Earth Notes - Utah's Dinosaur Tracks

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Utah's Dinosaur Tracks

190 million years ago a carnivorous dinosaur no larger than a robin hopped across a patch of damp earth in what would eventually become southern Utah. Its tracks were buried and eventually turned to stone. Today, thanks to a lucky discovery, they've turned up again near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park west of Kanab.

The little dinosaur's tracks mingle with thousands of others left by ancient crocodiles, an animal called a prosauropod, and three other dinosaur species. They were discovered last fall in a spot popular with all-terrain vehicle riders.

The Bureau of Land Management closed an area the size of a football field to protect the Jurassic-period artifacts, some of which were already damaged by tires. A fence and interpretive display are planned for the future.

Fossilized footprints aren't rare in Utah, which has plenty of sandstone and mudstone formations dating from dinosaur days. But the Northern Moccasin Mountain Track Site is unique in the diversity of the animals that left their marks there. It also has a spectacular setting, including a series of about a hundred layers of rock that allow the geological record to be read like pages in a book.

The footprints provide a window into the distant past, when the area was a sandy desert with scattered waterholes. Paleontologists say it looked a bit like the Sahara today. Now, by protecting the tracks from tires, the BLM hopes they'll linger a while, before erosion turns them back into sand once again.

-Richard Mather