Jurassic Walks and Talks

Editor’s note: ReBecca Hunt-Foster, District Paleontologist for the Canyon Country District of the BLM  in Southeastern Utah, encouraged interns and other scientists working with her in the summer of 2017 to write articles for us. This is one of three articles we received. We thank ReBecca and the authors for their contributions and encourage all scientists and students to consider the FOSSIL Project as an outreach opportunity.

by Nathan Ong

My name is Nathan Ong, and I’m a third year Geoscience student at the University of Utah. I spent this summer working for the BLM Moab Field Office as their Paleontology Public Outreach intern. My job consisted primarily of running the BLM’s Jurassic Walks and Talks Program. The program consists of free tours of five local paleontological sites (the walks) as well as free presentations at the Moab Information center (the talks).

Nathan Ong gives tours of the Mill Canyon Tracksite to visitors from the Moab, Utah, area

Every weekend morning, the public would meet me at the site, wherein I would give them a comprehensive tour of each site’s paleontology, geology, and history. There were five sites at which I worked: Poison Spider Dinosaur Tracksite, Mill Canyon Bone Trail, Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite, Dinosaur Stomping Grounds, and Copper Ridge Dinosaur Tracksite. Each site offers a unique experience to the visitor, and several locals even made it their goal to accompany me on a tour of all five sites. This was my favorite part of the job because it allowed me show folks where fossils are found, and provide them with the geologic context that a map in a museum just doesn’t capture.

In addition to these tours, I also gave evening talks at the Moab Information Center. For the talks, I filled a table with real fossils and gave visitors a short show-and-tell presentation about Moab region and its fossil finds. Many folks had questions about the history and science of the places that they visited, so the talks also consisted of a Q & A section where they could ask me about the geology and paleontology of the area. For many people, it was the first time that they could handle real fossils and chat with a professional in the field.

Nathan shows visitors a set of ankylosaur tracks at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite.

The walks and talks ran Friday-Sunday, but I also spent Mondays and Tuesdays in the office. By default, I spent my two weekly office days designing new activities and advertising materials for the program. This was definitely the more mundane part of my job, but it offered me a chance to design ads that needed to include the necessary information, while still being visually appealing. I also got the chance develop new educational activities for the program’s evening presentations, which forced me to think critically about the lessons that I wanted to teach and how they could best be explained in a fun and engaging manner. Many of my office days were also spent doing a variety of oddball adventures that came up during the summer. For example, I got the chance to work at four active paleontological sites, and contrast how all four institutions ran their particular quarry. As a student who is looking to apply to grad school in the coming year, these experiences gave me some much needed perspective on the field as a whole.

Overall, flexibility was a crucial requirement for this job. Although my main focus was the Jurassic Walks and Talks program, it seems like every day was a bit different from the last. I’d be explaining the chemistry of rock one day and repelling to a sauropod quarry the next. No matter what I was doing, it was sure to be a great time!

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