December 18, 2009
Who’s up for a fossil road trip? In 2007 paleoartist Ray Troll and paleobotanist Kirk Johnson published a travelogue of their journey to check out the fossils of the American west called Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway. It is not your average paleo book. Filled with Troll’s whimsical pop-art illustrations (how many dinosaur books feature sauropods crossing the road?) and Johnson’s entertaining descriptions of their journey, the book is simultaneously entertaining and informative. As I wrote when the book was first released:
From a backstage meeting with Ziggy Marley about a potentially new species of ancient marijuana to tracking down the ever-elusive fossilized tooth whorls of the shark Helicoprion, the book places the reader in the cab with the authors as they search the American west for fossil bones, ancient footprints, and a good country-fried steak. As any good paleontologist knows there’s much more to the science than bones collecting dust in museum drawers. Paleontology has an incredibly rich and adventurous history, and there’s no better way to pay homage to the great bone sharps of the past but to hop in the truck and kick up dust on the way to find the perfect ammonite or Triceratops skull. During the course of their trek the authors stop in to see local rock hounds, professional paleontologists, amateur fossil freaks, and others, illuminating the ever-changing landscape between searches for a decent hotel and a hot meal. What makes this book truly enjoyable, though, is that the authors realize that every fossil has at least two stories to tell; one being the story of the actual organism exhumed from the rock, but also the tale of its discovery (and in the case of some like the Tyrannosaurus “Sue,” even controversy).
It was one of the inspirations for me to finally head out west this past summer to see some of the fossil sites firsthand, and now Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway has also inspired an exhibit of the same name at the Burke Museum of Natural History in Culture in Seattle. In addition to some of Troll’s art, the exhibit will include some of the fossil stars of the book, from gigantic carnivorous “pigs from hell” to dinosaurs. It will open tomorrow, December 19, and run through May 2010, after which it will go on a road trip of its own to other museums in the United States. If you live near Seattle and get to check it out, let us know in the comments what you think!
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