Saturday, 21 June 2003 – Caldera: ‘Hunting for fossils’ and ‘Morro Copiapó’
We were torn between what to do today: look for those magnificent fossilised shark teeth that were there, just for the taking, or give the Morro Copiapó a serious once-over. As we had two cars, the problem was easily solved: Ian would take the Nissan with Anne, Benjy, Bryan and Paul Sherville shark (teeth) hunting, while Cliff, Finn, Angie and I took the Kia to take a look around the Morro Copiapó.
Ian writes of their experiences:
Looking for Megalodon teeth
‘To provide a break from full time cactus hunting, and in the hope of finding a fantastic 5 inch long razor sharp fossilised shark’s tooth (as had been shown to us by the teenage son of one of the Chilean Cactus Society members earlier in the trip), car 2 set off westwards from Bahia Inglesa towards a bay that the hotel staff had indicated was where the smaller teeth they had, on proud display in reception, could have come from. The road passed the turn off to Morro Copiapo that we had taken earlier on the trip and we continued for nearly another 20 km or so until the bay in question was found. Spurred on by Benjy’s offer of free beer for the rest of the trip if we could allow him to find such a tooth, the car party for the day (Ian, Paul S, Ann, Bryan and Benjy) scoured the length of the beach enjoying the stunning scenery, only finding a bed rich in oyster shells but no teeth. We wondered if the beach was the right one as the hotel staff had been rather vague so decided to continue further along the coast.
This again gave some stunning views and allowed some photography of wading birds in lagoons behind the beach but the geology was wrong. Retracing our tracks we passed the first bay searched and the area then looked promising so Ian suggested a stop here (he is supposed to be a geologist). The orangey-yellow sandy sediments that were present looked very promising and it wasn’t too long until the first shark and fish teeth were found along with some other nice marine fossils including vertebrae, bivalves and gastropods. The preservation was not ideal so a lot of the teeth had the enamel preserved but had lost the dentine so they tended to fall into 2 sections. When showing Paul Sherville what to look for, he insisted what I had found was a bird’s beak (he can be a real twit sometimes!)
By working our way down towards the sea we were able to find more teeth including better preserved ones in iron concreted pockets. It was from such pockets that I am sure that the bigger teeth purchased from the market at Caldera in the following days had been won. At the coast we were also rewarded by spectacular cliffs of horizontally bedded sediments that were very photogenic if one was bold enough to get near the edge overhang to get the best angle!
I believe that small shark and fish teeth were found by all at this stop and though maybe not being as big as the ones subsequently bought there was the immense satisfaction of finding them ourselves. Another stop nearer Bahia Inglesa was made in an attempt to find more fossil beds and although this was unsuccessful, Ian was only a few metres from the car when he spotted what he thought was a discarded sweet wrapper. On closer inspection it turned out to be a red Thelocephala (Eriosyce odieri) seed pod – all that was visible above the ground of the plants. Further investigation by all car members identified other plants in the otherwise barren gritty plateau so yet again even with another agenda we had managed to find some more of our beloved cacti.’
More cacti on the Morro
We also drove down the track first taken on 8 June (was it really that long ago?), but continued only a few kilometres further before turning west towards the ocean. This brought us out to the south side of the Morro – while Copiapoa prefer to grow on north facing slopes. There was again a low cloud base – not good photography conditions, so at our first stop (S0187) we recorded the stop data, but as there were no Copiapoa or Eriosyce to be seen, left without taking a single picture.
The track was in places of dubious quality, so we were glad to reach the beach for a break from being shaken around. We had passed some clumps of Copiapoa marginata and had noted the place for a stop on the way back, so that the beach stop was limited to taking pictures of spectacular 3 m. (9ft) high waves (or were they higher?) crashing on the off shore rocks. There is a small delay – the combination of human failings and electronic wizardry in the camera – that resulted in the first frames always capturing the wave after it had ‘fizzled out’. Later images were better – who cares how many you take when you can discard the failures and do not need to worry about the cost and your remaining stock of slide film?
On the way back we stopped at the best location noted earlier (S0188) and found some good large clumps of C. marginata but also a distressing amount of dead plants. Again, we needed to remind ourselves that these may be the result of natural mortality over many years, rather than of a sudden disaster striking this population.
A little further east, we found a tempting track north that seemed to lead to a saddle between two higher parts of the Morro. Eventually we agreed the track had become impassable, so left the car and continued on foot (S0189) finding many large clumps of C. marginata as well as seedlings. While looking for seedlings, one of us commented that there should be ‘Thelocephala’ here as well, and once we focussed our search on these small geophytes, it did not take too long before Angie (‘I can never find those small things’) was the first to find one. Others soon followed and as usual, the largest of these miniatures was found about a meter from where we had left the car.
Satisfied with our day, we went back to the hotel to discover how the other car party had enjoyed the day.