A Visit to Dinosaur Valley State Park
Dinosaurs are awesome! If we’re being honest, they stand heads and shoulders above zombies and sparkly vampires, if for no other reason than they actually walked the earth. We had theropods with teeth like steak knives, sauropods with necks so long they’d make a giraffe blush and they ruled the earth for millions of years.
Texas was home to many of these prehistoric beasts. The fossils of 21 different types of dinosaurs and a number of other non-dinosaurs—think mammoths, marine reptiles and dimetrodon (the ones that looked like alligators with sails on their back) to name a few—have been discovered in the Lone Star State.
While many of the awesome museums around the state have some pretty cool displays about these “terrible lizards”—and I recommend checking them out when you get the chance—there’s no better bang for your buck and all around awesome experience than treading where these hulking beasts have tread at Dinosaur Valley State Park.
This isn’t some kitschy roadside attraction; there are real dinosaur tracks all over the place and these tracks are the real thing. They were left by theropods (sharp-teeth), sauropods (longnecks) and hadrosaurs (duck-bills) some 113 million years ago (give or take a million years) during the Cretaceous Period. Back then, north Texas was beachfront property and the Glen Rose area featured a shallow sea floor teeming with all sorts of prehistoric life.
A nine-year-old boy first discovered a track in this area in 1909, but the tracks found in the park were made famous by paleontologist Rowland T. Bird in 1938. These tracks are some of the best-preserved tracks in the world and Dinosaur Valley State Park is home to the first sauropod trackway ever discovered (now believed to have been made by Paluxysaurus jonesi, the official state dinosaur of Texas). A portion of Bird’s discovery was excavated and is now on display in the American Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., but there’s still plenty more to see.
Don’t worry, if you haven’t really thought about dinosaurs since you were nine, the headquarters has a nice interpretive exhibit explaining everything from what dinosaurs we know roamed Texas to what the area looked like back then to how the dinosaur tracks were made and preserved. It also has some cool stone and tile work, just a few features to put it over the top.
And let’s not forget the parks two stars: a life-size tyrannosaurus rex and brontosaurus from the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. These guys are great photo ops and if you’re curious about all the details of their history and how they were made, there’s a plaque for that. There are also plaques to tell you all about t-rex (a native Texan) and “brontosaurus” and all about the chicanery of why the brontosaurus is no more. And if these two aren’t enough for you, there’s Dinosaur World right next to the turnoff for the park.
Dinosaur World features more than 100 life-sized dinos, and while they’re not exactly Jurassic Park-quality models, it’s still fun and they do give you perspective on how big these creatures actually were. Just know to expect tourist-trap prices.
And if dinosaurs aren’t your thing, or you just want to make a day trip into a weekend trip, there’s all the regular stuff you can expect from a state park: camping, hiking, mountain biking and whatever else you can find to do in the park’s more than 1500 acres.
The best tracks in the park are on the other side of the river. And while there is a limestone boulder path across, depending on the time of year and rainfall you may have to get a li’l wet.
If you want to know more about the park or surrounding area, there’s an app for that. Look for the DVSP app available in the app store.
Dinosaur Valley State Park is located just west of Glen Rose, Texas. Take U.S. Highway 67 to FM 205 for 4 miles to Park Road 59; then go 1 mile to the headquarters. The park is open 8am-10pm and busy season is March-November.
If you have any questions, you can call 254.897.4588 or visit TPWD’s Dinosaur Valley State Park page for additional information and reservations.