Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dinosaur Park, Laurel, Maryland

Dinosaur Park is a little gem hidden just off Route 1 in southern Laurel, Maryland. A small mound of rock juts out from the ground, seemingly unremarkable, except for the age of the rock. It dates back 115 million years to when the area was a swamp. The rock itself was the floor of the swamp. A lot of flora and fauna was caught in the muddy bottom. That mud turned to rock and lasted to this day. Back in the mid-1800s (AD), the area was mined for iron ore. Some miners found dinosaur bones and other fossils, drawing the interest of geologists and paleontologists. The craze died down when the iron ore industry died out (it's always easier when someone else does your digging!). Interest revived in the 1980s and in 2009 local government protected the area from being developed and from unrestricted collectors. The area is called Dinosaur Park and is open on the first and third Saturdays of the month from noon to 4 p.m.

View from the street is not so impressive

In case you need the address!

We went on the first Saturday in July, which was pretty hot. The park naturally doesn't have air conditioning but L found a shady spot under the information signs.

L shelters underneath...

...J's reading!

J read about Astrodon johnstoni, the official Maryland state dinosaur. Teeth and bones from johnstoni were found here, including a leg bone that was the length of the sign! The dinosaur was named "Astrodon" by Christopher Johnston, a member of the Maryland Academy of Sciences in the late 1800s. He chose the name because the teeth found had a star pattern in their cross section. "johnstoni" was added later to recognize his contribution.

Maryland's official dinosaur

We started our exploration of the site with a short lecture from one of the scientists about the history of the area. She showed us some samples of lignite (fossilized wood) and ore rock.

J examines the lignite

A rock with fossil imprints (at least according to the scientist)

After a quick list of things not to do (no digging or climbing--the area is strictly for discovery by picking things up), we moved inside the gates. We had another explanation of the prehistoric environment. The scientist there showed us the various fossils we might find.

Entering the dig!

Scientist with samples

Actual fossils in the case and a cast of a dino skull

With a few more warnings, we were let loose on the hill. We explored all over the hill, often finding rocks that looked like they might be fossils. As soon as we'd ask one of the scientists (in green vests), they'd check it and say, "Well, that's a cool rock but not a fossil." L and J were very curious and checked all over. Finally, L hit pay dirt--a fossilized redwood cone!

Looking in the corner

Looking near the hillside

L makes a discovery!

L's fossil

The fellow took L's name and my contact information and put the fossil in a ziplock bag. It will be taken to the main collection, examined, and cataloged. L was very excited and J was very jealous. The weather soon got too hot for us and we went to Chick-fil-A for a congratulatory snack.

Ice cream for L, cookie for J, lemonade for Daddy

Visiting Dinosaur Park is a fun (and free) way to spend an afternoon. We recommend it!

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