Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite

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If you’ve ever been to Los Angeles and stopped by Grauman’s Chinese Theater, you know the thrill of placing your hands in the cement imprints left behind by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.  A little-known attraction in the middle of nowhere, along a scenic byway in Wyoming provides a similar experience — except, the celebrities are much, much older.

I was finishing up a very long and slow drive along the Red Gulch/Alkali Back Country Byway, fully expecting to complete the final five miles without stopping, when I came upon the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite.  The sight of a parking lot, restrooms, and picnic tables was quite a shock to my system, since I had just driven nearly 30 miles across some of the most lonely wilderness I could have imagined.

I arrived at the dinosaur tracksite through the back door, so to speak.  There’s a good chance that you will be driving through the area on US 14, the Bighorn Scenic Byway.  If so, you will only need to detour from the pavement for about 5 miles. The turnoff is just a few miles west of Shell, and is well marked.

A boardwalk led to stairs, that took me down to the bottom of a dry wash.  At first, the hard limestone floor doesn’t appear to be the least bit remarkable.  But, since about a half dozen interpretive signs have convinced you that there must be something here, you look closer, and all of a sudden, you see them.

Look at the picture above, near the bottom, and just slightly to the left of center.  See it?  That’s a dinosaur track.  Once you spot one, take a step or two forward, and you’ll see another.  You can actually follow the dino’s path, as it wandered around in this small valley.

The tracks look a little bit like a three-pointed leaf.

And yes, just like at the Chinese Theater, you can see how your hand matches up to a creature that walked the earth an inconceivably long time ago.

Paleontologists believe the prints left at this tracksite were formed in the Middle Jurassic Period, somewhere between 160 and 180 million years ago.  The prints were made in the Sundance Formation of rock, an ancient seabed (covered by the Sundance Sea).  The dinosaur walked through limy mud, that was coated by algae.  The algae helped hold the tracks together, while the mud dried out, and started to turn into limestone.  Over time, the tracks filled with more dirt and mud, then it was all washed away, leaving the tracks behind.  Scientists do not know what kind of dinosaur made the tracks.

After exploring the dinosaur tracksite, it was time to finish up my very long drive along the Red Gulch/Alkali Back Country Byway.  The final few miles were quite easy.  I’m sure this section of the road is better maintained, because of the increased traffic headed to the see  the dinosaur tracks.

These final few miles of the byway were just as beautiful as the rest of it.   (If you didn’t check out the rest of my journey from Hyattville to here, I suggest you jump back one page).  When I finally hit pavement again, at US 14, I had been on dirt roads for 34.8 miles.  It was good to be back on blacktop, and instead of staring at the Big Horn Mountains from afar, I was getting ready to plunge into the middle of them.

When you arrive at US 14, turn right, headed northeast.  If you’re running low on gas or supplies, you might want to turn left instead, and head into Greybull before tackling the mountains (I know I should have!). 

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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