February: Winter Coastal Adventures Pt. 2

As we traveled north to Washington, DC, the sun shone brightly as melting icicles clung to road signs and trees.  We went to the south hoping for slightly warmer temperatures and arrived on the coldest week of the year.  Oh well.  Our roadtrip to DC featured a stop in Richmond, VA for lunch at a really delicious Hawaiian restaurant and to pay a visit to Candela Books + Gallery.  Upon arrival in DC, we were greeted with snow, evening temperatures dipping into the low teens, and an Airbnb with a whimpy AC unit for heat.  We quickly uncovered every spare pillow and blanket in the place and stuffed them against windows and around our bodies.

That evening we went to dinner with Dr. Kay Behrensmeyer and her husband Bill, Dr. Leslea Hlusko (previous bearded lady participant), and Dr. Scott Foss and his wife; it was a wonderful mix of paleontologists and ramen.  In the morning our crew played tourists and walked the mall, saying hello to Lincoln and paying our respects to far too many veterans.

In the afternoon we met with Kay, got our special access badges from the Smithsonian security and went where the public does not go (can I just say how fun it is to go into those doors in museums that everyone walks by, but no one is allowed to go into?!).  We wound our way through the back hallways of the Smithsonian to Kay’s office where we had tea and helped Kay grow some facial hair in preparation for her portrait.  We made two portraits with her.  One in her lab where she is currently working on a fantastic Taradon fossil and the other in front of a diorama that is no longer on display and was being crated for storage.  Kay mentioned that what she loved most about this display was that it looked like the dinosaurs actually lived there. She pointed to footprints left in the mud, but added “If I had my way, those tree branches would be broken and there would be poop.”

Behind the scenes with Dr. Kay Behrensmeyer pointing out the changes she would make in the diorama to make it more realistic (i.e. broken branches and poop). © 2016 Kelsey Vance

Post portrait we returned to her office to conduct her interview and took a walking tour of the museum to see where the decommissioned exhibitions were being stored as well as dinosaur bones of all species and time periods were hanging out, waiting for their day in the spotlight again.  She brought us to the working lab within the exhibition space where volunteers worked diligently (behind glass, like specimens themselves) to catalog and inspect the many samples museum scientists have brought back from the field.  The tour was such a privilege and so was the sneak preview of the new dinosaur exhibition Kay was in the process of curating (coming to your Smithsonian in 2019!).  Needless to say, the afternoon was so much fun and we did not want it to end.

Behind the scenes at the Smithsonian. © 2016 Kelsey Vance
Behind the scenes at the Smithsonian. © 2016 Kelsey Vance
Dr. Kay Behrensmeyer showing us a field sample. She pioneered a collection process which involves taking the surrounding material back to the lab as well to keep the sample contextualized. © 2016 Kelsey Vance

Getting home from this trip turned into a real project for Lexi and me, Draper made it home  to Colorado without a hitch.  Bad weather returned to the Mid-Atlantic region and on the morning we were supposed to fly out, I was awoken by a text from southwest saying our flight was cancelled and we got a reservation for the next flight out later that night.  As we drove north to the Baltimore airport, in a slightly slushy mess, we became less and less confident that our flight would be leaving that night.  So, Lexi and I decided we were going to hold onto our rental car and drive home, it was about 9 hours to our corner of Ohio.  Maybe not the best plan, but we had a little more control over our future.  While at the rental car facility, I received another text saying our flight was cancelled.  With validation for our decision Lexi and I hit the road, keeping a close eye on the radar down the pike.

The weather escalated as we drove west.  The roads were icy and the state wasn’t exactly doing anything about them at all.  We were in the boonies on The 70 in Maryland, but I managed to get a cell signal to find a cheap motel ahead.  This motel was pretty sweet and a complete blast from the past, so much wood paneling and the green tile bathroom!  The only open restaurant was Pizza Hut, so we indulged and tuned into The Bachelor….

In the morning we de-iced the car and got back on the road, which still wasn’t great, but better than the night before.  We eventually made it home at about the same time had we waited for the next flight out of Baltimore the following day.  Oh well, we had a good time, it didn’t cost much, and most importantly, we made it home safe and sound.