Como Bluff, Wyoming. 7,020 feet above sea level. No human being or human structure visible. Air clear, dry, cool. (dinosaur costume for adult)A pair of mule deer browsing along Rock Creek. Put the coffee water on the Coleman stove to heat up. (Real dinosaur costume)No one else is awake in camp yet, but the smell of bacon will entice them out of their tents. I have been in the business for twenty years—digging up fossil bones—but I’m still excited by the first dinosaur of the summer. I sit here on the crest of a little sandstone hogback, remnant of a stream that flowed a hundred million years ago, and look down on my crew’s work of the last four days. It’s becoming a sizeable hole, a proper dinosaur dig, twenty-five feet across, dug by pickax, army-surplus trenching shovel, icepick, and fingernails. I saw my first dinosaur in that splendid Mecca for Mesozoic relics, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, at the age of nine. But those skeletons seemed tamed by civilization, mounted as they were on steel and plaster, posed for the benefit of countless parades of schoolchildren and tourists. A dinosaur in the rock is different. This one before me is huge, and its six-footlong thigh bone, which would dwarf any elephant’s, lies half exposed to the Wyoming sunrise. Its coal black form is clearly etched against the surrounding pale rock by thousands of careful chisel marks. This bone is a holy relic for me, as beautiful in its roughly hewn outline as Michelangelo’s bound slaves struggling to free themselves from the enveloping marble.
From where I sit on the quarry’s rim I can see the dinosaur’s great trochanters, the attachment site of the immense hip muscles, and the bone surface pitted and rough where tendons and ligaments were anchored to the femur. (Animatronic dinosaur)A hundred thousand millennia ago, those tendons and muscles were full of dinosaur blood coursing through capillary beds, bringing oxygen to the cells that powered the stride of this ten-ton giant. Muscles pulsed in cycles of contraction and release, and the hind limb, fully twelve feet long from hip to toenails, swung through its stroke covering six feet with every pace.