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Paleontology and stratigraphy of Middle Eocene rock units in the southern Green River and Uinta Basins, Wyoming and Utah

The Bridger Formation is restricted to the Green River Basin in southwest Wyoming, and the Uinta and Duchesne River Formations are located in the Uinta Basin in Utah. These three rock units and their diverse fossil assemblages are of great scientific importance and historic interest to vertebrate paleontologists. Notably, they are also the stratotypes from oldest to youngest for the three middle Eocene North American Land Mammal Ages—the Bridgerian, Uintan, and Duchesnean. The fossils and sediments of these formations provide a critically important record of biotic, environmental, and climatic history spanning approximately 10 million years (49 to 39 Ma). This article provides a detailed field excursion through portions of the Green River and Uinta Basins that focuses on locations of geologic, paleontologic, and historical interest. In support of the field excursion, we also provide a review of current knowledge of these formations with emphasis on lithostratigraphy, biochronology, depositional, and paleoenvironmental history, and the history of scientific exploration.

Late Cretaceous stratigraphy and vertebrate faunas of the Markagunt, Paunsaugunt, and Kaiparowits plateaus, southern Utah

The Late Cretaceous succession of southern Utah was deposited in an active foreland basin circa 100 to 70 million years ago. Thick siliciclastic units represent a variety of marine, coastal, and alluvial plain environments, but are dominantly terrestrial, and also highly fossiliferous. Conditions for vertebrate fossil preservation appear to have optimized in alluvial plain settings more distant from the coast, and so in general the locus of good preservation of diverse assemblages shifts eastward through the Late Cretaceous. The Middle and Late Campanian record of the Paunsaugunt and Kaiparowits Plateau regions is especially good, exhibiting common soft tissue preservation, and comparable with that of the contemporaneous Judith River and Belly River Groups to the north. Collectively the Cenomanian through Campanian strata of southern Utah hold one of the most complete single region terrestrial vertebrate fossil records in the world.

Major bonebeds in mudrocks of the Morrison Formation (Upper Jurassic), northern Colorado Plateau of Utah and Colorado

The Morrison Formation contains a number of large quarries that have yielded dinosaurs and other vertebrates, and many of these occur in sandstone beds representing ancient river channels. However, a number of very productive sites occur in mudstone beds representing other environments such as ephemeral ponds, and some of these yield both large dinosaurs and microvertebrates; these localities in mudstone beds represent different taphonomic modes of preservation and often preserve vertebrate taxa in different relative abundances from the channel sandstone sites. Among these important and very productive mudstone localities are the Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry, the Mygatt-Moore Quarry, and the microvertebrate sites of the Fruita Paleontological Area, and each of these preserves distinct vertebrate paleofaunas, different from sandstone sites and from each other, suggesting that mudstone localities had a very different mode of sampling the local biotas than did sites in sandstone.

A preliminary report of the fossil mammals from a new microvertebrate locality in the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation, Grand County, Utah

The first Mesozoic mammals in North America were discovered in the Morrison Formation during the closing decades of the 19th century, as by-products of dinosaurs quarried by teams led by O.C. Marsh. These tiny fossils served as foundational specimens for our understanding of Mesozoic mammal evolution. There are now nearly 25 mammal-bearing localities known from the Morrison Formation, distributed across the Western Interior from the Black Hills to southern Colorado and west into Utah; the most historically important of these are in Wyoming (e.g., Como Quarry 9). Most Morrison mammals are known by jaws or jaw fragments, and several important Mesozoic groups (e.g., docodonts, dryolestoids, and to a large extent triconodonts and symmetrodonts) were established based on Morrison material, shaping the perception of mammalian diversity on a global scale. Despite heavy sampling of coeval sites elsewhere, the Morrison remains the most systematically diverse (at high taxonomic levels) assemblage of Jurassic mammals in the world. Here, we describe two mammalian specimens and highlight other remains yet to be fully identified from a new microvertebrate locality in the Morrison Formation of eastern Grand County, Utah. The site is positioned low in the Brushy Basin Member and is similar in lithology and stratigraphic level to the famous small vertebrate localities of the Fruita Paleontological Area, located less than 50 km to the northeast. In addition to small archosaurs and squamates, limited excavation to date has yielded at least 20 mammalian specimens representing a minimum of six taxa, several of which are new and quite different from typical Morrison taxa. Preservation is generally excellent and includes partially articulated cranial and postcranial elements of small vertebrates. This new site has great potential to contribute new taxa and more complete morphological data than typical Morrison localities, underscoring the importance of continued field work in the Morrison.

Assemblage-level structure in Morrison Formation dinosaurs, Western Interior, USA

­The Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation is both geographically extensive and well-sampled, making it an ideal candidate for biogeographic analysis at both coarse and ‑ner scales. Historically, however, this has not translated into a consensus on patterns of ecological structure and connectivity, particularly with regard to the characteristic dinosaur faunas. Here, we use both traditional (genus richness, alpha and beta diversity) and bipartite network-based (biogeographic connectivity, local endemism, and average occurrence) measures to examine patterns of structure on a per-locality basis. Given the broad geographic range of the formation, we subdivide the Morrison Formation into four discrete regions based roughly on latitude and lithology—north (Montana, South Dakota, and northern Wyoming), west (Utah and western Colorado), east (central and eastern Colorado and southern Wyoming), and south (Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma). Further investigation revealed many coeval sites (ca. 152 Ma) in the east and west regions. Presence-absence data were also compared using network analysis to determine the presence and content of discrete subassemblages within the larger region-level assemblages. Based on our results, we favor reconstructions of the Morrison Formation as a ‘mosaic’ type environment over most of its depositional history, with patches of open environments interspersed with more closed, forested regions. ­is is suggested by relatively low rates of local endemism (patches are consistent in plant and animal structure) and connectivity across the majority of the formation, as well as the recovery of three non-overlapping assemblages dominated by dierent guilds of herbivorous dinosaurs.

The Lower Cretaceous in east-central Utah—The Cedar Mountain Formation and its bounding strata

Although only recognized as a discrete stratigraphic unit since 1944, the Cedar Mountain Formation represents tens of millions of years of geological and biological history on the central Colorado Plateau. This field guide represents an attempt to pull together the results of recent research on the lithostratigraphy, chronostratigraphy, sequence stratigraphy, chemostratigraphy, and biostratigraphy of these medial Mesozoic strata that document the dynamic and complex geological history of this region. Additionally, these data provide a framework by which to examine the history of terrestrial faunas during the final breakup of Pangaea. In fact, the medial Mesozoic faunal record of eastern Utah should be considered a keystone in understanding the history of life across the northern hemisphere. Following a period of erosion and sediment bypass spanning the Jurassic–Cretaceous boundary, sedimentation across the quiescent Colorado Plateau began during the Early Cretaceous. Thickening of these basal Cretaceous strata across the northern Paradox Basin indicate that salt tectonics may have been the predominant control on deposition in this region leading to the local preservation of fossiliferous strata, while sediment bypass continued elsewhere. Thickening of overlying Aptian strata west across the San Rafael Swell provides direct evidence of the earliest development of a foreland basin with Sevier thrusting that postdates geochemical evidence for the initial development of a rain shadow.

Tracking dinosaurs in BLM canyon country, Utah

The remarkably extensive and abundant Mesozoic-aged exposures on public lands around Moab have made this region well known for ichnofossils. The nearly complete record of Upper Triassic through Lower Cretaceous rocks exposed in this area is well known for its sheer abundance of tracks and traces. This three-day field trip will visit many important classic and new sites exposed in the Bureau of Land Management’s Canyon Country District. This field trip guidebook will give one an overview of the major sites we will visit, as well as a brief summary of work previously done in these areas.

Rise of the Erg—Paleontology and paleoenvironments of the Triassic-Jurassic transition in Northeastern Utah

This field trip focuses on the Late Triassic-Early Jurassic transition in northeastern Utah. This transition records one of the most striking terrestrial environmental transformations in the history of North America, wherein the fluvio-lacustrine Chinle Formation is transgressed by the vast erg system of the Nugget (Wingate+Navajo)/Navajo/Aztec Sandstones. Exposures in northeastern Utah are ideal for studying this transition as they are closely spaced and accessible. The uppermost Chinle Formation beds are lacustrine/fluvial fine-grained sediments which are overlain by increasingly drier, sandy, transitional beds. The non-eolian basal beds of the Nugget Sandstone preserve a Late Triassic ichnofauna, with some sites including Brachychirotherium tracks. Large-scale dune deposits comprise most of the Nugget Sandstone and contain vertebrate (Brasilichnium) tracks and a diverse invertebrate ichnofauna. Interdunal, carbonate, spring mounds, as much as 3 m tall, fed carbonate freshwater lake deposits containing gastropod body fossils and invertebrate ichnofossils. Another lacustrine deposit, located at the Saints & Sinners Quarry, is on the shoreline of a non-carbonate interdunal lake/oasis. Over 11,500 bones have been collected from the site and represent two theropod dinosaur taxa, sphenodonts, sphenosuchians, a pterosaur, and drepanosaurs (with many complete, three-dimensional, articulated skeletons). In addition to bones, dinosaur trackways are also preserved in shoreline and other interdunal beds. The fauna shows that this interdunal area of the Nugget Sandstone was the site of intense biological activity. The drepanosaurs are chronologically significant in that they are restricted globally to the Late Triassic, indicating that at least the lower one-fourth to one-third of the formation is Late Triassic in age.

Stratigraphy and fossil plants from the Cutler Formation (Late Paleozoic) and their paleoclimatic implications, eastern Paradox Basin, Colorado

Exposures of the late Paleozoic Cutler Formation, near the town of Gateway, Colorado, have traditionally been interpreted as the product of alluvial-fan deposition along the western flank of the Uncompahgre uplift and within the easternmost portion of the Paradox Basin. The Paradox Basin formed between the western margin of the Uncompahgre uplift, a segment of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains, and the western paleoshoreline of the North American portion of Pangea. This part of Pangea is commonly thought to have experienced semi-arid to arid conditions and warm temperatures during the Pennsylvanian and Permian. We present stratigraphic and fossil plant evidence in this paper to support prior interpretations that the Cutler near Gateway, Colorado, was deposited by alluvial fans that hosted localized wetland areas. Our findings are consistent with the results of prior studies that have suggested the climate in the area was warm, semi-arid, and ice-free at the time the plants described in this paper were living. Plant fossils collected from the Cutler Formation came from two sites in The Palisade Wilderness Study Area (managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management) of western Colorado. The stratigraphic sections at the sites were composed mostly of pebble to cobble conglomerate and sandstone, but the fossil plants were mainly preserved in fine-grained intervals (fine-grained sandstone to siltstone). The preservation of plant fossils in the proximal Cutler Formation is remarkable because the surrounding sections consist mostly of conglomerate and sandstone interpreted as fluvial and debris-flow deposits. The fine-grained strata containing the plant horizons must have been deposited in a wet and protected setting, possibly a spring-fed abandoned channel on the alluvial fan. The plants and their surrounding sediment must have been rapidly buried in order to allow for long-term preservation of the fossils. It seems likely that vegetation was abundant in and adjacent to low-lying wet areas on the fan’s surface, based on the abundance of plant fossils found at the two sites. The fossil plant assemblage includes Calamites, Walchia, and Pecopteris. The flora are interpreted to have lived near the apex of the alluvial-fan system. These fossils suggest that warm and at least seasonally and locally wet conditions existed in the area during the time that the plants were growing. More arid conditions during the late Paleozoic are suggested by the characteristics of some of the time-equivalent and near time-equivalent rocks exposed to the west of the study area in the central Paradox Basin.

Recalibrated legacy 40Ar/39Ar ages for the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation, Western Interior, U.S.A.

As a result of recent updating of decay constants and standard ages used for 40Ar/39Ar dating, it is necessary to recalibrate legacy ages obtained with older methods. These recalibrations bring legacy 40Ar/39Ar ages into better agreement with ages obtained using 238U/206Pb dating methods. We present nine recalibrated 40Ar/39Ar ages for the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of the Western Interior, U.S.A., along with the individual geographic and stratigraphic locations for each sample. These recalibrated ages will be useful for researchers looking to place better age constraints on the flora and fauna of the Morrison Formation, as well as for those working to understand stratigraphic relationships across the formation. The recalibrated ages also can now be used reliably for comparisons with newer 238U/206Pb ages obtained for the Morrison Formation.