Glen Kuban has been visiting Somervell County for decades.
While he calls himself an amateur, Kuban, an Ohio resident, is well acquainted with what geologists and other researchers call the "best-preserved" dinosaur tracks in the world.
A team of researchers and students led by Dr. James Farlow, a professor of geology at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne, have been studying the local tracks since mid-July. Kuban is one of more than a dozen individuals who joined forces for the project, which was funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society.
Dr. Farlow has been coming back to the area every summer since 2008 to further his studies and despite the sweltering heat, tracking Farlow was almost as hard as trying to expose the lives of the prehistoric beasts as he worked against time at unearthing greater evidence related to the mammoth creatures.
But the Reporter caught up with Kuban who shared his "amateur" account of the history that is still being unearthed at Dinosaur Valley.
"I have spent every summer since 1980 working these tracks. They are among the best, especially the theropods, due to the quality of preservation and density," Kuban said. "I'm hooked, fascinated."
The most commonly visited site, Track Site No. 2, features numerous three-toed carnivorous dinosaur - or theropod - tracks as well as large round sauropod - brontosaur-like - tracks.
An interesting fact, according to Kuban, is that most of the exposed theropod tracks are believed to have been left by dinosaurs that were only one-half or one-third grown, leaving researchers to ask why the tracks show no evidence of the creatures at their full size.
He said the "ballroom" south of The Blue Hole - Track Site No. 1 - is home to about 500 obvious tracks in an area that is roughly the size of a football field.
Assistant Park Superintendent Shannon Blalock said there are thousands of known tracks in the park and suspects thousands - or more - have yet to be seen.
What makes the Glen Rose tracks among the best? Kuban said the dry Texas weather allows history to rise to the surface - as erosion occurs, new prints emerge. He also said erosion can lead to deterioration of already discovered tracks, which makes the ongoing work to document them increasingly important.
To the inexperienced observer, there is a common misconception that there are only a few tracks to be seen at Dinosaur Valley, but Kuban said brushing away dirt from a rocky surface and removing infill from what appear to be barely visible impressions has led to the discovery of many more.
Dinosaur Valley spans almost 1,600 acres, 75 percent which remains unseen, including primitive areas across the river and into the hills. Blalock said the work of the researchers and ongoing publication of data and studies related to their work offers huge educational opportunities for the state park and its visitors.
For example, Kuban specializes in making molds of the tracks, which he calls the next best thing to having an actual foot to study. While the tracks allow viewers to see the movements of the creatures that left them behind, the molds leave an even greater impression by exhibiting their actual size and makeup.
While they may be overlooked by the casual observer, new things are constantly seen at Dinosaur Valley. Recent discoveries include elongated markings that have not yet been identified, which some team members believe could be scratches or claw marks and others say might have been left by a tail.
"They are shallow and fairly straight. At one spot, the markings appear to run parallel to tracks," Kuban said, adding if scientists are able to determine the markings were left by the tail, it would be a new find in the study of the colossal creatures.
"All evidence has led scientists to believe they never drug their tails," he said. "They appear to have carried their tails."
Whether they are looking at tracks or possible tail markings, Kuban said scientists and researchers can learn more about the ancient creatures' behaviors by studying the impressions their movements that can be gathered by only studying their fossilized bones.
"Tracks give us a living record, trace files," Kuban said. "By studying their tracks we begin to attempt to answer questions about what they were doing and where they were going."
With the tracks being concentrated in the Paluxy River Valley, Kuban said it is easy to assume the river bed and "vast mud flat" once offered a buffet to the dinosaurs.
Pointing out a theropod track that left a deep impression in a once ancient shallow sea and is now hardened limestone shelves in the river valley, Kuban explained the significance of the imprints.
"By studying this one set of tracks we can see how they moved, whether it was walking or running and what modern animals their movements most mimic," Kuban said. "We can see that most traveled south, which leads us to question what those traveling in the opposite direction were doing."
Just as the creatures met an untimely end and left behind weathered traces for researchers to study, Kuban said mapping is an important step in ensuring the evidence of the prehistoric creatures is not further lost to time.
"Their behaviors and interactions can be interpreted, but we must record the tracks before the river bed breaks up," he said. "The team is here gathering the data which can be studied at any time."
Kuban said the main point of the ongoing project is preservation. He said modern technology has added ease to the effort and has likely eliminated many misconceptions about the creatures.
Current mapping techniques include the use of overheard digital imaging, which makes the linear progression more apparent than it is to the naked eye at ground level. He also said the use of GPS (global positioning system) allows the historical data to be recorded within a few centimeters of their actual location.
In the earlier days, researchers had to sketch maps by hand and carve loose molds, but Kuban's reproduction techniques rely on silicon and rubber mixes that can withstand the test of time and be easily brushed into a track for increased accuracy.
"Tracks are a big thing," Kuban said. "We have learned a lot from these records and there is still much more to discover."