Early Structures at Carnegie Quarry

Carnegie Quarry before any structures were built along the wall.
Carnegie Quarry before any structures were built along the wall.

Shortly after the excavations, lead by Earl Douglass,  began to uncover the most fossiliferous locality for dinosaur remains that the world had ever seen, ideas for the creation of an in situ exhibit at Dinosaur National Monument began to form. “How appropriate that they [the dinosaurs], or part of them, be exposed in relief as they were buried…how appropriate to build a fair sized building over them …” Douglass wrote on October 29, 1915. (Douglass, 2009). Douglass would not live to see the quarry visitor center, which did not open until more than twenty-five years after his death.

During the first two decades of excavation at the quarry, there were no featured exhibits and the quarry received relatively few visitors (Toll, 1929).

An article from the San Francisco Chronicle gives the credit of the in situ exhibit idea entirely to Dr. Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History (Thone, 1937). The construction of a museum building  for the quarry was a twenty-year process, following Barnum Brown and the National Park Service’s plans to collaborate on a museum building failed to come to fruition.

A Temporary Museum 

Before the creation of a museum building, the Dinosaur National Monument quarry had a notable influx of visitors, except in the winter months (Boyle, 1940). During the days of the New Deal programs at the quarry, under the direction of Dr. Albert Boyle, a temporary storage building was constructed, which would eventually be updated with space for exhibits.

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After President Franklin Delano Roosevelt expanded the territory of Dinosaur National Monument to encompass the Green and Yampa River canyons, the Monument received national attention and visitation increased.

During the work by New Deal programs at the quarry under the Supervision of Dr. Albert Boyle, a building had been constructed for general use purposes by those working at the quarry. By the early 1940s, discussion began among National Park Service officials regarding adding a temporary museum with exhibits to the existing building. Receiving funding for constructing a temporary museum addendum to the existing building adjacent to the quarry proved to be difficult.

The Rocky Mountain Conference and the Walker Report

On June 11, 1943, a conference was held in the office of Rocky Mountain National Park Superintendent John Doerr, at this time Rocky Mountain National Park served as the administrative authority for Dinosaur National Monument. The goal of a permanent museum building at the quarry was discussed in detail. In addition, interpretive plans for the information to be presented to the public for the quarry, and for the Yampa and Green River canyons were discussed.

Merle Walker, a Naturalist for Glacier National Park, wrote a comprehensive report about his visit to Dinosaur National Monument, where he developed a summary of interpretive content and statement for Dinosaur National Monument, as well as a summary of the conference held at the Superintendent’s office.

One major concern was that the reliefing of fossils would need to be complete before the plans for a permanent museum building were assessed, in order to ensure that the fossiliferous strata to be housed by the museum building would be productive. Despite holding the absolute minority of opinion, Walker was adamant in his report that an in situ exhibit be forgone in lieu of a “panel mount” exhibit.

Walker’s vision was for the bones to be excavated, prepared, assembled into articulated and complete skeletons, and attached to a panel which would be featured on the face of the original quarry wall.

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Even the thought of Walker’s “panel mount” exhibit becoming a reality worried Dr. Charles Gilmore of Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, enough that he sent a personal letter to the Director of the National Park Service Arno Cammerer. Other than Walker’s quarry development idea, Gilmore found Walker’s report to be informative, thorough, and well-written.

The root of Walker’s concern for the prospect of an in situ exhibit was the fear that the bone-bearing layer of the quarry would be unproductive and an expensive museum building would be constructed for a blank wall. While in hindsight Walker would be proved wrong, it was a concern expressed by several National Park Service officials, and a concern that needed to be addressed before the funding would be appropriated. The novel technology of radar had begun to be used in the military during World War II, and Ralph Chaney of the National Park Service had suggested that radar be used to reveal the location of unexcavated bones in the subsurface, to better locate a position for a future museum building. While radar can serve no such function and the suggestion was quite fantastical, it was a recommendation to solve a valid concern.

The discussion and preliminary planning for an in situ exhibit at the quarry had been underway for a decade; however, in the early 1950’s the temporary museum desperately needed to install new exhibits which sped up the process. A steel structure resembling an airplane hangar was constructed over the quarry face to shelter those working on exposing fossils in Carnegie Quarry, and completed in 1951.

For five years, Dr. ‘Ted” Theodore White and other National Park Service employees exposed fossils in relief under the temporary quarry shelter (White, 1956). The relief work that was completed under the temporary quarry shelter was influential in quelling justified but retrospectively irrational fears that the bone bearing strata that the  museum building was planned to enclose was actually fossiliferous, and would not just be excavated to reveal a blank wall. Museum Geologist Dr. Ted White was certain that the most densely fossiliferous layer would be productive throughout the expanse of the quarry wall covered by the permanent museum building. The goal of the reliefing work under the temporary quarry building was to ensure that there was section of the quarry wall inside the permanent museum building that was completed or at least in nearly finished condition.

 Poorly situated rocky overburden material was removed from the quarry wall to the west of the temporary relief shelter in late 1954 in order to ensure the stability of the quarry face (Lombard, 1955). Reliefing work continued at the quarry until the funding began to be curtailed in order to conserve for the construction of the permanent museum. In August 1956, Ted White’s crew prepared the exposed fossils for the construction phase of the Quarry Visitor Center, making sure they received adequate plaster jacketing.

As an open science, open source initiative, all fossil data and many of the records and images on this website are licensed in the public domain. However, not everything has the same license, so please check for license information in the caption or metadata before use. Dinosaur National Monument mural artwork, including the full-color illustrations of dinosaurs and other animals, is owned by the National Park Service and may be used freely for non-commercial purposes with the credit: "NPS Artwork by Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger."

For fossil fans who code or design, there are also a number of ways to be a part of the Digital Quarry Project. To contribute, visit our GitHub project page.