Monday, October 10, 2005

Fossils of Shitamaring Canyon

Coprolite is fossilized dung. It can be from a turtle, dinosaur, camel, birds, lizard, or human.

Utah has loads of coprolites, including dinosaur and human. We are going to talk about the large dinosaur coprolite that comes from the Henry Mountains. The Henry Mountains are located south of Hanksville. They are really a series of 5 mesas and not just one mountain range. They look like typical Basin & Range (or Horst and Groben) type mountains at first. But they were caused by a laccolite rising up, exposing the soft sediment to be weathered away, which in turn exposed all the wonderful fossils. They rise up to almost 12,000 feet above sea level. They are famous around the world as being an anomaly, as they are so young. They cover an area of almost 500 square miles. I think their real beauty is the sight of low rolling hills of faded purple, green, and gray pastels that resemble the bad lands of North Dakota.

The rock that was left exposed contains some of the most stunning fossils recorded. Coprolite in many sizes and colors can be found. I have seen pieces up to 2 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter. Often they look just like a cow pie turned to rock. They don't smell--they are ROCK now.

I have seen coprolite that look just like something your neighbor's dog left on your lawn. I have seen some that are 6 inches long and 2 inches in diameter and resemble a cucumber.

Shitamaring Canyon is famous for coprolites of distinguished shapes. It is also famous for the cycad wood that can be found there. Cycads are a very unusual plant that resembles a pineapple. The trunk of the tree has a hard armor coating of leaf stems that resemble a palm tree. They are not related to palms but look just like them in small hand samples. Ancient cycad has 165 living decedents today include some common house plants.

Whole cycads are usually under 1 foot tall. Complete pieces are incredibly rare and extremely valuable. I have only seen a few in my whole life and none ever for sale. But the most beautiful ones in the world come from this area. When cut along the grain parallel to the skin the insides can reveal a diamond pattern of reds and yellows. These are the best specimens!

The area also has brachiopods, other woods of different colors from black to browns to reds & yellows, dinosaur tracks, gold, and uranium minerals from a very extensive uranium deposit all found right in the canyon.

All of these things would be great to collect still today, but they are now protected in the Escalante Staircase National Monument.

Oh, did I mention in the late 1970's the name of the canyon changed to Shootering Canyon. Many of you are already familiar with this area. It is a fun place to camp and see some unique geology. I think the original name fits the description of the coprolite and the canyon better. Apparently the BLM sign maker disagreed because he was the one that made the sign, giving the canyon it's new name.

Some information for this article came from Petrified Wood: The World of Fossilized Wood, Cones, Ferns, and Cycads by Frank Daniels. We have this book for sale as well. It is $75 and well worth the price.

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