Oh Yes, Wyoming! Adventures in Museum Renovations and Paleoclimates

[ Ok first: Has it really been nearly TWO MONTHS since my last post?! Ay caramba. I hope you’ve all been keeping yourselves busy by reviewing the candidates’ answers to the Science Debate questions. If not, well, here’s a picture of some dinosaurs to cheer you up.]

T-Rex vs. Triceratops

T-Rex, don’t you know you’re supposed to yank on the frill? You’ll never eat the Triceratops at this rate!

I must say, I’ve really been enjoying Wyoming, with the fall aspens, soft snowdrifts, and of course the jackalopes. It’s enough to make me want to sing, but I barely have the time — Laramie’s been keeping me on my toes, what with the Geological Museum renovations and all. I’ve been using the word “excited” too much lately, but that’s really how I feel about this renovation, especially since I get to design some of the exhibit backgrounds! Yes kids, all that time spent drawing eel specimens was not in vain. Though if you’d asked me back in 2009 if I thought I’d be designing 10’x7′ landscapes of early-Eocene Wyoming, I probably would have just given you a blank stare.

As you might have gleaned from the previous sentence, I’m mainly working on landscapes, though I’m nowhere near as talented as the artists who did all those American Museum of Natural History dioramas. In fact, the landscapes I’m creating are abstractions, sort of generalized versions of the various Wyoming environments through time. The point isn’t to paint in painstaking detail the features of each plant, it’s to communicate the overall ecosystem type. So instead of saying “oh hey look, a Cicadopites scabratus“, you’ll exclaim “oh wow, so Wyoming was covered in tropical jungles way back then!” Go take the virtual tour of the Hall of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, and you’ll see what I mean. I’ll be posting pictures as soon as I can.

So far, I’m working on early-Eocene (55-48 millon years ago), late-Eocene (40-33 mya), early-Miocene (23-16 mya) and late-Miocene (11-5 mya) environments. (Here’s a handy geologic time scale*, courtesy of the Golden Bears). Essentially, it starts out very humid and wet, and gets colder, drier, and grassier through time. The generalized landscapes would give you an instant idea of this cooling trend, but if you’re a detail-oriented person and want to know more about average temperatures, never fear, you’ll be able to get into the nitty-gritty of leaf margin analysis. Speaking of leaf margin analysis, go check out this online interactive exhibit on prehistoric climate change right now — it even takes place in Wyoming. Oh, I also get to draw some mosasaurs, pleiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and ammonites, for the period in the Cretaceous when Wyoming was underwater.

So if you’re in Laramie in January — particularly on the 12th or 17th — come visit the Geological Museum. In the mean time, you can like the Museum’s Facebook page and see the renovation progress, or follow our allosaurus @BigAlWyo on Twitter.

*fun fact about Wyoming: while you are driving through the state, you’ll run across markers telling you just how old the rocks around you are. The highway through Wind River Canyon is particularly interesting, since the further north you go, the older the rocks get. It’s like driving through a time scale, zipping through hundreds of millions of years in just minutes!

4 Thoughts on “Oh Yes, Wyoming! Adventures in Museum Renovations and Paleoclimates

  1. Sound like you’re having fun! And go out and vote (um, not sure there’s much of a difference you can make there, but what-the-hey!) It’s not like they believe that these things are that old anyhow… :-)


  2. Kevin on May 12, 2013 at 7:38 pm said:

    Hi Juliana,

    Wasn’t quite sure where to say hi… though am thinking now that this is probably the worst place since you’re not posting that much any more… but since this is the museum spot, and I’m still doing museums and wondering if you’re coming back out for the Baltimore thing (the first anniversary of having met!), I thought I’d try this first.

    I cannot go this year, and was hoping you were going to do some reporting (sucked-or-not). I wish I could, but am leaving for two weeks on that Friday and have WAY too much work to do before then. Can’t remember if I told you, but am consulting on a western art museum in San Antonio, and the Autry in L.A. (a California Indian exhibit). My regular work work is the Maryland State House (Washington resigning his commission there), the difficult Diplomacy museum at the Department of State that is in suspended animation, and a visitor center for a waste-to-energy facility that has a net-zero carbon footprint (it takes a lot, but is kind of an amazing way to get energy).

    And you, how is it all going out in Wyoming? At least the voting went well!

    xo, Kevin

    • Juliana on May 13, 2013 at 11:30 am said:

      Hi Kevin, great to hear from you! You’re right, I haven’t been posting as much here, since I’ve been doing a blog for the Geological Museum (http://uwyodioramas.wordpress.com), and working on all the exhibits here. I’m hoping to update this blog in the next few days, but I’ll update you on all the exhibit stuff going on via email :)

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