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Oklahoma Teens Head to Panhandle for Jurassic Adventure

Oklahoma Teens Head to Panhandle for Jurassic Adventure

Oklahoma Teens Head to Panhandle for Jurassic Adventure


Oklahoma Teens Head to Panhandle forJurassic Adventure

KENTON (JUNE 6, 2019) – Residents at two Oklahoma group homes are getting theopportunity this summer to see where dinosaurs once roamed in the state.

Six boys from the Cedar Canyon program near Weatherford and six girls from theMustang Treatment Center will make the trek to the Panhandle to visit a paleontologicalsite near Black Mesa in Cimarron County. The facilities, which are under contract with theOffice of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) to provide educational and other programs for justice-involved teens in a group home setting, will make the trip separately. They each will spenda couple days looking for fossils.

Their guide is Anne Weil, an associate professor of anatomy and cell biology at theOklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. This is the second yearshe is instructing the youth. Last year, only boys from Cedar Canyon made the trip.

“It was a ton of fun,” she said of last year’s outing. “We found several fossils in the siteand excavated part of a giant neck vertebrae. Then we went on a hike and turned overrocks and found a ton of horned toads and scorpions and all kinds of little things like that.We learned some things about the rocks, too.”

Remains of animals that lived more than 150 million years ago in the late Jurassic Periodin the Black Mesa area are in a layer of rock known as the Morrison Formation. InOklahoma, the formation’s dinosaur fossils were first discovered by road builders in the1920’s and excavated by Works Progress Administration teams hired to makepaleontological excavations until the start of World War II.

“This is an outstanding and excellent opportunity for these young people to observe andexplore a paleontological site,” said OJA Executive Director Steven Buck. “They will alsobe able to see the wonders of nature in a part of our state that is outside their view of theworld so far in their lives, and hopefully realize that their future potential is unlimited, justlike the wide-open vista of the Panhandle. I appreciate Cedar Canyon and MustangTreatment Center for agreeing to allow their residents to experience this excursion, and

certainly the willingness of Anne Weil and the Sam Noble Museum to help with thiseducational opportunity.”

Weil prepared the teens for the Black Mesa excursion by going to the group homes toexplain which dinosaurs and prehistoric reptiles were in various areas of present-dayOklahoma and the process used to discover and collect their remains.

She also met them at the Sam Noble Museum on the University of Oklahoma campus inNorman where they could see examples of the dinosaurs found in the Black Mesa areaand the region’s ecosystem. They also were shown how fossils are cleaned and preparedfor paleontological research and perhaps someday for display.

The Whitten-Newman Foundation, which owns the property where the site is, works withthe Sam Noble Museum on providing science education experiences for Oklahomastudents, with the fossils collected sent to the museum.

“We’re excited to be able to provide opportunities to experience hands-on science forthose who may not have many opportunities, and what better way than to actually dig forOklahoma dinosaurs like Saurophaganax and Apatosaurus at Black Mesa,” said ReggieWhitten, the foundation’s co-founder.

The Whitten-Newman Foundation also provides significant logistical support forexcavations.

“We’re going to see a paleontological site that is in the middle of being excavated,” Weilsaid. “It is a real scientific site so the kids are going to have an opportunity to participatein fossil collection. They’re going to be participating in a real research project, both inexcavating dinosaurs ... (and) recovering some of the smaller, interesting parts of thefauna. We even have tiny little fossil shrimp so they’re going to be able to see an entireJurassic ecosystem.”

She also will take the teens exploring in the Black Mesa area.

“We are going to get to see some of the local ecosystem as well - the short-grass prairiethat’s out there and then in some of the canyons along the Cimarron River andsurrounding streams, Weil said. “So, we’ll get to see some of the living flora and fauna ofOklahoma in that region, and we’re going to see some interesting geographic sites aswell.”

Weil said she enjoys instructing teens, who ask intriguing questions spawned in part bytheir having seen the film “Jurassic Park” and related movies.

“Just in general, I think kids ask better questions than adults do,” she said. “They’re prettyuninhibited. They often are synthesizing from kind of pop culture so I get a lot of strangequestions about Tyrannosaurus in ‘Jurassic Park,’ and those are great ways to sort of ...jump off into serious discussion of the actual animals.”

Weil said the youths’ interest in dinosaurs often feed their curiosity, which could piquethem to delve into other scopes of learning.

“Paleontology is a great way to start thinking about any of the sciences,” she said. “Theanimals themselves are very charismatic, you know, and everybody wants to see the giantcarnivores. But when you start really handling the bones, and saying, ‘What is this part?How is this animal put together?’ - that’s going to lead you into the anatomical sciences.For instance, someone could become a pre-med (student) and go to medical schoolalong that route. If you’re looking at it and going, ‘Wow, what are these shrimp doing in asite with these dinosaurs, and where are the baby dinosaurs? They should be here, andwhy are there so many turtles?’ They are sort of thinking like an ecologist, and it couldlead into wildlife management or a career like that.

“There are a lot of careers in the sciences where you can start with paleontology and startasking questions that take you into something entirely different but no less fascinating.”


Residents from the Cedar Canyon program near Weatherford dig for fossils thisweek at a paleontological site near Black Mesa in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

A Mustang Treatment Center resident looks at a large bone during last month's tourof fossils stored at the Sam Noble Museum on the University of Oklahoma campusin Norman before their first trip to explore a paleontological site near Black Mesa inthe Oklahoma Panhandle.

For additional information, contact:
Michael McNutt/OJA Communications Director
(405) 530-2860 (405) 249-6072

Paula Christiansen/ OJA Public Information Officer
(405) 530-2814


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