Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Adventures 2014 - June: In the Land of the Dinosaurs

     Utah is dinosaur country. When a photography assignment sent me in two directions to gather photographs, I learned just how much my state has in the dinosaur department - which is A LOT!!!
A Bit of History

     Georges Cuvier, 1789-1832, was a Frenchman who worked at the French National Museum in Paris.  He studied mastodons and mammoths.  He correctly concluded that these ancient animals are not related to modern day elephants. He was able to explain what extinction was and that many animal species were extinct do to biological phenomena.
     William Buckland, 1784-1856, was a British scientist who began the study of dinosaurs that continues to this day.  He was the first to correctly identify teeth and limb bones of what he thought was a very large reptile.  He called it Megalosaurus.  He did not consider it a dinosaur.
     Sir Richard Owen, 1804-1892, was the British scientist who coined the term dinosaur (terrible lizard). It was Owen who stated that dinosaurs were an extinct species of lizard, not related to modern lizards and reptiles. He and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins were the first to put on a public display of what Owen thought were realistic and life-size models of what few dinosaurs had been identified at the time.
Price and Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry
    Price, Utah is a small town of less than 10,000 people located eastern Utah.  The small College of Eastern Utah is located here, and the college runs the Prehistoric Museum, a small, but nice museum dedicated to ancient life.  I stopped at the museum to have a quick tour. Here are a few scenes of the museum.

      This last picture was identified as a stegosaurus footprint, of which only six have been found, five at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.  This isn't actually a footprint, but a cast made in a footprint.  Cast and mold fossils are two separate types of fossils, but to have a cast, one has to have a mold.  When I went to Cleveland-Lloyd, I asked about these fossils, and the paleontologist there, who shall remain anonymous, snorted and asked me if I had heard of Dr. ______.  Yes, I had heard of this famous Utah paleontologist.  Well, stated my host, this Dr. knew a lot about dinosaurs, so much so that he often stated facts that he could not accurately prove.  Dr. _________ identified this cast as a stegosaurus footprint.  However, it could have been made by a number of herbivore dinosaurs, not necessarily a stegosaurus.  Hmmm....... I would learn that paleontology was not an exact science and that there is more disagreement among paleontologists than agreement.
       About 30 miles south of Price is the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.  This is the world's densest concentration of dinosaur bones, mostly allosaurus, Utah's State Dinosaur.  Between 12,000 - 15,000 bones have been excavated.  The bones are from the Jurassic Period.  Most of the original bones have remained in Utah at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City), Brigham Young University (Provo) and the museum in Price.  Cast models of complete dinosaur models have been made and are on display in over 65 museums around the world.
      Cleveland-Lloyd is in the middle of nowhere.  I traveled two different routes to get there. Both are over gravel roads.  The easiest route is to take Carbon Ave. from Price south to state highway 10 towards the small towns of Elmo and Cleveland.  Most of the route is on paved roads, and there are signs to get to the quarry.  I tracked about 11 miles on gravel roads with this route, otherwise it is much more gravel on the other route.  Surprisingly, cell phones and GPS work in this area.
      Cleveland-Lloyd is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The site has hiking trails, a picnic area, and pit toilets.  There is no running water.  The Butler House covers the area of the current excavation site.  The current site permit holder is Dr. Joseph Peterson of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. I  was able to meet with him briefly on my way back home.  Here are some scenes from the quarry.

Dr. Peterson answering questions from visiting children.

Two Crazy Paleontologists
     My next stop would be Moab, Utah.  This time I would spend my mornings with two paleontologists, one from Utah, and one from California.  They shall remain anonymous!  They will be reading this!
      My first morning in Moab, I was whisked away into a canyon, and up a series of switchbacks, and then into scrub until we reached slickrock riddled with dinosaur prints.  My two new friends were teasing me on the way up that I should have a black bag put over my head so that I could never find my way to this area. This is why I won't tell the names of these two!  The site was pretty awesome!  Very few locals know about the area, and we traveled over an hour to get there.  It is the goal to keep the area, and others like it, secret so that tracks are not vandalized - which has happened recently. While I have excellent directional skills, I could not find this place on my own.
My foot next to the footprint of a carnivorous dinosaur.  What kind of dinosaur, we don't know.

     The next morning I was taken to an area open to the public where bones are still intact in the rock. At one area it was obvious that the bone had been taken from the area.

Sauropod tail bone
Sauropod leg bone - possibly a camarasaurus, a dinosaur that grew to be 60 feet in length and ate plants.

     If I recall my terms correctly, sauropods ate plants and theropods ate other dinosaurs.
Dinosaur National Monument
     Three hours east of Salt Lake City is the town of Vernal. A town of less than 10,000  people, it is the gateway to many recreational areas in eastern Utah, and has a variety of everything I need for travel survival - except a Taco Time. Who wouldn't love a town with a giant pink dinosaur?

     Dinosaur National Monument straddles Utah and Colorado.  The main quarry is in Utah, although there are other quarries still being excavated that are closed off the public.  The area was proclaimed a monument in 1915.  The area has had people living in the area for at least 10,000 years.  There are wonderful Fremont Indian petroglyphs.  There are also homesteads throughout the park.
     Josie Bassett Morris bought land in the area in 1913 and was allowed to live in the monument until she broke her hip in 1963.  She died in 1964.  Her cabin and chicken coop are still intact.  She lived without electricity or running water.  She was married five times and divorced four!
     Here are dinosaur bones.  A few are coated so that they can be touched.

     Josie Bassett Morris was born in Arkansas to wealthy parents.  When she was about three years old, her parents decided to move west for a more adventurous life.  They filed a homestead claim in eastern Utah.  Josie would spend her entire life in a homestead situation.

     The Fremont People inhabited Eastern Utah for hundreds of years.  They left behind petroglyphs throughout eastern Utah.

     Vernal has dinosaurs all over town.  They have a small museum, The Field House, which houses an excellent collection of dinosaur bones and petroglyphs.

     As I was leaving the area, I thought I saw a dinosaur sculpted out of metal in a field.  It was just the irrigation pipes!

Other Dinosaur Venues
     Before I went to Vernal, I took two of my nephews to the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, Utah. This museum is one of the largest museums in the world built around dinosaurs.  There are 60 mounted dinosaur exhibits and over 50 hands on activities.
     I took the pictures with my GoPro, and I clearly need more practice with it.  The general idea does come across.

     And finally, I went to Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden, Utah.  This park has awesome life-size dinosaurs in an open park, with a small, but incredible museum. There are 52 life-size sculptures and ten dinosaur skeletons.

Watching these kids was a hoot!  There mothers were telling them to act scared.

    And that is my adventures with all things dinosaur in Utah.  I am pretty sure we have more dinosaur attractions, parks, quarries, and museums than any place on earth.