Cañon City welcomed seven year old Sola

by Cindy Smith

Cañon City welcomed seven year old SolaCañon City welcomed a seven-year-old visitor from Japan last week. Her name is Sola; she is completely bilingual and she is quite the naturalist.

Sola was visiting her grandparents.  She’s very much into dinosaurs, so a visit to the new Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience was a must, and on the way there, she and Grandpa stopped at Eight Mile Hill to learn about the Ordovician fish fossils found there.

These 450-million-year old fish scales are all that remain of primitive agnathan (meaning jawless ) fish, perhaps 6″ long, that were covered in body armor for protection from the predators of their day. These fossils are found locally in the Cañon City area in the Harding Sandstone  and made famous by Dr. Charles Doolittle Walcott in 1890. Walcott identified these very early fish as the earliest vertebrates on the planet, 80-million years earlier than any other known vertebrate at that time, in an 1892 scientific paper that created quite the stir in the paleontology circles of the day. The Cañon City record lasted 80-years before even earlier vertebrates were discovered in Wyoming and Antarctica in 1977.

Fish Plates:  Jessica Lynn Allen (2003). Sequence Stratigraphy and Depositional Environments of the Harding Sandstone, Central Colorado Implications for the Habitat of Early Fish, Master’s Thesis, University of Georgia; Athens, Georgia

Cañon City welcomed seven year old SolaWalcott’s description of the two species found in Fremont County (Astraspis desiderata and Eriptychius Americana ) propelled him to the international stage and are at least partially responsible for his becoming the third Director of the US Geological Survey and the fourth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1907-1927.

But back to Sola and the 1/4″ or less in length, bluish-white fragments of fish scales. Sola is drawn to the small and helpless. Among all the pieces of reddish rock piled with fish scales, Sola found a teeny piece and examined it thoroughly with her loupe. Astraspis make up perhaps 90% of the fish scales there, evidenced by all the small dots or asterisks on the rocks. Eriptychius scales are elongated lines and are much harder to find; but Sola spotted several almost immediately.

On the short walk back to the car, a flying insect about 1″ long with beautiful orange wings was lying just off the highway and fast becoming a meal for tiny ants. Sola bent down and carefully, gently edged the injured insect out of the way of traffic and ants.

That afternoon Sola did her summer homework for her school in Japan and thoughtfully sent me a copy.  If you look closely, you can see a red rock with some bluish-white circles and lines illustrating those 450-million-year old fish scales next to some dinosaur tracks from some 300 million years later. As Dan Grenard said, “I’m sure it’s a solid report.”

Sola may or may not pursue paleontology for her career, but whatever direction she chooses in life, I predict she will be drawn to the delicate, small and needy. It’s an honor to witness the innate traits of a seven-year-old.

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