Stratigraphic setting of fossil log sites in the Morrison Formation (Upper Jurassic) near Dinosaur National Monument, Uintah County, Utah, USA

  • Douglas A. Sprinkel Utah Geological Survey
  • Mary Beth Bennis Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum
  • Dale E. Gray Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum
  • Carole T. Gee Institute of Geosciences, Division of Paleontology, University of Bonn
Keywords: Jurassic, Morrison, Salt Wash, Dinosaur


The outcrop belt of the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation in the northeastern Uinta Basin and southeastern flank of the Uinta Mountains is particularly rich in dinosaurian and non-dinosaurian faunas, as well as in fossil plants. The discovery of several well-preserved, relatively intact, fossil logs at several locations in Rainbow Draw and one location in Miners Draw, both near Dinosaur National Monument (Utah), has provided an opportunity to study the local paleobotany, stratigraphy, and sedimentology of the Morrison Formation in northeastern Utah. The Morrison Formation in northeastern Utah consists of four members. In ascending chronostratigraphic order, they are the Windy Hill, Tidwell, Salt Wash, and Brushy Basin Members. The lithology (including the presence
of glauconite grains) and fossil assemblage of the lower two members (Windy Hill and Tidwell) indicate a marine to marginal marine (coastal plain) depositional environment, whereas the lithology, fossil flora and faunaassemblage of the upper two members (Salt Wash and Brushy Basin) indicate a fluvial–lacustrine depositional environment. At least 10 fossil log sites in Rainbow Draw have been documented so far, and geologic mapping indicates that the logs and wood all occur in the same stratigraphic interval within the Salt Wash Member, approximately 17 to 27 m above the base of the member. The unit containing the logs and wood is about 11 m thick and consists of very fine to fine-grained sandstone and siltstone with indistinct bedding and no discernible sedimentary features.
The logs are siliceous, some have a coaly exterior, and they range in exposed length from 0.5 to 11 m and reach diameters up to 1.1 m. In the Miners Draw area, a single siliceous log is documented in the upper part of the Salt Wash Member within a silty sandstone unit that is 4 m thick; its exposed length is about 6 m. Although the correlation of the Miners Draw log-bearing interval to the interval in Rainbow Draw is uncertain, both units are lithologically similar and both occur in the upper part of the Salt Wash Member. The logs have been identified as araucariaceous conifers that pertain to the same taxon originally described as Araucarioxylon hoodii Tidwell et Medlyn 1993 from Mt. Ellen in the Henry Mountains of southern Utah. Concurrent systematic work will prompt a nomenclatural transfer of this species to the genus Agathoxylon. Based on the abundance of large fossil logs and wood in the same stratigraphic interval in Rainbow Draw, we
hypothesize that the area was covered by stands of moderately large trees of araucariaceous conifers. The sedimentological evidence suggests that the trees were not transported far from their original site of growth before they were deposited in a low-energy floodplain environment.

West view of the Morrison Formation at Rainbow Draw. The fossil log horizon is in the greenish- colored siltstone beds near the center of the photograph. The Cretaceous Cedar Mountain through the Frontier Formations are exposed on the distant ridge. See figure 7 for details. Inset photo of a fossil log typically found in Rainbow Draw.
How to Cite
Sprinkel, D., Bennis, M.B., Gray, D., and Gee, C., 2019, Stratigraphic setting of fossil log sites in the Morrison Formation (Upper Jurassic) near Dinosaur National Monument, Uintah County, Utah, USA: Geology of the Intermountain West, v. 6, p. 61-76.