Dinosaur bones have really increased in price

  • Lin Ottinger at his rock shop in Moab, Utah

    Heather Abel

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Who owns these bones?

"Dinosaur bones have really increased in price. It wouldn't matter to me if they were not worth anything. I'd sure love to go find more of them." - Lin Ottinger

Lin Ottinger has watched Moab turn into a tourist mecca and Canyonlands made a national park, but his rock shop remains a monument to the way things were, even millions of years ago. Rows of antique junk cover every inch of space and hang from the ceiling: glass insulators, old jacks, stained-glass lamps, tickertape, 150 fruit jars, weather balloons, and one green Iguanodon ottingerei, a plastic toy replica of the dinosaur he discovered. Behind a thick purple velvet curtain is his private collection. Cabinets bulge with minerals, crates overflow with fossils, and oddly, one wall holds over 100 monkey wrenches. This collection of monkey wrenches, Ottinger says, gave Ed Abbey the idea for his book, The Monkey Wrench Gang.

"I was hoeing corn with my mom in Tennessee. I got bored and started annoying her. She said, 'Go play with your sister up on that hill.' I found some rock that looked like a diamond. I already had a cigar box full of arrowheads and Ma said we didn't have room for them anymore.

"I sold these quartz crystals and arrowheads and made $10 in a week. Ma made $6 in a week hoeing corn. This is better than farming, I thought. It was the Depression; you'd do anything.

"When I was 10, I saw dinosaurs in the Denver Museum. I wanted to find one for myself so I started collecting. I always did save bones. I loved the shapes of bones.

"I came to Moab in the middle '50s. I saw the La Sals and the canyons, and I thought it was the most beautiful place on earth. There are things 150 million years old 10 miles out of the city limits.

"I could find a dinosaur in 10 minutes at a place I've never been. Everything is found at a certain level. Digging and prospecting, you need to identify strata. Very few can do it.

"There, look at that hill, don't you see Wingate level, now Navajo? That's where you find bones. If I say 'go five miles left past the big tree and right at the big rock and pick up fossils,' what would you find? Nothing. I tell people, 'if you don't have enough intelligence to look at the formations, I don't have enough time to talk to you.' I give people this map (of rock formations) and they come back and bring me fossils.

"I took a paleontologist on a trip. He admitted to me, 'I never found anything on my own.' I said, 'You don't look.' He said, 'I don't know where to look.' I had an idea of a place where I thought there would be bones.

"Suddenly, I slammed on the brakes, the car skidded, my blood leapt. I said, 'Get your ass out and don't come back 'til you find yourself a new species of dinosaur! Look in the road.'

"(Later) He jumped up and down: 'There is a vertebrate. I really found them on my own!' I didn't tell him I already knew. He couldn't find the spot again. He never did find it.

"I can't collect anymore. I was told it was illegal. I still take people out and let them collect. I take a little piece and put it in my pocket for my private collection.

"I have 50-80 tons of dinosaur bone left in the back room. Nobody wanted them in the '60s. I couldn't give it away to anybody for a dollar. Most people would cut it all up for agate.

"Dinosaur bones have really increased in price. It wouldn't matter to me if they were not worth anything. I'd sure love to go find more of them. Everyone tells me there is nothing left out there, but every time I look I find things. You just have to look where things are. I can go right now and dig vertebrates this big.

"Come back and we'll get you a dinosaur."