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Director, Co-founder


Mike Viney pursues science education as both a career and a hobby. Family visits to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, Florissant Fossil Beds in Colorado, and Shirley Basin in Wyoming during the 1960s sparked his interest and passion for fossil wood. Viney has written articles on multiple fossil deposits and even created an online virtual museum for petrified wood enthusiasts. Viney’s life-long passion for fossil wood makes it easy to understand why he embraces Friends of Fossil Forest. The educational and research support provided by Friends of Fossil Forests will help local communities worldwide develop agency in the use and conservation of their paleontological resources. In illuminating fossil wood deposits through educational outreach, Friends of Fossil Forests will inspire the next generation of paleobotanists.

His Personal Story: “Zoom-in” to Explore Fossil Cells

In the summer of 1964, my family visited Colorado Petrified Forest, a privately-owned tourist attraction situated in a mountain valley just south of the town of Florissant in Teller County, Colorado. On August 20, 1969, just five years later, this famous fossil site would become a national monument (Leopold and Meyer, 2012). Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument preserves one of the world’s most precious late Eocene fossil deposits (Meyer, 2003). I was just two and a half years old when my father took a picture of my mother and older brother standing near the Big Stump, Figure 1.

In July of 1967 my family vacationed west, Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, established just five years earlier on December 9, 1962 was among our destinations. I asked my dad, “what is a petrified forest?” “A forest that has turned to stone,” answered my dad. As we drove along Route 66, I looked out over the high plains desert dominated by shrubs and grass. I was now 5 ½ years old and much more sophisticated—I knew what I was looking for. Still no signs of a forest that had turned to stone, in fact, no trees at all. I asked my dad when we would arrive. To my astonishment he answered that we had arrived. Shock and confusion, I could see no evidence of a forest that had turned to stone! My dad started pointing out rocks possessing the form of logs scattered on the ground, Figure 2. The standing trees with branches and needles turned to stone that I anticipated were absent, a true anticlimax. Nevertheless, the magnificent form and color of the fossils assuaged my disappointment and I quickly became a great fan of petrified wood!

To this day I never pass up a chance to explore petrified wood and very much appreciate specimens that display great external morphology and color like the ones my dad introduced me to in Arizona 53 years ago. Nevertheless, much of my time examining mineralized wood as an adult is spent looking through a 10x or 20x loupe to explore fossilized cell structure. In cell structure there is information and beauty not available to the unaided senses—information that may lead to identification and aesthetic pleasure that awakens wonder at the functional architecture of once living plants. Creating a series of images for a fossil wood specimen which connects what we can see with our unaided eyes to that observed under magnification is a selfmade hobby of mine (Viney, 2018).

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