Dinos On The Edge: Late Cretaceous, Colorado & Utah

Project Background

Looking up to the 500 ft shear cliff that is the fortress wall of the Book Cliffs in Utah and Colorado, it is hard to imagine that these rocks were once beach front property.  During the Late Cretaceous (about 100 million years ago), a massive inland sea flooded the middle of the North American continent. States such as New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah lined the western edge of the seaway and were home to warm tropical beaches and a host of Cretaceous wildlife.  During its tenure on North America, the seaway and accompanying mountains to the west formed the perfect conditions to preserve massive amounts of sediment, which recorded sea level rises and falls, and ultimately led to the evacuation of the sea from North America.

Those sediments lay buried for millions of years, until the rise of the Colorado Plateau brought them to light.  Today from the valley floor, the Book and Roan Cliffs rise over four thousand feet in elevation, which when totaled with general elevation of the region produces peaks nearing 10,000 ft above modern sea level.  Few roads penetrate the Book Cliffs, and those that do are not in great condition.  The outcrop that is present there is rugged and difficult to access.  That is why we recently received a high-risk grant from the National Geographic Society to launch an expedition to the region. We since have returned to the Book Cliffs to prospect and excavate at several localities.

Getting around in the Book Cliffs, not as easy as it sounds.

Here is a Google Earth fly by of the region of the Book Cliffs.

We conducted our most recent excavation in partnership with our colleagues at Colorado Northern Community College to collect a probable new species of duck-bill dinosaur with beautiful skin impressions from a giant ancient river channel.  Wondering what it’s like to dig a dinosaur out of sandstone?  Watch the jackhammer in action below.

Rock saws and jackhammers are necessary to remove 10 feet of sandstone overburden at this Book Cliffs site. 2015
Rock saws and jackhammers are necessary to remove 10 feet of sandstone overburden at this Book Cliffs site. 2015
Excavating bones and skin impressions in the Book Cliffs


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Live expeditions from the ZannoLab at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences & NC State University

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