Glendive Montana Trip #1
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Glendive, Montana Road Trip #1
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Part 1: Figs, Dinosaurs & Trains
© W.P. Armstrong 19 September 2011
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Table Of Contents

  1. Buffalo River Near Yellowstone National Park
  2. Badlands Of Makoshika State Park Near Glendive
  3. Ficus ceratops In The Badlands May Not Be A Fig
  4. The K-T Boundary At Makoshika State Park
  5. Lush Farm Land Near Glendive, Montana
  6. Coal Trains In Badlands Of Eastern Montana

1. Buffalo River & Antelope In Yellowstone National Park


2. Badlands Of Makoshika State Park Near Glendive, Montana
This ancient subtropical swampland is pronounced ma-KO-shi-ka.

About 70 million years ago, this part of Montana was a vast subtropical swampland with a lush forest that supported numerous dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex. Today this area is an arid badlands composed of sedimentary strata containing the fossilized remains of a diverse flora and fauna. The above painting is on the outside wall of the Makoshika Dinosaur Museum in downtown Glendive, Montana. During this trip to Montana I discovered that the fossil fig (Ficus ceratops), named after the Triceratops dinosaur, is actually an extinct palmlike plant named Spinifructus antiquus. See the following link.

  Makoshika Dinosaur Museum In Glendive, Montana  


3. Ficus ceratops May Not Be A Fig!

When I started out on this road trip I was convinced that the fossil figs named Ficus ceratops from the late Cretaceous badlands near Glendive, Montana were really from an extinct fig tree. Numerous dinosaurs once roamed this remarkable area, including Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops and the amazing duck-billed Hadrosaurus. I wanted to photograph this ancient marshland habitat (Hell Creek Formation) that dates back 70 million years. Except for the fine longitudinal striations on the fruit (syconia), the fossil "figs" sure looked like dried figs (F. carica) at the supermarket. My biased, preconceived idea of what a fig should look like was a classic error in science. Actually, many species of wild tropical figs have smaller globose syconia that are very different in overall shape compared with cultivated edible figs. In addition, there are other fruits from different species that have the shape of a cultivated fig.

Petrified "fig syconia" from the badlands of eastern Montana (Dawson County). They were originally thought to be from an extinct species of fig (Ficus ceratops) dating back to the late Cretaceous Period (70 million years ago). Tracks and fossils of T-Rex have also been found in this region of Montana. Right: One of these so-called "fig syconia" is 70 million years old! The other two are dried Mission and Calimyrna figs purchased at a nearby grocery store. Note: The fine longitudinal striations are not characteristic of fig syconia. In fact, these "fig syconia" might be the endocarps of an extinct palm.
Elisabeth McIver (2002) studied these so-called "figs" associated with fossils of Tyrannosaurus rex from southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada. She renamed them Spinifructus antiquus, which means "ancient spiny fruit." The presence of spines on the outer fruit wall of well preserved specimens completely rules out figs. She suggested that they may be from a palm with pear-shaped fruits similar to the genera Astrocaryum, Asterogyne or Barcella. Fig syconia have very little woody tissue and rot away quickly. Fresh edible figs have a short shelf life and are commonly dried. Palm fruits occur in large, dense clusters and this would explain the occurence of numerous Spinifructus in one small chunk of ground. In addition, fruits of palms such as Astrocaryum are very fibrous with longitudinal striations and hard, woody endocarps that would permineralize well. When quickly buried in mud and silt, the contents of lignified cells become replaced by minerals and the fruit literally turns into stone like petrified wood. The fruits of Astrocaryum huicungo from Ecuador (left) have fine longitudinal striations but no spines.
 Mclver, E.E. 2002. "The Paleoenvironment of Tyrannosaurus rex from Southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada." Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 39 (2): 207-221.

  Go To The Article: Ficus ceratops May Not Be A Fig!  

Phytelephas aequatorialis

Astrocaryum alatum
Palm Fruits With Pointed Projections & Spines
Elisabeth McIver (2002) suggested that the fruits of Spinifructus antiquus might be similar to palms of the genus Astrocaryum. In his article entitled "Dangerous Palms," Geoff Stein has a image of the spine-covered fruits of Astrocaryum alatum (upper right).

  See "Dangerous Palms" By Geoff Stein  

The first published name for this fossil "fig" was Aesculus antiquus because the original author J.W. Dawson thought it resembled an ancient species of Aesculus (horsechesnut or buckeye) in 1875. See the horsechestnut fruit (left) photographed in Montana. Apparently most of the fossils don't have the spiny fruit wall. With an outer spiny pericarp, this fossil simply cannot be a fig syconium (Ficus). Knowlton did not cite Dawson in his 1911 paper where he describes Ficus ceratops. He was apparently unaware of the spiny outer wall on this fruit. Since Dawson's name predates Knowlton's Ficus ceratops, Dawson becomes the parenthetical author and Elizabeth McIver becomes the new author: Spinifructus antiquus (Dawson) McIver.


4. The K-T Boundary At Makoshika State Park

Another major goal on this trip was to photograph the K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary. This is a dark, narrow band of sediments and carbonized plant material (coal) that separates the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods about 65 million years ago. In Makoshika Stae Park the tan strata above the K-T band is called the Fort Union Formation. It is younger than 65 million years and does not contain dinosaur fossils. The term Paleocene ("early-recent") refers to a time period when dinosaurs were replaced by smaller mammals, long before modern mammalian orders emerged. Below the K-T band is the older brownish-gray Hell Creek Formation that is rich in dinosaur fossils, including Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops and the amazing duck-billed Hadrosaurus. The best explanation (scientific theory) for the mass extinction of non-avian dinosaurs is an enormous 10 km (6 mile) diameter asteroid that collided with the earth about 65 (65.5) million years ago causing a global dust cloud that blotted out the sun for many months. Estimates as high as 85 percent of all species disappeared from the face of the earth at this time. This catastrophic event forever changed the direction of the evolution of life on earth.

The impact crater from this giant asteroid is buried beneath the Yucatan Peninsula. It was named Chicxulub (CHEEK-she-loob) after the nearby town of Chicxulub, Mexico. It has been estimated that he energy released from this astronomical collision is equivalent to 100 trillion tons of TNT. This is more than one billion times the power of the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By comparison, the explosive force of meteor crater, Arizona was about 20 million tons of TNT: 1/5000000 or one five-millionth the blast force of Chicxulub!

In 1980, a team of researchers consisting of Nobel prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez, his son, geologist Walter Alvarez, and chemists Frank Asaro and Helen Michels discovered that sedimentary layers found all over the world at the K-T boundary contain a concentration of iridium many times greater than normal. Iridium is a rare earth element that is abundant in most asteroids and comets. It is the second densest element after osmium and the most corrosion-resistant metal. The Alvarez team suggested that an asteroid struck the earth at the time of the K-T boundary.

Close-up view of carbonized sediments from the K-T boundary. The thin charcoal layers are very fragile and break apart easily. They contain the remains of ancient animal and plant life that was rapidly carbonized about 65 million years ago. Estimates as high as 85 percent of all species perished from the face of the earth at this time.

5. Lush Farm Land Near Glendive, Montana

Red Caloplaca & yellow Candelaria on old fence post.

6. Coal Trains In Badlands Of Eastern Montana