Moab Happenings Archive
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People in Paleo: Kenneth Carpenter, an all-round Martin Lockley, Moab Giants
Dr. Kenneth Carpenter, former Director of the Prehistoric Museum, Price Utah looks happy beside one of his favorite dinosaurs the tank-like armored dinosaur Gastonia.
I have dubbed him “Doc all-around” for his wide- ranging paleontological expertise. Photo by Donna Barry.

The last five People in Paleo contributions dealt with paleontologists who came of age in the early part of the 20th century. Giving my age away, we can now switch to those of the baby boomer generation who came of age in the Dinosaur Renaissance decades (1970s - 1980s). One such individual Dr. Kenneth Carpenter (most colleagues call him Ken) would be completely at home if you dropped him in the desert in the soon-to-be-inaugurated Utahraptor State Park.

After taking degrees at the University of Colorado and working on Cretaceous marine reptiles from Wyoming, and ever-ubiquitous Jurassic dinosaurs, Ken aspired, as he had since childhood, to work at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Hard-working and intellectually curious he would, after stints at various museums working in exhibits and preparation he would achieve this goal. He developed wide-ranging interests in field excavation, laboratory preparation, restoration, artistic reconstruction and exhibits (i.e., often wrestling with giant dinosaur restorations).

Like many paleontologists Ken combined hands-on, dig-in-the-dirt field paleontology with the academic business (often unpaid) of scientific publication. However, Ken proved more of an “all-rounder” than most. Besides his interests in the Cretaceous dinosaurs of the Cedar Mountain Formation in the Utahraptor State Park area, Ken developed a keen interest in Eggs Nests and Dinosaur Babies, the title of one of his books which featured the work of “Dinosaur Egg Man” Karl Hirsch (Moab Happenings April 2022). He also wrote or edited books and articles on the history of paleontology including Dinosaur National Monument (Moab Happenings Feb. 2022), the armored dinosaurs, the theropod Acrocanthosaurus, probable trackmaker of the large three-toed footprints at Mill Canyon. He co-edited and contributed to other dino-books (dino-docs.) including volumes on T. rex, dinosaurs of Mexico, horned and beaked dinosaurs, thunder lizards (AKA sauropods) and another on the sometimes-confusing field of dinosaur nomenclature. For good measure he coauthored a book entitled The Official Godzilla Compendium.  Reportedly his love of paleontology was kindled when his mother took him to see a Godzilla movie at the tender age of five. Evidently, he was not scared off!

After working 22 years at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, much of it during the heyday of its ‘make over’ when the elaborate Prehistoric Journey exhibit was installed, the lure of the Dinosaur Diamond proved too strong. Ken applied for the Job of Director at the Prehistoric Museum in Price where true to his all-round inclinations he revamped the exhibits, educational programs and improved the organization of the research collections. After 10 years as Director, Ken was quoted as saying that all these self-appointed tasks had been “fun to do.” Those who know “Doctor all-around” know that with his love of fossils, particularly dinosaurs, he will likely never retire from the ‘fun’ business of paleontological research.

If asked what his favorite dinosaur was, Ken might pick the tank-like armored dinosaur Gastonia burgei. Why? Because it is one of the Prehistoric Museum’s treasures, which Ken helped describe along with Utah State Paleontologist Jim Kirkland (more news of him next month). Gastonia, was found buried alongside Utahraptor in 135-140 million year old early Cretaceous deposits in what is now the newly-created Utahraptor State Park area (just entering its construction phase). Named for Dinosaur restoration expert Rob Gaston, a Dino Diamond resident with his studio in Fruita, and Don Burge, former director of the Prehistoric Museum this armored quadruped has given its name to Moab’s local Gastonia Chapter of the Utah Friends of Paleontology (UFOP), a very down to earth organization, not to be confused with any UFO-related stuff. With four feet on the ground, highly authentic complete skeletal reconstructions of Gastonia are on display at Moab Giants and the museum in Price.

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