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Anzu

Anzu

Anzu was a caenagnathid from the Hell Creek Formation. I wrote of its discovery and naming in an earlier post that you can read here. The caenagnathids were a primitive group of oviraptorosaurs, the “egg thief” dinosaurs. Anzu is so far the largest species from this group found in North America, measuring 10-13 feet long from nose-tip to tail-tip, and it was also one of the last of its kind.

In terms of this picture, the chicken-like wattles are purely conjecture on my part, as are the types of feathers and color patterns.

Torvosaurus: The Grizzly Bear of the Jurassic

NOTE: The original article concerning Torvosaurus was published on August 8, 2015. It was completely overhauled and re-published on December 9, 2020, with more information and new artwork.

Introduction

The Morrison Formation of western North America, dated to the late Jurassic Period approximately 155 to 145 million years ago (MYA), is one of the richest fossil beds anywhere on Earth. Ever since the 1870s, the rocks that make up this formation have been intensively studied by paleontologists, geologists, environmental scientists, and amateur fossil hunters. It is from these rocks that hundreds of thousands of dinosaur bones have been uncovered, including the skeletons of some of the most famous dinosaurs ever like Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Diplodocus. Their skeletons are on display in museums around the world, and both their names and their physical appearance are instantly recognizable. For some species, so many specimens have been uncovered that we know practically everything that there is to know about their anatomy.

However, not all dinosaur species are so richly attested. There are several species from the Morrison Formation which are known only from one skeleton, or from partial remains, and in some cases from just a single tooth. One of these is a creature which has increasingly gained attention in popular media for the past ten or so years – a large meat-eating dinosaur named Torvosaurus.

Torvosaurus was one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs that lived in the Morrison Formation. It measured 35 feet long, the same size as its contemporary Allosaurus, nicknamed “the Lion of the Jurassic”. However, there were many anatomical differences between these two species. Torvosaurus and Allosaurus may have lived in the same location at the same time, but Allosaurus was clearly the most numerous theropod within that environment. In fact, we have more fossils of Allosaurus than any other carnivorous dinosaur anywhere in the world. By contrast, very few remains of its competitor Torvosaurus have been found.

Discovery, Phylogeny, and Geographic Diversity

The first fossils of this animal were discovered in 1899 by Elmer Riggs in the “Freeze-out Hills” of southeastern Wyoming, located about eleven miles northwest of the town of Medicine Bow. The material consisted of bones from the left foot and right hand of a meat-eating dinosaur. These fossils were taken to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois…where they remained untouched, collecting dust in storage, for nearly eighty years, until they were “found” and re-examined. The fossils were officially described in 2013 (Hanson and Makovicky, 2013). It is a tale that is unfortunately common in the realm of natural history museums: specimens are collected in the field, they are brought back to the institution, they are put on a shelf, and then they are completely forgotten about for decades until somebody finds them again. I have personal experience in this.

In 1971 at a place called Calico Gulch Quarry, located in northwestern Colorado, a single gigantic thumb claw was seen sticking out of the ground. Unfortunately, a search of the surrounding area resulted in a dead end – there were no other associated bones nearby (Galton and Jenson, 1979).

A Torvosaurus hand claw. Photo by Matt Heaton, FossilEra (June 3, 2015). Image used with permission. https://imgur.com/ppceR6a. https://www.fossilera.com/blog/torvosaurus-king-of-the-real-jurassic-world-unearthed.

Afterwards, this claw was shown to Prof. Jim Jensen of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In response, the following year in 1972, he and a team of paleontologists turned their attention to a place called Dry Mesa Quarry, a very rich bonebed dated to the late Jurassic which was located in west-central Colorado, in an attempt to find anything that could match the claw that had been found a year earlier. There, they found the partial remains of a large meat-eating dinosaur which Jensen assumed (and that’s the key word here) belonged to the same animal as that enormous claw. The bones which were uncovered were remarkable in many respects, and the team were confident that they had discovered a new species. In 1979, Jim Jensen and his colleague Peter M. Galton published an article concerning this previously-unknown dinosaur, which was officially named Torvosaurus tanneri (“Nathan E. Tanner’s savage lizard”) (Galton and Jenson, 1979).

Fossils of Torvosaurus discovered at Dry Mesa Quarry, housed at Brigham Young University. Photo by Jim Kirkland, posted to Twitter (April 24, 2015). Image used with permission.

A preliminary description of Torvosaurus tanneri was given in Galton and Jenson’s original 1979 report, and subsequent descriptions were published in 1985 and 1991. The last of these studies claimed that the large thumb claw which had been found in 1971 should not be included with the rest of the Torvosaurus remains because it was isolated and found over 150 miles away from the rest of the fossils, and it could not be stated with absolute certainty that they belonged to the same species (Jenson, 1985; Britt, 1991).

Torvosaurus was obviously a meat-eating theropod dinosaur, but where exactly did it fit into the dinosaur tree? In 1985, Jim Jensen assigned this animal to its own family, Torvosauridae, which was intended to include any heavily-built theropod which possessed short-but-powerful arms as well as finger claws that were unusually large in proportion with the overall size of its arms (Jensen, 1985). However, by the late 1980s, it was recognized that Torvosaurus’ hip bones looked remarkably similar to those seen in Megalosaurus, a theropod from the middle Jurassic Period of Europe, and people began to wonder if Torvosaurus itself was a megalosaur; I know of one children’s book dated to 1989 which definitely says that it was (Sattler, 1989). In 1991, Brooks Britt stated that since many of Torvosaurus’ bones were similar to those in Megalosaurus, it therefore ought to be officially re-classified as a megalosaurid (Britt, 1991). It has remained within that theropod family ever since.

By the early 1990s, at least three individuals were identified as belonging to Torvosaurus (two adults and one juvenile) with the remains having been discovered in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. No complete specimen of Torvosaurus has been found, so it is difficult to precisely determine its length. However, most sources that I have seen place it as being somewhere between 30 to 35 feet long. Reports which gave a larger measurement of 40 feet or more are believed to have exaggerated its size (Bakker et al, 1992).

My Drawing

Within this article is a detailed drawing which I made of the North American species Torvosaurus tanneri. The drawing was made with No.2 and No.3 pencil on printer paper in 1:20 scale, and it measures 21 inches long, which would make the real-life animal 35 feet long. This illustration is actually the third iteration that I have made of this animal. The first drawing was made back in the middle 2000s when I was an undergrad in college. I knew nothing about Torvosaurus’ anatomy at the time, and all I did was stick a Megalosaurus head onto an Allosaurus body. Not very scientific. My second drawing which I made in 2015 was more in-line with what the animal looked like. However, it was based very heavily on Scott Hartman’s skeletal drawing of this animal, in particular its widely splayed legs, and I definitely did not want to be accused of artistic plagiarism. So, the time came for me to update my work once again. The image that you see here is the finished result based upon what we presently know of the creature’s anatomy.

Torvosaurus tanneri. © Jason R. Abdale (December 5, 2020).

I have also made a colorized version of this animal. I’ve always associated Torvosaurus with the color brown, which I blame on being impressioned by that 1989 children’s book that I read when I was a kid. Consequently, I’ve given it a color scheme of medium brown with a light tan underside and decked out with a camouflage pattern of light tan diamonds framed with black. I’ve also put black feet on it just for some added color contrast.

Torvosaurus tanneri, colorized. © Jason R. Abdale (December 5, 2020).

Torvosaurus comes from a more ancient lineage than Allosaurus. My Allosaurus drawing, which you can see here, was done in a sort of stippling effect to replicate the tiny round scales which have been found associated with Allosaurus skin impressions. Since Torvosaurus comes from an earlier and more primitive line of theropods, I decided to have its primitive nature reflected by giving it large crocodilian-like polygonal scales and rows of decorative dermal scutes. So far, no skin impressions have been found with Torvosaurus, or indeed with any megalosaur to my knowledge, so I cannot be certain if this scale texture is accurate or not.

The scutes on the feet were also changed. I have seen numerous posts on the internet claiming that the rectangular bird-like scutes which are traditionally seen in paleo-art, arranged in rows along the toes and metatarsals of dinosaurs is, in fact, very inaccurate. Therefore, I made these foot scutes smaller, and in so doing, they have taken on a somewhat crocodilian appearance. I must say that it fits with the overall appearance of the animal.

Torvosaurus Fossils in Europe and Africa

For nearly three decades, Torvosaurus fossils had been found exclusively within North America. Then in the year 2000, the bones of a large meat-eating dinosaur were found in Portugal’s Lourinha Formation, also dated to the late Jurassic Period. These fossils looked very similar to those that had been discovered in North America, but there were some slight differences in the anatomy. In 2014, it was officially named Torvosaurus gurneyi. Although known from incomplete remains, it’s evident that the European species has a more boxy skull than its North American counterpart (Hendrickx and Mateus, 2014).

Elsewhere in Europe, isolated fragments which were discovered in England within clay dated to about 155-150 MYA are believed to have come from a megalosaur. Although it was proposed that these fragments might belong to Torvosaurus, it could not be stated with any degree of certainty (Benson & Barrett 2009; Carrano et al. 2012).

In the 2010s, a partial maxilla (one of the bones that forms the upper jaw) was discovered in the Ornatenton Formation in northwestern Germany, at a spot which is not far from the ancient Teutoburg battlefield. An examination of this bone revealed that it was almost identical to the maxillae of Torvosaurus. However, there was one glaring red flag – the Ornatenton Formation occurred millions of years earlier than both the Morrison Formation of the United States and the Lourinha Formation of Portugal. The rock layers of both the Morrison and Lourinha are dated to the Kimmeridgian and Tithonian Stages of the late Jurassic Period, about 155-145 MYA. However, the rocks of the Ornatenton Formation of Germany are dated to the Callovian Stage of the middle Jurassic Period, approximately 166-161 MYA. During this stage, other megalosaur species roamed Europe such as Wiehenvenator, a megalosaur which lived in Germany during that same stage (Rauhut et al, 2016). Therefore, it is possible that this maxilla, which was identified as belonging to Torvosaurus, might be mis-identified. However, a tooth was also discovered within this maxilla, and it is this tooth which is diagnostic. This tooth, in particular the size and pattern of its serrations, does not match those known from either Megalosaurus or Wiehenvenator. A closer examination of the skull fragment showed features which were present in Torvosaurus, but which were absent in other megalosaur genera. Therefore, it is likely that these German fossils belong to an as-yet unconfirmed species of Torvosaurus. This adds further evidence to the idea that megalosaurs like Torvosaurus originated in Europe and then radiated outwards, spreading into North America, Africa, and Asia. It is also possible that the genus Torvosaurus originated in Europe during the middle Jurassic, and then migrated into North America during the late Jurassic. (Rauhut et al, 2020).

In Africa, fossil bones of a large meat-eating dinosaur were found in the Tendaguru Formation of Tanzania, dated to the late Jurassic Period. In 2011, these bones were ascribed as belonging to the super-family Megalosauroidea – it was unclear as to whether it was a megalosaur or a spinosaur (Rauhut, 2011). In 2020, theropod teeth that had been discovered in the Tendaguru Formation, which had formerly been given the unofficial classification of “Megalosaurus ingens”, were ascribed to Torvosaurus, thus potentially creating a third species, Torvosaurus ingens. However, more specimens would need to be collected before this can become officially recognized (Soto et al, 2020)

Torvosaurus in Popular Culture

From its official naming in 1979 up until the early 2010s, Torvosaurus was an obscure species that not many people knew about. Most dinosaur books didn’t even mention it, and the few that did didn’t have that much to say – scarcely a single paragraph in most cases – and much of it was general information that could be given to any theropod dinosaur.

Then in 2011, that changed. That year, the Discovery Channel released a mini-series entitled Dinosaur Revolution, which was intended to be a docu-drama series in the vein of Walking with Dinosaurs, but having a more comic book like feel to it. The second episode, “The Watering Hole”, takes place in Portugal during the late Jurassic Period, and Torvosaurus appeared on screen for the first time. It was portrayed as a massive terrifying beast with a huge head and enormous teeth and was the top predator in its environment. Virtually overnight, Torvosaurus got thrown into the spotlight and its notoriety sky-rocketed.

Comparative Anatomy: Allosaurus fragilis versus Torvosaurus tanneri

Torvosaurus tanneri lived alongside Allosaurus within the Morrison Formation of western North America, but Torvosaurus came from a more primitive line of theropods, the megalosaurs. During the middle Jurassic Period, about 170-160 MYA, these animals ruled the world as the dominant carnivores of their environments. They were the top predators in Europe, Africa, and as far away as China. However, by the late Jurassic, five million years later, these animals were being phased out by newer and more advanced theropods, such as the allosaurs. The megalosaurs had become outdated obsolete relics of a bygone era. By 150 MYA, only a couple of megalosaur species still remained worldwide, Torvosaurus being one of them – all of the others had gone extinct – and it seems that it too was just barely hanging on. By the end of the Jurassic Period five million years later, the last of the megalosaurs would die out.

Both Torvosaurus tanneri and Allosaurus fragilis had the same maximum length of 35 feet or thereabouts, but they possessed different physical proportions. These anatomical differences no doubt drove these two species to develop different hunting styles. Below is an overlay of an Allosaurus (blue) with a Torvosaurus (red) which shows the difference in body proportions. I will be getting into specifics as we go on.

Color contrast between Allosaurus fragilis (blue) and Torvosaurus tanneri (red) © Jason R. Abdale (December 5, 2020).

As a member of the family Megalosauridae, Torvosaurus retained some anatomical features that were primitive compared to more advanced theropods living at that time like Allosaurus. It was also probably less intelligent than Allosaurus as well, although not by much apparently, since Allosaurus wasn’t exactly the brightest bulb either, according to studies of its brain (Allosaurus: A Walking With Dinosaurs Special).

Torvosaurus’ head was much larger in proportion to body size than Allosaurus’ head was. In fact, Torvosaurus’ head was 1.5 times bigger than the biggest Allosaurus skull that we have found. Torvosaurus’ teeth were also freakishly huge, so big that it’s hard to imagine how they could even fit into its mouth. I should state, however, that most museum mounts show Torvosaurus as having much longer teeth than it had in reality because the teeth are extended out of their sockets and half of the root is exposed. Yet even if you were to shorten the teeth to their correct length, the sight is still a fearsome one to behold. Its demonic grinning maw of over-sized steak knives reminds me of the ape-beast “Fluffy” from the 1982 movie Creepshow. By contrast, Allosaurus had very small teeth in proportion to skull size. However, the one thing that both of these animals had in common was the fact that they had flat skulls with sideways-facing eyes. These animals had NO depth perception at all, and they would almost assuredly have to slightly bob their heads back-and-forth from side-to-side, like a shark swimming or a dog scent-tracking, in order to get an alternating left-right-left-right picture of what was in front of them.

Of course, a big heavy head needs a strong neck to hold it up. As such, Torvosaurus’ neck was short and thickly muscular, while Allosaurus’ neck was longer and more sinuous. Allosaurus had the ability to flex its neck to a great degree, especially in an up-down motion (this is known as “ventral flexion”), but the thick layers of muscle on Torvosaurus’ neck would have greatly reduced its mobility.

Torvosaurus had short squat arms and small hands, but the claws are mind-bogglingly massive. When your head is so large and weighs so much, and the majority of your killing power is centered on your jaws, your arms become rather un-necessary. It seems that Torvosaurus was a Jurassic analog of a tyrannosaur, since it had an unusually large head and unusually small arms in proportion to its body. By contrast, Allosaurus also had huge claws, but it also had longer arms and huge hands to go with them; obviously these were used for grabbing and ripping things. Why Torvosaurus, which possessed such short arms, would need such huge claws is beyond my comprehension.

Torvosaurus’ body was long and shallow and possessed an elongated trunk with a low back. By contrast, the body of Allosaurus was short and deep, with a compressed trunk, an arched back, and a deeper ribcage. This is a good body structure for an animal that has a large heart and lungs, indicating an active lifestyle. A small shallow body makes me wonder if a large heavy animal like Torvosaurus ran out of breath quickly. Allosaurus also had large well-built hip bones, which served as attachment points for the muscles that pull the legs back and forth. This means that Allosaurus’ legs were very strong and had the ability to run at full-tilt if it wanted to. By contrast, Torvosaurus’ hip bones were small and not as robustly built – not a design suitable for a runner.

Allosaurus had a tail that was slightly longer than what you would expect when compared with its overall body. This is often given as a definite feature of an agile runner, which needs a long tail to balance the body when it’s making quick tight turns. The tail of Torvosaurus, while long, would probably have to be very thick in order to balance out the weight of the front half of the body. The thick layers of muscle meant that it would not have been able to pivot back-and-forth as easily as the tail of Allosaurus. No tight turns for this beast.

On the whole, Torvosaurus seems to be rather front heavy (good for physically slamming its jaws onto prey) while the weight on Allosaurus appears to be more evenly distributed. Of course, an animal which weighed that much would need some seriously thick legs in order to hold up all of its massive bulk. As such, Torvosaurus’ legs were noticeably thick and robust, far more so than the legs of Allosaurus.

If you look at the detailed picture above, you may think that Torvosaurus’ legs look far too short in proportion with the rest of its body. Surely this was a mistake and the legs ought to be longer, right? Sorry, but the legs are indeed the correct size. It’s true that Torvosaurus’ legs were shorter than Allosaurus’ legs, but they were only slightly shorter. It’s just that Torvosaurus’ head, body, and tail are so utterly huge and massive that the legs look short and under-developed by comparison. It’s an optical illusion. The combination of thick legs, a shallow stretched-out ribcage, and unpronounced hip bones gives Torvosaurus a low-slung appearance. In fact, while I was looking at the entire body, I was struck that Torvosaurus’ build was reminiscent of a rauisuchid. The rauisuchids were a group of archosaurus from the Triassic Period which were related to modern-day crocodiles. Unlike their prestosuchid relatives such as Prestosuchus and Saurosuchus, which were exclusively quadrupedal, the rauisuchids might have been bipedal. The skeletons of rauisuchids such as Postosuchus show a large head, a heavily-built body, short stumpy arms, and short thick legs balanced out by a long tail. The rauisuchids were one of a few groups of non-dinosaurian reptiles which were experimenting with walking on two legs. Torvosaurus’ overall anatomy seems to harken back to an earlier time.

In total, one gets the impression that Torvosaurus was an animal that was not designed for the active chase. It seems that Torvosaurus was primarily an ambush hunter that was built for short-distance bursts, lunging forwards in a straight line, who relied upon its jaws to do most of the work and killing the prey through sheer impact force and by causing deep lacerations with its ungodly-sized choppers. By contrast, Allosaurus was a very active energetic predator who was capable of impressive speed and quick agile turns. If Allosaurus really was “the Lion of the Jurassic”, as it is commonly referred to, then Torvosaurus was the grizzly bear of the Jurassic.

Bibliography

Books:

  • Sattler, Helen Roney. Tyrannosaurus Rex and its Kin. Illustrated by Joyce Ann Powzyk. New York: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books, 1989.

Articles:

  • Bakker, Robert T.; Siegwarth, James; Kralis, Donald; Filla, James. “Edmarka rex, a new, gigantic theropod dinosaur from the middle Morrison Formation, Late Jurassic of the Como Bluff outcrop region”. Hunteria, volume 2, issue 9 (1992). Pages 1-24.
  • Benson, Roger B. J.; Barrett, Paul M. 2009: “Dinosaurs of Dorset: Part I, the carnivorous dinosaurs (Saurischia, Theropoda)”. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, volume 130 (2009). Pages 133-147.
  • Britt, Brooks. “Theropods of Dry Mesa Quarry (Morrison Formation, Late Jurassic), Colorado, with emphasis on the osteology of Torvosaurus tanneri”. Brigham Young University Geology Studies, volume 37 (1991). Pages 1-72. http://geology.byu.edu/home/sites/default/files/geol-stud-vol-37-britt.pdf.
  • Carrano, Matthew T.; Benson, Roger B. J.; Sampson, Scott D. “The phylogeny of Tetanurae (Dinosauria: Theropoda)”. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, volume 10, issue 2 (2012). Pages 211-300.
  • Galton, Peter Malcolm; Jensen, James A. “A new large theropod dinosaur from the Upper Jurassic of Colorado”. Brigham Young University Geology Studies, volume 26, issue 1 (1979). Pages 1-12. geo-stud-vol-26-part-2-galton-jensen.pdf (byu.edu).
  • Hanson, Michael; Makovicky, Peter J. “A new specimen of Torvosaurus tanneri originally collected by Elmer Riggs”. Historical Biology, volume 26, issue 6 (2014). Pages 775-784. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08912963.2013.853056?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=ghbi20.
  • Hendrickx, Christophe; Mateus, Octavio. “Torvosaurus gurneyi n. sp., the Largest Terrestrial Predator from Europe, and a Proposed Terminology of the Maxilla Anatomy in Nonavian Theropods”. PLOS One, volume 9, issue 3 (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3943790/.
  • Jensen, James A. “Uncompahgre dinosaur fauna: A preliminary report”. Great Basin Naturalist, volume 45, issue 4 (1985). https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/gbn/vol45/iss4/8/.
  • Rauhut, Oliver W. M. “Theropod dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic of Tendaguru (Tanzania)”. Special Papers in Palaeontology, volume 86 (2011). Pages 195-239.
  • Rauhut, Oliver W. M.; Hübner, Tom R.; Lanser, Klaus-Peter. “A new megalosaurid theropod dinosaur from the late Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of north-western Germany: Implications for theropod evolution and faunal turnover in the Jurassic”. Palaeontologia Electronica, 19.2.26A (2016). Pages 1-65.
  • Rauhut, Oliver W. M.; Schwermann, Achim H.; Hübner, Tom R.; Lanser, Klaus-Peter. “The oldest record of the genus Torvosaurus (Theropoda: Megalosauridae) from the Callovian Ornatenton Formation of north-western Germany”. Geologie und Paläontologie in Westfalen, volume 93 (2020). Pages 1-13. https://www.lwl.org/wmfn-download/Geologie_und_Palaeontologie_in_Westfalen/GuP_Heft_93_14_Seiten.pdf.
  • Soto, Matías; Toriño, Pablo; Perea, Daniel. “A large sized megalosaurid (Theropoda, Tetanurae) from the Late Jurassic of Uruguay and Tanzania”. Journal of South American Earth Sciences, volume 98 (2020): 102458.

Videos:

  • Allosaurus: A Walking With Dinosaurs Special. BBC, 2000.
  • Dinosaur Revolution. Episode 2 – “The Watering Hole”. The Discovery Channel, 2011.

Portrait of a Huron war-chief

Huron chief Long Spear

Hello all. This is a portrait of a war-chief of the Huron tribe named Long Spear – I don’t know how to say that in Huron/Wyandot, but I’m certain somebody out there knows. This person was supposed to be a character in a video game set in the French and Indian War that my friend Andrew and I were going to develop years ago, but that idea unfortunately never got off of the ground.

I found the original version of this man’s portrait that I had made back in 2005, I think – there was no date on it, but I’m pretty sure that’s when I first drew him. The overall pose and design was the same, but it was less detailed, done with markers instead of colored pencils, and was rather sloppy. I decided to re-make Long Spear’s portrait, and the result is what you see here.

Media for this portrait include:

  • No. 2 pencil
  • Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils
  • Black felt-tip marker

I’m sure that many of you will likely see the influence that Wes Studi’s portrayal of Magua in the film The Last of the Mohicans had on this design. However, I tried very hard not to make a clone copy of THAT Huron war-chief! If you have any questions or comments, please write them. Hope you enjoy my latest work. Keep your pencils sharp, everyone.

Review of 2015 Hudson-Berkshire Wine and Food Festival

Vacation trip to Chatham, Columbia County, New York

Saturday, May 23 to Monday, May 25, 2015

During the week of May 17, 2015, I learned of the Hudson-Berkshire Wine and Food Festival, to be held upstate in the town of Chatham, Columbia County, New York during Memorial Day weekend. I love going up into the country, as I’ve always felt much more at home there than amidst the noisy, crowded, and polluted surroundings of the city. I really needed to get out of the city for a bit, and I hadn’t been on vacation in nine years. My mother also desperately needed a break from the drudgery of her daily routine. Her birthday was coming up soon, too, so I decided to take my family on vacation up there for the weekend as a present.

Much of what you will read from here onwards comes from the hastily-scribbled notes that I took during the drive and while I was there.

Day 1. Saturday, May 23.

We were supposed to leave at 6:00 AM, but we actually left at 6:52, nearly an hour behind schedule. It’s rather chilly today. The temperature when we left was only 51 degrees F. Clear cloudless blue sky. Slight breeze. If it’s a bit nippy down here, I image it will be even cooler up north, and especially in the hill country.

Crossed the Whitestone Bridge at 7:02 AM.

At 7:29 AM, we entered Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County. I saw a wild turkey on the side of the highway, but the car went by too fast for me to open the window, get my camera out, and take a picture of it. I’m glad to see that a little bit of the wilderness is present so close to New York City.

Entered Columbia County at 8:44 AM. Road is very bumpy around this area.

Arrived in Chatham at 9:20 AM – we made really good time in getting here! The tall tower seen in the background is the steeple of St. James’ Catholic church.

Picture 044

We went to the Columbia County fairgrounds straight away, as there were hardly any rest stops along the Taconic Highway. The route coming here was very scenic. After we briefly looked the place over, we went to our motel and checked in – the Berkshire Travel Lodge. I love that peculiar motel smell – it reminds me of more pleasant times when my family went on vacations somewhat regularly and had a lot of fun.

After we unloaded all of our food and clothing, we decided to check out what was on offer in the town of Chatham itself. The festival was not due to start until 11:00, so we had one and a half hours to kill. The town of Chatham dates back to the very early 19th Century. As such, there are very few colonial-style buildings here. By contrast, there are lots of Federal-style and Victorian-style buildings in the town. A railroad cuts right through the middle of the town, and we arrived just in time to see a CSX freight train pull in. That was a REALLY long train! We were waiting on the corner for what seemed like five complete minutes for the thing to pass by.

I’m happy to say that there were hardly any franchise chains within Chatham, or indeed any of the places that we saw. The sole exception was a single Rite Aid pharmacy located at the very edge of the town. Every other business was privately-owned. My myself and my father found this exceedingly refreshing.

At 11:00 AM on the dot, we arrived at the wine festival right when it opened. We were one of the first customers there, but it soon became very crowded. I loved a lot of the products that I tasted there – not just wine, but food too. I also had some very interesting and pleasant conversations with people. I promised several of the vendors that I’d write up reviews for the products that I really liked, so here we go.

Winding Drive – Jellies, jams, and sauces

I’m always into fresh jellies and jams. This was the first vendor that we tried, and I was definitely not disappointed. I personally recommend their “apple pie jam” – I guarantee you, you’ll gobble the whole thing down sooner than you think. There are two other things that I’d like to recommend – their applesauce and their peach mango barbecue sauce.The applesauce is liquid gold in a glass jar. There’s a fresh good-for-you liveliness in this stuff that you just can’t get from commercially-available applesauce brands. The peach mango barbecue sauce is absolutely excellent – I can really see this being used on grilled salmon! It’s also probably great on pork roasts and ham. This is a really good summertime sauce.

Picture 177Picture 176

Contact info:

Winding Drive
Middle Quarter Mall
744 Main Street South
Woodbury, Connecticut 06798
Phone: (203) 263-6961
http://www.windingdrive.com

Worldling’s Pleasure – cheese spreads

This was the first stand that I went to once I got inside the hall where much of the festival was taking place. The kindly man who was attending to the stall had six varieties of cheese spreads, and I tasted (and bought) three of them.

Country Store Cheddar. This is a plain basic cheese spread that can go with just about anything. It has a wonderful mellow mild smoothness and creaminess, in contrast to the hard salty sharpness that you normally associate with cheddar. This stuff is amazing to smell and taste, and melts in your mouth. As an experiment, I put a hearty tablespoon-full of this stuff into my macaroni and cheese when I came home, and the flavor difference was practically night and day!

Picture 195

Rose’s Red Hot. Cheddar mixed with pepper. For those of you who prefer a little bit more zip, this is the thing for you. Ingredients include habanero and jalapeno peppers, two of the spiciest peppers known. However, the cool creaminess of the cheddar cheese counter-acts the powerful pepper spiciness, forming a wonderful and pleasing balance of taste. Personally, I like spicy food, so I absolutely loved this.

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Garlicke and the 7 herbs. A white garlic pesto spread. This stuff has “Italian” written all over it! Of the three flavors that I tasted, I thought that this one was unquestionably the best. Not only can you put this on crackers, but you could also break it up into pieces and mix it into your salad. I spread some on a meatball sandwich the other day. The only word that I can think of to describe this stuff is “amazing”.

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Contact info:
Worldling’s Pleasure
Watervliet, New York 12189
Phone: 518) 879-2306
http://www.worldlingspleasure.com

The Olive Table – honey and olive oil imported from Greece

The family who owns this company owns a farm in Greece, but their company headquarters is in Vermont. Most people know what honey is – the product of when bees process flower nectar and make it into food for the hive. Most people associate honey with garden flowers, but did you know that you can also get honey from trees? Many trees are technically flowering plants, too, and therefore it makes sense that bees would take the nectar from inside tree flowers and turn that into honey as well. Ah, but here’s the twist! Tree-based honey has a lot less sugar in it than regular flower-based honey. It’s also usually darker in color, has a heartier flavor, and does not have the goopy thick caramelized texture of regular honey.

There were four kinds of honey on offer that day: fir, pine, chestnut, and reiki.

  • Fir honey. Light in color, and light and joyful in taste.
  • Pine honey. Medium in color. A slightly more intense flavor than the fir honey.
  • Chestnut honey. Dark brown in color. A rich deep woodsy forest flavor. The full power of the taste hits you about five seconds after you put it in your mouth.
  • Reiki honey. Light golden color. This honey was much thinner than the other honeys. It produced an awakening warmness on the pallet, which soon spread through my whole body. If sunshine came in a jar, this would be it.

I bought the chestnut honey and one bottle of organic olive oil.

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Contact info:

The Olive Table
Woodstock, Vermont 05091

James Gourmet Ketchup

I have tasted real homemade ketchup in the past, and I loved it then, so I fully expected to love it now, and I did. This stuff is low in salt, so it’s not saturated with preservatives. That means you have to eat it before it spoils. Don’t worry – this stuff tastes so good that you won’t have it hanging around in your fridge for long! PS: I’d suggest marketing their own homemade mustard and relish, too!

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Contact info:

James Gourmet Ketchup
Phone: (518) 557-8006

Hawthorne Valley Farm – makers of homemade varieties of sauerkraut, among other things.

They had three varieties on offer that day: carrot-ginger, regular, and red cabbage.

Carrot Ginger Sauerkraut. A wonderful and complex mixture of spiciness, saltiness, fiber, and earthiness. A perfectly blended combination of flavors and textures with just the right proportions. I felt myself getting healthier while I was eating it.

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Plain Sauerkraut. VERY salty, so be prepared for a bit of a “wow” shock to the taste buds. However, unlike the commercial types of sauerkraut that you often see in stores, this stuff did not have the lip-puckering sour taste so often associated with sauerkraut. Actually, it had a refreshing vigor to it. To offset the saltiness, the sauerkraut itself is very light, airy, and delicate. You could eat an entire jar of the stuff and you’d never feel it!

Red Cabbage Sauerkraut. A much fuller and heavier body. Unlike the plain sauerkraut, this stuff’s got some weight to it. I’ve had red cabbage sauerkraut several times in the past, so I was anticipating a very pungent taste. I must say that it didn’t taste as all like I thought it would. It was a very pleasant taste without the powerful overpowering hit-you-in-the-face sourness that commercial red cabbage sauerkraut has. It had a uniqueness, an enlivening brightness that I had a difficult time describing. All I could say was “It tastes like color!” The salespeople enjoyed that comment.

Contact info:

Hawthorne Valley Farm
327 County Route 21C
Ghent, New York 12075
Phone: (518) 672-7500
Grandpa Pete’s Sunday Sauce
I love eating Italian food, and so I jumped on the chance to taste some varieties of pasta sauce.

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All of the sauces that I tried were excellent. I was especially fond of the garlic sauce. A word of warning, though – don’t spill the meat sauce on your clothes, because the stains are practically impossible to get out.

Contact info:

36 Koeppel Avenue
Catskill, New York 12414
Phone: (877) 447-2823
 Savor Fine Foods – gourmet cookies and other foods
On this day, we tasted samples of various cookies that they had on offer. Every single variety was excellent. I even loved their cranberry cookies, and that’s saying something because I hate cranberries! There were about twelve or so different kinds of cookies to eat, and I purchased bags of five of them.
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Contact info:
Savor Fine Foods
30 Echo Lake Road
Watertown, Connecticut 06795-2609
Phone: (860) 274-9000
Helderberg Meadworks
Mead is alcohol made with honey and herbs. Being the barbarian-lover that I am, I have been trying to find somebody who sells mead for years, and this day was my lucky day. They had four varieties: heritage, apple, maple, and feral. Alcohol level: 15-16%
Heritage. Basic, light, delicate flavor. This would go well with anything.
Apple. A bit of a bitter taste, which my dad liked.
Maple. The best one in my opinion. I said “It tastes like the forest”. I could definitely taste the maple flavor and it had a very earthy overtone.
Feral. Slightly more powerful and gritty in flavor. This drink puts hair on your chest!
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Contact info:
Helderberg Meadworks
PO Box 93
Duanesburg, New York 12056
Awestruck Premium Hard Ciders

My dad suggested that I try their lavender hops hard cider. In fact, I had heard a lot of people talking about, and there was a massive tightly-packed crowd in front of the table tasting samples of it. I thought to myself, If everyone’s raving about it, it would be foolish of me not to at least try it, so I asked for a taste.

Very unique flavor. I’ve never tasted anything like it. All I could say to describe it was “Awesomely awesome!

Lavender Hops Hard Cider. Alcohol level: 6.8%
Contact info:
Awestruck Ciders
44 West Street, Suite 8
Walton, New York 13856
Well, I had a lot of fun that day. On the way back to our hotel, I took some photos of the countryside. The Berkshire Mountains, which are located in eastern New York, are very picturesque. In the evening, we went to the Welsh pub, where I had one of the best burgers that I’ve ever had in my life – half-pound hamburger topped with pulled pork, onion rings, and cheddar cheese. It was fantastic!!!

Day 2. Sunday, May 24.

Now that the fair was over, at least for us (it was a two-day event), we decided that we’d take a much more in-depth look at the town of Chatham than we had a chance to the day before. Afterwards, we planned on going up north to a glass-blowing shop, to the New Lebanon Shaker Village, and then swing a sharp turn to the west to visit President Martin Van Buren’s house in Kinderhook. It was going to be a rather busy day.

Had breakfast at Our Daily Bread. Nice atmosphere. There was a distinct Middle Eastern influence to the menu. No pre-fab tea bags – they make their own tea blends from scratch. Fresh honey – a bit thin, with a prominent cinnamon flavor. They make their own ketchup called “House Ketchup”. It has a distinct cinnamon flavor to it, too. I ordered two eggs over easy with corned beef hash, which I hadn’t had in a long time, so I was really craving some. On the side, I had two pieces of challah bread. My breakfast looked so good and so perfect that I just had to take a picture of it.

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This is a photo comparing the diner’s brand of homemade natural ketchup with the commercial Heinz ketchup. I want you to notice two things. First, note that the natural ketchup is much darker in color than the Heinz ketchup. I never noticed it before, but I was struck by just how red the Heinz stuff is – no processed food product can be that vividly red naturally. Secondly, I want you to notice that the natural ketchup bottle is one-third empty, while the Heinz ketchup bottle was still full. This visible fact shows that people, if given a choice, will much rather use the natural ketchup rather than Heinz.

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After breakfast, we drove through the nearby village of Spencertown. From there, we drove up north to the town of Canaan to see the glass-blower – “Hoogs and Crawford modern studio glass”. I’d wanted to see, and if possible to do, glass-blowing for a while.

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Not far away was the New Lebanon Shaker Village. I was hoping to see reenactors walking around in period garb, but I was sorry to see that the place looked abandoned. In fact, two buildings were practically falling down. Some of these buildings were private homes, so I was not allowed inside. While I was here, I saw a raven for the first time. It was the size of a hawk, and it had a much deeper voice than a crow.
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Afterwards, we drove west and came to the Martin Van Buren house. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take any photographs inside.
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Had dinner at the Backwater Grill, a lakeside restaurant located not far from the motel. I had a Jack Daniels steak with bacon mashed potatoes. Appetizer was clam chowder. This steak holds the absolute definitive record for the best steak that I have ever eaten in my entire life – period! Mom had a slice of carrot cake for her birthday.

 

Day 3. Monday, May 25. Memorial Day.

Gloomy, gray, and overcast this morning. Light misting rain, but it cleared up soon. Had breakfast at Dan’s Diner – a railroad car that had been converted into a small roadside diner. Don’t be fooled by its humble appearance – this place had EXCELLENT food!!! I had two pancakes and a side of corned beef hash, with a glass of orange juice. Everything tasted amazing.

Time to leave. I’ll miss this quiet place, but I was actually looking foward to going back home – I usually don’t look foward to going back to the city. The main reason was that I wanted to sleep in my own bed and be around more familiar surroundings.

Prince Frederick Augustus

Prince Frederick Augustus 1815

Here is a portrait of Prince Frederick Augustus (1763-1827), the younger brother of Britain’s King George IV. This is how he would have looked at or around the year 1815, I think. It’s thanks to him that the British Army, which had previously been in a state of neglect, was reformed and able to beat back Napoleon. The portrait is somewhat based on an existing portrait by John Jackson dated to 1822 (see here). He is garbed in clothes typical of the early 19th Century. On his chest is a medal from the Order of the Garter.

I found out after making this picture that I made one big mistake – Prince Frederick had blonde hair, not dark hair. Oops.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Frederick,_Duke_of_York_and_Albany

Keep your pencils sharp, everybody.

Dinosaur Day 2015 at the Garvies Point Museum

GP Museum 1

Well, it was that time of year again! Every April or so, at around the time of Easter, the Garvies Point Museum and Preserve, located in Glen Cove, Nassau County, New York, holds it annual “Dinosaur Day”. This is one of the days that I really look foward to for a few reasons. First, I get to work at a place that I absolutely love and meet with some good friends. Secondly, I get to be out of NYC for a little while, which is something that I ALWAYS look foward to. Third, I get to talk about a subject that has fascinated me since my earliest days – paleontology.

Veronica, the museum’s de facto head of administration, did a wonderful job along with other members of the museum staff of setting up the classroom where the day’s major activities would be taking place. Recently, the museum’s library was substantially increased. The Sands Point Museum and Preserve had closed down its library a short while ago, and all of the books and papers were sent to the GPM. I should state, though, that almost all of these documents were originally part of the GPM collections anyway, and they just got them back, that’s all. However, Louis (one of the workers at the Garvies Point Museum, but works primarily at the Old Bethpage Village – another place that I really love) has been working hard to re-catalogue all of these books and papers back into the museum’s database.

The name of the event was somewhat misleading, as it concerned all prehistoric life, not just dinosaurs. We had exhibits on primitive mammal-like-reptiles, dinosaurs, and prehistoric mammals.

Here are some pictures of what the room looked like both during and after the hoards of kids showed up.

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Most of the really young children gravitated immediately towards the dino toy area and the fossil digsite. The older children and a lot of the adults were interested in the information that I and others were giving. They were especially interested in Dimetrodon, the famous sail-backed pelycosaur from the early Permian Period. I don’t think that I have ever had to say the name”Dimetrodon” so many times within the course of a single day! It seemed to be the only thing that many of them wanted to talk about!

Some of the major topics of interest on this day were: the Permian Mass Extinction, which occured about 251 million years ago, when an estimate 95% of all life was wiped out; of course, T. rex was a favorite; as too was Allosaurus, who competed with its larger relative for attention from the crowds. This was helped in no small part to the fact that we had a lot of Allosaurus “stuff” arrayed for them: a picture of the skull, a hand model, bone casts, a model, and my drawing which you might recognize from an earlier post on this blog.

Finally, here’s a picture of me, “the Dinosaur Man” as several members of the museum staff call me, dressed up as an amateur paleontologist. In addition to my olive drab Garvies Point Museum shirt, I also wore a khaki utility vest, because apparently ALL paleontologists wear khaki utility vests! I thought that wearing it would help to enhance my ethos with the audience, and by my reckoning, it worked.

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Camarasaurus

Camarasaurus

Here’s a drawing that I did a while ago, but for some reason, my computer screwed it up. It’s only recently that I’ve re-scanned it and fixed it up.

Camarasaurus was the most common sauropod dinosaur within the Morrison Formation of western North America during the late Jurassic Period. Other species like Apatosaurus and Diplodocus might be more familiar to the ear, but in terms of the sheer numbers of specimens that have been found, this big guy tops the list. As far as size goes, it was a tad on the small side for a sauropod, measuring only 60 feet long. Its relatively small size (that is, compared with the other larger sauropods that it shared its habitat with) and meaty build likely made it one of the preferred targets for a mob of Allosaurus to take down. The reason why Camarasaurus was the most common species of its kind might be due partly to its smaller-than-average size (smaller stomachs mean more food to go around for everyone, and by extent leads to having larger populations) and partly to its apparently generalistic diet. Creatures which have a specialized diet are often hit hard when catastrophies arise, whereas dinosaurs that are more adaptable and flexible in terms of what they eat come out more favorably.

Many times, you’ll see these dinosaurs illustrated Gregory Paul-style, with thin spindly legs. I decided that the biomechanics of this simply weren’t feasible, and so I gave my animal suitably thicker more elephant-like legs, able to hold up the tens of tons of weight. Also notice that, contrary to other artistic renderings of this species, the neck is NOT held straight vertically upright, but is thrust more forwards in a 45 degree S-shaped curve. This is also one of the few dinosaur drawings that I’ve done in color. In terms of the color pattern, I’ve always imagined Camarasaurus colored in the scheme that you see above, even as a little kid – tan body with broad brown stripes and a somewhat yellowish-tan underbelly. I simply cannot imagine this species colored in any other way.

Keep your pencils sharp, people.

News: Stephen Czerkas, famous paleo-artist, dies at 63

Today, I learned some very heart-breaking news. Stephen Czerkas, one of the true greats of paleo-art, recently died. He was 63 years old. The cause of death was liver cancer.

Czerkas was famous for his life-sized dinosaur sculptures, and he developed a very distinctive style – you could immediately recognize a Czerkas sculpture. His horned Allosaurus graced many children’s dinosaur books and TV shows, and his life-sized Carnotaurus was truly epic. However, his most famous work was his pack of Deinonychus raptors. Czerkas was one of the first paleo-artists to have his theropods adorned with feathers, and he also discovered that at least some species of sauropods had spines on their backs, which was incorporated into the BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs.

To all of those dino-lovers of my generation – those who came of age during the 1990s – Stephen Czerkas’ work would have been an integral part of your life. Czerkas was one of THE paleo-artists of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the time when I was becoming exposed to dinosaurs and other prehistoric life. The sheer awesomeness of his work influenced me profoundly both as an artist and as a person who dedicated his life to studying the past.

The paleontological and artistic spheres have lost one of the true greats of their domain, but his work will last and I dare say will continue to influence artists, scientists, and children generations from now.

RIP Stephen Andrew Czerkas (1951-2015) 😦