10 Places You May Catch Paleontologists Digging Up Fossils
And even if you don't, you'll gaze on fossilized dinosaurs, rhinos and other reptiles in their natural context—instead of in a museum set piece
Credits: Bureau of Land Management
10. Dinosaur Center
Wyoming Dinosaur Center: Thermopolis, Wyoming
http://www.wyodino.org/; (800) 455-3466
Since excavation began in the early 1990s, about 60 dinosaur fossil sites have been identified. Weather permitting, excavation continues at four to six sites at any given time. Visitors can take a 10-minute bus ride to one of the sites, where they can see hundreds of dinosaur tracks, dozens of bones and some allosaur teeth. It is speculated that the site was a former feeding ground, because the teeth have all been located near a half-grown camarasaur .This photo shows the tooth of an adult allosaur where it was first excavated. Wyoming Dinosaur Center
9. Petrified Forest
Petrified Forest National Park: near Holbrook, Ariz.
http://www.nps.gov/pefo/; (928) 524-6228
This stretch of petrified forest, which runs along Interstate 40 in Arizona, was first discovered in the 1850s during a military expedition. The petrified logs date back to the late Triassic period, where it is believed they were buried along the banks of a river. The combination of mud and sand, as well as volcanic ash blowing in from the west, prevented decomposition and, over time, solidified the trees into a rocklike substance. This photo, taken near one of the three walking trails, shows the numerous petrified logs that are easily visible, some more than 180 feet (55 meters) long. National Park Service
Mygatt-Moore Quarry: near Fruita, Colo.
www.dinosaurjourney.org; (970) 858-7282
This quarry was first discovered in 1981, when the Mygatt and Moore families were taking a hike and, resting on a break, realized they were sitting on a dinosaur bone. Since then, about 4,000 fossils have been identified, nearly all of them dinosaurs from the Jurassic period. Among the seven genera discovered: Allosaurus, Apatosaurus ( Brontosaurus) and Diplodocus. Visitors can watch bones being excavated during the summer months; call ahead for details. This photo shows the femur of an allosaur, shortly after it was excavated. Museum of Western Colorado
7. Mammoth Site
The Mammoth Site: Hot Springs, S.D.
http://www.mammothsite.com/; (605) 745-6017
Since 1974 nearly 60 mammoths--most of them Columbian mammoths--have been identified in this site, along with 47 other species of animals. The fossils can be viewed year-round from walkways in an enclosed building. This view of the 26,000-year-old sinkhole, which is believed to have somehow trapped the animals, shows several articulated mammoth skeletons. In the foreground, where a staff member is cleaning bone, is a full-grown male mammoth, dubbed "Napoleon," which would have stood at least 10 feet seven inches (3.2 meters) at the shoulder. The Mammoth Site Advertisement
6. Florissant Fossil Beds
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument: Florissant, Colo.:
www.nps.gov/flfo; (719) 748-3253
Nearly 35 million years ago, this region 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of Colorado Springs, was buried in 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to six meters) of volcanic mud, petrifying the redwood trees growing there. By taking a one-mile (1.6-kilometer) walking tour, visitors can view the remaining stumps from the late Eocene epoch, many of which are 12 to 14 feet (3.6 to 4.3 meters) wide. In this photo, a petrified stump is partially enclosed to protect it from the elements. National Park Service
5. Dinosaur State Park
Dinosaur State Park: Rocky Hill, Conn.
http://www.dinosaurstatepark.org/; (860) 529-8423
This lattice work of dinosaur tracks was discovered in the mid 1960s by serendipity. A worker operating a bulldozer, digging the basement for a new state building, flipped over a slab of gray sandstone and saw unusual-looking three-toed tracks beneath. About 600 tracks are enclosed under the exhibit center dome. The rest of the 2,000-some tracks have been reburied to preserve them. The tracks most closely match, of the known dinosaurs, Dilophosaurus, a carnivorous dinosaur from the early Jurassic period. This photo shows some of the numerous trackways easily visible in the sandstone. Dinosaur State Park
4. Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument: near Jensen, Utah
http://www.nps.gov/dino/; (435) 781-7700
Photo: Attached at SciAmPhotosDinosaurNational
Photo Credit: National Park Service
The most dramatic presentation of fossils at Dinosaur National Monument was closed to public view in mid 2006, after shifting earth damaged the visitor center. The structure, which encloses a cliff face containing some 1,500 dinosaur bones, is tentatively slated to reopen in 2012. In the meantime, visitors can take a one-and-a-half-mile (2.4-kilometer) hike to see several dinosaur bones, believed to be of a sauropod, a large plant-eating dinosaur. This photo taken near the trail shows a sauropod humerus (upper arm bone), shaped much like a large dog bone.
3. Dinosaur Quarry
Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry: near Price, Utah
http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/price/recreation/quarry.html; (435) 636-3600
Portions of 79 dinosaurs have been identified at this ancient bone bed, located 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of Salt Lake City. Paleontologists are still trying to unravel why these Jurassic-era fossils are located in such close proximity. The bones are generally in excellent condition, but have been scattered. Two thirds are from Allosaurus, a meat-eating dinosaur. From two platforms in one building visitors can see some bones in situ. This photo shows at least a dozen dinosaur bones, including a pelvic bone from a camarasaur [ top left corner] and rib bones scattered in the middle from an allosaur, looking much like pickup sticks. Bureau of Land Management Advertisement
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park: near Austin, Nev.
http://parks.nv.gov/bi.htm; (775) 964-2440
This remote site, 160 miles (255 kilometers) southeast of Reno, is believed to have been part of a coastline during the late Triassic period. Fossils from 37 prehistoric reptiles, called ichthyosaurs, have been identified since excavation began in the 1950s. The reptiles, fishlike in appearance, have been found on nearly every continent. The largest ichthyosaurexcavated at the Berlin site was more than 50 feet (15 meters) long. An A-frame shelter protects portions of nine skeletons; it is closed during the winter months. This photograph shows the vertebrae and part of a rib cage of a single ichthyosaur, marked with the letters Q and R, respectively. Nevada Division of State Parks
1. Ashfall Fossil Beds
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park: near Royal, Neb.
http://ashfall.unl.edu/; (402) 893-2000
Roughly 260 skeletons, representing 17 species, have been identified at this northeastern Nebraska site, first discovered in the early 1970s. More than 100 of the skeletons identified are from the barrel-bodied rhino ( Teleoceras major). The animals are believed to have perished after a volcano in what is now Idaho deposited ash around 12 million years ago. This photo shows some 15 skeletons. In the foreground there are two barrel-bodied rhinos (labeled 1 and 16) and lying nearby, a three-toed horse (2). The rhino barn enclosing the site is being significantly expanded and is slated to reopen in May 2009. University of Nebraska State Museum Advertisement