Big Rock National Park is an American national park in El Dorado County, California. It is best known for becoming a habitat for various species of de-extinct animal since the events of June 2018 at the Lockwood estate many miles to the north.
The park is presumably named after a geological formation in the area.
Big Rock National Park is located in El Dorado County in the U.S. state of California, near the Deer Creek Hills Nature Preserve to the west and Eldorado National Forest to the east. Its coordinates are 38°35’23.7″N, 120°54’27.6″W. The closest town is Brandon Corner.
Big Rock National Park’s size and geography is mostly unknown, but is included in the redwood forest ecosystem found in the Pacific Northwest. It has a communal campground including an area where campers and RVs may be parked. Fires, cooking, and camping are all permitted within the campground area. A ranger station is located somewhere in the park.
45,000 BCE-1916 CE: Indigenous use
The land where Big Rock National Park is now located was previously inhabited and used by the Nisenan people, whose Paleo-Indian ancestors may have appeared in North America as early as 45,000 BCE. Throughout its history, the area was tended to by its original human inhabitants, leading to a unique ecological system developing there. The Nisenan people hunted various game in the woods, and harvested plant life. Acorns were a major staple in their diet, harvested from trees and stored in granaries to make gruel and cakes. Pine nuts and berries were also important parts of the Nisenan diet obtained from the forests.
American expansion pushed the Nisenan and other Indigenous peoples from their land as settlers established towns there and deforested the region. What is now El Dorado County was hit by a malaria epidemic in 1833, decimating Indigenous populations; then, in 1849, the gold rush led to scores of white Americans moving into Nisenan land including what is now Big Rock and committing acts of genocide. The Big Rock area was home to redwood trees, which were prized as lumber by Europeans; entire redwood forests, which had been cared for by the Nisenan people for countless generations, were destroyed. Drought and starvation reigned for years. At least some of the redwoods in Big Rock did survive the lumber industry and persist today, but the entire North American ecosystem was irrevocably changed by the expansion of the American empire.
The U.S. National Park Service was founded in 1916, after which point American national parks were designated for the NPS to oversee. The date at which Big Rock National Park was designated is unknown, but it would have been sometime following 1916. If it existed as protected land prior to this, it would most likely have been managed by the U.S. Army.
Nothing is known about the park’s history until 2019. The year prior, several dozen de-extinct animals had been released from the Lockwood estate twenty miles away. Despite the knowledge that these animals were now living in the wild, campers continued to visit Big Rock; the park rangers monitored the area to ensure the campers’ safety. Many of the animals released that night made their way to the Big Rock area and began living in the woods.
On a weekend in June 2019, about a year after the Lockwood incident, Big Rock park rangers advised campers to seek shelter as dinosaurs had been spotted in the nearby forest. A male and female Nasutoceratops, along with a single juvenile offspring, entered the campground while foraging for food; this was the first confirmed evidence of de-extinct animals breeding on American soil. While the male was away, the female and calf were attacked by a female Allosaurus, which separated the mother from the calf. Despite the predator’s attempt, the calf was able to defend itself and was rescued by its parents. While the herbivorous dinosaurs retreated, the allosaur’s attention was drawn to the sound of a crying baby in one of the campers. The predator tore apart the camper and attacked the family inside, but was shot in the face by the family’s daughter using a double crossbow borrowed from a neighbor. While the animal was not grievously wounded, it nearly lost an eye due to the attack and made a retreat to seek safer prey.
The following day, a news crew headed by reporter Rebecca Ryan arrived to document the aftermath while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracked the allosaur. During the report, an allosaur charged through the site with a USFWS helicopter in pursuit. The ensuing chaos resulted in the destruction of a news van and injuries or possible deaths to news crew.
Due to this incident, serious property damage was incurred and the family members involved suffered various injuries. The incident has since raised safety questions regarding forested areas in Northern California, as well as regions elsewhere that de-extinct animals are known to live. To this day, numerous de-extinct animal species inhabit the parkland, many having migrated there after being released into the wild in 2018; small groups of Ankylosaurus are a common sight, and Allosaurus still occur there sometimes.
Big Rock National Park is one of over 400 areas in the U.S. National Park System. American national parks are intended both for conservation purposes and to allow the American people opportunities for recreation in nature. However, they also attract controversy because they occupy Indigenous American land, and seldom elect Indigenous authorities despite these people’s historical residency and expertise. The native people have been dispossessed of nearly all their historic land; as a result, the ecology that their civilization once supported has been greatly altered.
Big Rock National Park is located in a narrow strip of land where coast redwoods flourish, and provides people with the chance to camp and explore among some of the largest trees in North America. The campground in Big Rock allows RVs and campers to park overnight, and also permits campfires and cooking. It regularly draws visitors from as far away as Oakland, including people from many walks of life; visitors commonly stay in the park during holiday weekends. Camping in Big Rock is also popular during nights when celestial events such as meteor showers will be visible, as the park offers unrestricted views of the night sky free of light pollution.
Since 2019, Big Rock National Park has also become known for the incident which occurred during the Easter weekend in which campers were imperiled by a wild Allosaurus. Despite warnings from the park ranger, the predatory animal threatened the lives of a family of campers before being driven away. The incident has come to succinctly demonstrate the fears that many people hold about human-dinosaur interactions.
As with all the United States national parks, Big Rock is used for conservation of its local ecosystem. It is populated by coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), a tree species with a highly restricted habitat area. The presence of Big Rock National Park helps to preserve this rare tree and the ecosystem it is a part of. Many species of plants, animals, and fungi thrive in redwood forests, including some endangered species. While humans are permitted in the park, their presence is limited and controlled; park rangers are employed to monitor the park. This greatly differs from the historical way the land was managed, in which Indigenous Americans lived as a part of the ecosystem and had mutually-beneficial symbiotic relationships with the forest.
Since 2018, the park has been inhabited by many de-extinct animals, famously including a female Allosaurus as well as a mated pair of Nasutoceratops and their single offspring. This most recent animal’s egg was laid sometime after the 2018 incident at the Lockwood estate, and hatched in late 2018 or early 2019. It is the first de-extinct animal confirmed to have hatched within the United States of America. A possible second allosaur, a subadult male, may have been sighted in the area as well. Small groups of Ankylosaurus are also seen there in the present day. The habitat within Big Rock National Park is clearly suitable for several species of dinosaur, despite its marked differences from their former habitat on Isla Nublar.