All of the dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur State Park are ancient, of course — but finding previously undocumented ones never gets old for the park’s Lead Ranger Jason Sanchez.
Heavy rainfall a couple of weeks ago measured at 3.9 inches at the park caused flooding in the Paluxy River, and seven new dinosaur tracks were discovered in the park’s main track area.
“It’s kind of exciting. The one on the left by the edge of the river had never been seen by man in 115 million years,” Sanchez said last week. "That’s one of the perks of our job, to see something that has never been seen by man. And we’re the first ones to dig it out and clean it out.”
Sanchez said that during his 29 years working at the park, he has been the first person to see new tracks seven or eight times.
Sanchez grew up in Somervell County. His mother, Deborah Gartrell, and stepfather, Amado Yzaguirre, used to bring him to the 1,587-acre park when he was young.
“I consider this home,” he said. “I tell everybody this is my park.”
When flooding is heavy, new tracks are uncovered at the park from time to time. But the power of nature’s gushing water can also take away some of the tracks visitors to the park had previously enjoyed seeing.
“It will destroy some and expose some, so it’s give and take. It has to be a pretty good-sized flood to uncover these tracks. The river is very harsh. It destroys a lot,” said Sanchez, 44, who became head ranger in 2011. “There are thousands of tracks. They’re all under this whole county. This used to be a seashore.”
Sanchez noted that tracks found with a gray color have not previously been uncovered since they were originally set in the limestone layer.
“If they have been exposed before, it’s solid black because of the carbon — leaves, sticks, everything living in the water that dies,” Sanchez said.
This time, the river’s water flow moved some rocks, which made the toe of one previously undocumented track partially visible. Sanchez said that there was a family visiting the park that day, and the rangers let their son — a boy named William who was about 12 years old — clean out that track.
“Kids are just enthralled about dinosaurs,” Sanchez said. “They just love them to death.”
Dinosaur Valley State Park’s website notes that there was an epic flood in 1908 that “scoured the riverbed” and led to the discovery of tracks along the Paluxy River site for the first time. A 9-year-old boy named George Adams found what turned out to be large, three-toed theropod tracks.
Fossil collector R.T. Bird explored the site in 1937 and found sauropod tracks in addition to the theropod imprints.
Sanchez noted that there are 40 counties in Texas known to have visible dinosaur tracks.
He said that in 2009, the discovery of five or six new tracks brought national attention to Dinosaur Valley, which is designated as a National Natural Landmark.