Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dinosaur Park (Laurel, MD)

Did you know that many of the dinosaur fossils discovered in the US east of the Mississippi were found in Maryland?

A tiny park in Laurel called "Dinosaur Park" commemorates the first fossil finds in the 1850's but is also an active 41-acre paleontological site, open on Saturday mornings twice a month for fossil searches.

Dinosaur Alley
"Dinosaur Alley" is a region filled with dinosaur and plant fossils that roughly corresponds to the Route 1 corridor in Maryland, DC and Northern Virginia.

During the final dinosaur era, the Cretaceous period roughly 145M to 66M years ago, Maryland was a flat coastal plain with winding rivers, comparable to southern Louisiana today.

Dinosaur remains were washed by floodwaters into "oxbow lakes" (bends in rivers that get cut off), where they accumulated and were covered with sediment, turning them into fossils over a period of many years.

Muirkirk/Laurel Fossils
In the 1850's the Muirkirk area south of the Route 1 and Contee Road intersection was the site of a mine for siderite (iron ore), and African-American miners in open pits in 1858 were the first to find dinosaur fossils.

Among the fossils found at Muirkirk were teeth and large bones from Maryland's State Dinosaur, a large (up to 60 feet long and 20-ton) brontosaurus-like dinosaur called Astrodon johnstoni (because the fossilized teeth had a star-like pattern when sliced open by local doctor and dentist Christopher Johnston).

The Park
Today the park preserves one of the most important fossil sites in the Eastern United States.

A small observation area is open from dawn to dusk, and the fenced-in site has free Open Houses from 12 PM to 4 PM on the first and third Saturdays of each month, when visitors can help scientists look for fossils.

Fossils found at Muirkirk are on display in the Smithsonian and as recently as last year visitors found dinosaur teeth and bones, including part of a tibia and a shoulder blade or rib bone.

Montpelier Mansion
Less than 2 miles to the east, the historic 1785 Montpelier Mansion of Major Thomas Snowden also has a kids-oriented Dinosaur Room to exhibit dinosaur fossils found on the original estate property (which includes what is today Dinosaur Park).

Montpelier Mansion

Getting There

Dinosaur Park
13201 Mid-Atlantic Boulevard
Laurel, MD 20708

Dinosaur Park is located just east of Route 1 and south of Contee Road about 7.5 miles from Emerson. It is about 2 blocks past ClimbZone.

  • Observation area: Dawn to Dusk
  • Fossil Site: 12 PM to 4 PM on the first and third Saturdays of each month

Montepelier Mansion

9650 Muirkirk Road
Laurel, MD 20708

  • Self-Guided Tours: Thursdays to Tuesdays, 11AM TO 3 PM
  • Guided Tours: Sundays Only, March through November at 12 PM/1 PM/2 PM/3 PM

From Dinosaur Park, turn right onto Contee Road and then turn right again at MD 197 (Laurel-Bowie Road). After 0.8 miles turn right onto Muirkirk Road. The road up to the mansion will be 450 feet on the right.


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