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December 2006 Park Picks

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Giant tracks in the riverbed never fail to mesmerize kids of all ages.

By Elsa K. Simcik

If you’re looking for a place to take your resident dinosaur junkie, this 1,600-acre park — just an hour southwest of Fort Worth in Glen Rose — will feel like a piece of prehistoric paradise.

The clear waters of the Paluxy River provide ideal track-spotting conditions. At the main track viewing area (the park features three), you can wade in the shallow waters and spot three distinct types of dinosaur footprints right along the riverbed: the carnosaurs (with three-toed tracks most likely belonging to Acrocanthosaurus, a relative of the more familiar Tyrannosaurus rex), the sauropods (plant-eaters of Jurassic Park fame) and ornithopods (another three-toed creature that remains a mystery to the experts).

Besides tracks that were left about 113 million years ago, you’ll also spot dozens of kids trotting along the rocks in the water, mesmerized by the dinosaur tracks (and probably speaking more knowledgably about them than most adults). To further prove their devotion to the dinosaur, many sport T-shirts with their favorite prehistoric pals. Kathy Lenz, a park interpreter and dinosaur aficionado, also makes the rounds of the track sites, answering questions. “I’ll talk to over 200 people in one day,” she says. “For five- to eight-year-olds, dinosaurs are their thing.”

That’s not to say that older kids and adults won’t dig Dinosaur Valley, too. One of the track sites, known as “The Blue Hole,” features more three-toed tracks plus 15 feet of water for swimming. Billy Baker, who’s served as the park superintendent since 1980, says, “The dinosaur tracks get them out here and the river keeps them here.”

If you decide to do Dinosaur Valley as a day trip, you won’t be alone. “Two-thirds of the visitors come for day use, and most are families with children,” says Baker. Many come from Dallas and Fort Worth, but they’ll come from as far away as Austin just for the day, he says.

A perfect day at Dinosaur Valley might go something like this:

First, you’d have to hit the tracks. Besides the three main viewing areas, there are unmarked track sites that you can find by asking for a map at the park office. If you go in the warmer months, you’ll definitely want to cool off in The Blue Hole. There, surrounded by the hills and greenery, you can peer up at the dinosaur tracks on the ledge. If all that talk about carnivores makes you hungry, the whole family can head over to the picnic area for some lunch. In the afternoon, you could hike or bike the 12 miles of trails, do some birdwatching and even fish along the river.

Before you leave, though, you’ll want to pop into the gift shop for books, souvenirs and, of course, dinosaur T-shirts. Afterwards, be sure to check out the huge fiberglass dinosaur models that were displayed at the 1964-65 World’s Fair.

If the kids aren’t too exhausted, you should try to stay until dark. On most Friday and Saturday nights, Lenz offers outdoor slide presentations about the creatures that once inhabited the area.

One thing’s for sure: You’ll find plenty to do at Dinosaur Valley, whether you stay 12 hours or just one. As Baker says, “You could spend all day walking up and down the river, or you could do it like the Grand Canyon … just walk up, poke your head over the ledge and leave.”

Get more information at (254) 897-4588 or <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/dinosaurvalley>.

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