Young Paleontologists Helps to Uncover the Fossil Record at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Article by Maria Rodriguez, Paleontology intern, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
for Park Paleontology Newsletter, Spring 2018

young woman dressed in hiking clothing and gear standing next to a sign that says "Entering Glen Canyon NRA"
Maria Rodriguez with GLCA boundary marker.

NPS Photo

If you’re looking for one of the most complete sections of geologic strata of the Mesozoic Era, then you must visit Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. My name is Maria Rodriguez and I am a physical science technician in GLCA. My work relies heavily on the paleontological resources found in this recreation area. With its 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon NRA houses a rare and valuable geological history dating from the Permian to Cretaceous and even some Quaternary. My work focuses mainly on vertebrate ichnology, or “fossil footprints”. I am responsible for protecting, conserving, and, if needed, collecting these non-renewable resources. In addition, I help educate visitors about the importance of protecting these resources as they are highly valuable in the field of paleontology. With careful interpretation, one can learn about the diversity and paleoecology of the ancient past.

I first arrived at Glen Canyon NRA in May 2017. I graduated from California State University Dominguez Hills with a BS in Earth Science. I was working for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County when I was given the opportunity to intern in Glen Canyon NRA. Under Geoscientists-In-The-Parks, I was able to study ichnofossils found all throughout the park and update its paleo database of all known fossil localities. One of my duties is to travel on Lake Powell for paleontology surveys. In the field, I can observe firsthand the various geologic formations that make up Glen Canyon NRA – these include the Moenkopi Formation, Chinle Formation, Kayenta Formation, Navajo Sandstone, Tropic Shale, as well as others. The geologic strata helps understand the changing landscape of the Mesozoic when the environment shifted from an eolian environment to fluvial to a shallow marine environment. I survey, evaluate, and document new paleo sites that include fossil trackways, invertebrate traces, petrified wood, and on some occasion vertebrate fossils. Most specimens remain in situ. We conclude whether a specimen should or should not be removed from site based on factors affecting their condition and fragility.
young woman in foreground with trays of brown rocks on shelves in the background
Maria Rodriguez inside Museum Collections Room. Reptiles track ways in the background.

NPS Photo

Our status as a recreation area allows visitors to enjoy water-based and backcountry activities such as boating, fishing, hiking, camping and much more. However it is a great responsibility to protect sensitive areas of high paleontological significance from vandalism, damage, and theft. Paleo monitoring has become one of my favorite jobs. I get to work with our park rangers and inspect areas that have been unlawfully disturbed by visitors. In one occasion, we were able to salvage a well-preserved Eubrontes track that was almost subject to theft. A local paleontologist labeled it as one of the most well-preserved tracks he had ever seen. It currently sits in our Collections Room awaiting an upcoming exhibit.
young woman in hiking clothing posing in front of reddish brown rocky landscape
Maria Rodriguez on one of the Paleo Expeditions.

NPS Photo

With the help of Interpretive Rangers, last year I organized NPS’ annual National Fossil Day. This event was a success in helping raise awareness for the vast paleontological resources found in Glen Canyon NRA. We were able to deputize children into becoming Jr. Paleontology Rangers as well as educating them about the importance of protecting fossil discoveries.

In addition to working on paleontology, I am also a curator for the museum collections in GLCA. I am responsible for cataloging items that have been collected from the field of both natural and cultural significance. Due to our limited space in our museum room, we have built connections with local institutions which have agreed to study and store our specimens for long-term. By doing so, this also allows scientists from all over the world to publish their finds for the benefit of the public.
back of woman wearing a red life vest in foreground, lake in the midground, and a large dam in the background
Maria Rodriguez with Glen Canyon Dam in the background.

NPS Photo

Working in GLCA continues to be a super exciting adventure for me! It allows me to study and learn about the abundance of fossil localities in an area very little studied. GLCA has encapsulated geological formations that tells the story of our paleontological past. There is a lot more work to be done as 1.2 million acres of land need to be further explored, of course, by me. I am very lucky and fortunate to call this my “office with a view”.

Last updated: April 9, 2018