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We were back on the river by 8AM this morning. We drifted down the river at a pretty good pace of 4-5 mph seeing an occasional moose standing motionless in the water along the river edge. We were able to check our speed with our G.P.S. (global positioning system), which also provided location and precise distance figures. Mike became our high-tech resident expert.
BEAR TRACKS Our lunch break was near the confluence of the Kikak River. We carefully checked some of the gravel bars here for dinosaur bones. Some have been reported here in the past. After no success on the bar, we began to work our way over toward the bluff hoping to find something there. As usual, my eyes were peeled to the ground as we worked our way through the willow bushes to the bluff. Suddenly I stopped—as I stared at the ground I saw bear tracks. Worse yet, I saw some smaller tracks—bear cubs. O.J. had warned us about grizzlies in the willows. Mother grizzlies with cubs are probably the most dangerous North American mammal. The willows (small spindly bushes about head high) were thick enough that we wouldn’t have been able to see a sleeping sow and her cubs twenty feet away. We were hoping not to surprise one. If the bear hears you coming well enough in advance, it will usually leave the area and leave you alone. But just in case, I sent Buddy and Mike back to the rafts for the twelve gauge shot gun and rifle. After checking the bluff out thoroughly, no bone material was found (and better yet, no bears).
THE ULTIMATE FIND Just when we were starting to feel quite disappointed at not having found any bone material on the trip, that’s when it happened. Mike was ahead of George and I by about 50 yards. Buddy and Dan behind us by about the same distance. The current carried George and I swiftly by; we couldn’t get to shore for at least another 100 yards. I yelled back to Buddy and Dan to see if they could take a look at the tan rock I had spotted six inches from the water line with black coloring in it. They paddled hard, and the instant they were going to pass it by, Buddy reached out of the raft and hauled the eighty pound specimen into the boat. He motioned that we should stop. We all were able to pull over about 100 yards down stream. (Even though we were fairly close to shore, it was a struggle to get there because of the swift current close to the bank.)
The specimen Buddy hauled in turned out to be the jaw of a duck billed dinosaur we have temporarily identified as Lambeosaurus. Others had expected this dinosaur may be present in Alaska, but until our find, the skull bones have never been found to prove it. It turns out the jaw we found is twice the size of any dinosaur yet found in Alaska. From our estimation, this jaw represents an animal at least 40 feet long. A jaw this large was surprising to us, because most of the previously reported Alaskan bone material has been from juvenile dinosaurs.
We were very excited! We had found our first bit of bone material. We stopped our boats and prepared to walk along the bank back upstream. We wanted to see if any more bone material was present. The current was moving fast along the edge, and the cold, muddy water was certainly over our heads. As always, when we stopped, we gingerly stepped out of the boats. But this time, Mike slipped, and nearly went up to his waist in water and mud. It was a wake up call for all of us to take our time and be careful. As we walked back upstream, we found several other large pieces of bone (we think they are limb bones from the same animal) and some additional fossil wood specimens. The large pieces of tan siltstone containing the bones seemed to be weathering out of the bank behind us. Who knows how much of the Lambeosaurus had rolled down the bank and ended up in the bottom of the river. We were all praising the Lord that we had been allowed to find something so amazing!
After collecting everything we could find, we loaded the rafts and went a short distance downstream to set up camp. We settled in for a nice afternoon amidst the wild flower aroma and warmer weather. By 10PM many of us settled down for sleep, the sun still brightly shining. As I lie in bed I hear various sounds: the mosquitos outside, cliff rubble periodically crashing into the river, gurgling muddy river rapids, and falcons nesting high above us as they cry like baby kittens. George is quietly singing praises to our mighty Creator.
Thinking back over the day, it has absolutely been amazing. Thanks Lord for your perfect timing, and giving us the privilege to do your work.
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