by Catherine Parker
Across Texas, another tiny dino-lover is born. Within a matter of months, dino babies become preschool paleontologists that rattle off genus species names like cartoon characters. Their adults want to satisfy their unquenchable love for dinosaurs though you can’t adopt a dinosaur like a dog.
Of all the things that catch a kid’s attention, dinosaurs are a perennial favorite. If one of your flock loves the dinos, you’re in luck. Texas boasts is its own dinosaur and it seems there’s footprints marching across the state. Find dinosaurs in the air-conditioning with a gift shop. Or pack a picnic and some water sandals to find the prints in a river bottom.
Who knows, by the end of the summer, your babies might decide to dig for dinos in the backyard with a DIY dig site. Since it seems quite a few of the dinosaurs in Texas were discovered by young people.
Prehistoric Time Periods
Even before the dinosaurs called Texas home, marine and plant life flourished. Back then, Texas didn’t look like it does now. Large portions were covered by water as the rich marine fossils demonstrate. Additionally, it was greener, and ferns are found fossilized across the state.
The dinosaurs roamed the earth in three time periods. The first, the Triassic period started 225 million years ago. After it came the Jurassic, which started about 200 million years ago. Finally the dinosaurs lived in the Cretaceous period from 145 million years ago.
In Texas, dinosaurs have been found from the first and last time periods. Missing are dinosaurs from the Jurassic period, made popular in the movie.
To learn more about Texas fossils, visit the Texas Memorial Museum on the campus of the University of Texas at 2400 Trinity Street in Austin.
Big City Dinos
Always a stable, find dinosaur exhibits in most urban centers in Texas from H-town to the Big D. Get towering replicas of skeletons and dinosaur digs for the kids.
Perot Museum of Nature and Science boasts Texas’ own Alamosaurus along with the favorite, T. Rex in the T. Boone Pickens Life Then and Now Hall. Located at 2201 N. Field Street in Dallas.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science put its dinosaurs in action in the Morian Hall of Paleontology. Find the skeletons in pursuit or running from the meat eaters. Located at 5555 Hermann Park Dr. in Houston
The Witte Museum features the Acrocanthosaurus whose footprints were discovered in nearby Government Canyon State Natural area. See a T. Rex and discover a bone in the Dino lab. See a giant ancient alligator, the Deinosuchus, too. Located at 3801 Broadway in San Antonio.
Museums offer an overview of the prehistoric life in Texas. Though nothing beats seeing what the dinosaurs left behind. In this case, muddy foot prints.
Dino Hunting History
The ancient Native Americans immortalized footprints in their pictographs in the Utah area, suggesting they had found dinosaur footprints. Though it would be centuries before the official discovery of dinosaurs during the 1820s in England.
In the United States, footprints were found in Connecticut in the 1830s. Though the real excavation didn’t start in the U.S. until the end of the 1800s with the Bone Wars. Two scientists and their scientific discovery teams raced to the Rocky Mountains and discovered over a hundred new species between the two competing crews.
Then the museums got in the game and formed their own dig teams. Dispersed across the continent, their mission—fill museum halls with dinosaur discoveries.
Glen Rose—Dinosaur Capital of Texas
After a recent flood, a nine-year-old boy named George Adams uncovered a three-toed track in the river’s limestone in 1909. Young Adams told his school principal and his school went field trip to see the discovery.
Local rock hunters started collecting, maybe selling, the oddities. Moonshine distillers also set up shop near the river bottom.
In 1936, Roland Bird was dispatched to Glen Rose, Texas, by New York City’s American Museum of Natural History to search for the tracks after one was found at a New Mexico Trading Post. When he arrived in town, Bird spotted a dinosaur footprint preserved in rock used in the Somervell County gazebo.
Word spreads fast in small towns, so local residents took Bird out to the nearby Paluxy River. In the shallow water, more dinosaur footprints were found. Officially labeled theropods, the prints belonged to meat-eaters that walked on two legs, probably the Acrocanthosaurus.
Bird went on to find other prints in the Paluxy River from a sauropod, a four-legged plant eater. In addition Bird found a collection of tracks of multiple animals demonstrating how they walked and lived.
It took a New York minute for Bird to report back to the museum. By 1940, the American Museum of Natural History had teamed up with the University of Texas for an official excavation with the help of the Works Progress Administration.
The top sites in the Glen Rose include two footprints ringing the courthouse square, including the one in the gazebo. The other is located outside the Somervell County Museum.
Dinosaur World features over 100 life-sized dinosaur replicas set among the landscape on a walk. Located at 1058 Park Road 59 in Glen Rose.
Glen Rose is found about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
With 1,500 acres alongside the Paluxy River, this Texas State Park is also a National Natural Landmark. Purchased in 1968, the state park opened to the public in 1972.
Upon entering, stop by the former Sinclair Oil dinosaurs from the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. With a mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex and the long-necked Apatosaurus standing guard, each gives kids, and adults, an idea of the size of the animals.
After the initial discovery, further research by Peter Rose of the Southern Methodist University determined that the sauropod was a new species. Named the Paluxysaurus jonesi, it was thought to be 60 to 70-feet long and 12-feet tall with an enormous neck and tail. In 2009, it was named the official dinosaur of Texas.
For dinosaur track viewing, bring water shoes or rubber boots for five sites on the Paluxy River. Use the official Dinosaur Valley State Park map for exact locations.
Located at 1629 Park Road 59, five miles west of Glen Rose.
Don’t Call Them Dinosaurs
Old, yet not dinosaur old, or dinosaurs, since dinosaurs share anatomical features in their hip bone structure. Mammoths are prehistoric animals from the Ice Age that started 2.5-million years ago.
In Texas, glaciers didn’t cover the land. Columbian Mammoths were the larger and less furry of the North American species. The woolly mammoths lived further north.
About 65,000 years ago, a nursery herd of mammoths died in the ravine. Adult females along with their young might have got caught in a flash flood. This area also trapped other prehistoric animals in the mud, preserving them.
In 1978, Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin, both in their early 20s, stumbled upon a bone sticking out of the ground. Digging it up, they took their find to nearby Baylor University. Soon after a dig was organized.
During the dig, some of the bones were encased in plaster jackets and removed to Baylor University. Others were left in situ, or in place.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
See the nursery herd of mammoths, some taller than your garage still in the ground. It’s one of the few sites in the U.S. that’s enclosed in a climate-controlled structure. Find a camel bone as well as a saber-toothed cub tooth.
From the National Park Service Visitor Center, stroll through native vegetation to the site. Walking along elevated walkways, see the bones above with archeological markers still in place.
Located at 6220 Steinbeck Bend in Waco. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Mayborn Museum Complex
From Baylor University’s collection, learn more about prehistoric Texas in the Strecker’s Cabinet of Curiosities. In addition to fossils, the Mayborn will host a special exhibit starting in early June until the end of September.
Dedicated to the largest dinosaurs, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City drew upon its research from across the world to share the biology of the largest dinosaurs. Learn about the Argentinosaurus, considered the largest dinosaur to be discovered and thought to be over 140-feet long and weight 90 tons, among others.
Located at 1300 S. University Parks Dr. in Waco. Open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.