Paleontology at Wupatki National Monument

Written By ACE'r

On February 9, 2022
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By: Yusuf Romaine-Elkhadri, EPIC NPS Member

My name is Yusuf Romaine-Elkhadri, and I am a Paleontology and Natural Resource Management member at Wupatki National Monument. I have had many coworkers who have worked with ACE before, all of whom had nothing but praise for their respective programs, so the moment I saw an ACE position in Flagstaff, I knew I had to jump at the opportunity. I am hoping to pursue a career in natural resource management in the federal government, so this position was perfect for my interests.

Yusuf Romaine-Elkhadri Rock ClimbingWupatki is especially known for its pueblo ruins scattered all over the monument. The dwellings were established shortly after the eruption of the nearby Sunset Crater Volcano between 1040-1100. But over 200 million years ago, in the Lower Triassic, the geography of Wupatki was coastal floodplain as opposed to the desert it is now. Ancient reptiles in the genera Chirotherium and Rotodactylus trudged through the sand and mud that now form the rocks of the Moenkopi Formation that Wupatki National Monument sits on.

I have primarily been surveying the Moenkopi Formation in Wupatki for the fossilized footprints of these ancient reptiles. Another member and I have had about 3 square miles to cover in the monument and have discovered 7 new fossil sites in the Moenkopi and 3 gastropod fossils in the adjacent Kaibab Limestone Formation since November. My favorite fossil discovery was easily my first site. My partner and I had called it a day with no discoveries and were heading back to the truck when I impulsively just went to check under a ledge when I saw a slab of rock that had fallen off the ledge. There was a footprint on the slab so pronounced I almost didn’t think it was real until I saw my partner’s face.

Yusuf Romaine-Elkhadri at Wupatki Park

I am endlessly grateful to have this position since I believe it will be instrumental in furthering my career working in natural resources with federal land management agencies. Everything in this position has been a new, wonderful experience, whether it’s climbing on top of mesas while surveying for fossils or crawling into earth cracks to look for bats, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me these next few months.

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