Conservation Colorado: Happy 100th to a real dinosaur
June 26, 2015
Around 150 million years ago a great flood washed through what is now the Lower Yampa and Green River Valleys. Dozens of Jurassic creatures were pulled into a vortex of water and mud — their lives were lost but their bones were preserved. Thousands of years, layer upon layer of bones were buried in over 26 layers of mud and rock. All traces of the prehistoric beasts were lost. Until 1909, when intrepid explorer Earl Douglas, working for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, began unearthing dinosaur bones on the side of a cliff near Jensen, Utah.
Douglas was the first to find dinosaur bones in our big backyard and he was also one of the first to suggest that some of the bones be left for members of the public to experience. President Woodrow Wilson declared the 80-acre Carnegie Quarry a national monument on October 4, 1915. It became the first quarry to leave fossils in the ground for the public to study and enjoy. In 1938, a second proclamation recognized the surrounding area’s spectacular scenery, geology, ecology, and cultural history and expanded the Monument to include over 210,000 acres, spanning the Utah-Colorado border.
On hundred years later, Dinosaur National Monument draws hundreds of thousands of people who spend millions of dollars in the region. According to a report issued by the National Park Service, in 2014 over a quarter of a million people visited Dinosaur National Monument. Most of those visitors were not local, but were responsible for creating almost 200 jobs and generating over $16 million dollars for the local community.
While the dinosaur bones continue to be the most popular part of the Monument, the stories of explorers like John Wesley Powell have inspired modern-day adventurers to experience this remote part of the west. However, even today, wild places like Dinosaur National Monument are not without their danger. My sympathy goes out to the Denver man who lost his life last week while rafting the Green River in the Monument. Danger and risk of the unknown are very much part of the appeal of such wild places.
The Monument offers some of the darkest night skies in the nation, providing amazing stargazing experiences. Over 260 species of birds, the descendants of dinosaurs, make their home or migrate through here. Over 700 species of plants take root across six distinct ecosystems. Evidence of human habitation of Dinosaur National Monument and the surrounding area go back over 10,000 years, and that evidence can be seen at numerous galleries of rock art. Pioneers and ranchers grazed cattle and sheep since before the Monument was established and added to the historical legend of the place. Yet just nine years ago, local resident Scott Patterson discovered a previously undocumented rock arch, the seventh largest arch in the world.
America's public lands have been the focus of much debate. Control and management of these vast lands and the resources they provide is increasingly contested. Our choices for these lands today will determine development and enjoyment of them for future generations. Places like Dinosaur National Monument are treasures that everyone should be able to enjoy. I encourage everyone to get behind the celebration of 100th Anniversary of Dinosaur National Monument. Learn more at http://www.nps.gov/dino/planyourvisit/dino100
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Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.