May 7, 2012

Georneys with Dana- Part I: Dinosaur Footprints Near Holyoke, MA

Posted by Evelyn Mervine

I convinced my Geokittehs co-author Dana Hunter to fly from Seattle to New Hampshire to visit me for a few days. I handed in the final version of my PhD thesis on Friday afternoon, and Dana arrived last night to help me celebrate. So far, we’ve been having a ball. You can expect several forthcoming posts about Dana’s visit, both here on Georneys and over at Dana’s blogs Rosetta Stones and En Tequila Es Verdad. For now, I thought I would share just a few pictures from the first full day of our adventures.

Today, we visited three geologic sites of interest in Massachusetts and New Hampshire: the dinosaur footprints along the Connecticut River near Holyoke, MA; the Rock, Fossil, & Dinosaur Shop; and finally the Chesterfield Gorge.

In this post, I’ll share some pictures from our visit to the dinosaur footprints, which were quite impressive. In the photos below, I’ve indicated the locations of the dinosaur footprints with green markers (glass beads from the dollar store) since the footprints are sometimes difficult to see.

Dinosaur footrpint #1

Dinosaur footprint, with my foot for scale.

A trackway of footprints. If you look closely, you can see the green markers indicating the footprints.

Footprints near ripple marks.

More ripple marks.

Dana and I aren’t paleontologists, but we think we have some idea how the tracks were made. We think it went something like this:

A scientifically accurate reconstruction of the events leading to track formation (we are joking, obviously 🙂 )


Epic dinosaur-army battle.

Alternatively, the tracks could have been formed by a Danaraptor:

The ferocious Danaraptor.

Or by an Evaraptor:

The vicious Evaraptor.


More seriously, according to the official website for the site,

Researchers believe these prints were left by small groups of two-legged, carnivorous dinosaurs, up to 15’ tall. The entire Connecticut River Valley – which scientists believe was a sub-tropical swamp a “mere” 190 million years ago – has long been recognized for its wealth of prehistoric footprints.

The first dinosaur prints to be scientifically described are still here to be seen, preserved in sandstone* since this valley was a sub-tropical mix of wetlands and shallow lakes, 190 million years ago. The larger Eubrontes prints were likely made by ancestors of the great Tyrannosaurus rex, standing up to 15’ tall and 20’ long. You can see hundreds of fossils not only from the four distinct two-legged dinosaurs, but also stromatolites, fish, plants and other ancient beings. Finally, look for the 20+ dinosaurs trackways, which formed the basis for the novel theory that dinosaurs travelled in packs or groups.

*Note: I’m not convinced the rock is sandstone– it looked more like siltstone or mudstone to me. Can anyone confirm the rock type? When I have the time, I’ll track down some scientific references.

The dinosaur footprints are located along a beautiful section of the Connecticut River. After we had our fun looking at the tracks and doing our “scientific reconstructions,” we went down next to the river edge for awhile.

A pretty house along the CT River.

On the tilted riverbank.

Another view of the tilted rocks along the riverbank.

Sedimentary, my dear Watson.