Monday, April 4, 2011

Totally Texas -- Tracking the wild sauropod

Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose, Texas
We came for dinosaurs.  Not that we were immune to the other charms of the Central Texas location of Glen Rose.  We sampled the exotic wildlife of Fossil Rim Wildlife Park and the current Texas plants and animals along the banks of the Paluxy River.  But what my daughter and I really wanted was to track the dinosaurs whose 113 million year old footprints still linger at Dinosaur Valley State Park.  The footprints that included the famous chase sequence discovered by paleontologist Roland T. Bird of the American Museum of Natural History and documenting a large carnivorous dinosaur following a giant Apatosaurus-like sauropod.

The interpretive center at Dinosaur Valley houses replicas of the original prints of the chase chiseled out of the bed of the Paluxy River at Bird’s direction and now at the museum.  The carnivore is believed to be the 20 to 30-foot long bipedal carnivore Acrocanthosaurus, belonging to the same group as the later and larger Tyrannosaurus rex.  The sauropod is believed to be the 30- to 50-foot long plant-eater Pleurocoelus.  Its serpentine neck, pillar-like legs and long tail were similar to those of the best-known member of the group, Apatosaurus (formerly Brontosaurus).

Although dinosaur tracks were found in the Glen Rose limestone of Texas near the present park site as early as 1909, Bird was the first to recognize their significance.  Paleontologists hypothesize that the dinosaurs, along with a third group of ornithopods (bird-footed dinosaurs), ventured onto the tidal flats of the inland sea covering Central Texas more than 110 million years ago.  Their deep tracks in the limy mud later filled with sediment and hardened into rock.  Over the last million years or so, the Paluxy River cut through the intervening layers of rock to expose the ancient tracks.

Dinosaur Valley is open year round with campsites, picnic areas and trails.  The fiberglass replicas of an Apatosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex in the park, rather cheesy-looking at first glance, are relics themselves of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair Dinosaur Exhibit.  The Apatosaurus head was reconstructed in 1985 to reflect more accurate paleontological information.

The 1,525-acre park is located four miles west of Glen Rose.  Take U.S. Hwy 67 to FM 205 for four miles to Park Road 59.  Then go one mile to the park headquarters.  Park hours are   Since the tracks are located in the riverbed, their visibility depends on the depth and clarity of the river.  I went to sleep last night in a drought and woke up this morning in a rainstorm that may affect dino track viewing.  Please contact the park at 254-897-4588 for current river conditions.

(For more about the dinosaur tracks see and

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