Lin Ottinger is known around town for many reasons. He is known for the rock shop he started in 1960 and for his bus tours of Canyonlands, for crude humor and for his larger-than-life personality. He started out prospecting uranium and ended up with a dinosaur named after him — Iguanadon ottingeri, the first Iguanadon found in the United States. A renowned rock and dinosaur bone hunter, Ottinger discovered three other species of dinosaur as well. Now Ottinger is celebrating his 90th birthday, and has invited friends and family in the community to attend.
Ottinger’s story starts in 1927, either in Wyoming or Tennessee, depending on how he tells the story.
“There was a rumor around that planet Earth was the best place for humans, so I came to planet Earth near Casper, Wyoming in 1927. November 1927, so I landed in an oil field,” he jokes.
In reality, Ottinger started his life in Tennessee, the son of a corn-farming mother. Some of his earliest memories revolve around rocks. “I had to go with [my mother] out in the corn fields and so I started finding rocks. When I was big enough to see a pretty rock, I’d pick it up, bring it home,” Ottinger said.
He started finding arrowheads, which he collected in a shoebox his mother gave him. When the shoebox started overflowing, his mother told him there was no room for it in their log cabin house.
He offered to sell arrowheads to a local barber who had his own collection framed on the shop wall. The barber was interested, so Ottinger asked for the only bill he knew of: a $10 bill like the one he had seen his mother get paid with. The barber tried to offer him ten ones, but Ottinger refused. The barber got the idea and pulled out a $10 bill. Ottinger accepted, and sold his first rocks.
Ottinger began selling a few arrowheads a week to the barber, always asking for a $10 bill. Soon he had a small stack of tens. He said his mother was saving up for train tickets to Oregon to see her family and get work in the shipyards, which were ramping up for World War II. When she realized how much money Ottinger was making — $10 was a lot of money in those days — she asked if she could use the money to get train tickets for the family and Ottinger agreed.
They took a freight train to Denver, to Texas, then to California and eventually to Oregon. At a layover in Denver, his mother took him to a museum. Ottinger was transfixed by the arrowhead collection then he found something new.
“There was all these big dinosaur bones and skeletons all put together and I looked at those dinosaur bones ... my mother read some of the signs to me and told me what they were. Boy, those were nice,” he said. “I never heard of the word dinosaur that I remember. These are dinosaurs, animals and they really used to live,” he recalled thinking.
After he grew up, Ottinger worked a variety of jobs. He did logging work in Washington, Oregon and California and spent some time in the Army Corps of Engineers. After getting out of the army and marrying, he found himself in Boise, Idaho at a rock show with a few weeks to spare before he was due at a timber job in California.
“A guy showed me a piece of uranium,” Ottinger said. “I knew uranium. I prospected for uranium in Wyoming and Montana ... I’d seen a lot of uranium, but not like this.
I said, ‘boy, is that pretty radioactive?’ I got my Geiger counter out. He said, ‘yeah man, that’s really hot.’ Beautiful specimen.”
The man would not sell the ore but he told Ottinger where he found it: Kane Creek in Moab. Ottinger decided to check the area out. He got detailed geological maps from the Bureau of Land Management in Salt Lake City and then came south to Moab. He ended up finding jobs for himself as a mechanic and his wife as a cook. Ottinger never made it to his job in California.
In his free time, Ottinger was always out rock hunting.
“My wife said, ‘you’re out hunting rocks, you better get another job.’ You’re out there hunting dinosaur bones. Can’t eat that. So I said, well, I’ll sell it so we can make some money because that’s fun.”
First he set up in the extra space at a local repair shop, and then he built his own shop. In response to requests to take people rock hunting, he began giving tours.
Though Ottinger has seen the town change, he still loves Moab.
“I have fun here … this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” he said.
He is not opposed to continued development and would like to see a highway bypass built, he said.
His birthday wish? “I wish all my friends would come and see me. It’s going to be great.”
His birthday party will be held Saturday, Nov. 11 at the Moab Rock Shop starting at 1 p.m. Guests are invited to bring written stories of Ottinger. RSVP is requested, either on Facebook, by emailing email@example.com or by phone, at 435-259-7312.