Earl Douglass and Dinosaur National Monument

Douglass Quarry
Dinosaur National Monument
Courtesy National Parks Service

Holly: Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Dinosaur fever was rampant in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Andrew
Carnegie, the wealthy steel magnate, was not immune. He wanted a huge
dinosaur skeleton for the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. In 1908, Museum
Director W.J. Holland and paleontologist Earl Douglass explored the hills
along the Green River near Jensen UT. They found a 6 foot thigh bone of a
dinosaur. Douglass marked the spot and returned the following year to
explore some more.

It didn’t take Douglass very long to get what he was after– in August of
that same year, he came upon the tail section of an Apatasaurus in Morrison
Formation outcrops near Jensen, UT. Within weeks, Douglass had uncovered
an almost complete skeleton, including 64 tail vertebrae, more than twice
as many that had ever been found in this type of dinosaur. Then to his
amazement, a second Apatasaurus lay right beneath the first!

1500-1600 bones are exposed in the wall
Douglass Quarry
Dinosaur National Monument
Courtesy National Parks Service

There was plenty more to uncover. For 15 years Douglass worked what
became known as the Carnegie Quarry. He unearthed nearly 20 complete
skeletons of Jurassic dinosaurs, including Diplodocus, Dryosaurus,
Stegosaurus, Barosaurus, and Camarasaurus.

Local residents in Jensen and Vernal supported Douglass’s. They visited
him while he worked, sold him food and supplies and occasionally assisted
in excavations. Eventually they began to dream about the quarry’s
potential as a tourist attraction and the effect that would have on their
economy. And although Douglass worked for Carnegie, he shared the locals’
vision of a public exhibit of skeletons on location in northeast Utah.

Unfortunately, public education and improvement of local economies were NOT
goals of the early dinosaur industry. The Carnegie Museum shipped all
excavated material back to Philadelphia. In effect, the dinosaur quarry
was like any other mine being stripped of valuable material. Furthermore,
the Carnegie refused access to other research parties—including those of
the National Museum and the University of Utah.

In 1915, the federal government tried to break the monopolistic hold
Carnegie held on excavations by establishing Dinosaur National Monument. At
first the Monument was an 80 acre tract around the quarry. (Later it was
enlarged to encompass the spectacular canyons of the Green and Yampa Rivers
in neighboring Colorado.) In 1916, Congress created the National Park
Service, which took control of National Monuments. But without funds and
political interest, visitor infrastructure in the Monument remained
undeveloped for decades.

In 1948, state funds helped establish the Utah Field House of Natural
History in nearby Vernal. Then in 1957 that a public park exhibit was
created to showcase the Carnegie quarry itself—just as Douglass and Utah
residents had desired. Nearly 2,000 bones were exposed in place forming
an entire wall of the visitor center. Sadly, the building was closed in
2006 due to the serious safety hazards caused by an inadequate foundation.

In April of this year, the Park announced the award of $13.1 million in
stimulus funds to demolish and replace condemned portions of the Quarry
Visitor Center. Construction is anticipated to take between a year and a
year and a half; the reopening the quarry exhibit and visitor center could
be as early as summer 2011. Perhaps at last the quarry in Dinosaur
National Monument will have a memorial that is worthy of its remarkable,
ancient inhabitants.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Images: Courtesy National Parks Service

Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Additional Reading:

Harvey, Mark W.T. 1991. Utah, The National Park Service, And Dinosaur
National Monument, 1909-56, Utah Historical Quarterly, Number 3 (Summer 1991) p. 243

National Park Service, US Dept of Interior. Dinosaur National Monument.
http://www.nps.gov/dino/index.htm [ Accessed September 2009]

Utah History Encyclopedia. 1994. Dinosaur National Monument. Edited by
Allan Kent Powell, former Public History Coordinator at the Utah State
Historical Society. https://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/d/DINOSAUR_NATIONAL_MONUMENT.shtml [Accessed September