Text by Betsy Carlson, Burpee Educator
Photos by Sheila Rawlings, Director of Education, Burpee Museum
Lisa Johnson and I just concluded a week of tours at the Hanksville- Burpee Quarry with 200 visitors driving 8 miles on desert surface road to visit. We had visitors from barely 2 years old to 85. Today alone we had over 70. Visitors came from eight states (the same number of states that have exposures of the Morrison Formation), Canada, and twenty-two towns /cities in Utah. These states include Texas, Kansas, Idaho, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Florida, and New Mexico. On Wednesday all visitors were from outside of Utah.
Having given 100s of tours in the past, this dig site tour is unique. First, the visitors are making history. Those viewing this quarry will be able to tell their children and grand children, “Why I was at the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry the first summer it was open to the public. The summer they were digging out four sauropods.” These tours are unique also in that they are continually changing. Each day the quarries have more bones being exposed, other bones are further exposed, and still others are jacketed and removed. So this is not static but a living tour, where visitors are experiencing science.
The tour begins with a short introduction to the Morrison Basin and the Morrison Formation. From there we examine the side of a preserved river channel where an Allosaurus was removed last summer. Then we climb the ridge to look at the quarries on top. Here a Camarasaurus and a possible Apatosaurus are being excavated. Vertebra, ribs, and scapula are quickly recognizable to the visitors. Next we leave the ridge and walk along the top of an earthen dam to look at Cow Dung Reservoir. Then we climb down into a ravine and examine the layers of sandstone and conglomerate with different sediment sizes. From here we walk further down into another wash where we see preserved roots, animal burrows, and Union Clams. Now it is time to climb out up onto the opposite ridge where the Barosaurus is being dug. This tour affords a rich opportunity to see the dig as well as to enjoy the variety of weathering formations in the Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation.
Participating in the dig is wonderful and so are the desert vistas. But for me the best part has been meeting and visiting with the visitors on the tour. First, I have been amazed by the geologic knowledge the Utah public has. Basically the residents of Utah know their local geology. I especially have enjoyed meeting families with a long history in this valley. These visits have been truly inspirational to me.
To relate how special these visits have been, let me relate a story. I had given the tour to a group of twenty one. I knew that some of the participants were from the same family. After the tour as we were finishing the final questions, one participant said, “I think it was our grandfather who built the dam for Cow Dung Reservoir, since he was the only one in those days with a Cat” (Caterpillar crawler). From there I learned that they had four generations on the tour celebrating the one year anniversary of one member’s heart transplant. Another had had a hip transplant in January. The Hanksville-Burpee Quarry tour was their family outing. Fourteen family members from 2 to 72 all descended from the builder of the dam saw his dam and the dinosaurs that lay at its foot. Such is the history that we are learning through these tours. I am excited by the potential which these dinosaurs hold for the future of the area of the Hanksville –Burpee Quarry.