Friday, April 23, 2010

Lions, Cows, Dinosaurs, and Dynamite

The Vernal branch of Lion’s International had long been a strong supporter of the development of Dinosaur National Monument. At least as early as 1932, only eight years after all digging had ceased, they were lobbying Congress for funds to reopen the excavations and build facilities.

In June of 1939 the Idaho and Utah districts of the Lions International held their meeting in Vernal, Utah. Some delegates from outside the region traveled 600+ miles at attend, no small feat at the time. Dr. John Clark, president of the local branch, gave the opening speech, in which he said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “The Dinosaur or terrible lizard the 25-ton monster that ruled the world some 60 million years ago realized that changing conditions were making it impossible for them to continue to reproduce so they migrated searching for a quiet isolated area where they could die and their bones forever remain at rest. For 60 million years they rested in peace and their plan would have been entirely successful had not the late Dr. Earl Douglass discovered their fossilized remains. His work resulted in the creation of Dinosaur National Monument."(1)

On the Sunday following the end of the meeting, the group made a trip to Dinosaur National Monument to see the great dinosaur quarry first hand. In 1939 the Monument excavations were still stalled because of lack of funding, so they did not see the spectacular wall of bones most readers are familiar with. Nevertheless, the National Park Service put on a show. In an area to the east of the actual quarry, benches were set up and a presentation was given, although I haven’t been able to uncover any details about what was said. However, Vernal resident Mr. L.C. Thorne, captured the moment in a fascinating photograph reproduced here.

In front of the benches for the audience, is a large blackboard. On that is a geological cross section (of sorts). The hill drawn in chalk on the right side of the board is the Carnegie Quarry hill. Immediately left of that hill, partially obscured by a gentleman wearing a white shirt and suspenders, is the outline of a building --- a sketch of what would eventually be the Quarry Visitor Center.

Behind the blackboard and at a higher level is an interesting interpretive feature --- a large board with dozens of cow bones and skulls mounted to it. Obviously this is to give the visitor an idea of what a bonebed is like and to probably conjure up an image of what lay still locked away in the unexcavated part of the quarry.

Finally, and in some ways most intriguing, is a small white sign projecting slightly above the wall of cow bones. It’s actually not part of the cow bone exhibit, but rather is mounted on the rock outcrop behind it. Although difficult to read at the size posted here, the original shows that it reads “DANGER HIGH EXPLOSIVES”. While this may seem odd, the next photo, of much older vintage, is of the room excavated into the rock that served as the dynamite storage spot during the historic excavations up to 1924. The Works Project Adminstration did a project at Dinosaur removing mudstone and exposing the upper surface of the 20-foot thick Carnegie Quarry sandstone and they may have used explosives during this time. Was the room full of explosives during the Lions Club visit? I don’t know, but why such a sign would be up otherwise is a bit baffling.

What we DO know is that the Lions Club members each left in one piece.

(1) “Lions Meet Ends with Visit to Dinosaur Quarry”, Vernal Express, June 16, 1939, pages 1, 4.

All photos in this post courtesy of Uintah County Library Regional History Center.

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