Dinosaur bones found at Norwood Hill construction site

Monday, August 16, 2010

A crew working on the Norwood Hill rockfall mitigation project on Highway 145 peeled a big slab of rock off the side of the hill.

On its surface, this wasn’t a noteworthy event; crews have been pulling rocks, boulders and pebbles from the steep slope as part of the Colorado Department of Transportation project since early July.

On the inside of the slab, however, was a sandstone block that contained a piece of history: fossilized dinosaur bones.

Steve Wallace, a staff paleontologist from the CDOT who has been present the project, said workers uncovered vertebrae and rib fragment fossils of a sauropod — a massive plant eating species of dinosaur characterized by its long neck, tree-trunk sized tail and elephant-like legs. Think brontosaurus. The creatures inhabited this part of the world when it was a hotter, wetter landscape threaded with streams and devoid of the mountains that now dominate the scenery.

“What we have here is a lot of broken up vertebrae and also some rib fragments of one or more sauropod dinosaurs,” Wallace said. Experts from the Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita came down to confirm the species, but Wallace said the bones were not intact enough for the scientists to determine the family of sauropod. What they did deduce is that the fossils are somewhere in the neighborhood of 148 million years old.

The find wasn’t a total surprise due to bedrock found at the project: it belongs to the Morrison Foundation, a slice of Late Jurassic sedimentary rock famous for yielding dinosaur fossils.

In fact, Wallace has been working as the onsite paleontologist since the project began specifically to keep an eye out for fossils in the Morrison Foundation. (He had looked for fossils before the project but hadn’t found any.)

Source From http://www.telluridenews.com/articles/2010/08/10/news/doc4c60a498287ea675465497.txt

Still, it’s unusual for this pocket of the state; while dinosaur fossils have been discovered in Paradox Valley, near Grand Junction and in eastern Utah, Wallace said this is the first record of dinosaur bones he is aware of between Telluride and Norwood. And while the quality of the fossils is crumbly, it’s an interesting discovery.

“Scientifically, the material isn’t that valuable. [But] it’s kind of neat,” Wallace said.

Wallace and the paleontologists from Fruita suspect the bones ended up where they did like this: they were carried in a river and deposited in the bottom of the channel at a point when the water slowed down.

The bones were sent back to the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Wallace said.

The discovery didn’t halt the project, and Wallace will be present at the site until workers are finished removing rock in the Morrison Foundation, looking for more fossils.

CDOT began the rockfall mitigation project in early July. The project is aimed at mitigating rockfall on the curvy, steep section of road that winds up Norwood Hill between mile markers 96.6 and 97.8. Work entails blasting, scaling (bringing rocks down from the walls above the road by hand or machine), rock reinforcement and securing cable meshing onto the walls, and the project is being completed by Midwest Rockfall Inc., of Denver. It is projected to cost $1.78 million.


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