Many national parks and protected lands in the United States have fantastic fossils, but few people think of coming to Denali to see dinosaurs. After years of searching, the first dinosaur fossil was found in Denali in 2005 when a college student from Fairbanks found a footprint only a few yards from the park road!
The three-toed footprint belonged to a theropod (meat-eating dinosaur) that lived about 70 million years ago in what was called the Late Cretaceous time.
The first dinosaur footprint was found in Denali in 2005, and hundreds of dinosaur footprints have been found by both visitors and scientists since. In some places in the park there are thousands of dinosaur footprints on a single slab of rock! Dinosaur footprints are valuable because they give us clues to how dinosaurs moved and lived.
Denali's Big Bird: Magnoavipes denaliensis
These tracks were probably made by a bird that is five feet tall! The print, belonging to a wading bird, didn't match any previously known fossil, so paleontologist Tony Fiorillo had the honor of providing a name. Fiorillo named the large bird "denaliensis" after the very large mountain, Denali.
Wood, leaf imprints, and other plant remains are the most common fossils found in the Cretaceous Formation. When traveling through the park today, we see large areas covered by tundra and low lying bushes. 65 million years ago, however, a warmer climate allowed trees and other plants to grow much larger than they do now.
The most common fossils in Denali are dinosaur footprints and plant material, but there were many other creatures that left evidence of their existence. The traces of these critters, although smaller and harder to find, are just as important as the large dinosaur footprints. They help to complete the picture of what the ecosystem in Denali looked like 65 million years ago.