Dinotopia: Hunters discover thousands of dinosaur prints in S. Utah
About 190 million years ago, a sharp-toothed and clawed carnivorous dinosaur about the size of a robin left a lasting impression on southern Utah.And those fossilized footprints - along with stone tracks of five other dino species, including three-toed crocodiles and a 35-foot-long, four-toed plant-munching prosauropod - have been discovered in a popular off-road-riding area in Kane County. The site, five miles southwest of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park on Bureau of Land Management property, was reported to a BLM worker by hunters about three weeks ago. Recognizing the significance of the prehistoric prints - thousands of them - officials quickly closed a football-field-sized area to ATVs. "Some people knew the tracks were out there, but we didn't," BLM spokesman Larry Crutchfield said. "But most people didn't even know they were riding over dinosaur tracks." Crutchfield said the BLM shut down the site after consulting with the county's natural-resources committee and area ATV clubs. "Everyone agrees the site should be preserved," said Crutchfield, noting tire marks have scarred some tracks.Officials plan to fence the site and add interpretive displays.One of the site's most tantalizing features is a series of about 100 layers that allow the geologic record to be read like pages in a book."It is like a window we can look through at a time 190 million years ago, see its ecosystem," said Martin Lockley, who heads the DinosaurTracksMuseum at the University of Colorado at Denver. Lockley visited the site this week to inventory the area for a report to the BLM He said the creatures made the thousands of footprints at a time when the region was a desert as harsh as the Sahara - with intermittent deluges that left pools for crocodiles and spawned vegetation for plant-eating beasts."You rarely find herbivores in a desert," Lockley said.Andrew Milner, the paleontologist and curator at the Johnson Farm track site in nearby St. George, is helping to investigate the new location. Milner said the Johnson track site was created in the same Navajo sandstone formations. The prints at both sites are 100 million-plus years older than the fossils being extracted in neighboring GrandStaircase-EscalanteNational Monument. BLM paleontologist Alan Titus said the latest track find is extraordinary for its accessibility and high concentration of footprints."Besides the sheer numbers," Titus said, "the site will be studied for what conditions existed to keep them preserved so well."Titus had heard about the tracks before, but never investigated them until recently."A local ATV rider told me about the site and I had planned to go see them," he said. "But when I saw a picture of the site, I had to get out there. I had no idea there were so many. "