Speaking of Texas: Glen Rose's Dinosaur Highway
A teenager’s chance discovery 100 years ago in Somervell County caused a stir among locals and eventually drew the attention of scientists around the world. On a late winter day in 1909, George Adams was tramping along Wheeler Branch, a tributary of the Paluxy River, near Glen Rose, when he saw a strange and compelling sight—a trail of large, bird-like prints that led through the limestone streambed ahead.
Puzzled about the three-toed tracks, he confided in Robert McDonald, his principal at Glen Rose School. In a letter written in 1965 to one of the boy’s relatives, McDonald described the youth’s revelation:
“On this occassion [sic], he went to the black board and drew some tracks. I was impressed and we set out immediately for Wheeler Branch. About one mile up stream George stopped and pointed them out. There they were! No doubt about it—dinosaur tracks!"
Newspapers reported the remarkable find, and the stony oddities enticed visitors from surrounding counties. Local residents soon discovered other sets of tracks in the Paluxy riverbed, which became the focus of tourists, entrepreneurs, and scientists.
Paleontologists who later examined the three-toed prints (called theropod tracks) identified Acrocanthosaurus as the likely trackmaker. Researchers confirmed that other dinosaurs had also left their calling cards. Sauropod tracks likely made by Paluxysaurus, a herbivore, appear as huge potholes—sometimes three feet long—that pit the rocky bottom of the riverbed. One of the largest of the Texas dinosaurs, Paluxysaurus stood up to 60 feet long and weighed 30 tons. Paleontologist James Farlow of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, who has studied dinosaur tracks in Texas since 1980, describes the northern loop of the Paluxy River, in Dinosaur Valley State Park, as the site of “one of the most spectacular concentrations of fossilized dinosaur footprints in the world.”
Where Dinosaurs Roamed
Local efforts to protect the dinosaur tracks in Somervell County culminated in the dedication of Dinosaur Valley State Park in 1970. Located off FM 205, about four miles west of Glen Rose, the 1,590-acre park allows visitors to see first-hand some of the best-preserved and most numerous dinosaur fossil footprints in Texas and the world. The best viewing is during dry weather when the Paluxy River is low; call ahead to check on river conditions. The staff also offers interpretive programs about dinosaurs throughout the year.
In addition to the stony traces left by creatures long ago, the scenic river valley offers leisure activities such as hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, camping, fishing, and swimming. “A vast majority of people come to see the dinosaur tracks and end up coming back because of the river,” says Park Superintendent Billy Paul Baker. Two fiberglass dinosaur replicas, commissioned by the Sinclair Oil Company for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, tower near the gift shop, providing perfect backdrops for funky photos. Call 254/897-4588; www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
Texas Memorial Museum, the exhibit hall of the Texas Natural Science Center at The University of Texas at Austin, displays both sauropod and theropod tracks in a rock slab quarried from the Paluxy River in 1940. Call 512/471-1604; www.texasnaturalsciencecenter.org.
Read more about the Paluxy River’s dinosaur footprints in Dinosaur Highway: A History of Dinosaur Valley State Park (TCU Press, 2008). The book’s companion CD single, “The Dinosaur Waltz” (available at www.rednickelrecords.com), celebrates the region’s tracks in song.
—Laurie E. Jasinski
From the June 2009 issue.