By Natalie Crofts
MOAB — A 190-million-year-old dinosaur track was reported stolen from a trail in Moab Wednesday, officials said.
The track was lifted out of Jurassic age Navajo sandstone in the Hell's Revenge area, according to the Bureau of Land Management. The missing track was noticed by a tour guide for Moab Cowboy Country Outdoor Adventures, who reported it to the BLM.
“You can’t assign a monetary value to it — they are priceless, they are one-of-a-kind, individual tracks that a dinosaur made 190-million years ago and they can’t be replaced once they’re gone and stolen," said BLM district paleontologist ReBecca Hunt-Foster. "(Thieves) steal them scientifically from context, they steal them from the public from enjoying them and they steal them from all of us Americans who own them as federal property.”
Hunt-Foster said the incident is still under investigation, but that it appears the track block was lifted out. There are several other track blocks in the area.
The tracks were located next to a popular off-roading area, she said.
“A lot of the guides will pull off and show people the dinosaur tracks that are there on the cliff side so all of the public can enjoy them and unfortunately one of these guides who is very familiar with the tracks recognized that one of the blocks had been stolen and reported it to us," Hunt-Foster said.
Moab Cowboy Country Outdoor Adventures owner Kent Green was on a tour on the Hell's Revenge trail in the Sand Flats recreation area with a group from California when he noticed the dinosaur track was missing.
"I was showing them the tracks and explaining a little bit about them and walked over to show them this beautiful, definite track that I always liked to show and I discovered it was gone," he said. "It was just gone — I couldn't believe my eyes when I'd seen that."
The person responsible for the theft could face fines and a potential jail sentence of up to five years, Hunt-Foster said. A statement on the BLM website for Hell's Revenge asks for visitors to treat the tracks with care and says that disturbing the tracks or pouring anything in them to make a mold is forbidden.
"What a lot of people don’t understand or know is that these fossils are protected under federal law and so there are civil and criminal penalties associated with this theft," Hunt-Foster said.
She said the track block would have been difficult to carry because of its weight, but that the the spot is easy to access because it is on a designated jeep trail.
“People have often, unfortunately, been even parking on top of these things for years," Hunt-Foster said. "We’re in progress of trying to put up a barrier to keep people from parking on these tracks and to be more aware of them. The tracks are actually right on a cliff edge.”
Green takes people on tours of the area every day and said he was shocked and devastated when he discovered the track was gone. The last time he saw the track was at about 6:30 p.m. on Monday and when he returned Tuesday at around 3:30 p.m. it was no longer there.
"The feeling that I had inside was just like somebody had not only taken something from everybody else, but it almost felt like somebody had shot my uncle, believe it or not," he said. "It is really just a good attraction to be able to show folks who visit our area and the kids absolutely love them."
He said there is a fracture in the rock where the track used to be and some surrounding rocks look like they were broken up when someone tried to pry the rock up. The whole piece the dinosaur track was on was taken.
The BLM does not currently have any leads in the investigation. Anyone who would like to report suspicious activity can call 435-259-2100.