ST. GEORGE — After brushing away excess earth and rock from the rock face at his feet, paleontologist Andrew Milner crouches down and examines indentations in the rock that he readily confirms as ancient tracks suspected to belong to a small, bipedal dinosaur.
“About three-to-four footprints have been found at this site by Ryan (Singleton),” Milner said in an undisclosed area of Washington County. “They represent footprints made by small meat-eating dinosaurs.”
Milner knows a few things about dinosaur tracks in Washington County, serving as the site paleontologist and curator of the St. George Dinosaur Discovery at Johnson Farm.
The suspected owner of the possibly 200 million-year-old footprints is estimated to have been a small 50-60 pound dinosaur that was 3 feet tall at the hips, 6 feet long and likely hunted as part of a pack, Milner said.
Milner was contacted by Singleton a few weeks ago about possible dinosaur tracks he found on a hillside near his home. Singleton said he first noticed the tracks about a year ago after they were exposed by monsoonal rains.
“I came and investigated what I thought looked to me to be dinosaur tracks, and I noticed some more and wasn’t sure what to do, so I called Andrew a few weeks ago,” Singleton said.
The tracks were also in the middle of a dirt trail that been cut by repeated ATV use, which makes Singleton worried for their preservation.
“I’d love to see this excavated,” he said.
Singleton stood by as Milner confirmed the authenticity of the what he also called “grallator” tracks, a scientific term for dinosaur tracks where the specific species that made them isn’t exactly known. However, some educated guesses can be made as to what type of dinosaur made the tracks.
The Washington County area is covered in dinosaur tracks, Milner said, adding that over 600 paleo sites exist across the county. Unfortunately, some prevalent sites like those found in Warner Valley have been destroyed by vandals, he said.
After examining the footprints, Milner and Singleton covered the small site with a blanket of earth in order to hide it from potential vandalism or destruction by people who may want to collect the footprints for themselves.
Milner asks those who come across possible dinosaur tracks to contact the proper authorities, depending on where they are found.
If found on private land, a property owner isn’t obligated to report the find, but it is certainly appreciated, Milner said. Paleontologists want to collect as much data as possible, and being allowed access to new finds helps them accomplish that. In such cases, a person can contact the Utah Geological Survey or the Dinosaur Discovery museum.
If tracks are found on state or federal land, the Utah Geological Survey or Bureau of Land Management would be the best bet. As well, once found, it’s best not to attempt to excavate the site, remove the prints or even make a cast of the prints, as it is illegal without a permit.
The location of the Singleton’s find is not being reported in order to help preserve the integrity of the site for future examination.
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