Monday, December 22, 2014

Rain? In a Rain Forest? Exploring California and Oregon on the 50th Anniversary of the Biggest Flood Ever

It starts with little cascades like this...
That grow into brooks like this, repeated thousands of times over...
Which leads to this...
Our Christmas travels took us into the northwest of California and into Oregon, and as luck would have it, we drove right into a continuation of the storms that have been pounding the west coast this month. At home, we've already received more precipitation than all of last year's horrific drought totals. As we drove north on Highway 101, we watched the rain falling for hours, and soon, every waterway was filled with muddy water. It may be the first truly cleansing flows these channels have had in some time.
I don't think any records are in danger of being broken, but with the anemic levels of precipitation over the last three years, it was nice to see these rivers brimming with water. Now that I have access to some data, I am finding some impressive numbers stacking up. The Klamath River is flowing at 95,500 cubic feet per second, 961% of normal daily flow for this time of year. The Smith River reached 65,000 cfs for awhile (about 20 times normal), and Redwood Creek was around 11,900 cfs, about ten times normal.
The ultimate for our day was the Umpqua River near Roseburg, Oregon. Just downstream at Elkton, it is flowing at 131,000 cfs, a bit above flood stage. Compare to three or four days ago when it was flowing at about 5,000 cfs.

 A year ago at this time, the river was pretty much a pool...

Here is how hydrologists see these rivers, with a graph that shows the discharge (cubic feet per second) over a week's time. The effect of the latest storms is clear.
 Graph of
Graph of

The water flows will undoubtably drop off over the next few days, but it is impressive to see what the rivers can do. Today is the 50th anniversary of the worst floods ever in the region, the 1964 Christmas Floods. In that flood there had been a cold snap where a great deal of snow had accumulated and the ground was frozen. Then, over several days around Christmas, a Pineapple Express storm dropped prodigious amounts of rain, which melted the snow, but did not melt the soil, so little of the rain was absorbed into the ground. Around three dozen people were killed, and several dozen villages were completely erased. Many dozens of bridges were destroyed, and numerous other towns were cut off for weeks.

Compare the numbers:

Klamath River today, 95,500 cfs, in 1964, 565,000 cfs.
Eel River today, 40,000 cfs, in 1964, 750,000 cfs.
Rogue River (Oregon) today: 23,500, in 1964, 200,000 cfs.

By some estimates, such a flood is estimated to happen maybe once in a thousand years.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

If These Cliffs Could Talk: The Cliffs of the Ah-wah-nee that Never Got Legends

Do you know these places? Would a place that has cliffs like these merit being declared a national park?

Thankfully, these rocky precipices are in a national park already. But these are not the iconic features that end up in the photo collections of the millions of tourists that visit this place every year. But these cliffs contribute to the awesome scenery by serving as the backdrop for some very famous rocks. They serve as the supporting chorus behind the hardrock band, so to speak. They are the unsung cliffs of Yosemite Valley (the Ah-wah-nee). As far as I know, few of these escarpments have a mythical legend that celebrates their existence.

If these cliffs of Yosemite Valley could talk, they would have something to say about my recent little miniseries on the most famous rocks that can be seen from the valley floor. They would say "but, none of these cliffs could be famous without the un-famous cliffs and slopes that lay between".

The first picture in this post has a waterfall that is usually dry by the time most tourists begin arriving in June or July. When it is running it is often mistaken for Yosemite Falls by first-time visitors (until they see Yosemite Falls anyway). It is Ribbon Falls, which is actually the waterfall at Yosemite with the greatest unbroken drop (1,612 feet; 491 meters). Compare that to Upper Yosemite Falls at 1,430 feet (436 meters). The total drop of the three steps of Yosemite Falls totals 2,425 feet (735 meters), making the better-known fall one of the top ten highest falls in the world. Ribbon is apparently 99th. But imagine if it were the only fall at Yosemite. How famous it would be! It doesn't always get noticed because it lies just west of the boldest cliff of El Capitan.
The cliff in the picture above is an unnamed spire in the vicinity of Sentinel Rock. Although the cliff is thousands of feet tall, it is less imposing than Sentinel because it is more highly jointed (fractured). The rocks have been darkened by lichens and staining and thus appear darker than most of the granite cliffs (fresh exposures from more recent rockfalls reveal the lighter rock).
The partly rounded rock on the left in the picture above is the familiar Leaning Tower, although the lean is not so prominent from this angle. The rugged cliffs on the right include Dewey, Crocker, and Stanford Points, but the cliffs have no particular name. Like the previous photo, the rocks are more highly jointed, resulting in a recessed cliff face with talus (slopes of fallen boulders) covering the lower portions.
To me, one of the most striking features of Yosemite Valley is the total non-cliff that lies just west of Ribbon Falls and El Capitan. Instead of a vertical precipice, the slope is almost entirely buried in talus from the constant collapse of what cliffs there are. The dark-colored plutonic rock is called, not too surprisingly, the Diorite of the Rockslides. It is the most highly jointed of all the rocks in Yosemite Valley.
The next picture is a familiar view to anyone who has visited Glacier Point. Yosemite Falls is apparent on the left, and the Royal Arches are partly visible on the right, but the cliffs in-between are less familiar, in part because of the intense jointing that has led to a less bold appearance. The deep cleft in the center of the photo is Indian Creek, and the crenelated cliffs to the left of the creek are called the Castle Cliffs.
Panorama Cliff appears in many photographs taken from the vicinity of the Ahwahnee Hotel, but few know the name. It forms the south wall of the Merced River canyon where it emerges from Little Yosemite Valley.

One would think that waterfalls thousands of feet high would get more attention, but these two are very seasonal, generally drying up by late May or early June. The one above is the Widow's Tears, a 1,170 foot high waterfall tucked into the cliffs near Crocker and Stanford Points west of Leaning Tower. It has been mistaken for and mislabeled as Silver Strand Fall, which is much shorter.
And finally, there is Sentinel Falls, a 1,920 ft (590 m) fall on the west flank of Sentinel Rock. Like the other less famous waterfalls, it is ephemeral, and often dry by early summer. The biggest drop among the many cascades is about 500 feet high.

Light and shadow. Positive and negative.Yin and yang.

Mrs. Geotripper, the artist, tells me that yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. That is what these cliffs accomplish at Yosemite Valley. For every bold cliff like El Capitan, Half Dome, or Sentinel Rock, there are recessed cliffs that lie in the shadows. Hidden among these recessed cliffs are beautiful waterfalls that during the right time of year rank as some of the world's highest and most dramatic. If we could just find them among the richness of features at Yosemite Valley!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Greenpeace Really Screws Up...Twice

Source: Greenpeace via Reuters
It's hard to imagine a more moronic act by a supposedly respectable environmental organization. I have appreciated the activism of Greenpeace in the past, especially the efforts of the Rainbow Warrior (all three of them) to stop whaling and nuclear testing. But this was stupid. And they made it worse in the aftermath.

Greenpeace has stood for action to save endangered species and habitats, sometimes putting lives on the line to protect them. It is sometimes the only weapon we have in the face of big money, overly powerful corporations, and corrupt governments. But there are two principles about civil disobedience: it should be directed at the right people and organizations, and those who truly believe in their actions should be ready to accept the consequences. This is what made this action so hard to understand.

Activists went into a restricted part of one of Peru's most treasured archaeological sites and unfurled long banners with their so-called message. The Nazca Lines are a World Heritage Site, and are fragile. They are geoglyphs, symbols and pictures dating back more than a thousand years, including birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, monkeys, and human figures. They were made by turning over stones darkened by desert varnish to expose the lighter surfaces underneath.
(Photo: Peru Ministry of Culture, via The New York Times)
It would be one thing if Greenpeace were throwing their bodies into the path of bulldozers trying to destroy the lines, but the Nazca Lines were not in any such danger. They had nothing to do with the Greenpeace protest whatsoever. Instead, the protesters trampled the ground, overturning varnished rocks, driving many of them into the sand. This kind of surface is highly vulnerable to such disruption. It is possible that the underlying sediments will now be mobilized in the next windstorm, blowing sand across and damaging the lines themselves. So that was stupid mistake number one.

Mistake two: when faced with the controversy, Greenpeace responded with one of the most mealy-mouthed apologies I've ever seen. Here is the first paragraph:
"Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused by our recent activity laying a message of hope at the site of the historic Nazca Lines. We are deeply sorry for this."
The problem? No apology for the destruction and damage to a priceless world heritage site, just an "I'm sorry to anyone we offended". These are the kind of words used by politicians who've been caught at KKK meetings and with hookers (or both). A non-apology apology. They hardly acknowledged that they did any damage.

What should be happening? Those responsible should come forth and accept the punishment due them. Should they be jailed? I don't know. At the very least, they should be on hands and knees replacing every stone they overturned. And Greenpeace International? They've severely damaged their reputation and should be doing a lot more than offering half-hearted apologies that say "we know this looks bad" (it really says that). It doesn't "look" bad, it is bad, and there should be a full-scale effort on the part of the organization to fix what they did, not just say words about it. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Should We Be Mining Our State Parks? Red Rock Canyon State Park: Comments Requested by Dec. 18

Red Rock Canyon State Park is one of the gems of the California State Park system. It has the kind of scenery that makes drivers on Highway 14 out of Mojave hit the brakes out of disbelief. The cliffs rise out of the desert due to some serious slippage along the Garlock Fault. The exposures of the Dove Springs Formation (formerly the Ricardo Formation), besides being scenic and colorful, contain a fascinating fossil fauna of life that existed in a savanna environment around 12 million years ago. There were horses, camels, ancient elephants, and a host of predators including some early species of saber-tooth cats.
Generations of geology students have done field studies in the park, as it provides marvelous opportunities for developing stratigraphic columns, with excellent exposures for geologic mapping. Many of my students have had their first introduction to basic geologic and stratigraphic principles, as it is one of our first stops on our yearly Death Valley expedition.

I'm writing about a threat to this beautiful park. Many parks, both state and national, have a heritage of mining, some successful, most not. The remains have become part of the park experience, but in many cases mining claims were "grandfathered in" when the parks were established. By keeping up with various small rules (for instance, doing a small bit of assaying each year) these companies retain a legal right to mine. Such is the case at Red Rock, where a company intends to develop an open pit mine at the site of former underground workings. They intend to mine "seismotite" (volcanic ash), pumicite and bentonite clay.
Mining is a necessary part of a complex society, and it is a mistake to think that civilization can exist without it. But some minerals and products are not rare and strategic. They can be found in abundance in other places. It would be a shame to forever destroy a corner of an established state park when alternatives are available. With that thought in mind, I'm hoping you will consider commenting on this project. I've cut and paste the note I received from the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association:

First, the effects:
Scenic vistas of the pristine environs of Red Rock Canyon State Park could be compromised by a mining activity taking place inside the boundaries of the park. Air quality could be adversely affected by dust from a mining operation. Wildlife including the Mojave ground squirrel, the Desert Tortoise, the Desert Kit Fox and Burrowing Owl could be impacted by posed threats that can result in deaths, injuries and harassment of these species many of whom have special-status as endangered and threatened species.

Ecosystem existing at the proposed site could be affected by vehicles and heavy equipment since the Old Dutch Cleanser Mine is foraging terrain used by golden eagles; prairie falcons; pallid bats, Townsend's big-eared bats and spotted bats. There could be a negative impact to rare flora including the Red Rock tarplant.

Significant Cultural areas of Red Rock by the Native American community are in the vicinity near the proposed project site. A mining operation in this region could disturb the grounds which are revered and respected in the Native Community.

The quiet solitude that park visitors and tourists come to Red Rock to enjoy could be replaced by the noise of mining. 

Disregard to the spirit of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 that includes California's State Parks such as Red Rock Canyon State Park which provides for the maximum protection of the area's scenic and scientific values, erodes the integrity of our legislative system.

Disregard to the intention of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to protect the Desert Tortoise which the United Fish and Wildlife Service has stated is within the project site would exhibit an insensitivity to our protection of habitats.

There are potential impacts to both recreational users and sensitive and endangered species on the routes that would be used by both the public and large haul trucks and water tanks . 

Transportation and traffic is based on a right-of-way that is antiquated since it pre-dates both the California Desert Protection Act and the Desert Tortoise being listed under the Endangered Species Act.

There are other areas of concern such as impacts on recreational users; movie and commercial location filming and night sky observers just to name a few others, so please make your voice heard. 

And what you can do:

It appears that forces are coming at Red Rock Canyon State Park from almost all sides. We seem to be surrounded by opportunistic endeavors that have no interest in protecting the treasure that is Red Rock Canyon State Park.

We have a small window of opportunity. The Kern County Development Services Agency is open to receiving comments from the public and all interested parties about plans to allow Matcon Corporation Inc. to continue mining 17.23 acres of the mine known as the Old Dutch Cleanser Mine located inside the boundaries of Red Rock Canyon State Park.

These mining activities, if allowed to proceed, would use open pit mining techniques to mine seismotite, pumicite and calcium bentonite clay six days per week for 10 hours per day.

The mine inside the boundaries of Red Rock was grandfathered in. The mining operation of the past is out of sync with the intention of our forefathers to steward the wilderness with the creation of the Parks Department exactly 150 years ago.

Times have changed. We are no longer the Wild West; although the systematic negation of good land steward practices and rejection of common sense arguments in recent years to protect our resources would have us question this notion.

We are a State Park. We were created to protect and conserve land as well as allow recreational activities for the enjoyment of the entire public. We were not given the designation of State Park with the intention of exploitation of mineral and natural resources for the gain of individuals or corporations/agencies. Let us hone in on the values and handling of resource management and make our voices heard. Let our local agencies know that open space and irreplaceable natural treasures like Red Rock Canyon State Park are of exceptionally high value that exceeds any monetary value gained by desecrating the landscape for the profit of the few.

It is up to individuals like you to care enough to do something to protect our treasure and not allow anyone or any group or agency to rob future generations of the majesty of Red Rock.

Please give the gift of involvement by commenting
Send Comments to:
Kern County Development Services Agency
2700 "M" Street - Suite 100
Bakersfield, CA 93301-2232

Attention: Randall Cates, Kern County Planner 3
tel: (661) 862-8612


The comment period for the document Mitigated Negative Declaration Notice of Availability for Public Review for 5562RPC; Conditional Use Permit closes on December 18th, 2014. PLEASE SUBMIT COMMENTS BY THIS DATE as "testimony at future public hearings may be limited to those issues raised during the public review period either orally or submitted in writing by 5:00 p.m., the day the comment period closes," according to a letter signed by Lorelei Oviatt, AICP, Director Planning and Community Development Director.

If These Cliffs Could Talk: Tu-tok-a-nu'-la, the Greatest Cliff of All in the Ah-wah-nee

So...who was the first to climb El Capitan, the stupendous cliff in Yosemite Valley? There are those who say it was Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore in 1958, but the elder people know better. It was climbed in the ancient days by the Tu-tok-a-nu'-la. That was the reason for the name they gave the incredible cliff.
El Capitan/Tu-tok-a-nu'-la stands out as one of the tallest sheer cliffs on the planet, at about 3,000 feet (Mt. Thor on Baffin Island is probably the tallest drop at 4,101 feet). The cliff is composed principly of at least three kinds of plutonic igneous rock, the El Capitan granite, the Taft granite, and the Diorite of North America, but recent detailed mapping recognizes a total of eight different intrusions.

The rocks date from the age of the dinosaurs, the Cretaceous Period, around 100 million years ago. The complex mix of rocks represents the interior plumbing of a long gone volcanic system much like those that are active in the Cascades or the Andes Mountains. Imagine standing six miles below the summit of Mt. Shasta or Mt. Rainier in the complex system of molten or semi-molten magma chambers and you have the correct picture.

The mere presence of granitic rock at the Earth's surface speaks of incredible amounts of erosion. Five or six vertical miles of overlying rock has been eroded off the Sierra Nevada, dumped into the Great Valley (which by coincidence is about five miles deep with sediments), or into the Pacific Ocean through San Francisco Bay, or the early canyons that existed to the south. Debates continue as to the precise rate and timing of the uplift and erosion of the mountains, but tricky arguments have led to creative new approaches to research.

The last part of the story is the erosion and carving of the great cliff. The Merced River started the process, carving a deep V-shaped canyon as the mountains first rose by tilting westward. Around two million years ago, the climate began to fluctuate wildly, causing a series of ice ages. The so-called Pre-Tahoe or Sherwin stage around 800,000 years did most of the work of shaping the vertical walls, as the whole of Yosemite Valley was entirely filled with ice in that period. Subsequent glacial advances barely reached the base of El Capitan.
Rockfalls continue to change the shape of the cliff. I was resting near the top of Sentinel Dome in October of 2010 when I heard a loud commotion across the valley. I jumped up in time to see a massive plume of dust spreading from the base of El Capitan, caused by the collapse of around 1,000 cubic meters of rock from the cliff. Several climbers, including one of my former students, were hanging from the cliff just a few yards away. Significant chunks of rock tend to break off at an average of once a week.

The first people of the valley of the Ahwahnee tended to see the cliffs as having originated through growth. Their legend involves two human children or two bear cubs (I prefer the latter). The story comes to us from Yosemite Indians; Yesterday and Today by Elizabeth H. Godfrey (1941):
Long, long ago there lived in the Valley of Ah-wahnee two cub bears. One hot day they slipped away from their mother and went down to the river for a swim. When they came out of the water, they were so tired that they lay down to rest on an immense, flat boulder, and fell fast asleep. While they slumbered, the huge rock began to slowly rise until at length it towered into the blue sky far above the tree-tops, and wooly, white clouds fell over the sleeping cubs like fleecy coverlets.
I imagine that from the right perspective, the cliff did rise as the mountains did, and was simply exposed by the flowing river and glaciers. The animals in the story have a different sense of time, though. That was a very long nap!
In vain did the distracted mother bear search for her two cubs, and although she questioned every animal in the valley, not one could give her a clue as to what had happened to them. At last To-tah-kan, the sharp-eyed crane, discovered them still asleep on top of the great rock. Then the mother bear became more anxious than ever lest her cubs should awaken, and feel so frightened upon finding themselves up near the blue sky that they would jump off and be killed.
All the other animals in the valley felt very sorry for the mother bear and promised to help rescue the cubs. Gathering together, each attempted to climb the great rock, but it was as slippery as glass, and their feet would not hold. Little field mouse climbed two feet, and became frightened; the rat fell backward and lost hold after three feet; the fox went a bit higher, but it was no use. The larger animals could not do much better, although they tried so hard that to this day one can see the dark scratches of their feet at the base of the rock
When all had given up, along came the tiny measuring worm.

“I believe I can climb up to the top and bring down the cubs,” it courageously announced.
Of course, the other animals all sneered and made sport of this boast from one of the most insignificant of their number, but the measuring worm paid no attention to their insults and immediately began the perilous ascent. “Too-tack, too-tack, To-to-kon-oo-lah,” it chanted, and surely enough its feet clung even to that polished surface. Higher and higher it went, until the animals below began to realize that the measuring worm was not so stupid after all. Midway the great rock flared, and the measuring worm clung at a dizzy height only by its front feet.

Continuing to chant its song, the frightened measuring worm managed to twist its body and to take a zig-zag course, which made the climb a great deal longer, but much safer. Weak and exhausted it at last reached the top of the great rock, and in some miraculous manner awakened the cubs and guided them safely down to their grief-stricken mother. Of course, the whole animal kingdom was delighted and overjoyed with the return of the cubs and the praises of the measuring worm were loudly sung by all. As a token of honor the animals decided to name the great rock “To-to-kon-lah” in honor of the measuring worm.
It's a great story, especially the idea that everyone has skills that contribute to the good of the group or society. It reminds me of the parable or fable of the mouse and lion (mouse actually has a skill that saves the life of the lion after it shows mercy to the rodent).

In any case, Tu-tok-a-nu'-la is one of the world's great sights. I would say "don't miss it" when you visit Yosemite Valley, but the fact is, you cannot miss it. I can say "don't miss a sunset" though. It's during the moments of last light that the cliff truly glows.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Halftime Report on Stormageddon: The View from the Great Valley (possibly a Great Lake now)

Source: Intellicast
The predicted atmospheric river storm has arrived in California. Not just northern or central California, but pretty much the entire state. These are the kind of storms that can start us on the road towards breaking the drought, but it will take a lot more like this before we can dig ourselves out of the worst drought in centuries here in the Golden State. The water deficit is truly that bad.

Atmospheric river storms carry as much water as more than dozen Mississippi Rivers, and when oriented right, they can drop prodigious amounts of water in short periods of time. Parts of the California coast have received more than 10 inches of rain in the past day or two, and more rain is falling. Cities in the Bay Area have more than 3 inches thus far, and the flooding has been intense, as the news reports are showing. It didn't help matters that the storm included gale-force winds that brought down trees and caused power outages. Ours was out for an hour this morning.
Source: NOAA
It took a lot longer for the slow-moving storm to reach us in the San Joaquin Valley, the southern part of the Great Valley. The winds were blowing all night, and the rain started a little after noon. In the last twelve hours my rain gauge recorded 2.10 inches (I'm just east of Modesto, which at midnight had recorded 2.06 inches). I checked my rain gauge records, which go back to 1990, and found but a single day that ever exceeded 2 inches, back in January of 2006 (that day was 2.32 inches). But here's the thing: I measure from midnight to midnight, and the storm is still going strong. By morning, I am pretty sure we will have a record rainfall for a single storm in my 24 year record of rainfall events.

Those numbers might seem paltry to my friends in rainy environments, but our local environment is a near desert that is surrounded by mountain ranges that exert a distinct rain-shadow effect. Our average yearly rainfall is only 12 inches. And our valley floor is flat. Really, really flat. We don't have effective storm drain systems to handle such storm events. In general, the storm drains don't have enough gradient to reach nearby rivers, so we have depended on dry wells to divert the storm runoff  into our groundwater supply. This works most of the time, but when the rain exceeds an inch or so, large lakes and ponds will develop that fill streets, lawns and parking lots. It may take days for the water to seep underground. Storms of today's magnitude can develop dangerous conditions for drivers.

My neighborhood is lucky. I live east of the flattest valley floor, at an elevation of 125 feet (Modesto is closer to 65 feet). I also live only a mile from the Tuolumne River. A decade ago the city completed a storm drain that connects directly with the river, so we don't get the horrible ponding that once took place.

The rain will be falling through the day on Friday, and we'll have a break until Monday when another storm will move in. We appreciate the moisture so much, but a bit of it at a time, please!

The birds in my neighborhood took things in stride. Here is an Anna's Hummingbird that sheltered in our backyard for awhile today.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Holidays Come Early at the Great Valley Museum: A Big Toothy Predator Arrives

So, I got a call the other day from Receiving..."You've got a giant crate that's been delivered. Where do you want it? And I think "Huh? I don't remember having anything on order". And then in the fog of my brain (it's finals week; I'm more addled than normal), a vague memory emerges: we ordered something a year ago! And it finally arrived!

The crate was indeed huge. We had to remove close to two dozen screws, and like the father in the movie "A Christmas Story" ("fra-gee-lay"), we found a great deal of stuffing. But slowly it emerged: Jaws. Very big jaws.
The children of the Great Valley are impoverished and are poorly served by a state that sometimes has other priorities than education (can you spell "prisons" or "tax breaks for the rich"?). Few of the students have spent much time beyond the boundaries of their own towns, and have little knowledge of the natural world that lies beyond the housing developments and farms. The Great Valley Museum at Modesto Junior College has labored for years to teach our children about the rich ecosystem that once existed here (and still exists in small pockets here and there), but the exhibits languished in a modified 80 year old converted house. At long last this is changing, and we are on the verge of opening up the new museum on the bottom floor of our Science Community Center in just a month or two.

The museum will be an essential destination for learning about the natural history of the Great Valley and surrounding regions. Now, I'm all for this kind of thing (just take a short look at my other blog, for instance), but the unfortunately sad other fact is that practically no one in our county is familiar with the incredible paleontology of our region. Mention "digging for fossils" and most people think dinosaurs, and invariably dinosaurs in some other place. But the history of our planet is much more than just dinosaurs, and our region is richly blessed with an incredible fossil record of strange and wonderful creatures that have lived here through the ages. I've discussed them in the past, and will do so again, but today's arrival was a special part of our fossil heritage.

In the waning part of the dinosaur era (the Mesozoic), a creature related to the Komodo Dragon adapted to living in a marine environment, becoming one of the top predators of their time. Upwards of 30-40 feet long, the Mosasaurs were terrifying, with massive teeth, huge jaws, and presumably a huge appetite for anything that swam the seas. They have been found worldwide, and several have been found in the sediments of the Great Valley Group. An excellent specimen of a creature called Plotosaurus bennisoni was discovered in our county by a young man from Gustine in the 1930s. They were here! Another specimen, called Prognathodon rapax was discovered in Fresno County to the south of us.
This Mosasaur is on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta
No one sells specimens or replicas of those exact species, so we purchased a related species that will get the point across. It's a skull of a Prognathodon stadtmani that was discovered in the Durango, Colorado region. It is a big skull! I can't imagine a child upon seeing this skull not wanting to get out and explore and maybe find one on their own. And knowing that it could actually happen because one like it was found in their own county. The dinosaurs were okay, they might think, but we had really interesting creatures that lived right here!
This is an exciting time for the children of our valley, even if they don't know it yet. They are about to discover a world, their world, that includes massive and sometimes ferocious creatures like the Mosasaurs, Ichthyosaurs, Plesiosaurs, Saber-tooth Cats, Short-faced Bears, Dire Wolves, American Lions, Megalodon sharks and many others.