SOUTH PIT LAKE

The first report of fossil footprints from the Smoky River Coal Mine came to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaenotology in 1989 (McCrea and Currie, 1998). The first tracksite that was studied was from an mined out area known as the South Pit Lake. True to its name the site is a large water-filled pit surrounded by steep, debris strewn slopes and outcrops. Large blocks of rock have calved off of in situ outcrops and rolled down to the bottom of the pit. Some of these rock slabs had footprints on them, mainly those of small (Irenichnites gracilis) to medium-sized (Columbosauripus ichnosp. and Gypsichnites pascensis) theropod dinosaurs.

A theropod trackslab (TMP 90.27.1) from the South Pit Lake site (hard hat for scale).

(Photograph provided by Dr. Philip J. Currie, courtesy of Alberta Community Development and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology)

 Between the years 1989 and 1991, Tyrrell Museum palaentologists, led by Dr. Phil Currie and with the cooperation of the coal company, collected several footprint and trackway slabs as well as latex peels of footprint surfaces too large to be collected. The South Pit Lake site was destined to be the new home of the explosives plant for the coal mine. All of the footprints that had not been collected were backfilled to prepare the area for the new buildings. No further access to this site would be possible until after the mine shut down. Darren Tanke, a technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, participated in much of the early research at Grande Cache. I was fortunate to have Darren accompany me to the South Pit Lake site in August 2001. He confirmed that all of the footprint-bearing blocks that had been exposed a decade ago were now under a large amount of backfill. There are still plenty of outcrop exposures around the pit, so perhaps additional material will be found here again in the future.