On Location

Located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-managed public lands at the end of 13 miles of winding gravel road, the area of the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry has had a history of surprising those who've come upon it over the years. Even today, the quarry astonishes — and delights — visitors with its irresistible combination of dinosaur bones, interesting geology, and colorful desert scenery. Visitor center volunteers and BLM staffers make every effort to create an unforgettable experience for all who venture into the quarry.

A view of the area about a kilometer from the visitor center.Prominent gullies contribute to the rough terrain typical of the quarry area.

Thirty miles south of Price, Utah, the quarry is in a semiarid area that is sparsely vegetated with piñon pine, Utah juniper, sagebrush, saltbrush, and cactus. The San Rafael Swell — a bulge in the earth that didn't quite break out into a mountain range — is the dominant land feature to the south.

The view from south of the Cleveland-Lloyd Visitor Center. Quarry buildings are at the base of the hill; Raptor Point is at the left.
From atop Raptor Point, a high spot a few hundred meters west of the quarry, one can look out across 50 km of land and see high cliffs arranged in a great horseshoe to the east, north, and west. These cliffs are the abrupt edges of the Tavaputs Plateau to the east and north, and the Wasatch Plateau to the west.

Much closer to the quarry, there is also rugged country. Room-size boulders are strewn across the land just west of the visitor center. Ridges and steep-sided hills contain evidence that dinosaurs once walked here, and ranger guides lead the hardiest visitors on "track tours" to dinosaur footprints recorded in now-solid rock. Bones that haven't seen sunshine in over 140 million years peek from hillsides, providing us a connection with the planet that earth used to be long ago. Large and small hoodoos — eerie, human-looking landforms — dot the landscape along the way to the bones and tracks. Reddish barite roses — barium-rich mineral crystals in the shape of flowers — litter the ground in places, giving scientists clues to what the climate was like when allosaurs prowled ancient floodplains (riverbanks) looking for something to kill for dinner.

Room-size rocks piled up west of the visitor center.Some small (0.5-1 m) hoodos at Cleveland-Lloyd.

Inside the Cleveland-Lloyd Visitor Center, a mounted replica of a teenaged allosaur tends to be the most popular topic of animated visitor conversation. Replica skulls of other dinosaurs — a camarasaur, a diplodocus, and a stegosaur — hang from the walls almost as if they were trophies of the ferocious allosaur. Here, visitors also find abundant authentic fossil bones to touch and heft. (What is a fossil, you ask? Over long periods of time, a fossil bone has had most of its soft parts (marrow, blood vessels, and other structures) replaced by mineral matter. In contrast, a modern bone found out in the desert — say, from a dead cow — has had its soft parts replaced with air. The hard outer part of the bones can still be intact in both cases. Often, the hard outer part of a fossilized bone is also replaced by some other mineral matter, but not in the case of the bones from Cleveland-Lloyd: while stained black by the presence of some acquired mineral matter, most of the hard outer part of Cleveland-Lloyd bones is still made of the same stuff the dinosaurs were carrying around.)

Mike made this artistic "double photo" by shooting into the visitor center through the south-side window and silhouetting the mounted allosaur skeleton against the north-side window.Inside the visitor center, a Student Conservation Association volunteer discusses a dinosaur bone specimen with visitors.

From one wall in the visitor center hangs a world map showing the locations of over 60 museums that feature Cleveland-Lloyd dinosaur materials in their exhibits. Decorating a second wall is another map showing the recorded locations of thousands of bones taken from the deposit. Comparing that second map with the view from the window really brings home just how small an area is actually covered by the bone bed. Two buildings are currently set up over the exposure of the bone bed to protect the bones from the natural elements as well as thieves and vandals. One of those buildings is open to the public; it boasts an inside catwalk (elevated walkway) to permit closer viewing of bones that are still in the ground but are partially exposed.

Views of the visitor center and quarry buildings from atop Raptor Point.

Although a few bones are sometimes found together as they would have been in life, most of Cleveland-Lloyd's dinosaur bones are scattered and jumbled. And though the bone layer here is only about a meter in thickness, it contains more Jurassic dinosaur bones per square meter than have been found anywhere else in the whole world! And the really curious thing? Even today, with all the research that's been done, nobody knows why.

For Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry visitor information, check out the quarry's website at http://www.blm.gov/utah/price/quarry.htm.