Go Cruisin' Down Dinosaur Alley

Sunday, September 9, 2007

WHERE: The District and Maryland.

WHY: Mighty T. rex, a Capitalsaurus and an upcoming dino park.

HOW FAR: About 65 miles, or nearly 2 hours from start to finish.

Forget the distant, dusty dinosaur digs of Montana and Utah. Our region also delights dino fanatics.

One of the most popular reptiles at the National Museum of Natural History's Dinosaur Hall is a replica of giant Tyrannosaurus rex. But don't overlook the exhibit's underdogs, says Matthew T. Carrano, curator of dinosaurs at the museum. You'll discover a baby horned dinosaur skeleton and a small plant-eater dubbed Thescelosaurus. Carrano's fave is the rare Ceratosaurus, a medium-size meat-eater that roamed the earth with its better-known Jurassic pals Allosaurus and Diplodocus.

The Smithsonian museum is not far from the spot near the U.S. Capitol where a dinosaur fossil was first unearthed in Washington, in 1898. Nearly a century later, local paleontologist Peter Kranz persuaded D.C. officials to dub the creature Capitalsaurus and name the site Capitalsaurus Court.

In Maryland, the state's official dinosaur, Astrodon johnstoni, rules the day at Baltimore's Maryland Science Center, where a 67-foot-long model is on display. Visitors can also see such local relics as a cast of a tooth from an Acrocanthosaurs dinosaur. (The original is at the natural history museum.) Thomas R. Lipka of Westminster discovered the original tooth and other fossils at a quarry in Muirkirk along "Dinosaur Alley," a stretch of land along Interstate 95 and U.S. Route 1 between Baltimore and Washington.

One of the first three dinosaur fossils ever reported in the United States was unearthed in Dinosaur Alley in 1858. The former iron mine is one of the only places on the East Coast where 115-million-year-old dinosaur fossils from the early Cretaceous Period can be found. And within the next decade, it's going to become a dinosaur dig park, the first of its kind on this coast. Most of the fossils pulled from its hills are small, but several months ago, amateur paleontologist Michael Styer of West Laurel discovered a 26-inch arm or leg bone at the pit.

No one knows what dino hunters will discover next, but you can get a peek at the future park and other fossil-rich formations by contacting the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Happy hunting.

More: See and Print the Map (pdf)

-- Barbara J. Saffir

To schedule an appointment to view fossil sites in Prince George's County, call Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission planner Eileen Nivera at 301-699-2522.

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