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.