One of the fun things we got to see back in November were dinosaur tracks. While I am a dinosaur fan, I find it hard to imagine what dinosaurs looked like from their bones. Bird skeletons have taught me that predicting an organism’s shape from its skeleton is tricky. Seeing their footprints, however, helped bring them to life.
The track bed in Butler Wash (near Bluff) is small, just a patch of open sandstone. You walk a tenth of a mile from the sign to the site. There were two sets of prints there, but only one was obvious to me. The bed is close to the road and has been driven over, which has damaged the rock surface in places.
I took photos and also made some quick sketches. I wish now that I had been more systematic in my approach. I was in a hurry and didn’t take time to think about what to record or how. In fact, I had to estimate size and distance using the length of my hiking boots, which I measured when I got home. (Note to self: add a ruler to the nature journaling kit!)
The other bed we saw was much more dramatic. There were tracks from eight different types of dinosaurs visible at the site in Mill Canyon, which is north of Moab. Fortunately, they have lots of informative signs describing the types of dinosaurs that probably made the prints.
The variety of shapes, sizes, and stride lengths was striking. From its stride length, they estimated that one of the theropods was about eight feet tall at the hip. Standing in the bright sun and imagining a dinosaur with hind legs longer than my husband is tall made me shiver. I love dinosaurs but I’m glad there are so many thousands of years between them and me.
I drew at this location as well, and took notes from the signs so I could look things up later. They have a boardwalk to protect the bed, so I couldn’t measure anything, but it didn’t matter. I was reminded how many different types of dinosaurs there were, in a range of sizes. It made me want to read more about them.
These track sites are fragile, the sandstone being worn away by wind, rain, and inconsiderate people. And yet it is a miracle that the tracks were preserved for us to see. Tracks in mud and sand disappear so quickly, getting washed away or rubbed out in days or even hours. We’re lucky that something so ephemeral is preserved for us to see millenia later.
The tracksites did give me a new appreciation for dinosaur life. I stood looking at the different paths cutting across the bed in Mill Canyon and wondering: did these animals cross at different times or did they see one another? How long did it take to make this set of tracks? Hours? Days? Weeks? And what happened to cover and preserve them so well?
Trying to imagine that place when the rock was mud and the dinosaurs were alive made them real to me. It was surprisingly thrilling.
Have you seen dinosaur tracks? What kind of fossils make dinosaurs live for you?