Local teen to present dinosaur track study at DSU Undergraduate Research Symposium

Conner Bennett holds a fossil at the Dinosaur Track Museum, St. George, Utah, April 15, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After receiving a grant from Dixie State University to help fund a trip to study a dinosaur track site near Lake Powell last year, Desert Hills High School senior Conner Bennett is presenting the team’s findings Thursday at the DSU Regional Research Symposium.

Conner Bennett holds a fossil at the Dinosaur Track Museum, St. George, Utah, April 15, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Bennett has spent the past five years working as a volunteer, and now as an intern, at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm where he has worked under Andrew Milner, a site paleontologist and curator at the museum.

“I’ve been really grateful just to be here. I’ve been into dinosaurs since I was little and it’s just amazing to have all this here,” Bennett said.

He and Milner have been working with a group to map the track site known as the Andre’s Alcove Track Site and collect data to include in a peer-reviewed publication.

The site, which was unknown to the National Park Service prior to 2015, is full of a variety of dinosaur tracks preserved in the layers of Navajo sandstone.

Read  more: High school student secures Dixie State grant to map previously unknown dinosaur track sites

The team has uncovered fossils and footprints in hard deposits of carbonate that appear to have previously been small pools of water, Milner said.

Conner Bennett holds a fossil at the Dinosaur Track Museum, St. George, Utah, April 15, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

They confirmed tracks from four different dinosaurs: Eubrontes, Grallator, Batrachopus and Anomepus. They found another track that they suspect to be Sauropodomorph but have yet to identify it officially.

“This was before the long-necked dinosaurs like the Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus,” Bennett said. “These were their ancestors which lived in the early Jurassic around 180 million years ago.”

It was Milner’s idea for Bennett to join the team at the site and present about it at the symposium. Milner, along with Jerry Harris, director of paleontology at DSU, helped Bennett prepare his presentation.

“It’s a very big track site, so I suggested to Conner that it (the presentation) might be a good idea, and we took him out there,” Milner said.

This is not Bennett’s first time attending the symposium. He presented a poster about the site last year, but now that he has been there himself, he will be giving a 15-minute slide presentation about the findings and the process of mapping the site using photogrammetry, which creates 3D visuals of the track sites.

It allows them to photograph more than just the ground’s surface and helps them locate tracks they otherwise may have missed. It also allows them to better study the site from their lab and digitally preserve it in case it is damaged by flood or vandalism.

The lab at the Dinosaur Track Museum, St. George, Utah, April 15, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“Visually, when you look at it with the naked eye, some tracks are difficult to see. But with the 3D photogrammetry, we’re now able to bring out footprints that are not really visible to us, and we’re able to see them in 3D. … We’re finding a lot more footprints now that we’ve done the photogrammetry,” Milner said.

Bennett has also been to a dig south of Moab at Indian Creek where they discovered Phytosaur skulls.

“It’s amazing around here what we’ve been finding, just because no one’s been looking. It’s been really fun,” Bennett said.

Bennett will be graduating from Desert Hills High School this year, after which he has plans to serve a mission before hopefully attending DSU and continuing his work at the museum. After college, he has hopes to continue studying dinosaur fossils as a paleontologist.

“I love the rocks. I love getting dirty and playing in the rocks and having a reason for it,” Bennett said. “So if I get paid anything and have a career in knowing rocks and fossils it’s something that I’d love to do.”

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!