“F” Challenge: Fossils

Dinosaur Skull Fossil
Dinosaur Skull Fossil, a photo by Fergiemoto on Flickr.  (click on photo to enlarge)

This past weekend, Hubby and I took a short yet fascinating road trip to Dinosaur National Monument (DNM), located on the border between northeast Utah, USA and northwest Colorado, USA.  DNM is the only national park area set up to protect a historic dinosaur quarry.  It is one of the world’s best windows into the late Jurassic period and is home to an amazing display of fossils from this era.  The vast diversity of plant and animal fossils found there helps reveal its ancient environment.

The fossil beds in this area were discovered in 1909 by Paleontologist Earl Douglass, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA, when he found eight dinosaur tailbones protruding from a sandstone hill.  This find turned out to be part of the most complete Apatosaurus skeleton ever discovered.  Douglass was working for the Carnegie Museum at the time, and established a formal digsite here known as the Carnegie Quarry.

From 1909 to 1924, field crews excavated and shipped fossils to museums, including the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Utah.  The first skeleton, and first specimen found at the quarry, was sent to Pittsburgh (my previous home) and mounted at the Carnegie Museum.

In 1915, the quarry site was declared a national monument to protect and conserve its world-class fossil bones.  Originally 80-acres, the monument was expanded to over 200,000 acres in 1938 to protect the spectacular canyons and beauty of the Green and Yampa rivers.

This image below shows the original size of the Carnegie Quarry, and what now exists of the quarry, in red.  This red area is what you can view at DNM in the Quarry Exhibit Hall.

The initial quarry was formed as a result of a “log jam” of dinosaurs that were killed by long droughts and returning extensive rains and floods.  The resulting fast flowing river swept carcasses and bones downstream along the river bottom where they began to pile and be covered by sand and mud.

Fossils from the Carnegie Quarry have been collected from almost 400 different dinosaurs.  Visitors can view a wall at the Quarry Exhibit Hall of the remaining 1,500 (approx.) fossil bones from 100 individuals dating back about 149 million years.  Earl Douglass was one of the first to suggest leaving some of the bones in place for public viewing.  DNM was the first place to do this and other sites have followed.

We were told that the skull in the very first photo above is the most photographed fossil at the quarry.  The following is a photo of the quarry wall inside the exhibit hall.  In the upper middle part of the photo, I’ve drawn an arrow to show where this skull is located.  (You can see a small protrusion at the end of the arrow point.)

Quarry Exhibit Hall
Quarry Exhibit Hall, a photo by Fergiemoto on Flickr.  (click on photo to enlarge)

Here is another skull with the spine directly to the left of it.  This is a camarasaurus, which is the most common dinosaur at the quarry:

Camarasaurus skull (circled) and spine

The original Quarry Exhibit Hall, built in 1958 to house the quarry was closed in July 2006 because it was at risk of collapsing due to the expanding and contracting of the soil it was built on.  The Quarry Exhibit Hall underwent a major rehabilitation and was reopened on October 4, 2011:

Quarry Exhibit Hall at Dinosaur National Monument

Allosaurus skeleton. Original skull is seen in the lower left side of the photo.

This large, original Allosaurus skull inside the exhibit hall is one of the best-preserved skulls ever discovered.  It is uncrushed and only minimally distorted:

Allosaurus skull fossil

Near the quarry, visitors can take a short hike along the Fossil Discovery Trail and see more fossils of bone fragments, 100 million year old fish scales, and small clams.  Further away from the quarry, visitors can go on other hiking trails and scenic drives, take a river rafting trip, see dramatic river canyons, look for petroglyphs, etc.

The 23 rock layers and unique rock formations in this monument area provide a geologic record of earth’s history spanning over one billion years.  Fossils were deposited in many different environments, which allow scientists to reconstruct how the area was 150 million years ago.  Evidence, including Native American rock art (petroglyphs) show that the area has been inhabited off and on for thousands of years.

According to information at the visitors center, the monument has the “most complete geological records of any National Park Service site…It’s rock layers preserve ecosystems from ancient seas, to dinosaurs roaming river plains, to Sahara-like deserts with tiny mammals.”  Fascinating!

Baseball cap placed next to a dinosaur fossil – to show perspective

I am glad for the preservation of such historical significance and scenic beauty for present and future generations.

This is for the letter “F” Story Challenge by Frizztext, to share a short story or reflection, even an aphorism using a word tagged with each letter of the alphabet.

For more detail on the information in this post, see the following references:

76 responses to ““F” Challenge: Fossils

  1. This is so awesome! Can you believe it? I’ve never seen dinosaur fossils up close in real life, only in photos. But, someday I will! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great entry with wonderful and informative information. Of course being from Pittsburgh I’m proud of what has been discovered by someone who lived here and worked for the Carnegie Museum. Thanks for sharing.


    • Thank you! I don’t remember the dino skeleton in the Carnegie Museum. Interesting that my home has been both Pittsburgh and Utah when it comes to the history of these fossils.

  3. That first shot of the dinosaur head is fantastic. You’ve taken the photo at just the right angle to see the raised shape. Really well done.

  4. wonderful post fergie, fossils ignite our imaginations and give us sense of perspective about life on earth, this looks like a marvelous place to visit!

    • Thank you so much, Marina! I’m amazed by this place and can’t believe I’m only visiting it now, given it is so close to home. I didn’t realize what was really there.

  5. Fergie, your fascinating trip resulted in a fascinating blog-post: my daughter (10) and I read and viewed it together and it made us almost believe we actually were there for a moment. How truly amazing this 23 rock layers showing earth’s history spanning over one billion years.
    Your photo of the Skull is wonderful: I would live to pin it to my ‘Put those colours together’ with your permission.
    A big thank you for this beautiful and educational post.

    • It’s a little known gem! I knew it existed, but didn’t realize the magnitude or historical significance of this place. Do you still have relatives in the area?

  6. A really interesting post. I often go to the South-West, usually for hiking in many of the national parks, but I have never been to Dinosaur National Monument. I will have to look it up next time I pass by the area. The first shot is simply beautiful, you made your own rendering of what is often hard to get a personal photograph of. Very artistic.

    • Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging comments! I highly recommend seeing this place. It seems to be a little known gem, yet one of the few places in the world to see something like this.

  7. Have recently read about LAG-lines arrested growth in fossil dinosaur bones. They are like tree rings and as you can make assertions about weather and geological conditions and effect on growth year in trees so can you with dinosaur bones. But the amazing fact revealed if climate and such can affect dinosaur bone growth it means that they were warm blooded reptiles and not cold blooded as thought like today’s species !

  8. Wonderful post! Can you believe that I have NEVER been to DNM? Born and raised in Utah and I never got out there! It was one of those places where I thought, “I’ll go someday” and then I left before I got a chance to go! I’ve never been to the Four Corners, either. “It’ll always be there,” I thought. “I’ll eventually make it out there.” Well. Now the chances are very slim. I should have gone while I was close!

    • I had the same feelings myself because I was traveling a lot and wanted to see more foreign places. Then I moved away, never having visited the parks in our own state. Sad. When I moved back, I decided I wanted to see more of what was here at home. Thanks so much for your kind comment!

  9. Wow…what a great place!!! Incredible…I like that you drew an arrow where the fossil was that you photographed…it really put it all into perspective how massive that quarry is.

  10. What a fascinating post, in words and pictures! I did not know about the DNM and am so glad you shared your time there. It is amazing to think how long these fossils have been preserved, and I always admire those who dedicate themselves to–to quote you–‘the preservation of such historical significance and scenic beauty for present and future generations.’

Thanks so much for your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s