Friday, December 31, 2010


Just another foggy day in Jensen.  Split Mountain is somewhere out there.
 Well we were hit with another snow storm, dumping about 10 more inches of the infernal stuff and socking us in with another fog and no sun for days on end. While it makes for a real pain getting out of the driveway or riding down the road, the overhanging gull-wing structure of the Quarry Visitor Center roof provides just enough protection to keep the snow out of the trench along the forms for the south wall.

Just before the storm arrived the concrete was poured for the south wall. Tarps were placed over the length of the wall and propane heaters pumped hot air under the tarps. After two days the crews starting taking the forms down from around the concrete.

Propane tank and  heater (yellow) pumping hot air under the tarp.

The north side of the south wall, with forms already removed and the tarps over it. On each side of the wall three heaters are pumping warm air under the tarp.

However, temperature is critical for the proper curing of the cement. At 270F concrete will freeze. Keeping the temperature above that is essential. Up into the 40s would be great, but at least above freezing is the minimum. So after the forms are down the traps are left in place and six propane heaters continue to run, pumping hot air under the blankets. That will continue for several more days. Extra tanks are stored on site to replace those that run empty.

Keeping in mind the minimum temperature necessary for the concrete to cure, look at the thermometer reading at my house at 8:00 AM on December 31! Since I live only four miles from the QVC the temperatures are likely to be no better at the work site. So which will prevail, mother nature or the propane heaters?

Monday, December 27, 2010


Well the evidence is in. As this photo shows Santa works very,very hard to get everywhere on Christmas Eve (no matter how remote) and the crews must have been very, very good this year (or at least since they started working on the QVC Project).

What was in the stockings remains a mystery. However, rumor has it that it was neither lumps of coal, bits of rebar, nor chunks of concrete from the demolished QVC. I haven't yet had a chance to check on what, if anything, Santa left under the Festivus Pole.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Bulldozer In Snow: a 1950s Winter Wonderland at the Carnegie Quarry, Dinosaur National Monument.

Wishing all constant readers of this blog the Happiest of Holidays!

Photo: NPS

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


 Well Winter has finally arrived at Dinosaur. First a night of freezing rain. Then a day and night of snow left a foot of the stuff on the ground. A heavy fog lays across the land. No sun has been seen for several days. And the forecast is for more of the same for the next few days.

The QVC crew -- the right stuff for the white stuff.

This is not too bad for those of us sitting at our computers in our warm offices. However, work must continue at the Quarry and the weather presents problems. So the crews bundle up and press on.

The road to the Visitor Center is only about ¼ mile long, but it is all uphill, with some steep sections. Ice and snow makes for a slippery road surface and heavy machinery can have a hard time sliding onto the sloping shoulders.

The general work area and is covered by snow. Supplies under tarps need to be excavated. Walking around the site is difficult because even small slopes are slippery. Should it should warm up it will become a terribly muddy quagmire.

The most immediate critical concern involves concrete. The forms are nearly complete for the 150 foot long south wall. Concrete will be poured sometime next week. Proper curing of the concrete will take some time and is temperature sensitive. So the forms are draped under plastic. Propane heaters will keep the temperature under the plastic above the minimum temperature needed to proper curing.

 Of course,  with all the pressure of working under adverse conditions, setting up equipment to keep temperatures under control, etc. the Quarry Crew keeps their cool and remembers what's important, as can be seen on this sign .........

I’m sure glad that we don’t have to excavate fossils under these conditions. I’d rather be blogging.

Photos: NPS

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


It is ironic that Earl Douglass, the paleontologist from the Carnegie Museum who found the quarry that became Dinosaur National Monument, did not, before that discovery, have much research interest in dinosaurs. His research efforts focused on Tertiary fossil mammals. In fact, he was collecting just such mammal fossils in the Uintah Basin in 1909 when the Carnegie asked him to head to the area around Jensen Utah to follow up on reports of dinosaur bones. I will speak more about Earl in future posts. Here I want to talk about his vision about the Carnegie Quarry and the American public because that ultimately led to the current construction project.

In his Oct 29, 1915 diary entry, Earl wrote:

“It is a combination of fortunate circumstances that they [the dinosaur bones in the Carnegie Quarry] have been buried, preserved, and again unveiled to us. How appropriate that they, or part of them, be exposed in relief as they were buried, to show the tragedy of their death and to reveal something of their lives and surroundings. How appropriate to build a fair sized building over them to protect them, to have this a thing of substantial beauty modeled after nature, to have it large enough to contain related fossils and other curiosities, geological sections, explanatory descriptions, pictures, paintings to represent scenes in the age in which they lived, a library with books throwing light on the geology of the region; anything to attract in the right direction, to interest, to help to appreciate nature and her wonderful ways!”(1, page 378)

Earl’s vision was striking, for nothing like this had ever been proposed before. Sure, many dinosaur bones had been taken back to museums, prepared, and put on exhibit but no one had proposed bringing the museum to the bones and exhibiting them just as they were deposited millions of years ago. That was a powerful idea that captivated many who heard it.

Oh Happy Days!
Earl, in the early 1920s, standing in front of a skeleton of  Diplodocus that is now mounted in the US National Museum

Although Dinosaur National Monument was created in 1915, bones continued to be excavated, collected, and shipped off through 1924 by the Carnegie Museum, the United States National Museum, and the University of Utah. After that the Depression, World War II, and the Korean Conflict put any development at the Monument on the back burner. Although the Quarry Visitor Center would not be built until 1957 – 1958, there were several earlier efforts to bring Douglass’s vision to reality. I will explore some of those now forgotten buildings and exhibits in upcoming posts.

(1) Douglass, G.E. 2009. Speak to the Earth and It Will Teach You: The Life and Times of Earl Douglass 1862-1931. 448 pp

Photos:Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Monday, December 20, 2010


Although I haven’t reported on them in a while, construction activities continue at the Quarry Visitor Center. The majority of the work is still concentrated on the south wall. As I posted previously (Oct 5, 2010) the massive, vertical I-beams have been lowered and their heights adjusted so that their lower ends are all at the same height and rest on massive footers. However, some of the beams are out of plumb, i.e. they do not all align from one end of the building to the other. The reasons for this are unclear, although there is a possibility that they were out of plumb when were installed in 1957. Regardless, plans are afoot to correct this problem, with several possible solutions being discussed.

The south wall framing is being built and once the frames are completed the concrete wall can be poured. Only the lower part of the wall is solid, the upper parts will remain all glass to allow for maximum ambient light inside the building. That glass part of the wall will be installed much later.

A large concrete abutment is now in place towards the west end of the south wall. This will be the support for part of the long entrance ramp that will run on the outside of the building.

On the west side of the Visitor Center a concrete pad has been poured that will serve as base for the large heating, air circulation, and ventilation unit for the building. With this system there will be temperature control in the new Visitor Center. Such a system was lacking in the old building and so bays of windows were opened for cooling in the summer. That allowed vast amounts of dust to be blown into the building during the summer windstorms, as well as providing access for birds and bats to come in, roost, and crap on the fossil wall.

And what would working on the QVC be without abatement? Teams have been completing abatement of the lead paint on the I-beams on all four walls of the structure.

So progress continues. Maybe not as dramatic work as tearing down a building with heavy equipment, but still major steps towards getting the project completed next year. However, winter – and snow – has finally arrived. The real question now is will this winter be as cold as the last few, with temperatures well below 0oF for weeks on end? That could certainly complicate the construction situation.

Photos: NPS

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


A variety of things have caused me to put off posting here for a while. They couldn't be avoided. Nevertheless, its time to get this train back on the tracks. So let’s start with a story of fossil discovery remarkable even for a place like Dinosaur National Monument which has provided paleontologists with so many remarkable discoveries.

Dinosaurs are the most spectacular fossil to come out of the Monument, but by no means the only fossils. There were many other denizens of the Morrison ecosystem and they also generously contributed their remains, large and small, to the fossil record. Among the most amazing of these is that of a dwarf crocodilian Hoplosuchus kayi.

Hoplosuchus, the seven inch terror, on exhibit at the Carnegie Museum.

When speaking of crocodilians, almost everyone thinks of the big brutes, like the man killing salt water crocs of Australia. Throughout most of their history there have been croc species filling the role of large fresh water predator, but that is not how the group began. The earliest crocs, such as Protosuchus, are smallish, terrestrial animals with long slender limbs held upright beneath their armored bodies. They were probably capable of running and, given their small size, fed on insects and other small invertebrates and vertebrates. While there are no such crocs in the modern world, there were a number of them throughout the Mesozoic and one lived in what is now Dinosaur National Monument.

“Pop” (J. LeRoy) Kay is an interesting individual. Originally a resident of the Uintah Basin he joined Earl Douglass in the excavations at the Carnegie Quarry. After those excavations ended in the early 1920s he migrated eastward to the Carnegie Museum and became Curator of Paleontology. From the 1930s through the 1950s he was involved in the study of Eocene and Oligocene vertebrates.

Back in 1917, while working at the Carnegie Quarry, Pop’s brother-in-law, Jesse York (just10 years of age), visited and was eager to help with the building a trail down from the excavations. As one might guess, his help was sincere but not all that helpful. Kay thought he could prevent Jesse from getting injured by sending him off on another project, drilling a blasting hole in a nearby sandstone outcrop. Kay was surprised when Jesse returned to report he had a four inch hole dug. Being a man of his word, Pop put in a small charge of powder, a blasting cap, and set it off.

After the blast Pop, Jesse, and a few others began looking at the chunks of rock blown down the hillside. To everyone’s surprise, someone found a part of a small skeleton in a block. With that trail work stopped and everyone came over to search for the rest. Hours later it turned up in the rubble and fit perfectly onto the piece already in hand.

Both pieces were shipped back to the fossil preparation lab at the Carnegie where they were put back together and the fossil carefully exposed.  The specimen was astounding. Measuring in at a whopping 7 inches total length, it was a three dimensionally preserved small crocodile with a skull, all the armor in place, and the limbs folded up underneath it. In 1926 Gilmore (1) described the specimen, naming it Hoplosuchus kayi, the specific epithet honoring Pop Kay, although Kay was embarrassed by the honor – he thought Jesse had more to do with the discovery than anyone else. Today you can see the actual specimen on exhibit in the recently redone Jurassic Hall in the Carnegie Museum.  A cast replica will be in the new exhibits when the Visitor Center reopens in the Fall of 2011.

To this day, the specimen (CMNH 11361), is the only known specimen of Hoplosuchus. In all the excavations in the Morrison Formation that have been done in the following 90+ years across the western US, not another bone of this small, insect eating crocodile has turned up. In addition, it is still the best small vertebrate skeleton ever found anywhere in the Morrison. Every paleontologist would love to find a similar fossil. Not a bad discovery for a blast in a hole dug randomly by a 10 year old brother-in-law.

One could not be blamed for being a bit skeptical about this tale of discovery. It has the sound of an urban legend and Gilmore did not recount it in his description of Hoplosuchus. That probably accounts for why it is so poorly known even in the paleontological community. Has it been embellished in the retelling over the years? The answer to that question is a resounding NO, because nearly four decades later, Pop Kay himself recounted the events in a short, popular article about the paleontology exhibits at the Carnegie (2). It’s a good thing he did because the story is so improbable that it is damn near unbelievable.

Pop Kay in 1970 at an Eocene fossil fish locality in Utah.


(1) Gilmore, C.W. 1926. A new aetosaurian reptile from the Morrison Formation of Utah. Annals of the Carnegie Museum XVI (2): 325-349.

(2)Kay, J.L. 1951. More dinosaurs. Carnegie Magazine 25: 90-91, 102.

Photos: Hoplosuchus: NPS.. Pop Kay: Dale Gnidovec, Orton Geological Museum, Ohio State University.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


The discovery of the Carnegie Quarry is one of the most important moments in the history of vertebrate paleontology in North America. The in-situ exhibit is a landmark in both resource management and public science education. The specimens collected and preserved in the quarry are an exceedingly important record of Late Jurassic life and continue to be the basis for scientific publications (see Whitlock et al. 2010(1) for a recent example).

One of the things that the Carnegie Quarry is renowned for is the number of skeletons complete enough to be put on display. The Diplodocus skeleton at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is the closest mount to Dinosaur of actual material from the Quarry. Other skeletons from the Quarry can be seen at the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History.

However, it is at the Carnegie Museum where the greatest number of specimens are on public exhibit. This is not surprising given that it was the Carnegie that did most of the excavations (1909-1922) and its field crews shipped 700,000 pounds of fossils back to Pittsburgh. Furthermore, over the last few years the Carnegie has completed a $45 million project of expanding and completely redoing their fossil halls, including many, many new exhibits and specimens on display. It is one of the most spectacular dinosaur exhibits in the world, so if you ever have the chance to visit the museum, see it!

The Jurassic Hall

Specimens from Dinosaur National Monument comprise the majority of the terrestrial vertebrates in the Jurassic Hall. The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, a scientific society of international scope, will be holding their 70th annual meeting at the Carnegie Oct. 10-13, 2010. This will be the first time many paleontologists will have had to see the new exhibits.

For those of you who won’t be attending, here’s a peek at the specimens from Dinosaur:

Allosaurus fragilis

Marshosaurus bicentessimus

Apatosaurus louisae

Camarsaurus lentus

Diplodocus longus (skull and neck)
Camptosaurus aphanocetes

Dryosaurus altus

Stegosaurus stenops
Glyptops plicatulus (turtle)

Hoplosuchus kayi (crocodile)

I will be giving a presentation at the meetings about the QVC project (2). However, presentations are only 15 minutes long (including time for questions). So I can only touch on the high points and won’t have time for interesting side issues, such as the discovery of the 90 year old dynamite. Constant readers who have been following this blog have already gotten a much more detailed account of the work going on here.

(1) Whitlock, J.A., Wilson, J.A., and Lamanna, M,C, 2010. Description of a nearly complete juvenile skull of Diplodocus (Sauropoda: Diplodocoidea) from the Late Jurassic of North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30(2) 442-457

(2) Chure, D.J. 2010. Racing Against Disaster: The Demolition, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of the Quarry Visitor Center, Carnegie Quarry, Dinosaur National Monument. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28 (supplement to no. 3): 72A.

Photos: NPS

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The bentonitic mudstone underlying most of the Quarry Visitor Center has played havoc with the building for half a century. While a great deal of design and work has gone into assuring that this will not be a problem for the new building, there is still the problem of fixing the damage already done.

 One of the most serious involves the series of vertical I-beams that will form the south wall of the redone QVC. The heaving of the bentonite pushed the beams upwards various amounts.

 One of the most instructive examples involves the two beams at the east end of the building. Here one can see the once horizontal beam sloping upwards. The horizontal and vertical beams are still attached ---- one is not sliding past the other. What has happened is that the beam on the right has been pushed upwards 8 inches! The red line marks horizontal and the original position of the beam.

Although this is the most extreme example, all of the 10 beams have moved upwards or downwards various distances. The problem is how to get the bases of all these beams at the same level, then installing larger and deeper footers for each, in order to provide stability for the new building.

First a baseline level is determined. The bases of all beams will be adjusted to that level. As we’ve seen in previous posts, a steel frame box is temporarily attached to the beam. Then the existing footer is excavated and removed. Now comes the cool part.

How can one adjust the height of a 50-foot tall steel I-beam that is part of the steel skeleton of a building? The Mat Jack is a thick rubberized pad that can be inflated with a compressor. The one used at dinosaur can be inflated up to 11 inches in thickness and lift a weight of up to 70 tons.

The flattened mat is placed under wooden blocks at the ends of the steel frame boxes and then slowly inflated. By monitoring the base of the beam relative to the established baseline, it can be finely adjusted until it lines up with that baseline.

 At that point the steel frame box is blocked up with wood, the mat deflated, and the process repeated on the other side of the steel frame box.

Once both sides are blocked up, the beam can be attached to the new reinforced concrete footers that are themselves attached to the 70 foot deep micropilings. Now the I-beam should be solidly anchored.

This process is repeated for each of the 10 I-beams on the south side of the building. This is a slow process, taking many weeks, but it is remarkable to watch the fine adjustments made with the Mat Jack as it lifts and supports the weight of the building. Victoria’s Secret must be green with envy.

Once completed, the building will be the most stable it has been since it was built in 1957. If it isn’t, well we can all blame this guy -----

Photos: NPS