They left only footprints

  • Geologist Erik Kvale with fossilized dinosaur tracks

    Richard Alan Hannon photo
  • Scientists look for tracks in a Wyoming wash

    Richard Alan Hannon photo
  When storms hit central Wyoming's Bighorn Basin, dry washes turn to muddy streams, scouring the limestone bedrock. In one gully near the Red Gulch/Alkali Backcountry Byway, the yearly floods uncovered more than 2,000 dinosaur tracks from the Middle Jurassic period. "There were thousands and thousands of small- to medium-sized meat-eating dinosaurs scurrying around here," explains Brent Breithaupt, a University of Wyoming paleontologist who is studying the tracks. Until the tracks' discovery in 1997, most experts believed that Wyoming had been underwater 165 million years ago. Now the site will "rewrite the history of the Middle Jurassic in this part of world," Breithaupt says, since dinosaurs must have lived at the edge of a great inland sea. The tracks draw many dinosaur buffs, including visitors who damaged several prints in early September while making illegal plaster casts.

Later this fall, the Bureau of Land Management will release an environmental assessment of the site; meanwhile, the agency welcomes suggestions about managing the area. Send comments to Bob Ross, Bureau of Land Management, P.O. Box 119, Worland, WY 82401. The tracks are featured on the Wyoming BLM's Web site at - Gabriel Ross

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