Pubdate: Thu, 21 May 2015
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Copyright: 2015 Boulder Weekly
Author: Leland Rucker


It's no secret that hemp is one of the most misunderstood plants in 
history. For centuries, it has been used by all kinds of people for 
all kinds of things - clothing to car construction, bioplastics to 
building supplies, food to fuel.

Though it was grown by the Founding Fathers, was a major crop in the 
U.S. for many years and doesn't contain enough THC to get people 
"high," it was blacklisted along with marijuana in 1937 and later 
listed as a Schedule One drug under the Controlled Substances Act in 
1970, at least in part because the federal government couldn't tell 
the difference between the two plants.

As a result of our folly, makers of hemp products here - hemp, hemp 
oil and hemp seeds are utilized in lotions and salves, carpets and 
beer, paper and jeans - have to import it. Today, China produces 
almost 80 percent of all the hemp in the world. About $600 million 
worth of hemp products were sold in 2013 in the U.S., a number that 
should continue to grow once domestic production begins anew in 
states that are allowing it again. Its uses seem almost infinite.

But I think we found the most original use for hemp yet. Billie and I 
were wandering the Dinosaur Garden outside the Field House of Natural 
History in Vernal, Utah. The museum is a dinosaur-lover's dream, and 
the outside garden is stocked with colorful, life-sized reproductions 
of various plant- and meat-eating dinos, with one exception: A wooly 
mammoth, the large, extinct elephant ancestor.

Looming over us with its huge tusks, friendly eyes and thick, dark 
coat, the only warm-blooded representative in the garden immediately 
got our full attention. Most impressive was the coat, which was thick 
and shaggy and black and spread over and around the body and huge curved tusks.

Wooly mammoths' thick outer hair was called the "guard coat." And 
this mammoth's guard-coat hair piece was made from hemp.

Since it is far from any interstate or major city (Salt Lake City is 
nearly three hours away, and both I-80 and I-70 at least two hours), 
Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Utah-Colorado border 
not far east of Vernal, is as remote as it is wondrous and wild, 
especially the gorgeous natural beauty of the Split Mountain area in 
Utah and Echo Park in Colorado.

The monument's other claim to fame gave it its name. Voluminous 
fossils of the creatures we see in the Dinosaur Garden have been 
discovered in the immediate area. Among the monument's amazing 
features is the Quarry Exhibit Hall, a huge A-frame building that 
encloses a 150-foot long and 50-foot high uplifted wall that 
showcases an extensive selection of fossilized bones left as they 
were found. Upwards of 40 complete allosaurus skeletons have been 
found in the area.

But no woolly mammoths. The replica, made of plastic, was donated to 
the museum in the 1970s, says Craig Gerber, maintenance specialist at 
the museum and the man in charge of the care of the creatures in the garden.

As far as he knows, the hemp was chosen by the original artist, and 
the tradition has continued since then. The local avian population 
admires the hemp hair as much as we did, he said, so much so that 
they pluck chunks of it for their own nests (which makes bird nests 
yet another use of hemp).

Not that keeping up the tradition is an easy task. The hair has to be 
replaced every 10-15 years, a procedure that Gerber estimates at 
several hundred man-hours. Or as he puts it, "It's a nightmare from hell."

The hemp comes from California in 50-plus-pound bales. The old coat 
has be removed, and the new "hair" readied. Thirty-gallon tubs are 
filled with water and then with hemp.

"You have to grab it, untangle it and lay it out to dry," he says, 
before application. And then it has be painted. "You couldn't afford 
to pay someone outside to do it. It sucks."

So if you find yourself far off the interstate late one night on 
Highway 40 in Vernal, Utah, and you observe a woolly mammoth peering 
into a museum window, you're not in the Twilight Zone. Be thankful 
for the occasional toil and trouble of Craig Gerber and mark up one 
more reason why hemp should again become America's crop.

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado 
cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom