At the Top of the Grand Staircase: The Late Cretaceous of Southern Utah

At the Top of the Grand Staircase: The Late Cretaceous of Southern Utah

At the Top of the Grand Staircase: The Late Cretaceous of Southern Utah

At the Top of the Grand Staircase: The Late Cretaceous of Southern Utah


The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah is the location of one of the best-known terrestrial records for the late Cretaceous. A major effort in the new century has documented over 2,000 new vertebrate fossil sites, provided new radiometric dates, and identified five new genera of ceratopsids, two new species of hadrosaur, a probable new genus of hypsilophodontid, new pachycephalosaurs and ankylosaurs, several kinds of theropods (including a new genus of oviraptor and a new tyrannosaur), plus the most complete specimen of a Late Cretaceous therizinosaur ever collected from North America, and much more. At the Top of the Grand Staircase: The Late Cretaceous of Southern Utah documents this major stepping stone toward a synthesis of the ecology and evolution of the Late Cretaceous ecosystems of western North America.


In 1982, tom ryer came to the university of WYOming to give a talk on coal geology in the Cretaceous of Utah. a few years earlier (1979), Jason Lillegraven had completed his groundbreaking Mesozoic Mammals book, and the gaps in our record of Cretaceous mammals were fresh in my mind. I asked Tom what was landward of these Cretaceous coals, and he replied, “Boring floodplain sediments.” That did it for me. After I graduated in 1982, I drove out to the San Rafael Swell, the Henry Mountains, and the Kaiparowits Plateau, and I found fossils everywhere I went. I was most impressed by the thick and well-exposed section on the Kaiparowits Plateau. So in May 1983, I went to the Kaiparowits Plateau to begin my dissertation research.

I fully expected to have the Kaiparowits Plateau to myself. However, that same year, the remarkable collector Will Downs led Richard Cifelli (then at the Museum of Northern Arizona) to the Kaiparowits Plateau. As it turned out, we ended up camped less than a mile from each other on Horse Mountain. This was the beginning of still-continuing paleontological discoveries on the Kaiparowits Plateau. the scientific resources of the region eventually became the basis for establishing Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in 1996, and subsequent paleontological research on the monument has been championed by Alan Titus, to whom all of us are indebted.

As was typical of the times, the workers that had simultaneously arrived on the Kaiparowits Plateau in 1983 studied mammals; however, this volume reflects the healthy diversification of research that has taken place on the plateau over the years. This volume includes chapters on flora, invertebrates, sharks and rays, fish, frogs, salamanders, turtles, lizards, crocodylians, dinosaurs (of course!), trackways, and marine vertebrates. Also, important contributions are being made on the chronostratigraphy of the region (it is wonderful to finally have some radiometric dates!) and on other aspects of the geology and sedimentology of this extraordinary sequence.

The premise on which Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument was established is well demonstrated in this volume, but all of us who work in this region understand that this compilation does not represent the end of scientific research here, but rather a new starting place. the monument will serve to enhance our knowledge of Earth history, and in particular the Late Cretaceous, for generations to come.

Jeffrey G. Eaton Ogden, Utah December 2011

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