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What does a little pouch of salt or a glass of muddy water have to do with revealing the hidden history our area as it was 110 million of years ago? Plenty! And Jon Bachman, a person with expertise and enthusiasm for uncovering the secrets of paleontology, can show the connection. He will lead Dino Swamp Trek at Alum Spring Park this Saturday and share with  participants the keys to becoming a “time detective.”

A lifelong paleontology enthusiast, Bachman’s interest and delight in the subject was sparked at the age of 5 when his grandfather gave him a container of fern fossils from a coal mine in central Pennsylvania that dated back to 300 million years ago. His grandfather would be proud of how he is “paying forward” that gift and  sharing  exploration and research as well as much of the knowledge that thousands of paleontologists have discovered throughout hundreds of years.

“Spending any amount of time with Jon Bachman is inspirational. He is not only an excellent educator but also a renowned paleontologist who can make any subject come to life. Jon will open the eyes of every participant to things they may have never noticed or even cared about,” said Linda Bailey, nature education coordinator of Fredericksburg’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which is hosting the event.

“Paleontology provides a window to see a grander vista. Participants in the trek may not understand that totally, but it can be a catalyst to curiosity, and that’s what I try to do in all my paleo-talks for kids and adults,” said Bachman. “It’s like a spark plug for their curiosity when they hear and see this stuff and understand it. That’s the challenge of teaching, to be able to transfer that knowledge and excitement.”

And that is where the salt pouch and muddy water come in. In discussing events that occurred in “deep time,” hundreds of millions of years before recorded history, Bachman uses salt to help people grasp the concept of a million—as represented in two level tablespoons of the grains.

The muddy water introduces the concept of the formation of sedimentary rock, like that of Alum Spring Park, as the particulate matter in the suspension gradually falls to the bottom of the glass in layers sorted by mass.

To personalize the trek through the yesteryears of our region,  participants will receive a “pet rock” sample and a notebook to record their observations as they proceed in their investigation as time detectors.

“Before learning about the dinosaurs that once roamed our area (and they were all over the place!), they will discover what the environment was like where they lived,” said Bachman. To bring his message home, Bachman will  show specimens from his personal fossil collection, including a dinosaur footprint found near the Chatham bridge.

The time detectives’ charge will be to use the clues they discover to determine how it was that the area was underwater in the era when the sedimentary rock was formed. They’ll determine whether Alum Spring Park was once at the bottom of a sea, a swamp or an alluvial fan. In the process, they’ll learn that the region once experienced a monsoon season and they’ll be introduced to concepts such as relative time and absolute time and learn what the geological time scale is and how it was created.

“I hope that one thing that kids and parents will take away from this experience is an appreciation for the wonder of the world,” said Bachman. “I hope they will leave with the idea that the world is a fascinating, wonderful place and that we have so much to enjoy. And part of that enjoyment comes from understanding.”

What:  Dino Swamp Trek

When: Saturday, Aug. 30, 10 a.m. to noon.

Where: Alum Spring Park, 99 Greenbrier Drive, Fredericksburg

Cost: $10 adults, $5 children. (Children must be accompanied by an adult.)

Info: Pre-registration is required. Call 540/372-1086, email or visit

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.