Moab Happenings Archive
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People in Paleo: The John - Rebecca Team by Martin Lockley, Moab Giants
John Foster and Rebecca Hunt-Foster getting plastered at the Mygatt-Moore quarry in western Colorado. They represent one of at least five generations of Museum of Western Colorado paleontologists who have dug Jurassic Dinosaurs at this site. They still “dig” dinosaurs!

Most paleontologists working in the Dinosaur Diamond know John and Rebecca. However, the purpose of this year’s People in Paleo series is to make introductions, and show where paleo people fit in the area’s prehistoric puzzle. John made his professional debut in the diamond as curator at the Dinosaur Journey branch of the Museum of Western Colorado (MWC) in Fruita. Like his predecessors Brooks Britt and Jim Kirkland (Moab Happenings July and August 2022) part of his paleontological portfolio involved inheriting the long-running dinosaur dig at the Mygatt-Moore quarry at Rabbit Valley (at exit 2 on I70 just east of the Utah state line). Here the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation has yielded enough fossils to keep several generations of MWC curators busy, hot and dusty. These fossils include plant remains, snails, crayfish, several fish species and about 2,500 bones representing small, difficult-to-identify amphibians, a lizard- like reptile related to the rare New Zealand Tuatara and small crocodilians. The dinosaur remains include the teeth of at least two different theropods (Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus), two sauropods an ornithopod and the armored dinosaur Mymoorapelta. John was uniquely qualified to dig Morrison dinosaurs, having done his PhD on the distribution of Morrison vertebrates, including their tracks, across the entire western USA. This study led to the publication of his book Jurassic West, now in its second edition.

John is the versatile author of two acclaimed but very different paleo books. One on fossils from the Cambrian Period (540-485 million years ago) and the other on the Dinosaur-rich Morrison Formation.

John’s wife Rebecca Hunt-Foster is also a paleontologist who partnered with John digging the Mygatt-Moore quarry, sometimes elbow deep in plaster of Paris used to put casts around fragile bones. Rebecca studied the Cretaceous theropod dinosaur Acrocanthosaurus which was something of a happy coincidence because when Rebecca and John moved to Moab, she for a paleontology position with the BLM, she became involved with the development of the interpretative 112-million-year-old Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite where the large theropod tracks are usually attributed to Acrocanthosaurus. John meanwhile took on the job of director at the Moab Museum. During their years in Moab the BLM and USDA Forest Service developed other dinosaur tracksite destinations at Willow Springs, the Poison Spider trailhead, Copper Ridge, the Stomping Ground and the Bull Canyon overlook in the La Sal mountains. These developments speak to the growing importance of tracksites for science and public education. You can visit them all and also go to Rabbit Valley.

Speaking of tracks (my favorites) when I took on John as his graduate school advisor (through the University of Colorado) he agreed to include tracks in his studies. Since 1995 he and I have published more than 25 papers on tracks, a half dozen with Rebecca as coauthor. While the Dinosaur Diamond is world famous for bones of dinosaurs and other vertebrates, it is equally rich in tracks (see Moab Happenings 12-part series for 2020). John and I are part of a tracker network that includes our tracker sleuth friend Josh Smith, co-paleo-researcher across the region. John has the theropod dinosaur Fosterovenator churei named after him, an honor he shares with Dan Chure, recently retired Dinosaur National Monument (DNM) Paleontologist (Moab Happenings August 2022). As proof of the tight knit Paleo People Network, Rebecca now has the DNM job and was recently honored by having the microbial trace fossil Pustularichnus rebeccahuntfosterae named in her honor. A big name for an invisible and very ancient microbial trace. Put that in wordle if they don’t allow “paleo” as a 5-letter word! (You can always try “track,” “trace,” “stomp” or “stone”). John and Rebecca have held professional jobs at three of the Dinosaur Diamond’s four corners, so are well-known members of the area’s Paleo team: each a “dusty” “jewel” (5-letter, geo type words) “along” the “rocky” “local” “trail.” “ENJOY”

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