Ancient sea creatures on display at Fruita’s Dinosaur Journey
WHAT: “Sea Monsters of the Grand Valley” exhibit
WHEN: April 18 through Sept. 7
WHERE: Dinosaur Journey, Fruita, Colo.
COST: General admission to museum is $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, and $5.25 for children.
When toothy beasts ruled the deep (around 80-90 million years ago), Colorado’s Grand Valley was located under expansive ocean. Ancient sea creatures dominated the aquatic environment, littering fossils throughout modern-day Mesa County (found in the exposed Mancos Shale sediment layer).
To showcase the area’s unique history, Fruita’s Dinosaur Journey Museum will open its new exhibit — Sea Monsters of the Grand Valley — on Friday, April 18. The show will run through Sept. 7.
Among smaller aquatic fossils — like ancient mussels, ammonites (squid relatives) and clams — the fossilized remains of an elasmosaurid plesiosaur will be on display. This carnivorous marine reptile (with a long neck and four flippers) was discovered last summer near the Bookcliffs, northwest of Grand Junction Regional Airport. It’s estimated to be 40 feet long (roughly the size of a five-story building), and this type of fossil dates to the late Cretaceous Period.
Guest curator John Foster said he recovered “a dozen vertebrae from the back of the neck and the shoulder region” of the elasmosaurid, “plus part of a shoulder girdle bone called the coracoid, and a few rib pieces.”
The fossilized remains of a Xiphactinus fish (excavated in 2012 on private land in Grand Junction), a small-sized plesiosaur (found locally in the 1980s), and a “duckbilled dinosaur that had floated out to sea as a carcass and became buried in the Mancos mud” will also be part of the display, a news release said.
According to Foster, recent years exploring the Mancos Shale throughout Mesa County have been relatively fruitful, especially for vertebrates.
“Whenever we go out there, we can always find at least oysters and ammonite,” he said, and sometimes even a shark tooth. “But in recent years folks have been finding a number of large fish and marine reptiles as well, and they alerted the Museum of Western Colorado about the finds.”
The Mancos itself is “a layer of rock deposited by the Western Interior Seaway back when the Grand Valley was under several hundred feet of water,” Foster added. “The formation extends from the Colorado River up to the base of the Bookcliffs.
“The Mancos dips to the north, so everything south of the river and up on the Monument is older than the Mancos, and the upper Bookcliffs and Douglas Pass are younger rock. The entire valley, then, is Mancos Shale and is essentially mud from the bottom of an ancient shallow sea.”
For more information about Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, call 970-858-7282 or visit http://www.museumofwesternco.com/visit/dinosaur-journey.
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