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Geology & Natural History

Wyoming’s Dinosaurs (and one Columbian Mammoth)

Wyoming's fossils have been important to science since the 1870s and continue to be useful today. Remains of Triceratops, Diplodocus, Tyrannosaurus and others have helped answer—and raise—many questions about the ancient history of the planet and have captured popular imagination with their size or fierce appearance. The scientific value of these fossils and the public interest in them has brought collectors who excavate fossils and ship them to museums all over the country for further study and display. Only a few major finds from Wyoming have remained in the state.

The Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline: A natural-gas success story

Natural gas has been flowing from the Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline in western Wyoming since the early 1990s, bringing with it substantial profits, tax revenues, prosperity, social change, air pollution, and declines in local mule-deer populations. The story goes to the heart of Wyoming’s oil and gas culture, and raises important questions about energy production’s long-term costs and benefits.

The Coal Business in Wyoming

In 1843, explorer John C. Frémont reported coal in what’s now southwest Wyoming. In the 1860s, the route of the new transcontinental railroad across Wyoming was chosen partly to access abundant coal deposits for fuel for the locomotives. Coal mining boomed, labor strife increased and Wyoming’s coal industry thrived despite worker strikes and a number of horrific mine accidents. Today, the state produces 40 percent of the nation’s coal, most of it from huge strip mines in the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming, for rail shipment to electric power plants in 34 states.

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Encyclopedia | When Thomas Boylan started collecting dinosaur bones on his homestead in 1915, he first envisioned completing a dinosaur skeleton and using it to attract customers to his gas station on U. S. Highway 30 near Como Bluff. However, he was told that he didn’t have enough bones for that. Instead, he used more than 5,700 bones to build a structure that has become known worldwide as the Fossil Cabin. The historic Fossil Cabin was built in 1932 and stands about five miles east of Medicine Bow, Carbon County, Wyo. The cabin has been featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Encyclopedia | The abundant vertebrate fossils of the Green River formation in western Wyoming have been known to science since the 1860s. Most are fish, buried in lime-rich mud at the bottom of freshwater lakes about 50 million years ago. Fossil Butte National Monument, west of Kemmerer, Wyo. was created by Congress in 1973 to protect a site extremely rich in these fossils.
Encyclopedia | Oil seeps were reported often in the early 19th century in what later became Wyoming; it was sold, for example to Oregon Trail travelers for wagon lubricant. The first producing well in Wyoming Territory was drilled in 1883 at Dallas Dome southeast Lander. Perhaps the state’s best-known historic oil producing region is the Salt Creek Field, north of Casper, which was one of the world’s largest-producing fields in the 1920s. Oil remains an important part of Wyoming’s economy and culture today, and the state is ranked high among the top national producers.
Encyclopedia | Samuel H. “Doc” Knight taught geology at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo. from 1916 until his retirement in 1963. For a decade he was the only geology teacher, but as his classes began to grow in size and popularity the geology department expanded into a nationally recognized program. He established the university’s science camp in the mountains west of Laramie and revitalized the university’s geological museum. Knight taught an estimated 10,000 students throughout his career and was known to many “Mr. Geology of Wyoming.”
Encyclopedia | Como Bluff in Carbon County and Albany County, Wyo., is the location of one of the world’s richest quarries of Jurassic dinosaur bones. Paleontologists found excellent dinosaur fossils in greater quantity here in the late 19th century than had ever been known before. These included Allosaurus, Diplodocus and Apatosaurus. Many of these specimens are still on display at the Peabody Museum at Yale University, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The site is seldom quarried today, as most of the bones have been removed. Como Bluff is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Encyclopedia | The basin of the North Platte River takes up the southeastern quarter of Wyoming, plus a finger of land along the tributary Sweetwater River in the center of the state. The courses of the North Platte and Sweetwater determined early fur-trade and emigrant routes. Since that time, the basin’s water and other resources have continued to draw industry, stock raising, dams and irrigation—and people.
Encyclopedia | Remains of at least seven mammoths, probably from a meat cache dating back more than 11,000 years, were found when the Colby Mammoth site east of Worland, Wyo., was excavated by a crew under Wyoming State Archaeologist George Frison in the 1970s.
Encyclopedia | Devils Tower, a basalt column rising 1,267 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River, was the nation’s first National Monument and remains important to tourists and the many tribes that hold it sacred.

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