Thursday, March 31, 2011


June 1, 1958. Utah Governor George Dewey Clyde (right) cuts a ribbon to officially open the new Quarry Visitor Center at Dinosaur National Monument. Also in attendance: Roger C. Ernest (center), Assistant Secretary of the Interior from Washington, D.C., and Oscar Dick (left), Chief Ranger for the Monument.

October 4, 2011 has been set for the grand re-opening of the two new Visitor Centers at Dinosaur National Monument. For the first time in five years the public will again be able to gaze upon the spectacular wall of Jurassic dinosaur bones and wander among exhibits that tell the story of the Carnegie Quarry and the Morrison ecosystem in the Monument.

Why an opening date in October, after the summer visitor season? Well it would be nice to open at the beginning of the visitor season but we couldn’t start construction until funding was available and that only became available in late winter 2009/2010. Construction started as soon as possible after that, but the project of extensive and complicated rehabilitation of two visitor centers just takes time --- close to 18 months in fact. Once the NPS takes possession of the buildings there is additional work that needs to be done, such as moving in and installing completely new exhibits, final cleaning of the quarry face and its bones, etc. Everyone, the government, contractors, subcontractors, etc., has worked as hard as possible to get this project done as soon as possible. It just couldn’t be done any faster.

Given that everything will be ready in October, the 4th was selected as the specific opening day because Dinosaur National Monument was established on October 4, 1915 by Woodrow Wilson (Presidential Proclamation Number 1313) to preserve “... an extraordinary deposit of Dinosaurian and other gigantic reptilian remains of the Juratrias period, which are of great scientific interest and value...”. The original reservation consisted of just 80 acres, including the Carnegie Quarry.

So October 4 is certainly an important day in the history of Dinosaur National Monument. But other significant events have occurred on this day, the more notable of which are

1209 Pope Innocent II crowns German king Otto of Wittelsbach.

1675 Christian Huygens patents the pocket watch.

1877 Pancho Villa, Mexican revolutionary is born.

1904 First day of New York City subway, with 350,000 people riding 9.1 miles of track.

1905 Henry Fairfield Osborn names and describes Tyrannosaurus rex in a scientific publication.

1911 The first public elevator goes into operation at London's Earl's Court Metro Station.

1949 United Nations' permanent New York City headquarters is dedicated.

1957 The Soviet Union launches Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth.

1957 Leave It to Beaver premieres on ABC-TV.

1970 Herbert Schmidtz makes highest parachute jump from a tower by leaping from a 1,984 ft tall TV mast in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

1994. The film Jurassic Park is released to home video.

1997 The auction of the T. rex specimen known as “Sue” is held. Opening bids start at $500,000 and less than ten minutes later, the Field Museum had purchased the remains with the highest bid of $8,362,500.

In ancient Rome October 4 was also the day of the Ieiunium Cereris, a day of fasting to honor Ceres a goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships. It’s unfortunate that Woodrow Wilson wasn’t a little quicker with the signature pen and instead created Dinosaur National Monument on October 3, because that day, in ancient Rome, was the Festival of Bacchus, a celebration to thank the god for the year's harvest of grapes for wine making! Many of the world’s top sommeliers recommend a dry but rounded Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon mix (such as a Hardys Stamp of Australia Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2002-2003) as an excellent pairing with roasted Allosaurus because, you guessed it, it tastes like chicken!

"Thanks for the refill.  Would you be a dear and please get me another bucket of those Allosaurus nuggets? Oh, and by the way, what time is the ribbon cutting?"

A final thought. The fiscal year for the Federal Government starts on October 1. Let’s hope that Congress has funded the government by October 1 because without an authorized budget, the government will close be forced to close down. Wouldn’t it be ironic, to finally have the building completely repaired, the exhibits installed, the quarry cleaned, celebrations in place, all ready to welcome the public back, and we are forced to keep the building closed? It would bring a tear to an allosaur’s eye.


1958 dedication: Uintah County Library.
Woodrow Wilson Stamp: US Postal Service

Sunday, March 27, 2011


As I mentioned a few posts back, new measurements and subsequent re-evaluation suggested that the beams on the north side of the Quarry Visitor Center were not vertical and were in need of additional strengthening. Well that project is now completed and here are the results.

With the exception of the end beams, each beam along the north wall was reinforced --- eight in all. Surprisingly, of the many photos I have of the QVC and this project, none show much detail of the north wall beams before repairs. So we’ll have to make due with a recent photo which I have photo shopped to remove the corrections. Each vertical I-beam is welded to a long roof beam that slopes strongly to the south. Given the southward pull exerted on the vertical beam by the roof and the movement of the vertical beams over the years, the engineers were concerned about the ability of the vertical beams to resisted deformation.

Thick steel plating was welded to the back side of each beam for its entire height.

Similarly, thick steel plating was welded to the front of each beam for its entire height.

To resist failure at the juncture with the roof beam, a wedge of steel plating was welded onto the front of the vertical beam and the underside of the roof beam. This was further strengthened by addition plates (fins) that were welded edge on, adjacent to the wedge, along the side of both beams. Looking closely one can see where paint has been removed prior to welding. Remember, the old QVC paint has a high lead content and the heat of welding would vaporize the paint, creating a mix hazardous to breath in.

Built in 1958, the steel armature of the original QVC is now nearly 53 years old. Over that time uplift, down drop, and twisting have made the current repairs necessary, especially if the building and steel is to last another half century. A person getting braces at 53 years of age is pretty rare. Less so for steel beams.

However, we can look at this another way. The iron atoms that makes up the bulk of the steel beam were one of the original constituents of the earth. The age of the earth is about 4.54 billion years old, so these iron minerals are at least that old. However, iron, like all elements other than hydrogen, are made in the fusion engines in the cores of stars. The rate of such element formation is understood to the extent that we know that given its age, the Sun has more iron than it could have produced solely through fusion. What this means is that our sun and solar system must have formed from the remnants of a previous star that went supernova. Those supernova remnants contained abundant iron atoms and eventually condensed to form the Sun and its planets. Given that the universe is 13.75 billion years old, the iron in our QVC beams might have passed through several star lifetimes since it was formed. The same is true for the iron and other elements in our bodies --- the “star stuff” of Carl Sagan.

But I digress. It isn’t the age of the iron atoms that present the failure threat in the beams in the QVC. That’s an issue of engineering and those damn expanding Late Jurassic bentonitic mudstones.

Photos: NPS

Friday, March 25, 2011


 In the 1954 hit comedy film The Long, Long Trailer (1), newlyweds Nicki Collini (Desi Arnaz) and Tracy Collini (Lucille Ball) want to save money to purchase a house. So they buy a new (1953) 40-foot  New Moon trailer and a 125 HP V-8 Mercury Monterey convertible to tow it with and travel around the USA on their honeymoon. As might be guessed, there are misadventures and the trip turns into a series of slapstick disasters. But don’t fret -- everything ends happily with Nicki and Tracy hugging and kissing.

Among their many stops are several National Parks. What is of interest to us, constant reader, is the drive over an 8,000 foot mountain pass. This is a very steep road and although the new and powerful car is capable of the job, Nicki is really concerned that the altitude and the weight of the trailer may prevent him from getting to the top of the mountain. He’s also worried that the car’s breaks may fail coming down from the pass. So he gets prepared the night before in the trailer park.

Nicki takes Tracy back into the trailer, sees numerous large rocks on the floor, and tells her she must get rid of them. He heads to the garage to have the car checked out and the trailer park attendant, Mr. Ludlow (played by Oliver Blake), helps Tracy by carrying the rocks out of the trailer and putting them on the ground.

Watching Mr. Ludlow carrying a block out the trailer door, Tracy suddenly asks “What was the name on that one?” Ludlow reads the label taped to it “Dinosaur National Monument”. “Oh that’s one of my favorites” Tracy moans, “I just can’t let that go. Bring it back in again, please”. With a “Yes, ma’m” Mr. Ludlow obliges her wish.

The block is about 24” x 20” x 10”, light brown in color, and shows several sedimentary levels weathered to various depths. As best I can tell using the freeze command on my DVR, there is no bone on the surface. Given the color and the marked bedding, it does not appear to be a piece of the Carnegie Quarry sandstone. It doesn’t even look like any of the Mesozoic formation here. It most resembles something from the marine Paleozoic Formations, of which there are many in Dinosaur. Of course, there is the outside chance that the block is actually fabricated …….

The next day they head up the pass via the Whitney Portal Road. It is a rough go, with vehicles coming in the other direction, rockfall, precipitous drops, and getting the car’s tries stuck at a turnout. Shortly after making the summit, Nicki stops the car to take a break. While stopped the springs break with a crash on one side of the trailer and it suddenly leans steeply to one side. A suspicious Nicki storms back into the trailer and goes ballistic when he finds large rocks on the floor. Ignoring Tracy’s pleas, Nicki picks the blocks up and, one by one, throws them out the trailer door and over the cliff. One of the first blocks to go airborne is the easily identifiable rock from Dinosaur!

Why did Dinosaur National Monument figure so prominently in this movie? It is not because of a new Quarry Visitor Center --- that was not built until 1958.True, at this time one could visit the Carnegie Quarry and see some test excavations being conducted, but that did not have a high national profile. It is almost certainly related to the great dam controversy swirling around Dinosaur in the early 1950s.

After WWII the US Bureau of Reclamation planned to build a series of hydroelectric dams on the rivers of the western United States. Several of those were scheduled for Dinosaur and one would have flooded the spectacular Echo Park in the middle of the Monument. Echo Park, with its majestic 1000 ft canyon walls is where the Green and Yampa rivers join. Under this plan Echo Park would have been filled with water to a depth of 900 feet!

The Echo Park Dam proposal became the first battle between environmentalists and developers and was a watershed moment for the environmental movement (2). Ultimately, a compromise was reached in 1956 (two years after the movie was released). The Dinosaur dams were dropped from the plans and other sites, such as Glen Canyon, were substituted.

The Echo Park battle made national headlines in the early 1950s and is probably the reason why Dinosaur is in The Long, Long Trailer. I hope Lucy wasn’t so busy stealing rocks from Dinosaur that she didn’t get a chance to see some dinosaur bones while she was here.


(1) The Long, Long Trailer was released on DVD on May 2, 2006 by Warner Home Video. It was released as a single disc and as a part of a 3-DVD set featuring two other Ball/Arnaz movies, Forever, Darling and Too Many Girls.

(2) Harvey, M.T. 2000 A Symbol of Wilderness: Echo Park and the American Conservation Movement. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-97932-1.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


The barren hills of Utah make the point as well as any site could that a building expressive of its purpose, responsive to--- and respectful of --- its surroundings, not only is no intrusion on the environment but can be a man-made part complementary to the whole. There are no trees and shrubs in this region to “blend the building with nature,” or behind which a building can be concealed; it must stand revealed for what it is.” (1)

Sitting over a fifty foot deep trench and between two closely spaced hills, the Quarry Visitor Center presented architectural design challenges because it was not just a visitor center, but a visitor center with a unique purpose and in a site that was very tightly constrained topographically.

 Anshen and Allen Architects were hired to design the QVC. They had previous experience with unusual building design in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which was “a concrete and glass structure designed around a colossal cross, was built into dramatic red rock formations overlooking the town of Sedona [Arizona]. A serpentine concrete ramp leads the visitor out of the parking area and up to a courtyard in front of the chapel. Through the paned-glass entrance façade, the view extends to the concrete cross spanning the building’s opposite wall and to clouds outside that seem to float above the altar.” (2) The Chapel foreshadowed the design of the QVC at Dinosaur National monument.

When Anshen visited the future site of the QVC, he realized the importance of having a building that would be open and allow visitors to see both the fossil bones as well as the terrain and environment surrounding the quarry. From this visit the idea came of having a primarily glass structure around the fossil bearing sandstone. This, along with the gull-wing roof design and cylindrical rotunda was a radical, modernist departure from the traditional NPS shed-like visitor centers. However, the NPS had other ideas.

In July 1956 Anshen and Allen had submitted preliminary drawings to the NPS. NPS Director Wirth would not approve them. Both the NPS Division of Interpretation and Museum Services opposed the glass-walled exhibit structure, preferring an enclosed, windowless, and darkened exhibit space. This traditional type of museum space “an enclosed, darkened exhibition space would allow museum technicians to employ dramatic lighting effects without any external distractions, create a sense of mystery, and propel visitors back to the time of the dinosaurs.” (2)

Artist's rendition of inside of Quarry Visitor Center as originally designed by the NPS, with lights turned off.

However, the effect of such a space would be to totally isolate the visitors from the geological terrain and desert environment in which the quarry was located. Given the spectacular setting of the quarry, this isolation seems foolish and would result in visitors having less, rather than more, of an understanding of the quarry and the ancient Morrison ecosystem in which it was deposited. From Ashen and Allen’s perspective “… the park Service design, while being suited to the normal concepts of museum planning, was failing to recognize the unique aspects of this particular project.” (2)

Inside of 1958 Quarry Visitor Center as built following architects' concepts, with lights turned off.

Anshen and Allen felt quite strongly that if they followed the NPS desires for a more traditional approach the building would fail to realize the full potential of the Dinosaur site. They began reworking their plans and continued discussions with NPS staff. Fortunately, Anshen and Allen prevailed, and eventually “museum and park staff were arguing for a building as light and open as possible … with glass ends.” (2)  In November 1956 new drawings were submitted, although little really changed from those of July. With the building concepts now strongly supported by NPS staff and architects, Director Wirth approved them.

Anyone who had been to the (now defunct) Quarry Visitor Center could not fail to be impressed at the spectacular nature of the building, its use of ambient light, and the vast glass walls that lets one look at the quarry and follow it outside into the craggy hills and tilted rock layers extending into the distance. One can see, at the same time, both the specifics of a dinosaur quarry and its broad geological setting. So we really ducked a bullet. An enclosed box-like building would have been a terrible missed opportunity and an architectural failure. It is a testament to the success of the 1958 design plan that the new QVC will retain the glass wall enclosure around the dinosaur bones.

(1) Dewell, R. and McCullough, R.K. 1958. Recent Work of Anshen and Allen. Architectural Record, September 1958: 165-171.

(2) Allabach, S. 2000. Chapter 1. Quarry Visitor Center, Dinosaur National Monument, Jensen, Utah. in: Mission 66 Visitor Centers: The History of a Building Type. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Cultural Resource Stewardship and Partnerships, Park Historic Structures and Cultural Landscapes Program, Washington, D.C.: pp. 39-66.

First QVC Photo: Deseret News; all other QVC photos: NPS
Chapel of the Holy Cross:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


We are making real progress in putting the QVC back together. The major effort now underway is getting the window framing installed so that the glass can be put in and the glass walls restored. However, the scale of window framing in the QVC is on a dinosaurian scale.

First the vertical I-beams need to be put back up. Some of these are new, but most are the reused beautiful pink beams that were taken out many months ago (see I-Beam Loggers post

The beams are lifted vertically by a crane and swung into place. The bottoms are bolted into the foundation and the upper ends are welded into place.

Once these beams are up, the cross pieces are welded in. When the framing is completed, the new, more energy efficient glass windows will be installed. With that done, the building will be a building again and work on the inside can begin.

 Photos: NPS

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


In March 1956 the NPS announced funding for a building program at Dinosaur, $275,000 of which would be for the new Quarry Visitor Center, which would enclose the Carnegie Quarry. After decades of effort, false starts, frustration, and temporary solutions, the long envisioned museum with an in-situ exhibit of dinosaur bones, was to finally be built! There are many interesting aspects to the building. Some of these I’ll address in future posts. For now, let’s look at some general features of the QVC circa 1958 and photos of its construction.

The framework of the east wall of the glass enclosed part of the QVC, 1957.

Building the gull-winged roof, 1957.

There were three components to the QVC; the glass enclosed area surrounding and covering the dinosaur bones, the single floor administrative wing that housed the library, offices, and the windowed paleontology lab, and the two story rotunda that brought visitors into the building at the level of the second floor viewing mezzanine and contained offices, restrooms, and an information desk

Children playing in the construction area in 1958.  Safety concerns were apparently a little less rigorous in those days.

The design of the building was clearly a radical break from traditional NPS Visitor Centers. The gull wing roof mimicked the terrain of the area as well as the excavated quarry sandstone layer. The walls of the main area were constructed mainly of glass which allowed for large amounts of ambient light to illuminate the dinosaur bearing rock layer. It was, as the NPS proclaimed, a visitor center “distinctly different from those in other national park areas.” (1, p. 54)

Looking over the floor of the future paleontology lab (foreground) and rotunda (background), 1957.

 The foundation of the rotunda (foreground) and paleontology lab (background), 1957.
The two story rotunda seen from the south, 1958

The skeleton of the famous curving ramp, one of the most striking features of the building, 1957.

The construction contract was awarded in April 1957 to the R.K. McCullough Construction Company of Salt Lake City. Work began in May 1957 and completed on May 9, 1958. The official dedication of the QVC was held June 1 1958. Dr. LeRoy “Pop” Kay from the Carnegie attended and spoke about the dinosaur quarry where he had worked for so many years. Roger C. Ernst, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, delivered the dedicatory address. Some 1600 people attended the ceremonies and after the ribbon cutting tour of the building were given.

Opening day for the QVC, 1958.

The completed QVC seen from the air in 1958. Visitors could finally drive all the way to the quarry, rather than hiking the last several hundred yards over a rough dirt trail.

Notes on Sources
Allabach (2000) contains the best and most detailed account in print of the design and building 1958 Quarry Visitor Center and I have drawn on it for this post. Its references and footnotes will lead the reader to many original sources. It is freely available on-line at:

(1) Allabach, S. 2000. Chapter 1. Quarry Visitor Center, Dinosaur National Monument, Jensen, Utah. in: Mission 66 Visitor Centers: The History of a Building Type. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Cultural Resource Stewardship and Partnerships, Park Historic Structures and Cultural Landscapes Program, Washington, D.C.: pp. 39-66.

Photos: Uintah County Library


In the early 1950s, when the NPS began to once AGAIN consider building a visitor center over the Carnegie Quarry, a question arose as to whether or not there were dinosaur bones in the quarry. This was a natural question given that 700,000 ponds of dinosaur bones had actually been shipped to museums. Abundant bones had been collected from rock above, to the west, and to the east of the unexcavated part of the quarry, so it was likely that there were still bones in the unexcavated portion.  However, it was prudent to ask the question.

The east end of the Carnegie Quarry sandstone before the Tin Shed was built.

The framework for the Tin Shed.
 So, starting in the early 1950s, excavations were undertaken to assess the fossil content of the sandstone layer. In 1951 the NPS approved plans for a temporary, more utilitarian structure --- a tall, wood and corrugated sheet metal structure was built over part of the east end of the quarry sandstone.  The north wall of the building was the quarry sandstone, just as originally envisioned by Douglass. Windows on the south side let in ambient light and the entrance was on the east wall.

Known in the Monument as the Tin Shed, this building enclosed the quarry, and it served as a work shop and preparation area, with some excavations going on within it during the winter months. A limited number of fossils were exposed in-situ inside the facility. Visitors could go inside and see a simplified version of Douglass’s dream. Even at this preliminary stage, the building was the first place in the world that one could go and see fossil bones permanently exposed in-situ.

The Tin Shed completed over the east end of the quarry sandstone.
The Tin Shed viewed from the west.  Notice the fencing to keep the visitors a safe distance from the excavations going on outside the building.

Test excavations were done in the quarry sandstone adjacent to the building and a number of scientifically important specimens were found. Since visitors could come to the quarry during the Tin Shed days, a fence kept them from getting too close to the work and fossils. But visitors could at least watch excavations underway. The Tin Shed did not contain much, if anything, in the way of traditional museum exhibits. Those were still in the museum built during A.C. Boyles’s time at Dinosaur a few hundred yards down the hill. Both the Tin Shed and the Museum would be demolished or moved when the permanent Quarry Visitor Center was built and opened in 1958. Well, permanent at least until it was condemned in 2006 and demolished in 2010.

Photo: NPS