Jurassic track unearthed in Cactus Park
By GARY HARMON
The Daily Sentinel
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The rocky outcrops of Cactus Park were a real Jurassic Park some 140 million years ago, home to a wide variety of dinosaurs.
One of them left a footprint that survived the eons to be discovered this spring by Kent Hups, a science teacher at Manual High School in Denver.
Hups unveiled the print on Wednesday in Denver, where he’s showing his students how to make casts of prints such as the one he found.
His ankylosaur print is the first such print of the species from the Jurassic Period and the largest print of any ankylosaur from the Age of the Dinosaurs.
“This is a first in the Jurassic,” said Dr. Martin Lockley, a track expert from the Dinosaur Tracks Museum and the University of Colorado in Denver. “This is not just any old footprint. This is the first and only ankylosaur footprint ever found in the Jurassic — anywhere in the world. It is another tracking first for Colorado.”
Paleontologists have found fossils from Jurassic-era ankylosaurs, but none as large as the one suggested by Hups’ print, Lockley said.
Ankylosaurs were heavily armored creatures believed related to stegosaurs.
Finding the track was “blind luck,” Hups said.
He was searching on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management on Cactus Park this spring when he overturned a rock.
“Holy cow, that’s different,” he said when he saw the imprint, left apparently by an animal waddling through a flood plain or watering hole.
He and a companion hauled the rock weighing about 110 pounds back to their camp and contacted Lockley, who called it “the best track I’ve ever seen” when he got to inspect it.
Lockley, Hups and John Foster, Museum of Western Colorado paleontology curator, and Gerard Gierlinski of the Polish Geological Institute have submitted preliminary findings on the track to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The size of the track suggests a much larger animal than is already familiar to researchers at the Museum of Western Colorado, Foster said.
The print appears larger than one that would be left by the animal unearthed from younger, Cretaceous-era rock at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in Rabbit Valley, he said. [Mygatt-Moore is a quarry in the Jurassic Morrison Formation, the reporter made a mistake here]
The rarity of tracks from stegosaurs and ankylosaurs is puzzling, especially in light of the relative abundance of theropod and sauropod tracks, Foster said.
“That’s the thing that’s weird,” he said. “We can’t quite figure it out.”
The Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey in Fruita will get a cast of the print for study.