Fossils are everywhere, and those fossils are embedded in rock that tells us a story, an expert told a capacity crowd at the Kanab City Library on Tuesday, January 11.

“Most people don’t realize that fossils are so common and so ubiquitous in the rock layers,” said Kirk Johnson, chief curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, speaking to the standing-room-only crowd on Tuesday night. “A lot of people drive past these amazing outcrops with no idea they’re driving past a historical record. This is the story of the history of the world, and it’s told best in the American West,” said Johnson.

Johnson’s talk was based on his 2007 book with artist Ray Troll, “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway.” It describes a 5,000-mile road trip that the two spent visiting fossil sites in the West and hobnobbing with people who exhibit a syndrome that Johnson called “PNS” – Paleo Nerd Syndrome.

“These are people who are grown adults, but still love fossils,” he said, citing rock shop owners, rock hounds and a pair of Stegosaurus-studying twin sisters here in Utah.

Among the common fossils Johnson discussed are the amazingly well-preserved fossil plants found on the section of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument known as The Blues. “You can see the insect bites from 74 million years ago, and where the bites healed,” he said.

Other Western fossil hotspots Johnson mentioned include a cave in Wyoming that contains the fossils remains of 40,000 ancient animals. Another Western site, containing mastodons, mammoths, and giant Ice Age bison, was accidentally discovered by bulldozer-driving workers trying to dig a reservoir near the Colorado resort Snowmass.

Johnson also revealed his technique for finding dinosaur tracks from the car while driving 65 miles per hour. “I never under any circumstances keep my eyes on the road,” Johnson deadpanned as the audience laughed. “It’s dead easy to spot dinosaur tracks from the car – you just have to know how to read the rocks.”

Partners showed off two of the life-size dinosaur casts that make up the Partners/BLM traveling exhibits – a juvenile Tyrannosaur and the multi-horned Diabloceratops eatoni, which was discovered on the Monument in 2002.

The talk was sponsored by Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP, www.gsenm.org), the 501(c)(3) non-profit that supports science, education and conservation on the Monument. GSEP is able to sponsor educational speakers like Dr. Johnson thanks to the support of GSEP members.

“To have such a large number of residents attend this event indicates strong local interest in the natural history of the National Monument. GSEP will continue to provide similar educational programs in the future,” said Partners executive director Roger Cole.