April 23, 2012

At Connecticut's Dinosaur State Park: The Tracks of Time

Eubrontes tracks

In 1966, a bulldozer operator, Edward McCarthy, uncovered a slab of sandstone while excavating the site of a state office building. Happily he was observant: he saw a three toed footprint that turned out to be part of one of the largest group of dinosaur tracks in the world. I stopped to revisit Dinosaur State Park a couple of weeks ago on my way home from NYC, and felt quite awestruck by this evidence of a very different earth from the one we now inhabit.

negative and positive tracks

A series of fortuitous circumstances led to the preservation of the tracks, from how they were covered so as to enable taking apart of layers of sandstone, to how they were discovered. I learned that central Connecticut, where these tracks were found, was once a great rift valley, formed by the stretching of the newly separated African and North American plates from what was once the supercontinent of Pangaea, around 225 million years ago. There were lakes in the valley where this large dinosaur fished.

Timeline of the earth's history

I find it utterly fascinating to think about the unimaginable length of time the earth has been in existence––4.6 billion years.....

When Homo sapiens arrives

and the very very brief time that humankind has inhabited it, the last line of a 92 foot long walkway in which each foot represents 50 million years. The gray section above is the Mesozoic Era , or the Age of Reptiles. It was also the age of conifers, which arose long before flowering plants. The park has a large variety of conifers in their arboretum, which I will share with you in a couple of days.

Dilophosaurus model

No bones have been found for the carnivorous dinosaur that made the tracks in Connecticut, but the Dilophosaurus is believed to be close enough in size and track-making to be similar to the maker of the Eubrontes tracks. Dilophosaurus is a theropod about 20 feet long; it was found in the same age rocks as the tracks, but in northern Arizona. When I look at this creature, I think of course! birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Fish fossils

There were also displays of local fossils at the park, giving a sense of what was living in the valley during the time of dinosaurs, including fish...

Horsetail fossil

and plants such as horsetails, or equisetum, much larger than the small specimens that now grow around my pond. When I've looked at these plants, I never realized how ancient they were.

Conifer foliage fossil

It is very humbling to look at these still-existing plants; homo sapiens seems like a tiny blip in the life of the earth, no matter our feeling of self importance. And strangely enough, seeing all this gives me hope that no matter if we make the earth uninhabitable for our own species and others, some will adapt, survive, and thrive. It certainly would be better if it does not come to that, but life is resilient after all; the earth has gone through vast changes over millenia and it is impossible to imagine the changes yet to come.


  1. GRrrRROAR!! :) Having said that, now I'm going to be extinct at least for a while...until I get this studio work done!

    1. hmmm, I wonder what that dinosaur sounded like. But Scott, I think you may just be hibernating from the world rather than going extinct; at least I hope so ;-}

  2. I love the dino tracks! What a great concept for a park. When Mark built some of our stone walls, he used limestone from a neighbor's quarry and spent a lot of time looking for pieces with fossils in them. He used those on the tops of the walls. Kids love to discover the fossils, mostly shells.

    1. What fun that sounds like, Linda. Around here all the rocks are granite, so no fossils in them.