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Monday, April 22, 2013

Dinosaur tracks in the Texas Hill Country

Years ago, when our children were small, Ms. Carolyn, the kids and I loaded up in the family van and headed south to Bandera County to visit the dinosaur tracks near Tarpley. In those days the tracks were open to the public; a small steel can, welded to an opening in the fence, provided an opportunity for visitors to make a small donation for the privilege of seeing the huge footprints trailing across a limestone riverbed.
In recent years that opening in the fence has been closed, and public access is no longer available.
The subject of Bandera County's dinosaur tracks came up in the May, 1940 issue of the Frontier Times magazine, in an article written, I suppose, by the publisher of the magazine, J. Marvin Hunter.
The story tells of research work being undertaken on the Bandera tracks by "Dr. Roland T. Bird, of the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology of the American Museum of Natural History of New York," who had been in Bandera for several months in 1940.
"Dr. Bird inspected the three-toed dinosaur tracks in the Hondo River on the H. J. Mesch ranch near Tarpley; the sauropod tracks on the Mayan Guest Ranch just across the river from Bandera, but says the best find thus far is on the ranch of Mrs. Cleora Davenport on the West Verde Creek, thirteen miles south of Bandera, where he had a crew of about fourteen W. P. A. laborers excavating an embankment some twelve or fifteen feet high, under which he brought to light tracks of many of these prehistoric monsters, of both the carnivore, or three-toed dinosaur, and the sauropod, or aquatic quadruped, which made a large round track like that of an elephant, only much larger."
It was the Tarpley tracks our young family visited years ago; until reading this old magazine story, I didn't realize there were other, better dinosaur tracks nearby.
"The tracks were made, according to Dr. Bird, during the lower cretaceous period, or some 120 million years ago, when this region was pretty well covered with water. In various parts of Bandera and the adjoining counties the three-toed tracks are to be found in the solid rock beds of creeks and rivers."
He's correct; there are also dinosaur tracks in Kerr County, along the south fork of the Guadalupe, past Hunt. I've visited one site, and I've seen photographs of another site, taken on the grounds of a summer camp. Both are on private property. My feeble memory suggests the Kerr County tracks were of the three-toed variety, with the toes that appeared to have some impressive claws as well.
Of the Verde Creek tracks, the magazine reports Dr. Bird finding "the footprints of at least five individual carnivore (three-toed), and the tracks of twelve individual sauropods. The three-toed tracks measure 23 inches in length, and the animal had a stride of five feet four inches. This beast was about fourteen feet in height. The largest sauropod's track measures 30 inches in length, and he had a stride of about nine feet, corresponding right and left. He was a monster fully fifty feet long and about twelve feet high at the hips."
Dr. Bird hoped to find a skeleton near the tracks, and the magazine reported "bones and teeth of the mastadon, as well as tusks which crumbled when brought to the surface, have been found throughout this section during recent years."   Some of the local specimens were on display at the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera, according to the article.
Similar fragments have been found in Kerr County, and were, at least at one time, in the collection of Schreiner University.
I have photographs of our young family's trip to the Tarpley site years ago, and a souvenir of the expedition in our garage: we snapped a stick to measure the exact length of the largest track we found, and the labeled stick still hangs over the door to the house from the garage. The kids were so little in the photographs, and I wonder if they remember the trip at all. This old dad sure has fond memories of that fun expedition.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has spent many years exploring local sites, some of which would amaze you. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 20, 2013.
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3 comments:

  1. I had no idea there were dinosaur tracks in our part of the world.

    Very informative, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Joe, I remember my parents talking about a dinosaur femor that was on display in the lobby of the Arcadia Theatre. If I remember correctly they said it was found during excavation for the Cascade Pool. Do you know anoint about that?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I did not know about that. Cool. Wonder where it is?

    ReplyDelete

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