dinos

Local author Sylvan Bald answers questions for school children on the river trail's StoryWalk, currently featuring his book about his childhood discovery of fossilized dinosaur bones in Ilium, "The Ice-Blue Bones of Telluride." (Courtesy photo)

About 150 million years ago in a nearby valley, a large creature lumbered through the lush vegetation. Perhaps as long as a school bus and as tall as a two-story building, and possessing four-inch-long teeth, this creature, later known as Allosaurus, was nonetheless the puny predecessor of its future cousin, the hulking Tyrannosaurus rex. At some point on this carnivore’s journey through the region, whether due to disease, old age or some other reason, it passed over the rainbow bridge, its skeleton left to bleach under the sun’s glare before becoming buried by the sands of time. Eventually, the forces of nature fossilized the bones of the once-fierce creature, encasing them in rock and hiding them out of sight for many millions of years.

Until one day, in the fall of 2010, a young boy was hiking with his parents in the valley now known as Ilium. Much had changed in the region since the days of proud Allosaurus, but at least one constant remained: The bones of the creature still lay where they’d fallen, now turned to stone and tinted a striking shade of steely blue by mineral deposits.

The boy, then 12-year-old Sylvan Bald, was exploring up ahead on the trail from his two parents when the incongruous color caught his eye. The concealing rock layers, fractured by the freeze-thaw cycle of the surrounding ice, had cracked and fallen away, exposing two curving bluish slashes in the rock like an outsized pair of nestling parentheses.

“Dinosaur bones!” thought the boy.

It turns out Bald was right, and so began the intriguing epilogue to the Allosaurus’ long ago life. In 2015, the teenaged Bald penned a children’s book chronicling the bones’ discovery, with illustrations by longtime friend Ting Taylor, as well as photographs from the identification and excavation process. The book, “The Ice Blue Bones of Telluride: A Dinosaur Discovery,” is now the latest story to unfurl its pages across the east end of the river trail in the form of a StoryWalk, with 11 stations beginning at the intersection of South Pine Street and the river trail and ending at the footbridge into Town Park.

StoryWalks, created in 2007 by Vermonter Anne Ferguson, offer an interactive and outdoor experience for children to take in a picture book as they follow the trail from kiosk to kiosk like a narrative trail of breadcrumbs, each station enticing young readers with another couple of pages of the story. The activity is free, and in this case, participants can even head to the Telluride Historical Museum to see the actual “ice-blue bones” of the Allosaurus. The museum, which collaborated with the Wilkinson Public Library to bring this StoryWalk to life, will reopen for the summer season in June; tickets for kids and seniors are $5, while adult tickets are $7. On Thursdays, locals enjoy free entry.

“It’s a fun family activity to do the StoryWalk together,” said Jeanne Stewart, library youth programs specialist, noting that this story in particular offers a striking reminder to look up, look around and see what you might discover in the world around you.

“We’ve become so focused on our technology that sometimes we forget that amazing things are happening in the world around us,” she reflected. “The world has a lot to teach us if we take the time to observe it.”

For Bald, the spirit of adventure and discovery continue to animate his pursuits, the childhood memories of discovering the bones a lasting lesson to “keep your eyes out.”

“I’m always looking out for stuff, especially in new places. It’s made me more observant of things like, ‘What rock layer is this? Is there potential for dinosaur bones around here?’” he said.

Last week, groups of schoolchildren made their way through the StoryWalk with the young local author, asking questions about the discovery and the book as they went.

“One little girl asked me, ‘How did you find the courage to write the book?’” Bald recalled with a chuckle. “Well, it turned out to be one of the lengthier processes I’ve completed. It was a bit like turning in a final paper for school. It involved a lot of collaboration.”

The once-dominant Allosaurus may have languished in obscurity for eons, but now enjoys a new life through the imaginations of inspired young readers.

The “Ice Blue Bones” StoryWalk will be up through May, and the fossilized bones can be viewed on display at the Telluride Historical Museum, beginning June 3, along with a new exhibit, “Outbreak Epidemics in our Connected World.”