It's hard not to imagine Walter proudly returning with a dinosaur bone in his mouth. Of course, it didn’t happen quite that way. Nonetheless, the dinosaur would be named after Walter.
Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) houses the Colorado Northwestern Field Museum as a direct result of the discovery of Walter.
Life before Walter
Mock is now the repository manager of the Field Museum, something she wouldn’t have imagined eight years ago.
While Walter was being unearthed, Mock herself was in Michigan battling cancer.
Mock recalled, “When you go through a battle of cancer, you think … 'what are my values? Where do I need to go?' And one of the things was: I want to go to Colorado.”
Mock sold almost everything she owned, including her car. She picked a point on the map: Craig, Colorado and then packed up the cats, booked a train ticket to La Junta, and from there, a bus to Craig. She picked up a job at Walmart and settled into her new life. She hadn’t met Walter, yet.
In 2015, the Bureau of Land Management allowed the field museum to become a curatorial fossil repository. This means bones found in northwest Colorado can stay put. With this distinction, a collection formed, and the outside world was invited to look at it. Mock wanted to go.
“When I actually came down to the repository, Liz, the paleontologist, let me touch [Walter’s] skin. And then I was like, ‘How do I get here?’” Mock remembers.
The answer? Go to school.
So that’s what Mock did.
Walter creates a unique opportunity
When one bone after another was excavated revealing an excellent specimen, the college had some big decisions to make. They could hand over the whole project to a bigger institution. They could run it themselves but would have to turn the finds over to an approved repository. Or, they could go through the many hurdles to become a federally approved repository. They courageously chose the third option.
Creating a repository would require numerous tools, vacuum systems, and storage. All of this was purchased with the help of local partners and grants.
Managing the dig for Walter and creating a legal means of keeping the fossils on campus created an incredible and rare opportunity for community college students, said Liz Johnson, curator of paleontology and a science instructor at CNCC. “Everything we do cycles back to how to get our students involved,” Johnson said.