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In the mountains of Alaska s Denali National Park and Preserve, Dr. Tony Fiorillo, curator of earth sciences at The Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, is leading an annual expedition to hunt for remnants of dinosaurs in Denali.

He and his colleagues have uncovered thousands of dinosaur footprints to date, and have even discovered a new species of the prehistoric creatures.

But that may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Every time you walk along and make a turn, you can make an amazing discovery, Fiorillo said. It is so much opportunity here. It s sort of like a paleontological candy store... it s just filled with treats.

Most of those treats are hard to reach.

On their latest trip, the team ventured higher in altitude than before. We re above where the sheep sleep; a brand new place where we ve never been... where nobody has been... so it s a chance to really break some new ground, Fiorillo said.

First they had to negotiate that ground, working a steep grade on a windy day, with raindrops and occasional flurries.

This is pure exploration! Fiorillo exclaimed.

The scientists found four more spots where there s evidence of prehistoric life. This place never disappoints us, said another of the explorers.

Processing the latest site meant spending a few more hours in some difficult elements. The group stiffened their resolve with a pep talk from Fiorillo:

In the next couple of hours, remember We wanted to be here. We didn t get caught here; we wanted to be here, he said.

Might the same be said of the dinosaurs? The theory is the creatures crossed continents here between Asia and North America.

But these researchers say there s so much evidence of the animals in Denali that it appears they may have actually opted to stay, living and flourishing in an environment that no one previously thought they would have chosen.

There are still a lot more stones to be unturned, Fiorillo said.

What is it about this area that we see these dinosaurs? he asked.

But with so many questions yet to be answered, time is ticking. Winter will be back in no time to evict the researchers again. And this time, their annual expedition could go the way of the dinosaur.

It is the last year of funding for the project, so we don t know if we will be back next year, Fiorillo said.

With that in mind, the team is quickly collecting all the evidence they can, hauling it back to Dallas, where they already have a trove of samples from Denali.

Some of those findings are currently on display at the Perot Museum.

E-mail jwheeler@wfaa.com

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