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A Look at the Ice Age

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Hidden : 01/31/2008
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Geocache Description:

Visit A Look at the Ice Age details at the DGP

This cache is at the site of a discovery very importmant to helping us understand the Ice Age period. This earthcache focuses on how the earth can preserve bones, plant life, and even whole forests for thousands of years only to be discovered later and teach us of the past. Long ago this land was much different, what was it like?

The Ice Age is also known as the Pleistocene Epoch, which lasted from about 2 million to 10,000 years ago, and was a period of recurring widespread glaciations. Ice ages have actually occurred periodically throughout the history of the Earth. The Pleistocene is the most recent of these ice ages.

Glaciers covered most of the high mountains of Utah periodically during the Ice Age.

Lake Bonneville, a large fresh-water lake, covered most of western Utah from 30,000 to 12,000 years ago. The Great Salt Lake is the remnant of this Ice Age lake.

The animals that lived in Utah during the Ice Age included many of the same animals that we find here today, as well as many extinct forms such as mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, and saber-toothed cats.

Many of the extinct Pleistocene animals were very large and have living relatives who are usually much smaller. These large, extinct animals are referred to as the "Pleistocene Megafauna". They became extinct at the end of the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago.

Mammoths and Mastodons are two types of elephants that lived in Utah during the Ice Age. They differ in the shape and function of their teeth and in the shape of other bones, including the skull. They are related to modern elephants that live in Africa and Asia.

Gravel quarries along the Wasatch Front contain the bones of many Ice Age animals. These gravels were deltaic deposits formed in Lake Bonneville. The animals that roamed the shores of Lake Bonneville included big-horn sheep (Ovis), horses (Equus), and bison (Bison), whose living relatives are found in Utah today, as well as animals such as musk oxen (Bootherium bombifrons), camels (Camelops hesternus), and giant ground sloths (Megalonyx jeffersoni), who have living relatives in other parts of the world.

Early in the Tertiary Period, not long after dinosaurs became extinct, mammals began a long and colorful evolution in North and South America. By late Tertiary time, two million years ago, our continent was occupied by camels, mastodons, horses, ground sloths, armadillos, saber tooth cats, giant wolves, giant beavers, giant bears, and many other exotic animals. The landscape from a distance looked more like today's Africa than modern North America.

By the late Tertiary, glacial conditions in high latitudes intensified. Enormous quantities of water were bound up by the glaciers, and sea levels fluctuated with each shortlived glacial episode.

About 1,600,000 years ago, the first mammoths emigrated to North America from Asia during one of the low stands of sea level. That event marks the arbitrarily defined beginning of the Pleistocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period. The Ice Age was in full swing.


Mammoths evolved for more than 1.5 million years in North America, adjusting to the fluctuating conditions of the Ice Age. With each cycle of glaciation and deglaciation, habitats were disrupted first, then stabilized, and then disrupted again with renewed glaciation.

Each time the glaciers formed, they coalesced into enormous sheets of ice over central and eastern Canada, eventually pushing southward. These ice sheets, or continental glaciers, were as thick as two miles. They often moved so rapidly that they crushed standing forests.

Climatic Fluctuation

Climatic effects during the Ice Age became drastic by the end of the Pleistocene. Populations of animals and plants that lived in Canada were pushed southward thousands of miles. Intermountain valleys in the West became home to forests, rather than the deserts we have today. Between glacial episodes, forests retreated to higher elevations and desert vegetation returned, only to be replaced with the next glacial episode.

Especially during the latter part of the Ice Age, animals and plants that lived in northern Utah left a wonderful legacy of their history. With each fluctuation of the climate, some old species returned, and some new ones appeared. Some of those animals have been preserved as fossils in sediments deposited during their existence.

The Discovery of an Ice Age Mammoth

New discoveries of fossil vertebrates in northern Utah include several of the extinct megafauna. A nearly complete skeleton of the Colombian mammoth, preserved perfectly, was discovered here in 1988.

Logging Requirements
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  • How did the earth preserve the Mammoth so perfectly?
  • How did they figure out how old the Mammoth was when it died?
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