The Ancient Ones

Let us now praise Earl Douglas, the paleontologist who discovered the Jerome dinosaur quarry in 1909.

“I hope that the Government, for the benefit of science and the people, will uncover a large area, leave the bones and skeletons in relief, and house them in,” he wrote to the Smithsonian Institution in 1923. “It would make one of the most astounding and instructive sights imaginable.”

That’s just what the government did. They built a nice, air-conditioned, dual-level visitor’s center right around a massive wall of stone and bone. The best part? You can touch the 4.5 million year old fossils.

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A section of the Dinosaur Quarry. Photo by Tricia.

The quarry is a tumble of bones about 4.5 million years old. Paleontologists think that there was a lake here once, but a severe drought caused a fairly massive die off. When the drought was over, the lake filled again and the water washed the bones downstream where they were covered by silt.

They’ve found fossils from almost 400 different dinosaurs. There are 1,500 bones remaining from 100 individuals in the quarry. What’s on display is the main bone layer, though they assure us that beneath it and outside there are many more bones.

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Students from a local university taking an inventory of the bones. It’s a nice perspective into just how massive the bones and the quarry are. Photo by Tricia.

It’s a humbling reminder that we humans aren’t the first, or likely the last, dominant species to walk the planet. It is so convenient and reassuring to think that we have subdued the earth, but if this trip has taught me anything it is that we live here at the pleasure of geology and climate.

We don’t even know what happened to the people who originally settled here. We call them the Fremont people now, but probably they called themselves something else. They left their marks all over the land in the way of petroglyphs.

In cheerier news, the landscape is as crazy cool as anything you’ll see in Utah.

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The amazing colors of Dinosaur National Park. Photo credit: T

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