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Trail HAPPENINGS September 2015

Dinosaur Stomping Grounds: Walk with the Dinosaurs
by Lee Shenton

Lots of dinosaur tracks and beautiful scenery to enjoy with a 3 mile hike North of Moab! About 165 million years ago dinosaurs of the late-Jurassic age left hundreds of tracks across a mucky coastal plain near an inland sea. These animals were three-toed carnivores (meat-eaters), probably Theropods. Fortunately for us, conditions were just right to preserve their tracks in what has become Entrada Sandstone. Where the protective, overlying reddish sandstone layers eroded away recently (in geologic terms) the tracks are still identifiable.

In the North Klondike Area, on the slickrock slopes just west of the upper reaches of Arches National Park’s Salt Valley, you can find dinosaur tracks in many places but this portion of the “MegaTracks” area is perhaps the best, with more than 2,300 tracks visible on two acres we call the “Dinosaur Stomping Grounds.” To see these tracks for yourself you’ll need to hike about 1.5 miles one way, mostly uphill from the trailhead. Thanks to BLM employees plus volunteers from Grand County’s TrailMix Committee and Moab’s Gastonia Chapter of Utah Friends of Paleontology the trail is well-marked with signposts and cairns. The trail starts at the “Mega Steps” Trailhead which is part of a Mtn. Bike trail, not to be confused with the Mega Tracks dinosaur sites.

With sunscreen, proper hiking shoes and a good supply of water and snacks you’ll enjoy a satisfying three hour hike. The first quarter mile crosses open desert along an old Jeep road to reach the base of the first slickrock slope. This trail segment is shared with mountain bikers.

Once you reach the slickrock, the hiking trail separates from the bike trails and winds up the slope. The next segment of the trail drops into a grove of cottonwoods in a small desert canyon. Don’t enter this canyon during a rainstorm. The trail repeatedly crosses a small, normally dry wash but the slickrock “plazas” uphill funnel water into this canyon and can quickly create flash flooding. When you exit the small canyon you’ll be at the bottom of a plaza of white sandstone. Bear left here, following the small rock cairns through a gap between large boulders and low ridges into an even larger sandstone plaza. Also, watch for small yellow dots of paint that will help guide you.

In late-Spring after a good rain you’ll find swarms of spadefoot tadpoles in most of the string of potholes. Enjoy watching the tadpoles but please don’t touch or throw anything into their temporary, watery world.

This last stretch up the white slickrock is steeper but still very pleasant. There are many joints (large open cracks) across the route, some several feet deep, so step carefully unless you want to provide more practice for Moab’s excellent Search and Rescue teams. The beginning of the Dinosaur Stomping Grounds is marked by an interpretive sign. The photo shows Alex and MacKenzie Shenton reminding you to bring plenty of water on the hike. The kids helped the author, (their grandfather), install this sign in May.

At first some of the dinosaur tracks are tricky to recognize but soon you’ll see them everywhere you look and be following tracks of one dinosaur many steps across the stone surface. Please resist the urge to sweep sand and debris out of the tracks as repeated sweeping gradually wears away the tracks. Likewise, do not make molds of the tracks, as this will cause further damage. Enjoy walking with the dinosaurs! If you want to enjoy a fantastic view of Salt Valley and Arches National Park, continue your hike up to the ridge following the rock cairns.

Trailhead Location: From Moab, go north on US-191 about 23 miles. Turn right at the brown North Klondike sign at Milepost 148.5 and cross the railroad tracks and angle to the right, following signs leading you to the Stomping Ground Tracks. The road is suitable for passenger cars driven slowly but should be avoided in wet weather. At the large informational kiosk, turn right and continue to the 2nd parking area which is the Mega Steps Trailhead.

While you are in the North Klondike area be sure to see the Copper Ridge Sauropod Tracks. These tracks are very accessible by a very short hike from your car. From the large kiosk at the Jct, follow the signs that will lead you to the Sauropod tracks. There is an even bigger kiosk at this location, and a toilet.

The Utah Friends of Paleontology is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization dedicated to advancement of paleontology research, education and protection of paleontological resources in Utah. The Gastonia Chapter meets on the last Wednesday of each month at 6 PM at Zions Bank to hear paleontology professionals describe their latest work. Our meetings are free and open to the public. For more information see utahpaleo.org.

Author: Lee Shenton is the State President of the Utah Friends of Paleontology. Lee works part-time for Grand County as Liaison to the Department of Energy’s Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project.

 


 

 
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