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Hiking Happenings February 2007

by Rory Tyler

Did you ever follow a dinosaur around? No? Well, here’s your chance. Among Moab’s other unique characteristics is a sprinkling of petrified tracks left by the famous thunder lizards. Just off the top of my head I can think of over a dozen local sites. Some of these have just a few tracks or only a single imprint. Some have more. And then there is the megatracks site on Copper Ridge.

Megatracks sites, as you’ve probably deduced, contain dozens, if not hundreds of dinosaur footprints. They exist in several places around the planet, commemorating whole herds of the huge beasts passing by or milling about. Tracks on top of tracks on top of tracks. That’s what it’s like on Copper Ridge.

Dinosaur tracks come in two varieties, those left by sauropods and those left by theropods. Sauropods were vegetarians that walked on four big, round feet something like an elephant’s. It’s hard to identify a sauropod track. Without well-defined toe structures, they usually look like a large dimple in the slickrock. Theropod tracks, on the other foot, are much more obvious. Theropods, vegetarians and carnivores alike, walked on their hind legs and had three well-defined toes on their bird-like feet, which range in size from a few inches to almost two feet.

The easiest place to see dino tracks is at Matrimony Springs on Highway 128, the River Road, about two hundred yards from its junction with Highway 191. Water from the spring actually falls on one track of a three-step trackway. These prints are about the size of your hand. The sandstone shelf to the right of the spring contains at least a dozen bird-sized tracks. Another well-known site is on Potash Road on some limestone boulders just a few yards east of the Poison Spider parking lot. Unfortunately, a few years ago somebody decided they needed a latex mold of the tracks, leaving a lot of gooey, white residue on the ancient footprints. Such behavior is bad form and strongly discouraged. A few yards up the hill is another set of tracks. There is also some Indian rock art here. Over the years I’ve been struck by how often I find Indian sign in the proximity of dinosaur sign. Whether this is by accident or design is debatable, but I favor the latter. Imagine what an Indian thought of bird tracks set in stone and bigger than his head.

Happenings readers tracking dinosaurs on
Copper Ridge

To get to the megatracks drive north on Highway 191 for 26 miles and look for the BLM sign on the right directing you to a track site. A dirt road goes two miles to the base of Copper Ridge. Walk up the old four-wheel drive road a hundred yards to two nice sets of tracks. One of them is a rare sauropod trackway where the giant beast made a right turn. The other, a little further up, is a theropod trackway. An interpretive sign at the parking lot mentions a megatrack site in Colorado but doesn’t take note of the one a mile away. As the road goes up the hill you can follow it to an old copper mine or turn into the valley on the right, a more direct route to the megatracks. If you stay in the valley, bear right and, at the top of the ridgeline, turn right again and cross to the head of the next valley. The megatracks are in the white caprock about a quarter mile below the rim. (If you go to the copper mine you will need to cross the head of the first valley before you drop down to the megatracks.) The untrailed terrain is an attractive mix of slickrock, wash bottom, and juniper woods, generally mellow and easy to traverse.

There are two major collections of footprints at the megatracks site. Facing uphill, the largest group is in the extreme upper left, or northeast corner, of the exposed rock. This rock is rumpled and wrinkled from the hundreds of once-squishy footprints that abound here. There is another set a little further down the slope. Once you become familiar with the pocks and pleats of the upper group the lower group will be easy to spot.

To get back to your car you can stroll down this valley and turn right when you get to the bottom of the ridge. If you’re in a hurry you can go up to the tracks this way. It’s the second valley south from the parking lot, but I like doing this walk as a loop. Figure on two or three hours of walking and more time for gawking.

Rory Tyler is available for cowboy poetry/campfire song gatherings which include lore, science, history and lies of the Moab area. (Suitable for all age groups). Rates are negotiable. Give Rory a call at 435-260-8496.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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