We finally got some real snow on New Year’s Eve.

This was a little hard on some of the Christmas decorations.

I will probably build a new manger for next year. One with a bit more study roof and back wall. Some of the damage here is from high winds that preceded the snow fall.

Fox was about.

At least, I think so. I can’t imagine anyone letting their cat or dog out into this weather.

I spent the latter part of the week with Gary Stradling helping a paleontology class at Ghost Ranch.

Taught by Dr. Gretchen Gurtler. There were ten students in the class, and much of the time was spent learning to clean, label, and prepare fossils. The students mostly worked on phytosaur vertebrae, of which the museum has a large collection.

Dr. Gurler talks a little about a large phytosaur skull.

This is kind of a sad story. The skull was found by amateurs on federal land, and they tried to preserve the fossil with plaster of Paris and burlap, just like you see in the movies. Alas, they applied the plaster of Paris directly to the fossil slab, which you do not do. (The stuff adheres too tightly.) There is supposed to be a thin layer of special paleontological paper (it looks a little like toilet paper) between the plaster jacket and the slab itself.

The fossil may not have been great to begin with, but it’s in really bad shape now. Lesson: Kids, do not do this at home. It is illegal to collect vertebrate fossils on federal lands without a scientific permit, and you won’t know what you’re doing anyway. Some things really should be left to the professionals.

(Common invertebrate fossils, of the kind I’ve shown off here now and then, are a different matter. Casual collection on most National Forest and BLM land is legal.)

Looking east from the classroom during a break.

Then back to work.

Dr. Gurlter takes students one at a time to use the compressed air-driven tool used to remove the most resistant matrix (rock in which the fossil bone is embedded).

Class finished for the day, I head to The Greenhouse, where Gary and I are being put up. It’s an adobe building with solar heating features, build here by LANL as part of a solar architecture research program. Turns out it still needs heating in the depths of winter.

I need a little exercise, and hike a short distance up the canyon.

(Click for a full-resolution version, as you can do with most images at this site.) Mesas of Entrada Sandstone, with a thin cap of Todilto Formation and a base of Rock Point Formation of the Chinle Group — the main fossil-bearing unit.

Kitchen Mesa.

Box Canyon.

“Box canyon” is a general term for a canyon that has no exit except its mouth. They’re convenient places to keep livestock, especially if there is a perennial stream. This one is more formally named Arroyo del Yeso, “Gypsum Creek”. I’m guessing its upper reaches have notable exposures of the Todilto Formation, which has locally impressive gypsum beds.

Friday night I give a star show with my 10″ telescope. It’s a Dobbsonian, a design perfect for easy transport and setup. We are still working on getting the Ghost Ranch Schmidt-Cassegranian working, but Gary is reporting good progress. The star show seems to go really well, and I may start doing this on a regular basis.

Saturday, Gary and I are back in Los Alamos for, among other things, the funeral of a mutual friend. John Stokes, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. In the afternoon we head back just in time to catch the class on the trail to the Coelophysis quarry. The trail is still awfully muddy, and not all the class wants to press on. Gary and I and about half the students make it to the quarry rim.

The view here is pretty good. Per Dr. Gurtler’s instructions, I lecture the students briefly on the local stratigraphy, and then throw in just a bit on geomorphology.

I remind the students that Dr. Gurtler does not want them continuing up the Kitchen Mesa trail, which crosses off Ghost Ranch onto National Forest land just past the quarry. They cannot resist going just a little further, but have the good sense not to try to climb up to the mesa top.

Back home: Angel, a.k.a. Ming the Merciless, has had some 100,000-mile maintenance.

She’s 17. That’s pretty old for a cat. (The record, I understand, is 37 years, but few make it past 20). She had developed a cyst on her forehead and had some pretty bad teeth; all were removed. She hated the cone but generally seems much happier now. WIth few teeth left, she gets soft cat food now, and she likes that even more.

I may be doing another star show this Friday. It will have to be squeezed in between sunset and the gibbous Moon rising, but a bigger problem is an unfavorable forecast. (Though I’d welcome a snow storm; we can use all the snow pack we can get.)

And tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day. Race is a concept almost devoid of scientific basis, invented by evil men for malign pruposes relatively recently in human history*, and the sooner we rid our minds of the entire concept, the better.

*Racism is distinct from tribalism, a human trait going back at least thousands of years, and its veneer of “science” makes it significantly more dangerous.

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