Dinosaur tracks from several species have been found over the years in Dinosaur Valley State Park. The unique geological history of the area, and later preservation by the Paluxy River made it the perfect place to permanently record the footprints of these huge animals that roamed here long ago. In that era, this area of Texas was a shallow sea. Shells from the crustaceans that inhabited the sea created the limey mud that captured the footprints so well. Nerdy as we are, we loved running from track site to track site trying to spot the footprints, and imagining lumbering sauropods and sharp-toothed theropods searching for food along the shore.
Discovery of Dinosaur Tracks
The first tracks were discovered here by a young local boy in 1909. The tracks were studied by local paleontologists, but it wasn’t until 1937 when fossil-hunter R.T. Bird came to see them while collecting fossils for the American Museum of Natural History that the area really became famous. A large section of track was removed and taken to the American Museum of Natural History and a couple of other institutions. While it seems a shame to move them, the tracks that were in the same spot have since worn away, so it’s good they have been preserved. Those first tracks were of a three-toed, meat-eating theropod, most likely an Acrocanthosaurus, a smaller relative of T-Rex. Bird made another amazing find while he was at the Paluxy River site, though: the very first sauropod (are large, plant-eating dinosaurs) trackway discovered in the world! The information gleaned from studying these footprints rocked the scientific world. For example, it was the first time evidence showed that these massive creatures traveled on land, without the buoyancy from water to support their weight. For many years, scientists thought the tracks were from the brachiosaur, Pleurocoelus, until a graduate student studying bones found upriver named a whole new species, Paluxysaurus Jonesi. The tracks in the river seem to best match him. This plant-eating, 60-70 foot long, 12-foot tall dino was officially named State Dinosaur by the Texas Legislature in 2009.
Where Can You See the Dinosaur Tracks?
The dinosaur tracks can be seen mostly on the ledge in the bed of the Paluxy River, just under the water’s surface. There are several designated sites. The Blue Hole has been a popular place for a dip pretty much forever, and if it’s hot, take advantage. Theropod tracks are visible on the limestone ledge just under the surface of the water. At the second area, the main track-viewing area in the park, there are tracks from two types of dinosaurs. The three-toed tracks belong to Acrocanthosaurus, who was 30-40 feet long, 13 feet tall and weighed between 6,000 and 11,000 pounds! Scientists say he had dagger-like teeth and sharp claws for tearing apart prey. The large, saucer-shaped dinosaur tracks belong to the massive Paluxysaurus. The rear footprint is much larger and has four claws. The front print looks more like a stump . . . think elephant.
The third site had changed since our first visit in 2007. Flooding that summer made the viewing area unstable, and also eroded away many of the tracks. You can still access this third spot by hiking downstream from the main viewing area. On our first visit, it was a grey, chilly day, and the mist in the air added to the atmosphere. The weather also helped us to capture some photos of the dinosaur tracks without sun glare. Every year tracks that are exposed to the elements wear away a bit more due to erosion. We recognized some of the same tracks we’d seen six years ago, and they had already begun to change. Even so, the river itself is always changing too, and sometimes that means revealing new tracks that have never been seen before. There are several other good spots to view dinosaur tracks from. See the Dinosaur Valley State Park Tour page or app for details.
Dinosaur Valley Hikes
It was such a beautiful day; a hike was definitely in order. There are maps available at the ranger station, and also online. We started from the Main Track Site area, crossing the river and turning left to follow part of the “Blue Trail.” From there, we veered off onto the Billy Paul Baker Memorial Overlook Trail, which is short, but a good climb. The trail is built on a fossilized coral reef, so we had an eye out for coral and fossilized marine organisms. At the top, there are gorgeous, sweeping views of the Paluxy River Valley. From there, we joined the Green “Black-capped Vireo” trail, named for the endangered birds that nest in these woodlands. In season, you can see the Wildcat Hollow Waterfall from this trail. A few miles through cedars, some cactus and other hardy plants we found the Denio Creek Warbler and Oak Springs Trails that led us back across the river. Luckily, the river was low, and we didn’t get wet on any of our crossings.
Geocaching around Dinosaur Valley
We also were able to find a couple of Geocaches while visiting the park. If you aren’t familiar with geocaching, check out our post on the subject. The first was hidden in one of the countless cedars. The owner wrapped it in camouflage tape to keep it well-hidden. The second cache was “Dinosaur Valley Earthcache.” An Earthcache is a kind of virtual cache that inspires you to learn facts and history related to the area you are exploring. To register your find you usually have to email the cache owner a picture or answer a specific question so they know you did in fact visit the area. We enjoy Earthcaches because you get to learn something relative to the local landscape.
Entrance Fees: $7 Daily; Children 12 Years and Under: Free
Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Nearby attractions include Meridian State Park, Cleburne State Park, Comanche Peak Visitor’s Center and the Fossil Rim Wildlife Park. The town of Glen Rose has a number of shops, restaurants and historic buildings. Kids might enjoy nearby Dinosaur World.