Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s fossil history dates back more than 75 million years, and many paleontologists believe that this vast 1.9-million acre area has the highest concentration of dinosaur fossils in the world. From dinosaur tracks to skulls and bones, GSENM has been the site of some exciting dinosaur discoveries.
In 2010, the Utah Museum of Natural History’s research curator Scott Sampson announced the extraordinary discovery in GSENM of two Ceratopsian skulls from the Cretaceous period. The skulls are believed to be related to the triceratops, owing to their large size and horn pattern. The Utahceratops skull, discovered in 2000, measures 7 feet long and is believed to have belonged to a dinosaur with a 20-foot long body. The Kosmoceratops, found in 2007, has a 6-foot long skull with an unprecedented 15 horns. The significant discovery of these two skulls shows that different species of horned dinosaurs existed at the same time on the ‘lost continent’ of Laramidia, about 75 million years ago. At the time, the region was a hot, humid swampland with lush vegetation, a far cry from present-day Utah’s arid climate. The findings were reported in the Public Library of Science journal, PLoS ONE.
In 2011, scientists from Brigham Young University and Carthage College gave name to another dinosaur fossil discovered in GSENM, Teratophoneus curriei, a meat-eater related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex. ‘Currie’s Monstrous Murderer,’ significantly smaller than the T-Rex, is believed to be a missing link in the evolution of the tyrannosaur family, according to a Smithsonian article. The discovery included a partial skull and other bones found in the 75-million-year-old rock of the Kaiparowits Plateau, the same region where the Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops were discovered. These three discoveries suggest that southern dinosaurs evolved differently from northern dinosaurs due to a climate, land or other barrier.
The GSENM has been a significant source of late Cretaceous period findings. Since 1999, fossils from 16 new species of dinosaurs have been discovered within the monument boundaries. Other dinosaur fossils discovered in GSENM include: a Pseudotetrasauropus track (Late Triassic Chinle Formation); Theropod tracks (top of the Middle Jurassic Entrada Formation); tail vertebrae from a duck-billed dinosaur (Late Creataceous Kaiparowits Formation); and Sauropod tracks showing a tail drag (top of the Middle Jurassic Entrada Formation). Late Cretaceous dinosaurs from Utah’s Kaiparowits Formation also include the Parasaurolophus, Struthiomimus, and the Troodon. These dinosaurs are primarily known from teeth fossils, found through wet screen washing.
If you find a fossil: Vertebrate fossils may not be collected on any federal or state lands (except accredited institutions with permits). Invertebrate and plant fossils may be collected for personal, non-commercial use. Permission is required to collect on private lands. Private landowners may keep fossils found on their property but are urged to report findings to the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) for research and documentation.
Click to learn more about the Grand Staircase.