An area of dinosaur tracks in Utah, discovered in 2009 but kept secret from the public for 5 years while paleontologists conducted studies, will be opened for public viewing soon, officials say.
The tracks in the southeast of the state, now excavated, studied and photographed by scientists, include those of three-toed therapods, raptors, ancient crocodiles and other extinct creatures.
The Bureau of Land Management says the formerly off-limits area near Moab is being prepared for a public unveiling sometime in October.
Tracks from 10 different extinct species of the Cretaceous were found in a dry wash, covering an area no larger than a football field, BLM paleontologist ReBecca Hunt-Foster said.
Still, it represents one of the most significant and largest continuous areas of Cretaceous-period tracks ever found in North America, she explained.
"We don't usually get this," she said. "It is a beautiful track site, one of the best ones I've ever seen."
Alongside the tracks of a Tyrannosaurus ancestor were footprints of duckbilled dinosaurs and prehistoric birds.
It is thought the multitude of tracks were all laid down around 110 million years ago over a short period of just days in or around a shallow lake before being quickly but gently covered in sediments that preserved them without distorting or destroying them, Hunt-Foster said.
The effort to clean, prepare and photograph the tracks has been led by University of Colorado at Denver paleontologist Martin Lockley, and the site has attracted researchers from as far away as Poland, China and Korea, Hunt-Foster said.
"It's such an important site that they are coming here to study it," she said.
When the site is opened for the public in October, a trail will allow people to walk to the area of the tracks, and signs will explain the different kinds of tracks visible. There are plans to construct shaded pavilions and an elevated boardwalk so visitors can view them without the temptation of touching them.
In preparation for allowing the public access to the tracks, volunteers have started sweeping, brushing and scraping the ground to expose the tracks so they can be photographed in 3D by the researchers to create a permanent record.
"And then we'll be able to replicate any of the tracks, should they ever be damaged or destroyed," Hunt-Foster said. "People will be able to study them without doing damage to the actual surface."