SALT LAKE CITY — A dinosaur skeleton roughly the size of an 18-wheeler is whole again and hitting the road.
The replica of the lizard-like dinosaur nicknamed "Dippy" turned up with its thighbones missing after someone hauled them off from the Utah Field House of Natural History in Vernal.
Museum manager Steve Sroka said the two 5-foot-tall bones — each weighing a few hundred pounds— were found lying beside a path under pine trees in a seldom-used area.
Sroka conceded that the replicas cast in concrete —resembling giant dog bones — don't look like much, but they are important because the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh commissioned them and sent them to Utah decades ago. They were the last batch of dinosaur skeletons the Carnegie Museum sent out, Sroka said.
Workers discovered the bones were missing last week when they went to pick them up to put them in a truck with the rest of the skeleton. The Vernal museum received a more recent replica of the dinosaur in the past few years. The museum, which is opening a new building Friday, was storing most of the old skeleton in the basement and planned to ship it off to a prehistoric museum in Price.
Sroka could not confirm reports that someone took the bones after receiving permission from someone he believed to be a museum worker. But he knew Dippy wouldn't make much of a display without the bones to hold up it haunches.
Sroka put in a call to radio station KVEL asking the station to broadcast a message that if the thief would return the giant concrete bones, he would not call in the Vernal police.
KVEL host Lincoln Brown relayed that line. "Somebody heard it and said, 'I better bring this back,' " Brown said, adding, "and lo and behold, this morning before work, sitting on the pallets were the two missing femurs."
Sroka says a man called the museum saying he would return the pair of leg bones.
Dippy — a Diplodocus dinosaur distinguished by its long neck and tale, sturdy legs and a small brain — is now on its way to the prehistoric museum at Utah State University's College of Eastern Utah in Price, where officials are deciding where to put it. It'll stand outside, "where it'll greet the students," said Ken Carpenter, the museum director.
Utah is rich with dinosaur history. Paleontologists say at least 70 dinosaurs died about 30 miles south of Price about 145 million years ago. More than 12,000 fossil bones have been collected at a quarry there.
Carpenter acknowledged having anxious moments when he heard the replica was missing bones.
"We wouldn't have been able to put it on exhibit," Carpenter said. "We would've had this skeleton we couldn't do anything with." But, he added, "the fact that they've been re-found, all is well."