Footprint trackers search for fossil

Dinosaur imprint pried loose from trail near Moab

This track left by a theropod more than 190 million years ago was pried out of the surrounding rock.

Bureau of Land Management ranger Tyler Fouss inspects the site where a dinosaur track was cut from the rock and hauled away.

Authorities in Utah are continuing to search for a dinosaur track left in a muddy flat in the Jurassic period and stolen last month from the Navajo sandstone in which it was preserved.

The track is that of a theropod, or meat-eater, that was last seen on Feb. 16.

Divers from the Utah Department of Public Safety searched the Colorado River near Dewey Bridge on Saturday, assisting Grand County, Utah, and Bureau of Land Management investigators who developed information that the track might have been dumped there.

The paleontological significance of the track is difficult to overstate, said ReBecca Hunt-Foster, BLM Canyon Country district paleontologist.

“We’re closer in time to T. rex than T. rex was” to the creature that left the track back in the Jurassic period some 190 million years ago, Hunt-Foster said. “Those tracks were fossils when T. rex was around.”

Tyrannosaurus rex was the premier predator of the Cretaceous Period, which ended 65 million years ago.

Officials were alerted last month to the theft of the fossil from a spot along Hell’s Revenge, one of the slickrock trails in the Sand Flats Recreational Area.

“It was there on Monday night and when I came back on Tuesday morning, it was gone,” said Kent Green, owner of Moab Cowboy Country Off-road Adventures, who told authorities of the disappearance. “I almost thought I was in the wrong spot.”

The track was a favorite spot for him and other outfitters, Green said.

Kids could put their feet into the track itself to get a sense of the size of the meat-eater that left it, Green said, estimating the three-toed track to be about the equivalent of a 12 or 13 shoe size.

“I could put my cowboy boot into it and I’m a 10 1/2,” Green said. “It was the most pristine track that you’ve ever seen.”

The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009 protects fossil resources such as tracks, as well as vertebrate fossils like dinosaur bones.  Vandalism and theft of these resources can result in criminal and civil penalties, including fines and potential jail time.

The BLM is offering a reward for information leading to the identification of the person or persons involved in the theft. Anyone with information pertaining to this case is asked to contact BLM law enforcement at 801-539-4082.

It appeared that the track had been removed with the help of a pry bar, Green said.

The track was contained in a rock Green estimated to be at least a foot thick and weighing 250 to 300 pounds.

It appeared to have a thin layer of limestone that might have helped hold the rock together, Hunt-Foster said, “So there’s some hope” it could be found intact.

The theft “from all of us” left him angered, Green said. “190 million years old and it’s gone in an instant.”


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