Prehistoric Splendor: 125-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Tracks Open to Public

August 22, 2014

Imagine your foot getting stuck in the mud. As you lift the shoe out of the muck, you hear a suction noise until finally your foot comes free, leaving behind an imprint of your foot in the place you last stood. Now imagine that mud hardening over millions of years, leaving your footprint for future generations to discover.

That’s exactly what one lucky hiker came across in 2009, and what the public will soon be able to view — with one catch: The 200-plus footprints belong to dinosaurs. The site, located in Moab, Utah, just west of Arches National Park, could soon become a must-see destination for any dino-lover. 

“We don’t usually get this much diversity at one track site preserved,” ReBecca Hunt-Foster, a Bureau of Land Management paleontologist, told The prints suggest duck-billed hadrosaurs and ankylosaurs with bony-plated backs, as well as sauropods similar to the Apatosaurus (“only younger,” Hunt-Foster said) and dromaeosaurs — a first for North America. There were crocodiles and birds, too.

“We’re able to see a lot of details about what the tracks look like,” she said. “Some of them you can see the pads on the feet, some of them you can see the toes. Some of them you can see where the dinosaur slipped in the mud. It’s a pretty cool site.”

Until recently, the BLM didn’t disclose the site’s location, not because the agency wanted to keep it secret, but rather because federal law mandates such action until the BLM decides a site should be open to the public. “Since the site is so spectacular and [the tracks] are visually easy to understand, we thought it would be a great site to turn into an interpretative trail,” Hunt-Foster said.

Researchers have been working there since 2010; excavation started in 2013. Recently, volunteers swept the area to get it ready for 3-D photographing by the BLM followed by its public debut.

Moab as a whole is ripe with remains of prehistoric times. (It’s the place where a thief stole a dinosaur footprint back in February.) Hunt-Foster says having so much history there is just luck of the draw. “The conditions where these animals were living were very good conditions for preserving fossils and preserving tracks. We just kind of lucked out, geologically.”

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