Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Day with Dinosaurs

In Texas there are more roads in this state than in some developed countries so with a little effort one Saturday in April I set my mind to simply pick one and see where a tank of gas would lead me. I'm one of the last holdouts to not own a GPS, too, so Google Maps was pressed in to service to scout a round trip that wouldn't take me farther than three or four hours in one direction and still leave a breadcrumb trail pointing the way home. It nearly passed my vision without so much as a backwards glance but these are the discoveries of memories to be made when I settled on Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose, Texas, maybe 90 minutes away at the most.

From Dallas US Highway 67 is a multi-lane feeder in to the heart of the city but it quickly collapses in to a one of those two-lane hi-speed roads "Deepinahearta" where local sheriffs lurk, just daring motorists to go one mile over the posted limit when it suddenly dips from 70-MPH to 55 and God help you if the schools are letting out. I was on my best behavior because I had no particular place to be other than a park that allegedly offered real dinosaur tracks preserved in limestone and the rest of daylight to get there.

It didn't take long to leave rural/industrial Texas behind and enter countryside that I was soon to discover was completely underwater over 100 million years ago as part of a larger shallow sea right up to the edge of the park I would soon be visiting. Where the Paluxy is now a tributary to the Brazos River dinosaurs roamed the waterfront feeding on Cretaceous vegetation and each other.

Just outside of Glen Rose is the turn on to F.M. #205 to the park but first one must past the absolutely hideous sideshow attraction of "Dinosaur World." Clearly built for kids it features 100 "life-sized" dinosaurs, exhibits and souvenirs, all of which I passed with little further thought. For only a $5/adult entry fee the park is an open green space featuring picnic areas and campsites tucked in to the curves and corners of the Paluxy, running at a comfortable spring runoff speed about 150 feet across. Brochures and signs point visitors to the main attractions which are the dinosaur tracks preserved in the bedrock both above and beneath the surface of the greenish but clear water.

Small rapids serve as crossing points over the river where the tracks, naturally, lie on the opposite bank. I wasn't planning to get my feet wet but I'd come all this way and managed to ford the river with only a slight stumble near the opposite bank. The trick was dealing with the combination of a noticeable current, flat rocks just slippery enough with a thin layer of algae to make me pay attention, the brisk temperature of the water itself and me being a complete and total tenderfoot!

The tracks were each 3-5 inches deep and simply massive compared to my own Size 14s. Beside a slower moving animal with prints closer together than I would have expected lie a set of three-toed carnivore tracks clearly indicating the larger animal was "sprinting" for its life while the predator was long-striding in hot pursuit right beside it. That scene from "King Kong" comes to mind where the raptors chased a herd of panicked brontosaurus along the river bottom; here it was before me in the petrified flesh. Above these were easily discernible rock strata marking the millions of years between me standing there, camera in hand and the circle of life preserved in the limestone.

All around me modern day raptors wheeled and circled in the sky hunting field rodents while young families frolicked in the freshwater stream, fathers holding squealing daughters out of the trickier stretches of water or teaching their sons how to skip rocks along the surface. Walking sticks in hand, still others explored the trails, bluffs and overlooks of the area, stopping with excited whispers whenever a deer ambled in to view nibbling at young shoots and new leaves.

Like this young at heart waif contemplating life at the waters edge I could have stood in the middle of that river all day.

Gotta go.

1 comment:

  1. Is this for real? Because the Dino footstep looks so real.