Mill Canyon paleontology site features dinosaur, bird and possible crocodile tracks
by Laura Haley
Contributing Writer
Jul 04, 2013 | 4163 views | 0 0 comments | 58 58 recommendations | email to a friend | print
27 dino tracks
BLM paleontologist ReBecca Hunt-Foster explains fossilized dinosaur tracks at a site near Mill Canyon north of Moab. The public was invited to guided tours of the site on June 28. Photos by Laura Haley
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Triple digit temperatures didn’t stop a dedicated group of paleontologists from continuing work on excavating a track of dinosaur footprints on Friday. The heat also did not stop dozens of visitors from coming to the site for a guided tour on Friday, June 28.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) invited the public to visit the track site located in the Mill Canyon area. Several paleontologists and volunteers were working at the site, continuing to uncover new tracks.

According to BLM paleontologist ReBecca Hunt-Foster a local resident discovered the first tracks in the area in 2009. Since then, more than 200 tracks representing a variety of dinosaurs, birds and potentially crocodile-like creatures have been uncovered.

The site has drawn international interest due to the number and variety of tracks that are being discovered there, Hunt-Foster said. Last week, the site was host to paleontologists from Korea, China, and Poland, in addition to scientists from Colorado.

Jong-Deock Lim was taking his third trip to work on an excavation in the United States. While walking past a newly excavated section of fossils on June 27, Lim noticed something the other scientists had missed – bird tracks.

Hunt-Foster said fossilized bird tracks are relatively rare in North America, but they are commonly found in Korea, with approximately 80 percent of the world’s known ancient bird tracks being found there.

Lim said that’s one of the reasons it is so important for international scientists to share their information and knowledge. Because Lim is familiar with fossilized bird tracks, they were easier for him to spot, he said.

The bird tracks aren’t the only rare tracks discovered at the site. Hunt-Foster said several areas show evidence of two-toed dinosaurs. The Utahraptor, a dinosaur originally discovered near Moab, is one of the species that leave two toed-tracks such as those found at the Mill Canyon site. According to Robert Gay, a BLM paleontologist who helped organize the tour, two-toed dinosaurs have only been found in China, Korea and Utah.

While the scientists are taking a break during the hottest part of the summer, Hunt-Foster said they will be back at work on the site in the fall, and again next year.

“We could continue doing work on this site for years and there would still be plenty of land for future scientists,” she said.

The tracks are found in the Cedar Mountain formation, and Hunt-Foster said paleontologists have uncovered tracks for dinosaurs that were not previously known to exist during that time period.

Hunt-Foster said the BLM is hoping to add a boardwalk, signage and shade structures along the trail in the next few years so that the public can enjoy the history offered by the site.

“It’s still in a very delicate state,” she said, explaining that scientists are still collecting large amounts of data based on the tracks found at the site.

Though the area was only discovered a few years ago, the BLM has already encountered problems with people casting imprints of the tracks, as well as trying to cut the tracks out of the rock. Both activities are illegal and can seriously damage archaeological sites and impede scientific study.

“We lose a lot of scientific information when tracks are removed,” Hunt-Foster said.

She added that when people use silicone, plaster or any other substance to make casts of the tracks, it can actually change the composition of the rocks around the track. That can cause erosion that will eventually destroy the tracks, she said.

“Over time, if a bunch of people do this, we won’t have these tracks anymore,” she said. “These tracks belong to all of us. When someone removes or damages them, it robs everyone.”

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