Can you hike on the bottom of the ocean? In California, you can.
Along the Pacific Ocean, you can hike the intertidal zone. The intertidal zone is the area above water at low tide and under water at high tide. It’s the abode of wild and wonderful marine creatures. Strange organisms are adapted to live part of the day underwater and part exposed to air.
I step onto the exposed rocky bottom of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Waves bash the outer rocks, and the majestic Pacific stretches to the horizon. Spray plummets from above and even the dry rocks are wet. I step carefully to avoid crunching barnacles and mussels underfoot.
Wild-eyed children dash from pool to pool dancing with excitement. Peering into each is like opening a new present on Christmas Day.
The Fossil Whalebone
There’s a ruminative quality to the sea. You experience a timeless when you stand on the shore of waters that stretch to the horizon. You feel small.
And then the wind tries to steal your hat! My hand springs into action, preventing the indignity of having to chase my bounding headgear down the beach.
But I notice something I hadn’t seen before. One of the rocks looks different from the others. It has a different grain, texture, and shape. It looks like a giant bone!
It’s a fossil whalebone! What a find! I whip out my camera and begin snapping pictures.
The Friendly Docent
As I snap my pictures, a friendly docent approaches. He’s a man in his mid-60’s, his gray hair peeks from beneath his brimmed hat. Docents are volunteers who act as guides. Most parks, museums, art galleries and zoos could not survive without their docent volunteers.
He confirms that this is indeed a fossilized whale bone. “It’s been on this beach millions of years,” he says.
I have a soft spot for docents. I guide hikes as a docent at Big Basin and Don Edwards. I understand their perspective on the world. So I never miss a chance to pal around with the docents when I visit a park or open space.
My Fossil Joke
“It’s been on this beach millions of years,” he intones. And this reminds me of a joke. So I tell him the following story, which I heard years ago. Let me share it with you now.
Some tourists in the Chicago Museum of Natural History are marveling at the dinosaur bones. One of them asks the guard, “Can you tell me how old the dinosaur bones are?”
The guard replies, “They are 3 million, four years, and six months old.”
“That’s an awfully exact number,” says the tourist. “How do you know their age so precisely?”
The guard answers, “Well, the dinosaur bones were three million years old when I started working here, and that was four and a half years ago.” 🙂
He gets a laugh out of it, which I knew he would. We say an amiable goodbye as he ambles off across the seabed.
I take a last look at the whale fossil, and then head on my way. There are tidepools to explore!
Have you encountered fossils on your hikes? Tell me about it in the comments below.
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