day trips

The state of Texas now has an official state dinosaur. Add that to the list of other official state symbols such as the state flower (bluebonnet), tree (pecan), food (chili), sport (rodeo), and a dozen or so other things that the state legislature has chosen to represent Texas.

The 75th Texas Legislature chose the Brachiosaur Sauropod, Pleurocoelus, as the official state dinosaur from 17 prehistoric beasts that are known to have inhabited the state. The Pleurocoelus weighed up to 45 tons and was 70 feet long with a small head, long neck, and massive body. The four-legged herbivore is one of the largest and most recognizable of the dinosaurs. Scientist believe that the Pleurocoelus roamed Texas 110 to 105 million years ago when the state was covered by a shallow ocean.

Evidence suggests that sauropods, the Pleurocoelus' family, ranged from North Central Texas to South Texas and west into New Mexico. In Bandera County, tracks show the sauropods traveled in herds with the young in the middle of the cluster.

One of the most dramatic documentations of the Pleurocoelus' life is frozen in the limestone bed of the Paluxy River at Dinosaur Valley State Park outside of Glen Rose. From studying the fossilized tracks, paleontologists have reconstructed a sequence of events that transpired millions of years ago. Imagine a pack of Sauropods three stories tall and as big as a house as they plod across a muddy plain that would become Texas. Alongside the last in the group, a two-legged, three-toed monster runs at twice the speed of the lumbering giant. Suddenly, the Acrocanthosaurus lunges at the tail of its giant prey and a life-and-death battle ensues.

Dinosaur tracks were discovered in the Glen Rose area as early as 1909, but it took a researcher from the American Museum of Natural History in New York to put the discovery in scientific context. Roland T. Bird was traveling across America on motorcycle investigating fossils when he found unusual three-toed tracks for sale in a New Mexico curio shop in 1938. When told that the tracks came from Glen Rose, Bird made a beeline to Somervell County.

Bird found one of the most remarkable discoveries in the history of paleontonlogy in the river bed. At first he didn't even realize that the "potholes" around the three-toed tracks were the footprints of the plant-eating Pleurocoelus, which at that time was not known to have existed in pre-historic Texas. Excavation of the tracks revealed the carnivore's attack on the gigantic Sauropod. Many of the tracks were removed from the limestone bed and shipped to museums around the country, including the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin.

Evidence and tracks of four different types of dinosaurs -- Pleurocoelus, Acrocanthosaurus (an early cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex), Tenontosaurus, and Iguanodon -- have been found in the Glen Rose area. The tracks in the state park are some of the most accessible remnants of the dinosaur age in the state. When the Paluxy River is low, the fossilized tracks look like the dinosaurs have recently walked through the muddy river bed.

Besides the tracks, the park has a small museum with a painting of how the attack might have looked. In 1970, the Atlantic Richfield Company donated a 75-foot Apatosaurus and a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus rex to the park. The Fiberglas models were from the Sinclair Oil Company's 1964 New York World's Fair Dinosaur Exhibit. The park also has camping, swimming, and hiking trails.

While in Glen Rose, visit the Somervell County Museum behind the county courthouse. Fossil Rim Wildlife Park, one of the premier drive-through wildlife parks in the state, is three miles west of town. Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant is also open to the public. For more information, call the Chamber of Commerce at 817/897-2286.

Besides the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and the Dallas Museum of Natural History have done extensive research on the dinosaurs of Texas and have excellent exhibits. Other exhibits can be found at the Corpus Christi Museum of Natural History, the Witte Museum in San Antonio, the Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon, the Texas Tech Museum in Lubbock, and the Strecker Museum at Baylor University in Waco.

Coming up this weekend...

Texas Fiddlers' Contest and Reunion in Athens has been happening for more than 60 years, May 30. 903/675-1859.

National Polka Festival in Ennis includes music, dances, arts & crafts, and lots of Czech food, May 30-June 1. 888/366-4748.

Collector's Show and Sale at the New Braunfels Civic Center caters to several tastes, May 31. 210/629-2943.

Coming up...

Guided wildlife tours at the Fennessey Ranch outside of Refugio on Thursdays and Saturdays during the summer include a hayride and hikes to observe the diverse flora and fauna of the area. 512/529-6600.

West Texas Trail Ride and Cattle Drive gives greenhorns a chance to try their hand at being a cowboy in the Davis Mountains, May 6-8. 915/426-3015.

Dallas Fifty Free, a brochure and summer calendar of events, lists things to do in the Dallas area. 214/746-6677 or

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