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Apatosaurus femur found outside of Grand Junction

Brittany Markert
bmarkert@gjfreepress.com
Volunteers brush away extra rock and clay surrounding the plaster-encased Apatosaurus bone.
Brittany Markert / bmarkert@gjfreepress.com | Free Press

If you go

WHAT: Dinosaur Journey Museum

WHEN: Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

WHERE: 550 Jurassic Court, Fruita

COST: $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, $5.25 for children and $24.50 for immediate family groups

INFO: http://www.museumofwesternco.com

Two miles east of the Colorado-Utah border in Rabbit Valley, prehistoric bones and fragments litter the area.

Known as Mygatt-Moore quarry, it’s home to an unknown amount of fossilized remains — both dinosaurs and extinct sea creatures. Its most notable recent find was a 6-foot-7-inch-long, 2,800-pound Apatosaurus femur — the largest Apatosaurus bone ever found. It was extracted July 17 after five seasons of excavation.

“It’s funny that it was discovered from a small exposed piece about the size of a pancake,” volunteer Dorthy Stewart said.

A crew of experts led by Museum of western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita oversaw the excavation, along with the Bureau of Land Management and the City of Fruita Public Works.

Dinosaur Journey curator of paleontology Julia McHugh said the bone was a groundbreaking discovery because it belonged to a beast likely 80-90 feet long, which is 15-25 feet longer than average. The dinosaur, which lived during the late Jurassic Period around 150 million years ago, ordinarily grew up to 69 feet long and ate plants.

A LONG-AWAITED DAY

According to the National Park Service, “You may have heard it referred to by its scientifically incorrect name, Brontosaurus. This sauropod [long-necked dinosaur] was discovered and named Apatosaurus, or ‘false lizard,’ because of its unbelievably large size. After Apatosaurus was named, other sauropod specimens were named Brontosaurus. It was later determined that both names actually referred to the same animal, Apatosaurus.”

John Foster, Dinosaur Journey’s former curator of paleontology, was also present at the extraction. He moved to Utah after taking a curator position at the Museum of Moab six months ago.

“It was definitely a long-awaited day,” he said. The femur “was first uncovered in 2010, and it took us until 2011 to get it uncovered all the way to the end. Then we spent all of the past two seasons trying to get it untangled from everything.

“When I laid down next to it, it was even bigger than I remembered. It was gigantic.”

The Apatosaurus bone was safety transported after its removal to Dinosaur Journey Museum, where it will be studied for at least a year before being put on display.

A DANGEROUS DINING SPOT

Since 1981, experts working at Rabbit Valley’s Mygatt-Moore quarry have dug up more than 4,000 bones, including Diplodocus, Camptasaurus, Camarasaurus and more.

In 1987, the 280-acre Rabbit Valley Research Natural area was created by the State of Colorado as a result of cooperative efforts between BLM and the Museum of Western Colorado. Mygatt-Moore quarry is currently managed by the BLM.

According to McHugh, it was originally a watering hole for the animals, gathering to drink and eat vegetation. Carnivorous dinosaurs then snagged their meals from the herbivorous dinosaurs feeding along the waters. Bones left behind from deceased animals were scattered and buried due to years of heavy trampling and scavenging by other dinosaurs.

“Some of the bones we have found have bite marks in them,” she added.

McHugh also expects at least three to four decades of continued excavation in the area “with many treasures still undiscovered,” which means “more tourists visiting for dinosaur digs and the museum.”

To learn more about Fruita’s Dinosaur Journey Museum, visit http://www.museumofwesternco.com.

— Free Press community editor Caitlin Row contributed to this article.


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