Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tour of the West: Dinosaur Hunting

When I was a teenager, I too was subjected to a Tour of the West.  We saw many and varied things, but one thing I remember thinking is "We've just driven thousands of miles, and were right in the same neighborhood as Dinosaur National Monument, but didn't go."  Now keep in mind, "right in the same neighborhood" meant "in the same large western state", and I wasn't particularly fascinated by dinosaurs more than anything else, but how can one skip something called Dinosaur National Monument???

Naturally, since I held onto the vague grudge for almost three decades, we had to make sure to hit it on our most recent trip.

Welcome to the monument!  We arrived fairly late in the day, after the dinosaur building closed, so headed straight to our campsite.

Nimue outside the visitor's center the next day.  Apparently it is still ok to pose for a picture as a twelve-year-old if there is a dino sculpture.

Happy peoples on the tram that goes from the visitors center up to the dinosaur gallery.  The tram had little dinosaurs painted on the side, which Nimue thought were cute.

The dinosaur quarry building is built right on top of the main deposit in the sandstone Morrison Formation that contains the dinosaur fossils.  The cool thing about this is that what you can see has been left in situ rather than being fully removed from the rock.

Dinosaurs were sometimes big!

Nim and I doing our best monstersaur impressions outside the building.

We found a trail to walk back down afterwards instead of taking the tram.  We saw clam fossils,

investigated more dinosaur bones,

and saw a few petroglyphs (fodder for a later post).

Now, the Dinosaur Quarry in the monument is not the only place one can find signs of the beasties in these parts, so we kept our eyes open during the rest of the trip too.  We didn't have time so search out the dinosaur trackways around Moab, but did have time later in the trip to go on a wild goose chase when we noticed a "Twenty Mile Wash Dinosaur Track Site" marked on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument map.

After driving down a road that looked like this,

we found a trail register that had some weathered, though helpful, directions left by another traveller.

Following the directions led us up to another parking spot,

from which one could scramble up to a scenic rock bench.

Where are the tracks?

Chad found them eventually.  They are subtle.  Pictured are two large round sauropod footprints just outside of where Chad's feet are.

Here's a whole long sequence of them.

We also spent quite a while studying what looked like three-toed depressions, finally deciding that we couldn't be sure about them, so didn't take any pictures of them.  After doing a little bit of research at home, I'm pretty sure we did indeed see the three-toed theropod prints.  At the end of the day, it is clear that you need a highly trained eye to be sure than your imagination is not getting the best of you!

Denied our obvious three-toed fossil footprints, yet later in the trip we stopped at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery site.  This is a cute little museum built on top of a set of in-situ dinosaur prints that a dude discovered when he was leveling a hill on his property.  Fortunately, the site was preserved; the actual rock deposit makes up a large part of the floor.

Some layers of rock have been peeled up, creating natural casts of the footprints.

We were amused to note that the natural casts showed enough detail to see not only the prints, but also radial cracks in the mud surrounding the footprints from the dino's great weight.  Some footprints were even detailed enough to show signs of the foot skin texture too.

Also perhaps dinosaurs?  We didn't stop...

As is true of any good road trip, there are always things one doesn't have time to see.  Nimue is most put out that we didn't follow the turn towards Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada.  Or maybe she just likes saying "ichthyosaur".  Perhaps it will be fodder for her own trip later!

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