Friday, May 29th

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On the hunt for dinosaur footprints in Texas

5~ Evidence of things past ~


Written by Lisa Davis-Burnett


Call us nerds if you must, but the world of science holds us in awe. From atoms to asteroids, and everything in between, we find it all – as Mr. Spock noted so often – “fascinating.” Okay, clearly, we fit into the nerd-geek category – it’s actually a rather comfy fit, to be honest.


So when one of our type plans a vacation, there is a lot of research. What is there to do in the area? We focus on museums and historic points of interest. As long as you’re in the planning stage, it’s all very esoteric; but once you find yourself in that place, it starts to get real and really exciting.


We knew that the Dallas area was sure to be full of fun and friends, shopping galore and great food. Thanks to the internet, we found some unusual sights, including in nearby Glen Rose, Texas, a place known as “Dinosaur Valley State Park.” The Cretaceous age sediments exposed there show many indentations of dinosaur tracks, now preserved in the solid stone layers. The site gives patrons a chance to walk in the footprints of those giants reptiles of millions from years in the past. It has been designated as a U.S. Natural Landmark, and samples of the best of these footprints were excavated and are now displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. They have been studied by the experts and found to have been made by three kinds of dinosaurs: meat-eating therapods (think T-Rex), plant-eating saurapods (think the Flintstones’ pet), and duckbill dinosaurs (think Jar-jar Binks).


A VISIT to the state park’s website and a viewing of a YouTube clip entitled “Dinosaur Valley State Park, Texas [Official]” informed us that there are always some dinosaur footprints exposed in the area around the Paluxy River bed. So we rented a car and headed out of the big city, along the little farm roads that led us to town of Glen Rose. It was a great drive and the rolling hills were a gorgeous shade of green from a few weeks of heavy rains, while we were enjoying nothing but sunshine, warm but not hot, and blue skies dotted with fluffy clouds.


After about two hours, we found ourselves at the visitor’s registration building for the state park, a busy place with loads of families scampering around checking out the displays of footprints that had been excavated from the creek bed, a small museum kept us occupied until the attendant at the desk was clear. Finally, we went to register our car so we could drive into the park property and that is when I saw a handwritten sign on the desk: “No dinosaur footprints are visible at this time.”


I LOOKED AT the park ranger with a perplexed expression: “What’s up with that?” I said as I pointed to the sign. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “Sorry, but we have had so much rain, everything is under water.” “Did you post that on the website?” I asked. “Well, it’s on our facebook page and our twitter feed.”


“Hmm…” I thought. “I guess our research was not as complete as it should have been.” I felt like giving him a piece of my mind, but I couldn’t get mad at the poor guy; it wasn’t his fault and he had probably been saying the same thing to everyone for a few days.


So, we did what we could. We walked over to the gift shop and said things like: “Oh well, it was a nice drive, anyway; maybe we have time to go to Fort Worth's stockyards again…” But it was a clear disappointment.


ANYWAY, we headed out back up the two-lane road through pin oaks, mesquite trees and cacti, admiring the rural landscape complete with long horn cattle minding their own business. In a moment of self-pity I said, “Can we stop at that fossil shop we passed on the way here?” I already knew it would be allowed; we had driven pretty far for not much, it seemed.


On second thought, “shop” is maybe a generous label for the place. It took a bit of courage to pull up to the old trailer with a little stone structure next to it. A rather rough-looking character sat under a tree, knuckle-deep in a bowl of crayfish, shelling and sucking at the bright red critters. He was looking like he didn't want to be disturbed, but since we were also pretty rough-looking, I thought, “Let's just see what is here before we go back to the city.” I put on my smile and trotted up to the gent saying, “Hey there, how you doing? It looks like you are enjoying some mudbugs” (that's country-talk for crayfish). He returned the smile and said he sure was, he just couldn't resist them when he saw them at the store. “Well, do you mind if we look around inside?” “Of course,” said he. “Go right ahead.”


HE JOINED US a minute later and seeing we were actually interested in his trilobites and various other fossils, he gave us the grand tour of the place and punctuated the talk with a short version of his life's history. We bought a few things and upon paying mentioned we were so disappointed that the state park was not able to show any dinosaur footprints due to the rain. “Well,” he said, “we have had so much storms, the river is really high…but I got a friend that has some footprints you can see, they're right out behind his house. He's out fertilizing his fields right now, but he'll probably be back to his house in about an hour if you want to stick around. He'd probably show you for ten dollars.”


Now I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, as they say in Texas, but I didn't get the normal vibe I get when someone is pulling one over on me. I trusted my gut and my gut said I could trust him. I took the leap: “Really? Well, could you call him?” Before you know it, I was on the phone with one R.C. McFall and getting directions to his house. We had an hour to kill so we wandered around the countryside, and soon stumbled upon a place where the creek flowed over the road forming a little waterfall and spent a happy half hour wading knee deep in the rushing waters, waving at folks in pickup trucks that passed by asking if the water was cold. It was: Cold and clear, and a pure delight.


WE FOUND R.C.'s house and parked nearby on the road, watching the work being done in a field across the way. Right on time, a big white pickup truck pulled up and a head stuck out the window and yelled, “You come to see the tracks?” We gave a nod in the affirmative and he waved us on in to his property.


Now this part of the state of Texas is wild and wide, R.C.'s property followed that style but his house was a humble affair tucked in by a grove of mesquite trees. He wasted no time sizing us up and clearly decided we were up to the hike, he struck out with long strides through the tall grass, saying he hasn't had time to cut it since they had had so much rain lately. We told him we had heard all about the recent heavy rains, as we tried to keep up.


We found out later that this is a man of 70 years in age, so his vigour is either a testament to his genetic heritage or his lifestyle choices; but either way, we were duly impressed with the fellow. His accent was as thick as pine tar, but he was sharp as a mesquite thorn, and managed to tell us not only the story of the ranch, but also of his political leanings and all the reasons thereof. Before long, he posed some questions to us in a method that would have surely made Socrates proud. He took us into the edge of the stream bed, and there they were, a long string of tracks set into the solid layer of stone, sure enough, they were big, three toed tracks, one after another, the longest trail extending out into the creek.


"MY GRANDAD bought this land in 1929,” he said, “and the next year came a big flood and broke up this one layer of rock, that is when these tracks were first exposed. The park has tried to buy this from me, but I don't know; I like to keep it all together. I was offered several million for the ranch last year.” As he spoke, we paced out the length of the tracks, my partner/cameraman was impressed saying this is clearly something undeniable, this is in the stone, hidden away on this remote ranch land. “This is more convincing than even if we had gotten onto the state park,” he admitted.


R.C. explained these tracks are on dry land when those of the state park are right in the water. “These are actually better tracks than what 's in the park,” he asserted, “There are 136 clear prints uninterrupted in this layer right here, and they tell me this is the longest undisturbed line of dinosaur tracks in the world.” Sceptical I may be, and I am aware that such a claim would be a hard one to prove; however, a search of the internet didn't disprove it, so there is that to ponder.


Whether R.C.’s assertions were rock-solid science or not, we were definitely having the time of our lives. How had we managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Not only had we seen better tracks than we would have seen if our original plans had come to fruition, we had met a real Texas character, and made a friend of him. "I am happy to have met you folks,” he told us. “I hope you'll come around again someday." And with that, we slipped him a twenty and headed back to the big city of Dallas as R.C. headed out to finish working his fields.