Headed west

2014-09-03aFor those of you that haven’t been following me online (and hoping those who have will bear with me), I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Alton Dooley, and I’m a “museum person”, a catch-all phrase for folks who have immersed themselves in various aspects of museum operations. I’m a paleontologist and geologist by training, but I’ve been working with and for museums for my entire adult life. Tomorrow, I begin driving west from Virginia to California to begin my new job as Executive Director of the Western Science Center.


For the last 15 years I’ve worked for the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, Virginia (above). I initially worked for VMNH as an intern while I was still an undergraduate in the late 1980s, and in 1999, after completing my PhD, I was hired there as the Laboratory Manager for Paleontology and Earth Sciences. After several years I was promoted to Assistant Curator, and eventually became Curator of Paleontology, in charge of all of VMNH’s fossil collections and paleontology-related activities.

Even though I loved my job at VMNH, new opportunities have presented themselves on occasion, and when the Western Science Center offered me the position of director it was too good to pass up. And so I’ve spent the last month packing, getting my affairs at VMNH in order to ensure a smooth transition, and saying goodbye to coworkers, friends, and family:


I’ll be spending the next couple of weeks driving across the country and taking care of the myriad chores involved with relocating before I officially start in my new position. Which brings me to this blog…

In September 2007 I began a blog called “Updates from the Paleontology Lab” to describe and promote the activities of my department at VMNH. Much to my surprise the blog was reasonably successful, and after 7 years and with 680 published posts “Updates” is one of the longest-running geoscience blogs in the world.

While “Updates” was my creation, it is deeply intertwined with VMNH and so I decided not to try and adapt it to a new function. (Christina Byrd, the paleontology technician at VMNH, is going to continue writing posts for “Updates” so if you’re a regular reader, have no fear!) Instead I decided to start a new blog with the Western Science Center specifically in mind.

WSC is located near Diamond Valley, which is sometimes informally referred to as Valley of the Mastodons because of the large number of mastodon remains recovered there during the construction of the Diamond Valley Lake Reservoir. Those specimens are now housed at WSC, so “Valley of the Mastodon” seems a fitting name for this blog.

I envision a variety of functions for “Valley of the Mastodon”. In part I’ll be announcing WSC events, new exhibits, guest speakers, etc. But I expect there will be an emphasis on the WSC collections, and on regional geology and paleontology. I spent a lot of my time at VMNH learning about the state’s geology and paleontology, and really enjoyed sharing my discoveries on “Updates”. So far I’ve spent a total of about 14 days in California, spread across 9 different cities. For me, California represents a whole new state to discover, and I hope to share what I learn with you on these pages.



3 responses to “Headed west

  1. Butch,
    Good luck, have fun, and blog often!


  2. travel well. hope it’s a smooth trip. Best of luck in your new life.

    California has been a big part of my fossil fanaticism. So if you need someone to give you the rundown, let me know.


  3. Looking forward to having another paleontologist in the area! The SoCal paleo community is a great one…once you get settled in, stop on by the Alf!


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