Sunday, August 26, 2012

Alf Museum of Paleontology

This weekend we took an overnight trip to Pasadena, and on the way, we stopped in Claremont to visit the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology--a much-anticipated visit. It's been too long since I've had a prehistoric camel fossil fix!

This small but mighty museum is located just off the 210 on the campus of the Webb Schools, a private high school with an international student body. The exhibits present an impressive collection of fossils in the context of the earth's history, extending far back into deep time.

Raymond M. Alf was a teacher at the Webb Schools and a passionate paleontologist who began collecting fossils in the 1930s. The majority of the fossils on display were found by himself and his students on field trips to Barstow and other sites in the southwest, from Utah and Wyoming to Montana and Arizona. Webb students still go on fossil-hunting trips.

Above: a nearly complete camel skeleton, c. 15 million years old from the Barstow area. Only the head is missing. Intact finds like this one are extremely rare--most fossilized camel skeletons you see in museums are composites. Due to its fragility, the find is still encased in plaster.

The museum is nationally known for its collection of fossil footprints and trackways. Above: an exceptionally long and well-preserved camel trackway, with a modern camel skeleton to show the size of the ancient animal who made the tracks.

The museum has far more to offer than just camel fossils--it presents the entire history of life on Earth. Above: Alf himself with his hand on the footprint of a proboscidean--an ancestor of present-day elephants c. 15 million years old, Barstow area. The actual trackway is in the museum's collection.

Above: a reptile trackway from Seligman, Arizona, c. 250 million years old. Below: a fish with a smaller fish in its mouth from the White River Beds, c. 50 million years old.