SHOW LOW — Explore the geological and paleontological diversity of Northeastern Arizona this fall as part of a unique geology course at Northland Pioneer College.
NPC is the only community college in Arizona to offer an undergraduate paleontology course about dinosaurs. NPC Biology Professor Dr. David Smith and his colleague, paleontologist Doug Wolfe, will team-teach the Geology course (GEO 202 – Dinosaurs) Thursdays, from 4-6:44 p.m at the Show Low campus. The three-credit course will transfer as a science elective into the paleontology programs at Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona.
Registration is currently underway for the fall semester. Most classes begin the week of Aug. 20. Tuition is $74 per credit hour for the course.
Students will apply biological and paleontology concepts and develop a field notebook outlining the bones, nervous and muscular systems of dinosaurs. Students will also study the origin and evolution of birds, the concept of extinction and basic scientific methods, including dissection of modern-day birds. Many scientists consider modern-day birds as descendants of dinosaurs. Best of all, students will get a chance to explore various local rock formations, “right under our feet,” notes Wolfe. “I’m excited about NPC’s course that will hopefully spark additional interest in the paleontology and geology fields,” he adds.
Wolfe has worked as a consultant for the U.S. Geological Survey re-dating many of the rock formations in that region, as well as on the Little Colorado Plateau. While exploring the Zuni Basin with a film crew, Wolfe noticed dozens of bone fragments, weathered out by a nasty thunderstorm the previous week. “One fit neatly onto a bone sticking out of the hill,” recalls Wolfe. The site became known as the Haystack Butte Bonebed and led to the discovery of a new type of dinosaur.
The scientific name given to the discovery was Zuniceratops christopheri – honoring the Zuni tribe and Wolfe’s son Christopher, who was 7 years old at the time, and picked up the first fragment. Zuniceratops, is the oldest ‘horned’ dinosaur in North America, an early ancestor of Triceratops.
Dr. Smith, an NPC professor since 2005, specializes in vertebrate paleontology. He has been collaborating with Wolfe on digital imaging of the braincase of both Zuniceratops and other dinosaurs.
Wolfe, his wife Hazel and son Christopher operate the White Mountain Dinosaur Exploration Center (WMDEC) in Springerville and routinely partner with university field teams recovering fossils in the region. The WMDEC, open most Thursdays through Saturday, features numerous specimens and exhibits, including a photo of a three-toed track discovered by Wolfe nearly a decade ago recording a pack of smaller carnivorous dinosaurs possibly hunting a larger plant-eater.
In addition to teaching at NPC, Smith and Wolfe are making plans to explore major dinosaur fossil sites in China, Mongolia and Russia, with their findings published in a future textbook by Indiana University Press.