An Account of the Eleventh North American Paleontological Convention

by Kyle Hartshorn (@kyle-hartshorn)

Planning

Conferences require thoughtful preparation. Months before the event, flights must be booked, lodging must be arranged, and formal registration must be submitted and paid for.  If one intends to present a talk or poster, an abstract must be provided as well. Closer to the conference, one must also prepare the presentation or poster itself and, ideally, rehearse until one is full of confidence and not a lurking fear of everlasting shame.  

Such were my presentations for the great North American Paleontological Convention of 2019.  Having attended the previous NAPC in Gainesville, Florida back in February 2014, as well as many Geological Society of America meetings, I knew what to expect and preparations were made in due course. This time, I hoped, snowstorms would not delay my flight and cause me to miss half the conference!

 

Saturday, June 22, 2019: The Arrival 

Awakening at 5:00am, I met my fellow Dry Dredgers at the Cincinnati airport: Tom Bantel, Bill Heimbrock, and Jack Kallmeyer (Figure 1). Security was overcome with minimal fuss and we were soon joined by Brenda Hunda and Jessica Kastigar of the Cincinnati Museum Center and Journal of Paleontology editorial board. As is typical, the Queen City would be well represented at the conference, with over a dozen current or former Cincinnatians in attendance.   

Our flights were uneventful, disregarding a tight connection in Dallas-Fort Worth. In accordance with my first maxim of air travel—always get a window seat—I kept a close eye on our progress and the desert landscape below. My seat provided a good view of the mysterious Salton Sea and the peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains as we descended into the San Bernardino valley (Figure 2).  

Figure 1. Left to right: Tom Bantel, Bill Heimbrock, Jack Kallmeyer.

Figure 2. View of Mt. San Jacinto on the flight to California.

Once on the ground in Ontario, a shuttle, helpfully prearranged by Jen Bauer and Sadie Mills of the FOSSIL Project, delivered us to the dormitories of UC Riverside. Establishing ourselves therein, we soon ventured out to explore the campus, familiarise ourselves with the local customs, and forage for food. Despite discovering an impressive selection of on-campus citrus trees, the later excursion was of little success and our famished party retired to the dormatorial convenience store to obtain supplies.

Our spirits restored, Bantel and I made directly for the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens, a noted local attraction of scientific and aesthetic interest. The gardens were well attended with both people and plants. The sections we visited were dominated by cacti, yucca, aloe, and other succulent plants, all novel flora to those of us more accustomed to the grasslands and forests of Ohio. Indeed, the landscaping of the UC Riverside campus was botanically interesting to a Midwesterner unused to the shocking purple of the jacaranda or the painterly bark of the eucalyptus. Some areas had still more exotic flora, such as cycads and thorny ceiba trees from Central America.  

We then returned to the dorms, where the convention coordinators had thrown a party with local pizza and beverages, providing an opportunity to relax and mingle with friends and colleagues who I had not seen for months or more. As the party wound down, I again wandered off to explore the campus in the setting sun, before returning to the dorms for much-needed sleep.

 

Sunday, June 23, 2019: NAPC Day 1 – So It Begins

Figure 3. Jack and Tom on the walk in to the conference.

Jetlag can be useful, in certain situations. Given that 5:00am in California is equivalent to 8:00am in Ohio, an Ohioan getting up at their traditional hour in California can be up before dawn without being much more tired than usual. Our contingent used this to our advantage, getting up early and making our way across campus to see the buildings where the convention would be held (Figure 3). 

Having confidence that we now knew where we were going, we then returned to the dorms and soon the dining hall, for a hearty and welcome breakfast. Ready for some paleontology, we joined throngs of other attendees at the plenary session and then the standard technical sessions. Standout talks included several on Cambrian lagerstätten, taphonomy, and Paleozoic extinctions.  The food was also notably delicious, though the lines were notably long. A Mariachi band provided entertainment during a dinner of tacos.  

The better part of my evening was spent assisting Ben Dattilo (Purdue University Fort Wayne) make final preparations for a talk he was scheduled to give the next day, removing or reorganizing slides provided by Carl Brett (University of Cincinnati).  This preparation session was made somewhat more exciting when we encountered a black widow spider hanging midair in the breezeway leading to our dorms. However, the PowerPoint was completed without issue. I also made some contributions to my own presentation, which was scheduled for Thursday but had to be delivered on Tuesday, prior to the Wednesday field trip.

 

Monday, June 24, 2019: NAPC Day 2 – More Paleontology

The second day of the conference proceeded much like the first, although early morning exploration was replaced with last minute PowerPoint preparation of my own. I tweaked some text, added a few more pictures, and finalized the presentation just after breakfast. The file was loaded on a USB storage stick and later loaded onto the conference laptops. Preparations were complete and now it was time to enjoy the sessions. 

Noteworthy presentations include Ben’s talk on Cincinnatian stratigraphy, a discussion of the sequence stratigraphy of continental systems by Steven Holland (University of Georgia), and various presentations about paleontology on public lands. 

Dinner comprised a sumptuous buffet. A rather lengthy raffle provided the evening’s entertainment.  Regrettably, I did not win anything.

 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019: NAPC Day 3 – Field Trip to Palos Verdes

Figure 4. Natural History Museum of Los Angelos County Collections

The mid-meeting field trip was a highlight of the convention.  Participants had several options, including trips to the La Brea Tar Pits, Crystal Cove, and the Palos Verdes peninsula. I chose the latter, as I had already been to all three localities during my past trips to the Los Angeles basin, but thought Palos Verdes would be the most interesting to revisit.  

The morning was foggy as we boarded a large tour bus and made our way through Los Angeles traffic to our first destination: a nondescript Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County storage warehouse. Inside, curator Austin Hendy and his colleagues regaled us with the history of the collections, showed us examples of Cenozoic fossils we might find later in the day (Figure 4), and allowed us to peruse the cabinets.  Amusingly, I discovered a number of drawers full of Cincinnatian fossils, many from familiar localities.

After our quick tour of the collections, we set off for the Palos Verdes peninsula, a large hill situated south of Los Angeles proper, near the port of Long Beach.  We spent the rest of the day at a series of localities on Palos Verdes, including sea cliffs (Figure 5), foggy hill cuts (Figure 6), and a very unassuming roadcut (Figure 7).  Pliocene or Pleistocene collections were possible at all of these sites, though success was variable. My most interesting find was a tiny fossil sand dollar, about 1cm in diameter (a sand dime?), which I immediately gave to James Nebelsik (University of Tübingen), who has done extensive research on clypeasterids and other echinoids.  

 

Figure 5. Palos Verdes cliffs.

Figure 6. Palos Verdes fog.

Figure 7. Palos Verdes roadcut

 

We returned to campus late in the afternoon. Our driver expertly navigating the treacherous Los Angeles traffic and we arrived in time to join the rest of the conference participants at a grillout.  

 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019: NAPC Day 4 – Presentation Day

For those giving an oral presentation, a conference is often divided into two distinct epochs: before the presentation and after the presentation. The former has some degree of stress and anxiety. The latter is more leisurely and laid back. Thus I approached the time of my talk, a part of a broader section on amateur-professional collaboration cleverly named “Two to Tango”.  My talk was entitled “Roadcuts After Dark: Adventures in Avocational Stratigraphy on the Cincinnati Arch” (Figure 8) and summarized the stratigraphy research that I have conducted with Carl Brett for the past six or so years. (For those unaware, the title is a joking reference to Dr. Brett’s propensity to spend a great deal of time at interesting outcrops, even after the sun has set.)

Figure 8. My title slide, Roadcuts After Dark.

Figure 9. Banquet seating.

Presentations are typically 12-15 minutes long, with a few minutes for questions if they are on the lower end of that range. Although that sounds like a decent amount of time, it flies past quite quickly when one’s brain is on autopilot giving the talk. Fortunately, my presentation went smoothly, coming in under the allotted time and with laughs at the desired jokes. Afterwards, several people told me they enjoyed the presentation, which is always uplifting to hear.  

The culminating event of the day, perhaps even the conference, was an evening banquet held outdoors beneath a grove of trees and strands of lights (Figure 9).  John Williams’ majestic themes from Jurassic Park provided topical background music. Seated with friends from the University of Cincinnati, we enjoyed the great food and drink. The night ended with lively dancing, perhaps an attempt to rival similar festivities at Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meetings.

 

Thursday, June 27, 2019: NAPC Day 5 – The End

Conferences often trail off during the last day or two. Some participants have already left, and sessions are typically shorter and less attended. So was the case with NAPC. The final day had several key sessions: a session on the FOSSIL Project in the morning and a session on the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event in the afternoon. But otherwise I spent the day chatting with friends and wandering around campus one last time. Following a closing party outside the geology building, I made my way to the top of a small hill south of campus, which turned out to provide an amazing view of the setting sun sinking into the valley and behind the mountains (Figure 10).  A fitting end to a very enjoyable convention. 

Figure 10. Riverside sunset

 

Friday, June 28, 2019: San Bernardino Mountains

I chose to remain in California for several days after the conference to see more of the region.  Hitching a ride with my Dry Dredger compatriots to the Ontario airport, I procured a rental car and struck out east, intent on geological sightseeing from San Bernardino to Los Angeles. I drove back west through the San Bernardino Mountains, visited the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, spent some time in Angeles National Forest, and ended the day at Griffith Observatory, where the observation deck provided great views of both the city of Los Angeles and (through a telescope) Jupiter and several of its more prominent moons.

 

Saturday, June 29, 2019: Malibu

I spent Saturday along the coast, visiting Venice Beach, the Santa Monica palisades, and a variety of beaches near Malibu. I assume that most paleontologists enjoy beachcombing; I certainly do. Surprisingly large purple sea hares, a type of sea slug, were a highlight at Topanga Beach. Growing to rival the size and weight of a true rabbit, several of these huge blobby mollusks were washed among the wrack line.  

As temperatures climbed at mid-day, I visited the scenic Getty Villa and its spectacular collection of Roman, Greek, and related artifacts. Then I made my way up into the Santa Monica Mountains and west to Point Mugu in time for a colorful coastal sunset.  

 

Sunday, June 30, 2019: The Return 

My final day in California comprised some minor sightseeing at a few local parks and a sudden flat tire on a highway right in the middle of the Inglewood oil fields. Fortunately, I was able to replace the tire and limp back to the rental car center in time to catch my flight. The return journey to Cincinnati was straightforward. No snowstorms this NAPC. 

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