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Dinosaur footprint stolen from trail near Moab

Published February 22, 2014 6:20 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Paleontologists are asking for the public's help in finding a dinosaur footprint that was stolen near Moab.

The footprint was one of about 20 in the Hell's Revenge jeeping area near the Sand Flats Recreation Area just east of Moab, said ReBecca Hunt-Foster, Canyon Country paleontologist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

An off-road tour operator took visitors to see the print on Tuesday only to find that the rock containing the print was no longer there.

"It was one of the nicest [tracks]" Hunt-Foster said. The rock had partly loosened from the ground and appears to have been pried free with pry-bars, Hunt-Foster said.

The print is about 1 foot by 2 to 3 feet and was left by a three-toed meat eating dinosaur — likely an ancestor of the Utah state dinosaur, the Allosaurus, Hunt-Foster said.

It was created about 190 million years ago, when the Moab area was part of a "shallow oasis," Hunt-Foster said. The rock with the track likely weighs more than 100 pounds and was probably driven away from the site between Monday and Tuesday, Hunt-Foster said.

Kent Green, the tour operator who reported the print's disappearance Tuesday had seen it during a tour just one day earlier.

"It's just really a neat track," said Green, who runs Moab Cowboy Country Offroad Adventures. "The kids — even the adults — just love it. Now it's gone. The whole community is in an uproar over it. It's just devastating."

Hunt-Foster described the print as "priceless" and pleaded with the public to share any information that could lead to its return by calling the BLM office at 435-259-2100.

"We still know exactly where it came from," she said. "The public would still be able to see and enjoy it."

Taking dinosaur remains from federal lands, whether in the form of fossils or tracks, is a federal crime under protective laws passed in 2009, Hunt-Foster said. It also is illegal vandalism to use a dinosaur print to make a mold from some other substance; many tracks have been damaged by attempts to pour plaster or silicon over a print and pry out the foot's replica.

ealberty@sltrib.com