a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dinosaurs actually walked here

The arena spectacular “Walking with Dinosaurs” featuring robotically controlled Jurassic-period puppets roaring under strobe lighting has nothing on a tiny museum in Utah.

Visitors to the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm in can walk alongside prehistoric fossilized dinosaur tracks exactly where they were left 200 million years ago.

Sheldon Johnson, a retired optometrist, stumbled on them in 2000 while using heavy equipment to level a hill on his family farm. After removing 20 feet of topsoil, Johnson encountered an unusual rock formation and he decided to break it apart. A large rock fell out of the vehicle’s bucket, broke apart when it hit the ground and revealed unusual track patterns.

This discovery immediately attracted paleontologists from across the world and became labeled as the most significant track site of its kind in North America.

They catagorized them as Eubrontes, or dating to the late Triassic period when the first dinosaurs and mammals appeared on the Earth. The larger tracks have three toes, evidence of a heel and are believed to have been left by an unknown meat-eating dinosaur.

This mountainous region of southwestern Utah was once a lake with varying tides in a region that was closer to the Equator and sea level. When prehistoric creatures fed at the lake, they left tracks in the sand that were quickly covered over with water and preserved in silt that eventually turned to mud and then rock.

Many of the tracks originated from creatures that have not been identified, while others were left behind from skin, bones, raindrops, fish or cracked and dried mud. The investigation also revealed “abundant upright-walking crocodilian tracks called Batrachopus,” the museum’s Web site indications.

The museum was actually built on top of the exact exposed spot of rock where the discovery was made. On any given day, volunteers hack away at the rock, following precise instructions from professionals, because there are at least another 25 layers of sandstone impressions to discover.

While the BBC spectacular stage performance of real-looking dinosaurs is amazing to watch, nothing puts you any closer to the real McCoy than this working exhibit.

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