Thunder in His Footsteps

The ghost of the most gigantic animal that ever walked the earth is conjured to life when a lone fossil hunter tracks down the first true footprints left by this stupendous creature, and thrills to the romance of a great discovery.

mysterious tracks

Man, beast, or hammer and chisel? Although of questionable origin, these mysterious, l5-inch, man-like tracks led to the region where the gigantic sauropod left his trail.

R. T. Bird

To plan on collecting any known type of fossil, the prospector must take into consideration the age in which that particular type came into existence, must be certain that rocks of that age are exposed in a locality where they are said to be evident; yet under all circumstances he must also be ready to gamble on finding still others in situ when he arrives. These tracks presented even the extra gamble of being fakes, but, oddly enough, when I consulted a geologic map, I had a hunch something might be there. Glen Rose was in a region where one might reasonably expect to find actual dinosaur tracks, if not the others. Its surroundings were lower Cretaceous in age—rock exposures roughly 120,000,000 years old—very definitely of the Age of Reptiles. It all seemed too fantastic to put much stock in, but such was the foundation for what might be described as a “mystery hunch.” With still other unexpected things ahead, it proved to be a lucky one.

So Glen Rose became my destination. I arrived with the hunch still strong and healthy, though was relieved to think it hadn’t cost me many extra miles. I didn’t want to feel too encouraged, but the fact also remained this was a region never worked by the American Museum before.

The town and its surroundings were a pleasant surprise. The wooded region up the Paluxy River looked as if it might furnish many favorable campsites. Good drinking water—often as much the concern of fossil hunters as a place to camp—promised to be abundant, for Glen Rose, as a little health resort, had many fine mineral wells close by. Roads were above the average, and the rock exposures I soon expected to be working were right at hand.

Three-toed Surprise

I drove around in the old Buick that has been our expedition mainstay for more years than her disposition shows, drawing these deductions and acquainting myself with other details. When I circled the country courthouse square a little later, my eyes caught sight of something that made me want to shout for joy. There, inserted in a bit of masonry not far from the door, was a large, three-toed dinosaur footprint. Its surface had been turned away from me, and I’d thought for an instant it was the usual fossilised log or stump one sometimes finds exhibited in places where fossils abound. But as I swung the Buick in to the curb it presented in all its outlines a faithful picture of such a track.

It was a beauty, and there was no doubt that it was genuine. It was all of twenty inches of footprint perfection, made by a three-toed carnivore in mud which had faithfully preserved every minute detail. The satisfaction of seeing it was worth my extra miles; it clarified the worst half of an embarrassing problem, and gave promise of other things. A slab of such prints alone would be a fine addition to any museum collection.

Even so, they were things long taken for granted in the community. I inquired around and soon learned they occurred in numbers in the rock ledges along the river bed for several miles upstream—the river sheering its way through Cretaceous rocks, bringing them to light as it cut along. One close glance at that civic symbol in front of the courthouse had convinced me that the dinosaur tracks in Lupten had been false; that originals from which they had been copied were here—the next thought concerned the others. I hadn’t been able to locate the man from whom Jack Hill bought them, so set out to deal with what the rocks themselves might have to offer. I knew the best way to do this was to get in touch with someone familiar with the river, so I drove upstream and sought James Ryals, whose farm was described as bordering the track ledges conveniently.

I felt a little sorry for the man. He expressed disgust at the very mention of tracks. I learned he’d had his difficulties with them; he occasionally chiseled specimens from the bed of the river to sell, but the financial returns were hardly worth the labor involved. One such specimen lay in the yard. I could hardly wait to inquire about the mystery tracks, and at a favorable moment broached this doubtful subject. I hardly knew what to expect; but much to my surprise he said, “Oh, you mean the man tracks. Why sure, there used to be a whole trail of them up above the fourth crossing, before the river washed them out.”

Recent Stories

The way they live, the food they eat, and the effect on us

A true but unlikely tale

Story and Photographs by William Rowan

Increasing day length on the early Earth boosted oxygen released by photosynthetic cyanobacteria.

Genomic evidence shows that Denisovans and modern humans may have overlapped in Wallacea.