Dino-mite Finds on the Monument

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By Dixie Brunner

These weighty guys were not windshield tourists, they were in southern Utah – to the tune of 73 million years ago! Fortunately, their time here ‘included’ leaving a carbon footprint for GSENM scientists...and you to discover and learn from!

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Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument paleontologist Dr. Alan Titus with a dinosaur skull. Photo by Courtesy BLM.

“I’m excited about the discoveries,” said Dr. Alan Titus, paleontologist for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. “I love the interest being generated in dinosaurs. There have been so many unique discoveries here. Many scientists consider this a frontier of paleontology, and I’m glad to be facilitating research.”

Titus is referring to the plethora of dinosaur discoveries on the GSENM. Exquisite specimens have been documented. A Hadrosaur, Parasaurolophus, Utahceratops (Greek for ‘horned’), Plesiosaur and Nasutocetatops titusi, to name a few.

Some specimens found are mummified with skin surrounding their large, fragmented skeletons, leaving additional body tissue for scientists to study. The GSENM has become one of the premiere dinosaur discovery areas in the world.

“The significance of the GSENM is in providing the completeness of the story,” said Titus. “You can see a 30 million year history. The Kaiparowits offers an exceptionally complete record of the end of the age of dinosaurs.”

What exactly were the amenities attracting the dinosaurs to this geographic location? Climate and scenery. While southern Utah has been typically hot and dry, the climate has changed over millions of years. It was once a hot, subtropical coastal climate, providing for a large biomass (an abundance of plants and animals).

“As the sea level retreated, it became a mid-level coastal plain,” said Titus. “It had a lot of water and was very lush.”

Resource protection is the BLM’s primary focus. Fragile environments and specimens millions of years old require the utmost respect and care.

The massive lizard found on a flat near Grosvenor Arch was the subject of media attention. Besides the rarity of the dinosaur’s discovery, it was the subject of the BLM’s first live, interactive educational satellite broadcast.

Titus says tourists interested in further observing the existence of dinosaurs in the area should drive to the oyster beds on Cottonwood Wash, or to the 20 Mile Wash site on the Burr Trail, where more than 350 tracks can be observed near the Hole-in-the-Rock Road.

“I love my job,” said Dr. Titus, of his paleontology work on the Monument. “Studying and finding these dinosaurs is like trying to bring something back from the dead. It’s like trying to recreate a lost world. Now visitors will be able to share some of this excitement.”

Tourists desiring to learn more about the ancient dinosaurs are encouraged to start at the GSENM Visitor Center in Big Water, where paleontology is the theme. All other monument visitor centers can also direct you to more information on paleontology site locations.

The Big Water Dinosaur Festival is held in the Fall, check dates to attend a great celebration of our original tourists.

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