The Tuba City Dinosaur Track Site is one of the more famous of several well-known dinosaur trackways along the bench below Hamblin Ridge. First discovered around the beginning of the 20th century, it has lived on to this day as a neat window into the past.
The tracks were formed in the early Jurassic period, about 202 to 200 million years ago. Several different types of dinosaurs are represented by their tracks, but all of them were carnivores. The ichnogenera include Eubrontes and Grallator. Fossil footprints, also called trace fossils, are classified not according to what animal created them, but rather by their form, since its impossible to know for sure if two unrelated animals made similar tracks. Based on the age of the rocks and the fossils of carnivorous dinosaurs in the area, its likely that animals such as "Coelophysis kayentakatae and Dilophosaurus wetherilli made the tracks at the Tuba City site, as well as the other Dinosaur Canyon trackways. Both of these dinosaurs were discovered in the slightly younger overlaying Kayenta Formation. There is also a new dinosaur from the Moenave formation that is nicknamed "Dixiesaurus" from St. George, Utah, that likely would have lived here in Arizona too.
The hike is fairly easy and mostly flat, and winds around several stone spires and past hundreds of tracks. Before starting on the hike, you need to get a guide (if there's anyone around), and prices and quality vary. I've paid as little as $2 a person, and as much as $10. Depends, I guess, on how business is going that day. Some of the guides have been to college, or gone to some of the professors at NAU for information about the tracks. Others are drunk, and may not have done any serious research into what they're saying.
Taking that into consideration, I'll point out here some things that I've heard on my various trips that are not true. There are no T. rex tracks at this location, or anywhere else in the Moenave Formation. T. rex lived 65 millions years ago. That means that these tracks were made 135 million years before T. rex ever walked the earth - more than double the amount time since T. rex has gone extinct!
I've had "eggs" and "poop" (properly known as coprolites) pointed out to me before. Coprolites are not rare, but the rocks pointed out are just iron concretions in the sandstone that look like droppings. Eggs are quite rare, especially whole eggs. No eggs from the earliest Jurassic are known in North America. Once again the "eggs" shown are just iron concretions, often times broken in half to show a hollow or discolored interior. Real fossil eggs do not have a hollow interior or a discoloration inside of them. Rather they have a very thin and finely textured shell, with the rock matrix being the same inside and out. If you look on eBay, you'll notice many of these iron "eggs" being sold.
I have also had a "skeleton" pointed out to me, supposedly still in the ground. It's just a neat looking weathered bit of sandstone. Occasionally I'll hear that some scientists from the university came and stole one (or two) skeletons from right nearby during the night. It takes weeks to excavate a skeleton - even the shoddiest paleontologist wouldn't be able to dig up a whole skeleton overnight. During the 1940's, however, Sam Welles from the University of California Museum of Paleontology did excavate a skeleton of Dilophosaurus north and east of the tracksite, along the base of Hamblin Ridge.
There is a real bone preserved in the sandstone of the Tuba City Track Site, and sometimes the guide will point it out, saying that its a "raptor claw" or "T. rex tooth." Its neither of those. The closest guess I've heard from a paleontologist is that its a lung-fish gill-plate. Not nearly as exciting. It does look very claw-like.
There are other things I hear, but those are the most common mistakes. I think its not deliberate lies to play upon the gullibility of the tourist population. Rather it is likely a lack of knowledge from the guides, that mirrors the lack of knowledge in the general public. Most folks don't know if T. rex lived during the Jurassic or Cretaceous, regardless of where the people live and what the people do. As I said, some of the guides have gone to college to learn more, or have consulted with paleontologists here in Northern Arizona. Just keep a skeptical ear open.
Regardless of the knowledge of the guides, the hike itself is easy and beautiful, with awesome views of the Hamblin Ridge, Tuba Butte, and the vast benchlands that stretch to the south. You can walk where dinosaurs once walked, putting your feet in their prints. That's an experience that's beyond cool.
To hike From Flagstaff, drive north of US89. Pass Cameron, and continue to the junction with US160. Turn right and climb the mesa. There will be a sign announcing the turn for Moenave, and a hand-painted sign for the Dinosaur Tracks. Its about 4.9 miles between US89 and the turnoff for the dinosaur tracks. Turn left (north) onto the dirt tracks, BIA23. Park near the vending signs.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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