Imagine salty, shallow water lightly lapping the shoreline where brachiopods, gastropods, bivalves, ammonoids, nautiloids, and crinoids fan out on the silty bottom. Large reptiles lounge and forage in the afternoon sun along inland drainages. This imagined journey to the 240-million-year-old Moenkopi Formation comes courtesy of Zion’s museum collection. The collection’s fossils and survey data represent a smorgasbord of paleo-environments including shallow marine, coastal, desert sand dunes, rivers, and lakes. Ranging in age from Permian through Holocene, fossil plants, animals, and tracks are available to scientists, educators, and park managers as a window to past life.
Zion’s petrified wood collections record terrestrial plant evidence from the 220-million-year-old Chinle Formation's paleo-environment. Other Chinle fossils include bone fragments, fish and reptile teeth, coprolites (fossilized poop), plant material, and invertebrate burrows. Chinle Formation terrestrial-vertebrate body fossils include phytosaur and ornithischian (crocodile-like reptiles) remains.
Perhaps the collection’s most impressive fossil evidence is dinosaur track imprints and casts. Survey data for dozens of Moenave and Kayenta Formation fossils preserved in-situ are available, including Eubrontes and Grallator trackways, and other track types and swim tracks associated with theropod (“three-toed”) dinosaurs. A journey through Zion’s fossil collection provides an avenue for further paleontological research and opportunities for interpretation and visitor education. If evolution had taken another path, we might be walking along the Par’usTrail today with a herd of thousand-pound Dilophosaurus carnivores thundering toward us. How about meeting in the museum instead?
To discover more about specific Zion collection specimens and their importance, click on a fossil photo on the right hand side of this page.
Did You Know?
During the summer or fall, you may see a tarantula crossing a road or trail in Zion National Park. But don’t be frightened-- tarantulas are actually amazing arachnids--gentle, basically harmless creatures that have suffered a bum rap. More...