A day of trudging up one and then down another ravine carved into the Cretaceous sands was taking its toll. My search for fossils had been fruitless; my mind was beginning to wander. Here on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies I wasn't quite high enough to see the valley of the White River or the town of Rangely to the north. I could, however, just detect through the afternoon haze the top of the solid- walled Uintas poised above Vernal, Utah, and Dinosaur National Monument some sixty miles to the northwest. Sunny afternoons always brought this summer haze--some portion of which was natural, some from forest fires, but some certainly born of human activity. At least in the mornings from our camp, about five miles north and two hundred feet higher, I could usually find the snowy peak named after the famed nineteenth-century paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh.
Although not exceedingly hot, it was a very dry day. This had been a bad fire season, and I could smell burnt juniper on the wind. As I sat down in the shade of a small piñon pine to channel my thoughts into something more useful for field work than the image of a cold beer, I spotted a small shiny object. To this vertebrate paleontologist it looked suspiciously like a tooth of a carnivorous dinosaur, a theropod. I picked it up, turned it over in my hand, and in an instant knew this was a keeper. The inch-long, black tooth was not large by theropod