Them Bones

Ray Troll and Kirk Johnson hunt for fossils.

Back in 1999, one of my favorite exhibits ever left its footprints at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science: Titled Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway, it was simply the most imaginative science show I'd ever seen, the creation of artist Ray Troll, the absolute R. Crumb of paleontology, whose hilarious yet minutely detailed illustrations fueled the whole fabulous illustrated journey back in time ("Trolling Motors," March 4, 1999).

It turns out that the show, a touring exhibit enhanced in Denver by input from museum paleontology genius Kirk Johnson, also signaled the beginning of a beautiful relationship between the two collaborators. Inspired by one of the show's centerpieces — the Evolvo, an actual Volvo with Charles Darwin in the driver's seat (and later purchased by John Hickenlooper) — the two eventually set out in a DMNS pickup truck, "Big Blue," for a 5,000-mile journey across the West in search of fossils, and, as they soon discovered, a cache of fossil-infatuated "paleonerds" who popped up in small towns along the way. "Fossils are everywhere," Johnson notes. "They're under the roads, they're in the road cuts, they're in the hills. Even on the way to a known site, we're still driving over them and past them."

And just as Kerouac's travels with Neal Cassady were fodder for On the Road, Troll's and Johnson's epic voyage gave way to a literary end: Their new book, also titled Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway, is hitting bookstore shelves, packed with Troll's artwork, Johnson's wry observations and detailed maps of fossil finds, reminiscent of a tourist placemat. (A huge wall map is also available separately.)

The duo will discuss their trip and the book this afternoon at 2 p.m. in the B2 conference center, Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, as part of the library's free Fresh City Life series. For details, call 720-865-1206 or visit www.denverlibrary.org/fresh.
Sun., Oct. 7, 2-3:30 p.m., 2007

 
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