Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dinosaur Time

I believe stories are all around us.  But sometimes in the tumult of my days I miss them...until I go to a place like Glen Rose, where stories emerge from the elements, of life and death and the fabric of the earth beneath our feet. 

Denny and I stood at the edge of the Paluxy River, squinting into cool clear water.  A light limestone shelf wandered in and out of the wet.  Somewhere along that shelf, a 113 million year old minute was waiting for us.

Texas in the Cretaceous period, approximately 145-65 million years ago, was largely covered by a shallow sea.  Covered and uncovered over millions of years, each immersion leaving behind calcareous layers.  Over time the layers solidified into limestone and other forms of rock, each layer a depositional slab of time told in the language of skeleton and chemistry.

Dinosaurs were the largest Texans of those times, roaming the coastal marshes and savannas in search of food.  

Acrocanthosaurus, illustration from Wikipedia Commons library.
 
Plant-eating dinosaurs lived on the abundant tropical vegetation.  Carnivores consumed whatever they could catch, including other dinosaurs. And sometime 113 million years ago, a pack of Acrocanthosaurus, carnivores 20-30 feet long, chased a plant-eating Paluxysaurus jonesi through limey mud at sea's edge.  The 20 ton prey was 60-70 feet long with feet that left tracks sometimes a yard wide. 

But Paluxysaurus was likely slower, possibly without defense for a pack of sharp teeth and claws. The chase played out on shoreline mud, leaving voids of haste along the waterfront.

Experts say the tracks dried in the sun and were soon covered in another layer of limey mud, filling the tracks and preserving them.  Layer on layer, a buried story.

In 1909 a nine-year old boy found giant bird-like three-toed tracks in a tributary of the Paluxy.  The river's flow had worn down through rock until the dinosaur tracks were revealed. 

Young park visitor standing in a Paluxysaurus track. 





 




A visitor fits her foot into the fossilized cavity from the center claw in an Acrocanthosaurus track. 


Many tracks remain underground...we don't yet know  whether Paluxysaurus escaped.  

Today's visitors to Site 1 in the park can see the flight in stone and other tracks.  But wind, water and freeze continue resculpting rock and an ancient limestone minute won't last forever. 

If you go: Dinosaur Valley State Park is a few miles outside of lovely Glen Rose, Texas, as sweet a little Texas town as you're likely to find, with a historic town square, unique lodging, good food, a fine western art museum and the Paluxy River running through it--plus the state park and proximity to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.   

The Park's roughly 1,525 acres include track sites, hiking trails, restrooms, picnic and camping areas.  No food service on site.  Call before going to see if high water covers the tracks. Open daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m.  Day Use fees: adult (over 13) $5/day, children free. 1629 Park Road 59, Glen Rose.  Information: 800-792-1112.  Rates and reservations: 512-389-8900.  Website

 
P.S.  There are more stories in Dinosaur Valley, or you can go with loved ones and create your own.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.
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