Sunday, February 22, 2009

Getting Here From There



Less than ideal weather on Sunday...



Let's see...what can we do inside...

Ah! The Amherst College Museum of Natural History should foot the bill nicely...

I'd wanted to visit this museum a couple years ago, but they had closed it for renovations at the time, and the idea slipped away to the back burner. But then, recently reading a column by Steve Sauter who writes a monthly nature piece for the Hamphire Gazette called The Lookout, the idea for a museum visit was rekindled. Mr. Sauter is one of the curators of the museum. The man knows his stuff, and he knows the valley and dabbles in all things local: scientific, meteorological and natural.

Me, I fix air conditioners and wonder about the mysteries of the natural world in my spare time. And one of the best ways to wonder about those mysteries, is to visit a natural history museum. Amherst's serves both as a museum and as a lab and lecture hall for it's students, with the displays set up in the same building as classrooms.





It's not the biggest natural museum I've ever seen but for it's size it does have an astounding amount of exhibits, artifacts and specimens. It is also brand new in design, and the displays are nicely laid out. Smaller samples are tucked away in neat little drawers that can be pulled out for viewing...



The geological samples are plentiful, taking up several walls.



I always wonder why I've never run into any samples of the metals or minerals that supposedly can be found around here. But I guess that's because firstly I don't really know exactly where to look, and secondly, they probably don't look anything like the finished, cleaned up and polished product I'm used to seeing....



But they're out there...



One thing that makes this museum good is that it focuses largely on our valley. One section of the museum is devoted to the geological history and formation of the valley, mapped out on wall and table top displays.



The exhibits range from the very earliest fault line rifts that birthed the valley, with the break up of Pangea...



...to the effects of the most recent ice age 15,000 years ago. That ice melting created the massive Lake Hitchcock, a glacial lake that filled the valley from upper New Hampshire to mid-Connecticut.



Yep. We were all under ice, then all under water, for a very long time. Here's a fly-over of the Mt. Holyoke range, heading northwest, back in the day...



The lake was named after Dr. Edward Hitchcock, the Amherst college professor and preeminent natural historian and geologist of the valley during the nineteenth century who 'discovered' the lake. He was also among the first to record the numerous fossilized tracks located throughout the valley, and correctly identify them as 'dinosaur' tracks. Here's the fair doctor:



Fittingly dinosaur tracks appear to be the focus of this museum, with an entire floor devoted to giant, hanging slabs of rock, criss-crossed with fossilized tracks.



It takes a minute to 'sink in' that these are in fact impressions left behind from large reptilian creatures running across muddy river banks, millions of years ago. They were here. Here's the proof. Millions of years ago. We've only been here for a speck in time, and that speck could very well just stay a speck if we're not careful...



While your there, you can also catch up on the news of the day by perusing Fred Flintstone's 'Bedrock Gazette'...



On the main floor are the fossilized bones of other ancient creatures, mammalian and reptilian...



Massive forest-dwelling Mastodons and plains-roaming Mammoths...



Cool looking -and cool named- Saber Toothed cats...



Elk with incredibly large and seemingly unwieldy antlers...



Species very similar to present ones that have succeeded them...



Species that dead ended and made room for superior -or luckier- versions.



Species that collided in time with only one victor emerging...



Creatures of mythical proportions, like this Balrog, from deep underneath the Mines of Moria...



It's taken a long time to get here from there...





And speaking of time, it was getting close to closing, and outside the rain was turning to snow...



It was a very enjoyable visit the museum, but we had to make tracks ourselves, and head back home.



I had some risky business to tend to...

4 comments:

Mary E.Carey said...

Great tour of the museum and I see you found where the wild turkeys like to hang out on Route 116.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for the field trip. Great photos.

Tony said...

Loooove field trips...

The turkeys must be getting more numerous. I don't remember seeing them so much or in such large groups when I was a kid...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me about the newly-renovated museum -- I too tried to go when it was closed & then forgot all about it. Really neat photos!