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Geoffrey McAllister, Deseret News
Jennifer Mattis of Pennsylvania, left, Hope Owens of Park City and Ani Schjelderup of Salt Lake City sort through their fossil discoveries.

After digging around in central Utah's desert, high school students enrolled in Westminster's Paleo Camp cleaned and studied the various fossil rocks they had found.

"If you want to study the history of life on Earth, this is the place to do it," said Dave Goldsmith, a geology faculty member at Westminster. He chaperoned the group of ninth- to 12th-graders to a fossil quarry at Antelope Springs in Sevier County last Tuesday, then taught them about their findings a day later.

"Geologically speaking, the area used to be the edge of the continent," he said. "The entire history of this continent can be found within a day's drive from Westminster."

The students had picked up all kinds of rocks that had once encased insects, crabs, lobsters and even honeybees. Goldsmith said anything "buried in mud quickly after you die" turns into a fossil record, preserving time. Being the "edge of the continent," he said the area had many sea creatures that had the opportunity to turn into fossils.

Eight students from around the country are participating in the camp, one of five offered this summer at the college. They've come from as far as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington state and Ohio, as well as Salt Lake City and Park City to study rocks.

"I like rocks," said Cynthia Heckelsmiller, a 16-year-old high-school student from Seattle. "It's interesting how you can get a pretty clear picture of how the world used to be."

The students gathered bucketsful of trilobites and agnostids containing outlines of Elrathia kingi and Peronopsis interstricta species.

Using retired dental tools and various other scientific equipment, including a rock saw, mineral oil and carbon particles, they polished and cleaned the images to make them more prominent. They experienced renewed excitement upon discovering the detail of each fossil.

"I always thought you had to dig deep to get stuff, but really it's just right there," said Hope Owens, 16, of Park City. Finding the fossils helped her think differently about the world and where it came from.

Paleontologists, who live by the mantra to "break things in order to understand them," recently made a historic find in Hanksville, Wayne County, unearthing more than 30 Jurassic Age dinosaur bones and specimens during a five-week dig.

Fourteen-year-old Derek Meer said that, being from Ohio, he's often surrounded by trees, "which doesn't let me see a lot of rocks or study the Earth. It's great to get out there, get hands on and find all these creatures that lived millions of years ago."

The group watched "The Alps" IMAX film, which discusses the formation of one of the world's highest mountain ranges, earlier this week and will be traveling to Moab today, to see a dinosaur footprint.

The Paleo camp extends through the week at Westminster. Students pay a weeklong tuition of $639, which covers room and board and various field trips and experiences. They are selected through an extensive application process, which includes an essay and requires letters of recommendation. The benefit is two college credits, transferrable to most colleges and universities.

Other camps hosted at Westminster this summer include robotics, aviation, writing and money matters.

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