Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dinosaur hunting in Texas!

My Father-in-law is currently visiting from New Jersey. Brian and I wanted to do something unique, something he couldn't do back home in NJ, so we took him dinosaur hunting.

There have been several articles in the Fort Worth paper recently about dinosaur tracks. The Glen Rose limestone, deposited during the Cretaceous (110 million years ago), can be found all over the central and western parts of Texas. It's not uncommon to find dino footprints in the Glen Rose limestone, it was very soft and muddy when the dinosaurs were walking around. The tracks are generally best preserved when they are under water -- in a lake or a stream. When exposed to air, they crumble quickly. Several footprints can be seen in a lake east of us here in Fort Worth. But the best tracks around are found in Dinosaur Valley State Park, located in Somervell County Texas, near the town of Glen Rose, about an hour or so south of Fort Worth.

The world-famous dinosaur tracks in the park occur in a branch of the Brazos River called the Paluxy. They are underwater most of the year. It was a beautiful day, warm, breezy and periodically overcast, a good day for hiking around the park. The first two track sites were jammed with people, many of whom were swimming in the river. The last two were down a trail, and they were deserted. The dinosaur tracks are in shallow water, and you can see them very clearly. There are two types of dinosaurs that wandered through the park, three toed therapods, whose tracks are about 15 to 25 inches long, and suaropods (formerly called brontosaurus), who left bigger footprints. They had less distinct toes, so their footprints are kind of blobby. The sauropods were plant eaters, and the therapods were meat eaters. Bones of both dinosaurs have been found in the park. The theory, according to park brochures, is that the tracks were deposited at the same time, and the therapods were chasing the sauropods. You can wade right up to the tracks in several spots, and it is absolutely amazing to think that something that big, something that lived so long ago, had walked here in the same place. And even more amazing to place your hand in a footprint and see how large they really are (the footprints, not my hands!).

All in all, it was a lovely day. Brian and I will have to go dinosaur hunting again soon.

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