Cedar Mountain, Utah
A team of paleontologists, led by James Kirkland of the Utah Geological Survey, recently announced the find of a new kind of dinosaur at Cedar Mountain. Dating from the early Cretaceous geological period, this dinosaur was caught in the act of trading in a meaty diet for one of leafy greens. Falcarius utahensis sports teeth adapted to shredding leaves, and a pelvis wide enough to accommodate a long, plant-digesting gut. Its legs, however, retain long thigh bones, optimal for chasing fast prey.
This Terra ASTER image, collected on May 28, 2001, shows Cedar Mountain and its surroundings. In this false-color image, data have been combined from near-infrared, red, and green wavelengths (ASTER bands 3, 2, & 1). In this combination, vegetation appears red. The predominance of red in the image shows the extent of the Dixie National Forest, which includes Cedar Mountain and the exposed, raw stone face of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The Cedar Mountain region appears somewhat barren with large, less-vegetated areas having a gray tone. The Cedar Breaks Formation is a huge erosion formation where the tough uppermost layer of rock is cut away to reveal the layers of sandstone below. The Cedar Mountain Formation consists of mudstone, sandstone, and conglomerate, deposited between about 125 and 98 million years ago. The conglomerate records tectonic uplift in the region in the early Cretaceous.
The location of this fossil surprised paleontologists as much as its transitional characteristics. Falcarius utahensis is a type of therizinosauroid dinosaur. Until now, these dinosaur fossils have been almost exclusive to China.
The Cedar Mountain Formation is one of the few rock formations in North America from the early Cretaceous, and it has provided rich pickings for paleontologists. Kirkland has found three other dinosaurs in this formation in the past 11 years: armored dinosaur Gastonia, meat-eating Nedcolbertia (named after paleontologist Edwin H. Colbert), and carnivorous Utahraptor (a kind of super-sized velociraptor similar to what appeared in Jurassic Park). A team of professional and volunteer paleontologists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science also discovered a new sauropod in the late 1990s: Cedarosaurus.