Dino Isle Chapter 3: The Crater Valley

Up and up they climbed, occasionally seeing the Compsognathus-like dinosaurs ahead of them, occasionally seeing other small dinosaurs they didn’t quite recognize. “What’s that one?” Nick asked.

“I don’t know. It doesn’t look quite like anything I’ve heard of,” said Charlie. “But that’s no surprise, since not all dinosaurs would have been fossilized, or not all of the fossils will have survived this long. Especially the smaller ones with smaller bones.”

Climbing up took them a good part of the morning. Between the tree cover at first, the cliff face on one side, and the fog over the ocean on the other there wasn’t much to see. A few areas were too narrow to easily travel, but they used their climbing gear to make it safely each time.

Eventually they got quite high up, towards what appeared to be a notch in the top of the mountain. “That must be where these dinosaurs got out,” said Nick. “The cliff goes a bit higher up elsewhere, so they don’t really have any way down.”

“I hope it’s big enough for us to get through! Or that we can climb higher,” said Charlie.

When they got there, the opening was narrow but just wide enough that they could crawl through. “Ok, Charlie, stand back and let me take a look through first, just to make sure it’s safe.” Nick started by sticking a mirror through, which didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary.

“Oh, if we’re being cautious, how about we send out a drone first?” asked Charlie.

“Great idea. Let’s do it.”

They had brought along a camera-equipped quadcopter for just this purpose. It had already proven useful scouting the route ahead on the climb up, but they hadn’t used it much to preserve its batteries. They quickly but carefully set it up, and then slowly flew it through the opening.

“See anything?” asked Nick.

“There’s a bit of a downhill slope. I see a couple Compy’s running down it, but nothing big. There’s some loose gravel so we’ll have to be careful walking.”

“Great observations, buddy. I think we can go in. Now, do you want to go through first?” asked Nick.

“Sure! I can’t wait! I’ll be careful though.”

Charlie carefully stepped through the narrow gap. Nick had a harder time but managed to climb up it a little bit before stepping through. As the quad-copter had shown, they stepped out onto a gravel pile sloping inwards. They planted a marker flag near the entrance, then carefully walk-slid down the gravel till they got somewhere flat that was big enough for them to stand on. As they were taking in the views, Charlie cried out:

“Nick, Look! A heard of Hadrosaurs!”

“Yes, I see,” said Nick. “But we should watch out for the predators.”

Nick’s point was punctuated by noise coming from a group of those – one with a long, crocodile-like jaw and a sail on its back, one smaller one running on two legs, and one bigger one with short arms and big teeth.

“That’s OK,” Charlie replied, “We are too small to interest the big therapods, and we can scare off or tranquilize the little ones… like those Juravenators!”

Sure enough, a trio of small but mean-looking dinosaurs were stalking in the same general area as the herd of Hadrosaurus. They seemed much too small to take on such big herbivores, and sure enough shortly speaking one of them lunged into the brush and snapped up an animal too small to identify from their distance.

“I wasn’t expecting… are those feathers?” asked Nick.

“Yes, actually quite a few dinosaurs had feathers, or scales that were kind of halfway developed into feathers. The best preserved Juravenator fossil actually showed both scales and simple feathers.”

They spent a few more minutes surveying the area and taking some photos and videos, as well as making sure to send those back home over the satellite Internet connection – it would be a shame to lose the pictures before they could be backed up. Then they set about identifying and clearing a good place for a base camp. “Probably close but not quite at the top of the ridge, so we won’t be reached by anything down there,” suggested Nick.

They spent the rest of the day hauling up equipment to set up their new base camp. The windy narrow trail had to be widened in places and in others they used ropes to haul things up to other levels where there wouldn’t be room to carry, but eventually they had everything set up.

In the evening they built a small campfire. The cloud cover meant that regardless of the moon being out, not much could be made out of the dinosaurs below them.

“One thing I think we need to figure out first is… where did these dinosaurs come from?” wondered Nick.

“Well… you said earlier how this was like one huge volcano, even older than the dinosaurs. Maybe they just managed to survive here? They would have been protected from the asteroid hit, and if the volcano were still warm at the time maybe that would have helped them stave off the worst global cooling that would have followed,” suggested Charlie. “Then again, maybe we just time-traveled through a portal when we got here.”

“If we’d done that then I wouldn’t expect the satellite Internet to work here. It’s actually surprisingly good for such a remote island,” replied Nick.

“That’s true. Then again maybe they aren’t natural, maybe we stumbled on the work of some genetic engineering company,” Charlie said.

“That’s just movie science fiction stuff,” said Nick. “They would probably need actual dinosaurs to start with for some of these. You can’t just use short, fossil DNA strands and patch things up with genes from random animals and get dinosaurs. I guess for therapods you could start from birds, but what about those Hadrosaurs?”

Strange noises came from below – bellowing and whistling, crunching and roaring. “Hmm. Sounds like somebody’s having a late-night snack.” quipped Charlie.

With that ominous thought they triple-checked their perimeter warning systems before going to sleep.