Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, Juab County, Utah.
Photographer: Michael Vanden Berg

Baked by the summer sun, clay on the floor of an ephemeral pond in Utah’s west desert produces an expanse of mud cracks. Such playas, or pans, are common throughout the Great Basin; many, like the Bonneville Salt Flats, are floored by saline minerals.

A 656-page book chronicling the paleontological discoveries and success evidenced so far at Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has been published, even as new discoveries continue to unfold on a near daily basis.
“I am here to emphasize that we are just getting started at the Grand Staircase,” said Alan Titus, the monument’s paleontologist. “We have a great big sandbox to play in.”




Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, Utah.
Photographer: Tyler Knudsen

Rainbow Bridge National Monument, San Juan County, Utah
Photographer: Mike Hylland

Rainbow Bridge near Lake Powell, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, San Juan County, Utah.

Horseshoe Canyon Wilderness Study Area, Emery County, Utah
Photographer: Sonja Heuscher

Stream erosion during uplift of the Colorado Plateau incised the Green River channel deep into the Triassic–Jurassic-age Wingate Sandstone and underlying Chinle Formation. At Bowknot Bend, the channel turns back on itself in a huge meander loop.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Kane County, Utah.
Photographer: Michael Vanden Berg

Large star dune in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State
Park, Kane County, Utah.

The UGS’s Martha Hayden, Don DeBlieux, and Jim Kirkland with their complimentary copies of the volume.

Following the 1996 establishment of the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument (GSENM), paleontological research in this largely unstudied region of the nation accelerated at a remarkable pace, thanks to an infusion of research dollars from the federal government. Much of this research centered on the Upper Cretaceous of the Kaiparowits Plateau, which is at the center of the most continuous belt of terrestrial Cretaceous rocks anywhere in North America. The Utah Geological Survey was in the thick of it with early general survey projects and the later, more focused, Wahweap Project in the southern Kaiparowits Plateau from 2001–2005, which resulted in the discovery of Diabloceratops eatoni. Additionally, significant funded projects were undertaken by the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU).

The results of this burst of scientific exploration has now been summarized in the massive  volume “At the Top of the Grand Staircase: The Late Cretaceous of Southern Utah,” edited by the Alan L. Titus (GSENM) and Mark Loewen (NHMU), published just this past month by Indiana University Press. The 634-page book includes 28 chapters, starting with papers on the geology and sedimentology of the regions, followed by papers on the fossil plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, turtles, lizards, crocodilians, marine reptiles, and chapters on each major group of dinosaurs. The UGS’s Jim Kirkland, Don DeBlieux, and Martha Hayden just received their complimentary copies of the volume for their contributions and will be spending the rest of the year looking over this magnificent contribution to our knowledge of Utah’s geological and paleontological record.

To those who have taken the time to explore Utah’s rivers, standing on the patio of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum and staring at the muddy waters of the Green River below brings back many feelings and emotions. Desolation Canyon, the Gates of Lodore, Split Mountain, Echo Park and the undammed Yampa lie upstream, filled with rapids, incredible scenery and compelling history.


On Maine’s rugged coast, just north of the tourist town of Boothbay, an underground seismometer is listening for earthquakes. Engineers activated it on 26 September, completing the US$90-million Transportable Array, an ambitious effort to blanket the contiguous United States with a moveable grid of seismic monitors (see ‘On the march’).


Weighing in at more than 2 tons and two dozen feet long, a new species of dinosaur related to Tyrannosaurus rex was fierce enough to be dubbed “King of Gore.” The discovery of “Lythronax argestes” at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah was announced Wednesday at the Natural History Museum of Utah and coincides with the publication of a study in PLoS ONE, an open access scientific journal.