Route 66 and its Influence on Triassic Paleontology of the American Southwest

Route 66; the "mother road"; Bobby Troupe singing "get your kicks"... Anyone who has worked with me knows that I have a keen interest in this historic highway. Part of this stems from living in Northern Arizona for more than a decade, twice within a block of this road. Although officially decommissioned in 1985, Route 66 nostalgia is alive and well in these areas and the road still forms the basis of the many towns and cities it passed through. Furthermore, its scars can still be seen across the landscape in the form of abandoned roadbeds, bridges, roadcuts, and debris, including abandoned structures. In its heyday more than a million cars a year travelled its length from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California.

However, my infatuation with Route 66 stems from more than just searching out abandoned sections as something to do to pass the time while driving across Arizona. This is the road that past paleontologists used when conducting much of the early work in the Triassic rocks of Arizona and New Mexico. Charles Camp's field notes from the 1920s discuss travelling the route and stopping at historic places including Ed's Camp. When Camp mentions camping near the roadbridge across "Little Carrizo" Wash (also known as the Little Lithodendron Wash) we can revisit that camp as the bridge still exists.

Sam Welles did not care to see the Meteor Crater one more time so he had his team drop him off at the intersection of Route 66 and the old Meteor Crater road so he could prospect the Moenkopi Formation. This paid dividends as he discovered the prolific Middle Triassic Meteor Crater Quarry. The Holbrook Quarry was another productive quarry in the Moenkopi right along Route 66.

Petrified Forest National Park is the only National Park that contains a section of Route 66 and until it was replaced by Interstate 40 in the late 1950s was an important marker for paleontologists and geologists working in the park and surrounding area. For example many of Maurice "Spade" Cooley's Chinle geological sections were measured along Route 66 and it would be impossible to relocate them without knowing the old alignments of the road.

Ned Colbert also travelled extensively up and down Route 66 while doing his southwest U.S. work and prominently mentions sites such as Rimmy Jims in his notes.

Last week we were examining outcrops of the Chinle Formation north of Joseph City, Arizona and I had the opportunity to stop at a classic Route 66 stop, Ella's Frontier. Below is a photo of me standing outside of the now abandoned log structure. You can find a picture of this trading post in its heyday here.

The next picture is looking east up old Route 66 from in front of Ella's. The old Howdy Hank's trading post is on the left (with its well-known mural of the cowboy and horse barely visible), and an old campground is on the right side of the road.

I find it absolutely fascinating to trace the footsteps of earlier paleontologists such as Colbert, Welles, Camp, etc... and fortunately Route 66 still allows me to do this. Furthermore, as this was the main route travelled by these workers while conducting fieldwork, it had a major influence on which outcrops were prospected (accessiblity is important) adding to our knowledge of Triassic paleontology in the southwest.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome....hopefully there is more pictures to come


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