Best of the Beehive 2023: Digging up Dinosaurs in Utah

We even have our own raptor named after us! Just as an example of our dinosaur discovery supremacy, more than 6,000 different fossils have been found at a single dig site in Emery County. Top paleontological spots to visit:

Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, near Price, has the densest concentration of Jurassic-era dinosaur fossils in the world, according to the Bureau of Land Management. More than 12,000 bones, belonging to at least 74 individual dinosaurs have been excavated here, with many of them on display throughout various museums in Utah.

The Quarry Exhibit Hall is a true paleontological marvel nestled within Dinosaur National Monument. This site contains towering rock walls embedded with countless dinosaur bones.

Ogden’s George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park boasts life-size dinosaur sculptures that transport visitors to a world long extinct. Discover more than 100 species of prehistoric creatures while strolling along winding paths of interactive, educational and entertaining exhibits.

Utah Dinosaurs
Man touching fossils in Quarry Visitor Center exhibit hall in Dinosaur National Monument Park (Adobe Stock)

Stewards of Utah’s prehistoric past 

The Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) might be the best place to learn about Utah’s prehistoric past and one of the best places to get up close with some extraordinary fossils—short of making it out to a paleontological excavation site itself (but we’ll get to that, too). What sets NHMU’s fossil collection apart from other museums is its focus. “One thing I really love about our exhibits—they’re really focused on the fossil record of Utah and Intermountain West, so there are exhibits that you can only see in our museum,” says Randall Irmis, Ph.D., Curator of Paleontology and Head Curator at NHMU and Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Utah. 

Irmis and members of his department split their time between working in the museum or the lab and prospecting or excavating fossils in the field. “Utah is the best single state or province in North America for understanding Earth’s past,” says Irmis. What makes Utah one of the best places to discover dinosaurs? “Our geology and our climate,” says Irmis. Most fossils are found in sedimentary rock, which Utah has in abundance, and, because we are a desert, the rocks are exposed rather than covered in vegetation, “which makes it easier to find those fossils and why we have such an amazing fossil record.”

Utah Dinosaurs
Randall Irmis, curator of the Natural History Museum of Utah. Photo credit Mark Johnston

The fossils NHMU’s team excavates in the field might make it to the museum, but it takes a considerable amount of time and effort before the paleontologists are ready to reveal their findings to the public. 

“I hope, when people come to see what’s on display at the museum, they see how much Utah and the Intermountain West have changed over geologic time. It may be a high desert today, but, in the Late Cretaceous, it was a subtropical flood plain like Southern Louisiana.” And, at other times, Utah was covered in ocean. 

“There are so many amazing creatures from Earth’s past that draw the imagination, and Utah has become known for these weird and wonderful, extinct creatures. What’s so cool—whether you’re talking about dinosaurs, or soft-bodied animals that lived in the ocean—there are so many of these animals that we have the fossil record of. They’re not just something people dreamed up, these things existed.”

If you’re interested in volunteering with NHMU’s paleontology team, keep an eye on their website for calls for volunteers.

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Christie Porter
Christie Porter
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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