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Peter Mygatt, former NM newsman, amateur paleontologist dies at 90

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The same inquisitive nature and sense of curiosity that made the late Peter Mygatt such a great newsman, also made him an extraordinary amateur paleontologist who helped discover what would become known as the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in Rabbit Valley, Colo.

Peter Mygatt (Photo courtesy of Matt Mygatt)

Peter Mygatt (Photo courtesy of Matt Mygatt)

He and his wife, Marilyn Kniseley Mygatt, along with family friends J.D. and Vanetta Moore were on a fossil-hunting outing in 1981 west of Grand Junction, Colo., when they uncovered the astonishingly rich late Jurassic find that now bears their names.

The quarry is believed to have been a large pond where dinosaurs gathered and fed – sometimes on each other. Since that initial find, more than 5,000 specimens have been unearthed, including 20 individual dinosaurs, said Kay Fredette, a fossil preparator at the Museum of the West in Fruita, Colo.

“It was a significant find because of the diversity of species in the quarry and the numbers,” she said. “Peter recognized that they were dinosaur bones, but that the quarry would turn out to be so prolific was not initially obvious at all.”

Mygatt also dug mastodon bones from the Gay Mine on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Idaho, netted hundreds of fossil fish from the 55 million-year-old limestone quarries of Kemmerer, Wyo., and was accepted as a member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Peter Mygatt, a former long-time New Mexican, died Feb. 23 at his home in Boise, Idaho. He was 90.

Born in New York City, Mygatt as a child lived in Connecticut and California before his parents settled in Taos. He graduated from Taos High School and then attended the University of Nevada in Reno, where he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism.

While in high school, Mygatt worked in a gold mine in northern New Mexico, and then worked his way through college as a field hand in the oil fields of the West and as a forest firefighter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

He served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War-era, putting his journalism degree to use in the Air Force’s office of public affairs. Post military, he was a stringer for the New York Times, worked at the Reno Evening Gazette, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Ely (Nev.) Daily Times and then the Santa Fe New Mexican, where he was news editor. Mygatt also taught journalism at the College of Santa Fe.

During his newspaper career he won multiple awards for writing, layout, photography, and was twice honored by the Associated Press for top 10 stories of the year.

Mygatt moved on to public information jobs with Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, the federal Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Daughter Wendy Jordan said her father loved to learn new things and “always had a dictionary by his side.” While many older people are reluctant to hone their computer skills, her father embraced the technology, and found it a useful resource. “If he didn’t know how to do something, he’d learn how to do it,” she said.

Her father loved his country and loved the great outdoors. He flew the American flag in front of his home, and he “always saw the beauty around him and never took it for granted.”

Son Matt Mygatt, a former Associated Press writer in Albuquerque, said growing up with his father was an adventure. “He truly liked to take the roads less traveled, and when we’d go camping we never knew where we’d end up, but we always felt very safe with him. He loved the outdoors and he could sniff out fossilized bones better than anyone I’ve ever known.”

His father was also “pure poetry on a horse,” he said, “and when you saw him riding it was just like they were one.”

Peter Mygatt is survived by his wife Marilyn of the family home in Idaho; brother Robin Bright of California; and children Matt and Tony Mygatt of California, Amy Ashman of Colorado, and Wendy Jordan and Scott Ackleson of Idaho.