Review By: Andrea Seabrook, NPR - November 24, 2007
Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway authors Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll speak with Andrea Seabrook on NPR All Things Considered, November 24, 2007
Click here to listen to the interview
Review By: Amanda Bittle, blogcritics.org - December 23, 2007
Book Review - Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000-Mile Paleo Road Trip
Written by Amanda Bittle
Published December 23, 2007
Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000-Mile Paleo Road Trip follows the adventures of two unlikely travel partners: the chief curator of a science museum and a visual artist known for his interpretations of fish. Kirk Johnson, paleontologist, and Ray Troll, artist, are self-described “paleonerds: grown men who still love dinosaurs.” Together they hatched a plan to hit some of the hottest fossil spots in the world, including stops in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah and New Mexico. At the end of it all they had a fully illustrated fossil map and one explosively entertaining and educational book to show for their efforts. And, of course, plenty of fossil discoveries and newly-discovered fellow paleonerds.
Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway is part travelogue, part science lesson, part picture book and all fun. The book starts out with a brief geology lesson. Using simple, flowing language and the occasional food analogy (rock formations as layered stacks of pancakes), Johnson explains why the American West houses such bountiful hunting ground. Because of the recent (as in, only a few tens of millions of years ago) nature of the geological activity that shaped the Rocky Mountains, the area is rife with fossils. The perfect choice for the “Ultimate Paleo Road Trip.”
I simply cannot say enough good things about this book. The story is both captivating and informative, and the illustrations are truly soul-stirring. The surrealism of Troll’s artwork adds to the sense of magic inherent in the study of a long-lost world. Troll is known for portraying fish in ways that are at once realistic and fantastical. His images are striking, always beautiful and often wryly funny. In an illustration with the caption “Forty Thousand Mammals Can Be Wrong,” Troll depicts countless unfortunate beasts cascading into a pit trap, or giant hole in the ground. Bad news for the mammals, good news for the fossil hunters who came along a few millennia later.
Though the writing is compelling and the illustrations are eye-popping, part of what makes this book so accessible and appealing is the layout. Ann W. Douden’s design is stunning. Douden achieves the perfect balance of text, illustrations and photographs, making this a book that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. For pre-readers, the pictures tell enough of a story to entertain. For readers, the experience just gets better.
Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway belongs on the coffee tables of every paleonerd, art lover and general science enthusiast and in the home of anyone with children. Seriously, it’s that cool.
Review By: Brenda Stice, Alaska Airlines - January 1, 2008
This Jack Kerouac-style travel journal by paleontologist Kirk Johnson details a journal of fossil discovery. Featuring bright, bold drawings by Alaska artist Ray Troll, the book describes fossil findings across the American West with an educational and eye-pleasing combination of science, art and humor.
Review By: Linda Wommack, True West - March 1, 2008
The authors have a great sense of humor for their passion, whish is to be admired. Anyone who travels the country in search of rock formations, fossils and the like has to have a sense of humor. And that's the main point of this book. With the light-hearted prose, the colorful, often comical drawings and the oh-so-easy maps and diagrams, this book will make anyone want to go on a fossil hunt. Through their travels, the authors detail discoveries such as small-town museums with paleontological exhibits, rock quarries that have revealed fossilized bones and dinosaur track sites. The book is a fun approach to the hobby of fossil finding. With a little effort, it only takes knowing what to look for to find them. I'm ready to go have a look.
Review By: Lola Quinlan, Fort Collins Coloradoan - February 3, 2008
Author Kirk Johnson is vice president and chief curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. A paleontologist, his research is directed at fossil plants. He is the author of three other books.
Why buy it If you have always hoped to find a fossil or are fascinated with dinosaurs, go on an imaginary journey with the author and his artist friend as they discover fossils across the U.S. This travelogue pinpoints many fossil spots in Colorado and includes some behind-the-scenes information about exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Artist Ray Troll has illustrated six books, has two traveling art exhibits, and an art gallery in Ketchikan, Alaska. Children will be fascinated with the intricate maps, illustrations, and photographs that are on almost every page. It can be an inspiration for trips to see fossils, dinosaur bones and locales where they are found.
Publisher Fulcrum Publishing
Book is available at Jax Outdoor Gear 1200 N. College Ave. and Jax Farm and Ranch 1000 North U.S. Highway 287.
--Lola Quinlan, Jax Merchantile
Review Geotimes - May 1, 2008
Talking Fossils with the Authors of Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway
Kirk Johnson met his first paleontologist when he was 12 years old. His mother had dropped him off at the Burke Museum in Seattle to spend some time with Wes Wehr, a paleobotanist and artist. “Wes was great. We spent hours together talking about fossils. I was lucky I got to experience all of these great fossils, plus I learned the secrets of finding fossils,” says Johnson, a self-described “paleo-nerd” who courted girlfriends with fossilized plants.
Ray Troll didn’t meet a paleontologist until much later in life. Instead, he collected dinosaur figurines and postcards of prehistoric animals. He found rocks in the playground and declared they were from undiscovered dinosaurs. But what Troll really liked was drawing dinosaurs. “I truly loved it. My first drawings were of T. rex, and I am still doing it 50 years later,” he says.
Troll and Johnson first met at the Burke Museum in 1993, but not until 1996 did they began the collaboration that led to their recently released book, Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway. The book — mixing science, nuttiness, history and passion — details the pair’s road trips around the American West in search of fossils big and small, famous and obscure, rare and common. Johnson, who is chief curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, wrote the text and provided color photographs, while Troll, an illustrator best known for his warped, fish-focused and scientifically informed work, provided the drawings. “I am not a ‘paleo-realist’ but a ‘paleo-surrealist,’” he says.
Written in first person, Cruisin’ is accessible, fast-paced and informative, showing the rich history of fossil collecting in the American West, as well as an intriguing cast of past collectors. Johnson describes the trip as “cherry picking the best sites and best stories”; for example, while driving a heavily loaded, dark blue Ford F-250, they happen upon a cabin made of dinosaur bones, the Hell Pig, Archaeotherium, crocodile tracks and the occasional cheeseburger.
They also discover fellow fossil fanatics, each characterized by the disease “Isolated Paleo-Nerd Syndrome,” or IPNS, for short. “When two IPNS sufferers m[e]et, their conversation speeds up and they fall into a rapturous state, finally able to lapse into paleo-speak without fear of being ostracized,” Johnson writes. Troll and Johnson’s interactions with fellow IPNS sufferers provide some of the highlights of the book, especially their encounters with “Buck-a-bug” Jimmy Corbett; Robert Harris, the “King of Trilobites”; and Lace Honert, who married her husband for his “localities,” or familiarity with fossil-rich sites.
Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway is a good read for anyone who cares about fossils. You won’t find detailed science or a fossil-finding guide, but you will find inspiration, passion and stunning and fun illustrations.
Johnson and Troll recently sat down with freelance writer David Williams to talk about their experiences.
DW:You two are those kids who never outgrew your love for fossils. Why do kids outgrow that love?
RT: It’s amazing how teachers can make science dull. We don’t keep feeding kids the science bug and there is too much dumbing down. Kids can use Latin. Look at all the names they know. When they learn to say and spell it, they own it.
KJ: Kids like dinosaurs in a way so bizarre that we don’t know why. They lose it at puberty. We have to create an interest and wonder. Kids have to experience finding stuff. Once you learn the secret of finding fossils you don’t ever want to quit.
DW: What were the highlights of your road trips?
RT: Finding my first bone. It was a Plesiosaur. I had this vibe and said to Kirk “Stop!” He let me get out and there it was. Of course, Kirk didn’t let me keep it.
KJ: Finding the iridium layer [from the Chicxulub impact 65 million years ago] in North Dakota. I had been looking for the contact for 20 years and had about given up. I was showing Troll an outcrop and there was the layer. It had the round beads of glass formed by the cooling of droplets of molten rock that the meteor generated.
DW: What’s the big picture of the book?
KJ: Fossils are everywhere, if you know where to look. Every road cut asks a question. Now that we’ve finished the book, I would change the focus a bit. There is so much bad science out there on climate change, evolution and the age of the Earth that I would have been more methodical in making these elements central to the narrative. These three topics are the key nodes of the anti-science movement, and anything that makes the huge and obvious science behind them more palatable to more people will be a step in the right direction.
DW: Do paleontologists take themselves too seriously?
KJ: Putting someone in jail for collecting fossils is bull. No, you shouldn’t loot fossils. There is a rogue commercial element of bad players but there is also an over-pious side that says all fossils belong to science. Amateurs have done lots of good. We all share a common language; it’s what unites the paleo-nerds.
Review By: Robert Goode Patterson, Science Books & Films - May 1, 2008
Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway describes the travels of a paleontologist and an artist on a journey across the western United States as they visit famous fossil sites. As a coffee-table book, this volume is a fantastic work of art that is truly fanciful and awe inspiring, catching the real flavor of a bygone life.
Like many future herpetologists and paleontologists, as kids we hunted for fossils and dreamed of dinosaurs, and most of us read Edwin Colbert's Men and Dinosaurs, which describes many of the famous dinosaur hunters and their idiosyncrasies, as well their fossil finds. Kirk Johnson picks up the story in Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway by taking the reader on a 5,000 mile-trip across South Dakota, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Each part of the trip is accompanied by a picturesque map displaying drawings of the organisms found across each area and showing the routes to fossils. Also, hidden in each map is a hamburger; it is fun to see if you can find them all.
The text uses everyday language to describe famous fossil sites and the past and present paleontologists who worked and are working these areas. It is "folksy," but extremely interesting, and the photography that accompanies many of the sites is truly fantastic. The book could certainly serve as a road map for a fossil hunter or a person interested in seeing geologic formations of the past.
This book is highly recommended for high school biologists and fossil hunters; amateur herpetologists; and college herpetologists, historical geologists, and paleon-tologists. For the paleonerd, it is a must read. It would also make a great addition to public and high school libraries.
Review The Salt Lake Tribune - July 22, 2008
Kids are fascinated with dinosaurs, and parents who want to interest their children in a vacation should find plenty of interesting places to see in this book by paleontologist Kirk Johnson and artist Ray Troll.
The pair take a 5,000 mile road trip through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Utah and South Dakota in search of fossils, small-town museums, rock quarries and interesting characters fascinated with dinosaurs.
One tour features the Dinosaur Diamond in Utah and Colorado that includes such sites as the CEU Prehistoric Museum in Price, the Cleveland Lloyd Quarry in Emery County, the Dinosaur Museum of Blanding and the Vernal Fieldhouse Museum.
The book offers great detail and fun graphics presented in an entertaining way.
Review By: Ellen Eberhardt, Northwest Science - September 1, 2008
Memorable road trips are full of exotic sights and sounds, but one taken by a creative paleontologist and a madcap artist brings to life the prehistoric world in exciting fashion. Author Kirk Johnson, paleontologist, and vice president and chief curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, captivates readers with knowledge of inland basin fossils in the American West recreated in graphic form in the witty, detailed artwork of Ray Troll. Readers--even those unfamiliar with the sciences--will pick up this book and flip through its pages with a sense of joy and excitement.
This collaboration of Johnson and Troll began in 1999 when they created the "Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway" paleontology exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. After installing the Denver exhibit Troll returned home to Ketchikan where he created a ceiling-high, scaled pictorial map of Wyoming, Colorado, and parts of surrounding states. Details of geographic and political landscapes come to the prehistoric life in fossils of the American West. This map inspired the two men to take a road trip through these states to ground their ideas and concepts in the actual, physical world and to add their personal experiences to the map.
A large blue museum truck pulled out of Denver loaded with Troll's family tent and enough gear to last both men several weeks. Johnson and Troll set the tone for their trip when Johnson demonstrated basic geological concepts at their first breakfast on the road, using a stack of pancakes and an onion to illustrate the concepts.
Chapters are organized to cover specific geographic areas, each spanning about one-quarter of the state. Each area features unique fossils which the authors highlight with anecdotes of visits to local digs, meetings with famous and infamous "paleo nerds," and side trips to local schools, restaurants, and Little America truck stops. Johnson recalls experiences in areas unexplored during previous trips.
Whorl-toothed sharks and huge petrified sequoia stumps will tantalize readers to search online to learn more about these exotic prehistoric creatures. The text is an easy to read. Visions of unitatheres and arctodus will join those of wooly mammoths and trilobites. Rich color drawings and photos on every single page cannot help but bring the past to life. Museums, rock shops, and commercial fossil digging sites are all visited during the quest for the best of local information and paleoentertainment.
Conversations with the respected Wyoming geologist Dave Love are recounted in the chapter "Dr. Love's Lost Bone Bed" while nods are made toward early diggers from eastern institutions of higher learning. Even more engaging are the stories of local fossil hunters who continue in the tradition of discovery. I especially enjoyed "How to Find Roadside Dinosaur Tracks (from a moving vehicle)" and "The End of the World (Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary) as We Know It."
Any discussion of fossil life must include stratigraphy. Formation names are found throughout whenever a particular fossil is named. These formations will seem like old friends for many geology students who spent summers hiking through them during field camp in the Rocky Mountains.
The book makes note several times of the ethics and legalities of digging for your own fossils. While not giving away exact locations of most quarries, it does suggest areas that might be good "hunting spots."
Finally, an extensive index helps readers find their way around this vast geographic area or learn more about their favorite fossil. This feature, combined with the quality of research, history, local color, and the sheer fun of being on the road, should endear this book to students and teachers of paleontology across the country. A hefty list of acknowledgements of professional and amateur scientists who were in some way involved in the development of this book vouch for its scientific accuracy in the absence of any citations.
Don't expect to head out and follow in the tire tracks of Johnson and Troll; rather, enjoy these travels as a passenger. They took me on an unforgettable journey. Take a look, and you'll be "hooked."
--Ellen Eberhardt, U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
Review The Philadelphia Inquirer - October 17, 2008
Top Regional Attractions
Academy of Natural Sciences 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.; 215-299-1000. www.ansp.org. Includes Dinosaur Hall, Egyptian mummies, interactive, live animals, educational exhibits for children & more. Down to Earth: Evolving Design in the 21st Century - Several renowned designers & thinkers discuss how designs are evolving. Design Philadelphia event. 10/21 6 pm. Kirk Johnson & Ray Troll: Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway - Johnson & Troll share amusing & interesting anecdotes from their book. A booksigning follows. 10/22 6:30 pm. Urban Sustainability Forum - Forum on the various issues affecting sustainability in Philadelphia. 10/23 6:30-8:30 pm. $10; $8 seniors, students, military, children 3-12; free for children under 3. Mon.-Fri. 10 am-4:30 pm; Sat.-Sun. 10 am-5 pm.
Review By: Todd Mercer, Foreword Magazine - January 1, 2009
Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway takes Paleobotanist Kirk R. Johnnson and mural artist Ray Troll all over the Rocky Mountain states. The hawk-eyed Curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science rarely misses a fossil, even from his truck moving at highway speed. This is one of a tiny handful of books equally useful to adults and twelve-year olds. It’s a funny, stealthily informative account of wandering dinosaur mavens meeting others of their kind, and also discovering ancient creatures and plants never seen before. Neither man is happy at the prospect of skipping meals. Wherever they are in their travels, no matter how fascinating the excavation or the hike, Alaskan surrealist Troll sees that they unearth a decent diner. Johnson uses food metaphors to simplify explanations of geological principles. The nature of sedimentary layers compare aptly to a stack of pancakes or the curving lines of a rip-cut onion. Troll’s drawings show extinct monsters in natural
settings, but also inexplicably marauding through the modern world. Normally one would have to go to the Creationism Museum to see the masters of two epochs living side by side.