’s represented by a nose and jaw and is currently believed to be a T. rex. The new identification of both specimens was determined by Tom Carr. Mike and Scott traded information with the museum and got to examine the specimens thoroughly.

Thanks to Motel 6, our paleo pathfinders stayed primed for research with a little stamina left for Hollywood star searching. Both Scott and Mike kept eyes peeled for Laura Dern and Jeff Goldbloom, but to no avail. However, they did spot Booger, a star of nerd movies and a regular on the TV series Moonlighting. Mike said, “Booger looked a little heavier in person.” Mike was hoping to run into one of Jack Benny’s relatives in hopes of finding Jack’s resting place. Like his interest in dinosaurs, Mike has an interest in the older and deceased Hollywood stars.

Toward the end of July, Mike, Scott and paleontology student Joe Peterson drove to the Hell Creek Formation in Montana. The boys endured a Montana heat wave where temps soared above 100 degrees four days in a row. But that didn’t stop them from prepping a dig site for next year that’s two miles from Jane’s site. That’s two miles as the magpie flies. One more nano tooth was found near Jane’s site, along with Cretaceous plant fossils that will be added to Jane’s display area. Most of the plants were freshwater lily pads.

The trip back to Rockford started smoothly until 2 pounds of tragedy struck. “A grouse crashed into the radiator, but I kept a stiff upper lip,” said Montana Power Mike. This time, Joe and Scott needed the tissues.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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