PHOENIX — The Sonorasaurus cleared the last legislative hurdle on Tuesday, sending the dino is on its way to becoming Arizona’s official state dinosaur.
The House of Representatives voted 55-2 in favor of SB 1517, originally introduced to the House Senate by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix). The bill would add the Sonorasaurus to the list of state symbols, joining the ridge-nosed rattlesnake (the state reptile), palo verde (state tree) turquoise (state gem), among others.
The most recent addition to that collection was the Colt Single Action Army Revolver, the cowboy’s favorite and now Arizona’s state firearm. That happened in 2011, making Arizona the second state to do so after Utah. there are currently eight states with official firearms.
The revolver was first manufactured in 1873 — not nearly as old as the Sonorasaurus, which walked the Earth anywhere from 112 to 93 million years ago. The dinosaur was about 50 feet long and 27 feet tall, making it one of the smaller Brachiosauridae.
While the common name may be “Sonorasaurus” the actual species was officially described as S. Thompsoni in 1998, named for the man who first found the fossil. The discovery happened in 1994, when University of Arizona student Richard Thompson was hiking through the Whetstone Mountains in Southern Arizona to hunt for fossils.
“I learned how to read a geologic map and just went out there,” Thompson said.
According to Thompson, most reporting on the discovery is inaccurate in descriptions of him — while he has a master’s degree in geology, he was studying mathematics at the time of his discovery and hadn’t been planning on finishing school.
“After I found the dinosaur, I wanted to do geology,” Thompson said.
That newfound interest motivated him to go back to school, finish his degree and then attaining a PhD in Geosciences. Thompson now is a UA professor teaching programming through the School of Information Science, Technologies and Arts.
The find that changed Thompson’s life has been captivating tourists ever since. The fossils have been installed in an exhibit at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, which Thompson claims has been very popular. According to him, it’s a much smaller relative of one of the most iconic saurian movie stars.
“That was the ‘Veggie-Saurus’ in the first Jurassic Park,” Thompson said.
A tourist draw is one way that the Sonorasaurus could be a boon to the state. The Arizona State Museum runs exhibits on all aspects of the state’s history and is overseen by the Secretary of State — state symbols being one part of the museum’s operation. For the Secretary of State’s Communications Director Matthew Roberts, the Sonorasaurus is a chance to broaden the horizons of Arizona history.
“Anything we can do to capture the minds of Arizonans who are interested in history, we try to incorporate those things into the museum,” Roberts said. “Something like this could really expand our reach.”
All that remains now is for Gov. Doug Ducey to sign the bill into law, which would immediately make Arizona the 13th state in the nation to have a state dinosaur. Assuming gubernatorial pen hits paper, it will be a good day for dinosaur enthusiasts across the state — especially for the man the dinosaur is named after.
“It’s really exciting,” Thompson said. “I can’t believe it’s finally going to happen.”
Erik Kolsrud is the Don Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at email@example.com.