Dinosaur enthusiasts are flocking to Dinosaur Valley in Texas, which served as a prehistoric highway during the early Cretaceous Period.
Texas is not an exception to the devastating droughts that have uncovered numerous ancient wonders this summer, including the Spanish Stonehenge and the ruins of an Iraqi city that dates back 3,400 years. There has been a severe lack of rain, which has given us a brief opportunity to view some 113 million year old dinosaur tracks that have been preserved in stone.
The deep footprints, complete with long claw marks, lie in the bed of the Paluxy River, which runs through Dinosaur Valley State Park about 140 kilometers southwest of Dallas. They were most likely left there by an Acrocanthosaurus, an enormous carnivore that lived in what is now North America some 113 to 110 million years ago. This genus of dinosaur could grow up to 11 meters (36 feet) in length, and its enormous size is reflected in its footprints, which can extend 30 centimeters (one foot) from heel to claw.
The Paluxy River has dried up more than usual, according to the park’s superintendent Jeff Davis, due to months of unusually dry weather.
He said, “Those are exposed tracks, which are very infrequently seen. They are frequently covered in sandbars, gravel, and deep water.
“Most of the time, they are submerged in mud and water. Only during severe drought are some visible, continued Paul Baker, a park ranger for thirty years who grew up in the area following his father around.
So that visitors can get a good view of the tracks, Baker and other volunteers under his direction use leaf blowers and whisk brooms to clean up the tracks.
In the early Cretaceous Period, the Dinosaur Valley State Park was like a prehistoric highway. It features five main track sites featuring the footprints of both theropods (including Acrocanthosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex) and sauropods, four-legged dinosaurs whose members are known for their long noodle necks and elephant-like tracks.
One such sauropod species is the Sauroposeidon, a gigantic herbivore that stood about 18 meters tall and weighed about 39 tons. According to Davis, the Acrocanthosaurus may have fed on the Sauroposeidon‘s young or injured. The footprints were made when the area was a shallow inland sea during the Cretaceous period, long before the time of rolling prairies in central Texas.
The tracks were first discovered in 1909 after a massive flood hit the Paluxy River, exposing the fossilized prints. At first, paleontologists only noticed the distinctive three-toed theropod prints, but later they realized the site was also home to sauropod footprints – the first distinct sauropod tracks ever found in the world.
Since then, researchers have discovered and documented many footprints in the park, but they are only occasionally visible when the river’s water levels allows them to be. Because of the current extreme drought in Texas, even more of the prints have been revealed along the riverbed than usual. But, according to Davis, rains had already began to fill in the ancient tracks, and will soon hide the secret treasures of the park once again in the mud and silt of the river.
When they will be seen again is remains unknown for now.