Day Trips

Dinosaurs roam the state park photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

Dinosaurs roam the state park
photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

[Ed. note: This "Daytrips" was originally supposed to run in Vol. 18, No. 45.]

Dinosaur Valley State Park outside of Glen Rose provides rock-solid proof that the prehistoric monsters were the original Texans. Frozen in the white limestone, the footprints make it look like the dinosaurs recently walked across the river bed.

Scientists have identified the three-foot-long footprints of a Pleurocoelus, a four-legged dinosaur with a long neck and small head; the 20-inch marks left by an Acrocanthosaurus, a two-legged cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex; and the rare footprints of a three-ton, lizard-like Iguanodon in the park.

The dinosaurs lived here 105 million years ago, when Texas was covered by a vast coastal swamp. Paleontologists theorize that the 45-ton, plant-eating Pleurocoelus was attacked by the carnivorous Acrocanthosaurus. Although the outcome of the fight is not known, the faster, smaller attacker, at only about two or three tons, was probably at a disadvantage. A color painting of the attack by Nola Montgomery has become the park's identifying icon.

Over the centuries, the mud flats turned to rock, and the footprints were covered with sediment and then uncovered by the river. The three-toed tracks of the Acrocanthosaurus were discovered in 1908 by a truant schoolboy. Over the next three decades, souvenir hunters dug up some of the footprints. Roland Bird, a fossil hunter for the New York Museum of Natural History, found a print for sale at a roadside stand and traced it back to the Paluxy River.

Since the discovery, at least 1,000 tracks have been found in the Paluxy. Specimens have been sent to the New York museum and the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin. Local citizens began trying to buy the ranchland in the bend of the river in the early 1960s. It was about this time that the state parks began charging admission fees to be used for land acquisition and park improvements. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department bought the property in 1969 and opened it to the public the next year.

The Atlantic-Richfield Oil Company donated fiberglass models of a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex and a 70-foot Apatosaurus (formerly called Brontosaurus and a cousin to the Pleurocoelus). The models were built for the Sinclair Oil Company's exhibit at the 1964 New York World's Fair. The pair were part of a series of life-sized dinosaur models that travel the country as part of the company's advertising theme.

Fiberglass dinosaurs and real dinosaur tracks are not the only attractions at this scenic, 1,525-acre park, which has been designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. For generations of Glen Rose residents and visitors, Blue Hole has been a favorite swimming spot on the river. Several three-toed dinosaur tracks can be seen there in the water.

The Paluxy River throughout the park is ideal for wading, with a few deep holes for serious swimming. Fishing is not real popular in the park, but there are opportunities. The river is subject to sudden flooding, so check at the park headquarters for conditions.

One of the most overlooked aspects of the park is the miles of trails that meander through the hills around the park -- many leading to scenic overlooks. Much of the juniper-covered hills' terrain is ideal habitat for endangered songbirds the Black-capped Vireo and the Golden-cheeked Warbler. There are six miles of nature hiking trails that wind around the river valley. The 5.5 miles of mountain bike trails are moderately difficult and go up to high vistas that give extraordinary views of the valley.

One hundred acres of the park have been set aside for equestrian use, with six primitive campsites. Other hike-in primitive campsites are also available. For those less adventuresome, there are 46 campsites with water and electricity and six other sites with just water. Be forewarned that this is a very popular park, and camping sites fill up quickly on weekends and holidays. Reservations should be made as early as possible (389-8900).

The park is also home to part of the state longhorn cattle herd, giving visitors an opportunity to see a real Lone Star legend. In order to preserve the species of cattle that was the foundation of the Texas cattle industry, the park system maintains a herd spread out on public land around the state. The bovines are pastured across the river from the main campground and are accessible by a hiking trail.

Swimming, hiking, biking, playgrounds, and dinosaurs make Dinosaur Valley State Park a great getaway, whether you stay at the park or at one of the many lodging accommodations in Glen Rose (call 254/897-2286 for a list). Add to this a very good museum in the park headquarters that makes up for its small size with intriguing information. Even the park store, with its collection of dinosaur toys and books, is well thought-out.

The park is on the western outskirts of Glen Rose off of US67; take FM205 north four miles to Park Road 59. For information on the park, call 254/897-4588.

Coming up this weekend ...

Western Days in Elgin at Memorial Park celebrates the days of the frontier with a fiesta and carnival, lots of food booths and games, July 19-24. 512/285-4515.

150th Anniversary Celebration in Boerne features parades, band concerts, and small-town celebration to honor the town's birthday, July 24-25. 830/249-9511.

Harvest 1999 at Messina Hof Wine Cellars outside of Bryan gets everyone involved in grape picking, grape stomping, wine tastings, and cooking demonstrations, July 24-25 & July 31-Aug. 1. 409/778-9463.

Coming up ...

Great Texas Mosquito Festival in Clute gives up the fight with the pesky insects and crowns Willie Manchew, the world's largest mosquito, as the town's mascot while everyone dances to the bands and eats the local cuisine, July 29-31. 409/265-8392.

The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth closes Aug. 1 for a remodeling program that will more than triple the size of the galleries to display the museum's collection of American art. Opened in 1961, the museum should complete its expansion project by the fall of 2000. 817/738-1933 or

424th in a Series. Collect them all

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