Follow the Dinosaur Tracks: St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site UtahOctober 12, 2011 No Comments
Dad and I recently spent some time in southwestern Utah, as part of our summer 2011 adventure through the American Southwest. While we were excited to see the national parks, we also wanted to discover the smaller local attractions. As science and history buffs, we knew we couldn’t miss out on the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site in St. George, Utah. The site has been described by paleontologists as one of the top ten track sites in the world.
About Dinosaur Discovery
Local optometrist Dr. Sheldon Johnson was clearing some land on his property in 2000 when he made an unusual discovery. As he was removing blocks of sandstone from a hill, Dr. Johnson unearthed a three-dimensional dinosaur footprint. The well-preserved track was visible in both the sandstone and the clay that covered it.
While dinosaur tracks are common in this part of Utah, three-dimensional tracks are not. As he unearthed more and more footprints, Dr. Johnson called in an expert for advice. Paleontologist Dr. Jim Kirkland and his team identified hundreds of dinosaur tracks preserved on Dr. Johnson’s land, as well as rare impressions of dinosaur skin. Dr. Johnson and Dr. Kirkland worked with officials at the local, state and national levels to preserve the tracks and impressions, and display them in a museum on the site of the original discovery.
Today the museum features the best-preserved of the tracks along with fossils of dinosaurs, small animals and a wide variety of plants. An intro video uses cartoon characters to explain life in the dinosaur era, while a special exhibit room features changing displays and activities related to dinosaurs.
As of 2011, the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 to 6. Limited operating hours are sometimes offered on Sundays during the summer. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for kids aged 4 to 11. Children under 4 are free.
Dad and I arrived around 11:00, just in time for the introductory video. Shown in a curtained-off section of the main exhibit hall, the video can be slightly hard to hear if the museum is crowded. Sit close to the TV if possible. The video’s cartoon characters are loveable, and the presentation is great fun for all ages.
The exhibit hall is basically one large room with directional arrows for crowd control. Though it was fairly busy on the day of our visit, we never felt crowded or had any trouble seeing the displays. Signage throughout the exhibit does an excellent job of explaining the type of dinosaur that made each track and the type of track or imprint that was left behind.
During our visit, the special exhibit was on origami. The room was filled with examples of origami dinosaurs, with signs explaining the type of paper used and the dinosaur represented. Additional signs explained the art of origami and some of the difficulties of reproducing various types of dinosaurs in paper.
In the center of the room was a large table. At each seat was a laminated set of instructions for making either a crane or a swan in origami. A thick stack of origami paper sat in the middle of the table. Not being ones to shy away from a challenge, Dad and I decided to give it a try. We noticed halfway through the project that some sets of instructions were for an “easy” version, while others were for a “harder” variation. Guess who ended up with the harder project? Both animals came out quite well, though.
Tips for Parents
The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site is great fun for all ages, even if you are not a particular dinosaur fan. The informational signs are packed with details for paleontology buffs, but there is enough to look at to keep everyone engaged. Younger readers may have difficulty with some of the signs, so plan to explain things to your kids. The museum is staffed with friendly and knowledgeable volunteers who are happy to share their expertise.
We spent approximately two hours examining everything in depth. If your interest is more casual, you could easily finish the museum in an hour or so. Parking is available on site for RVs and other large vehicles, making this a great break point during a long drive. The museum is entirely enclosed and climate-controlled.