Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dinosaur Ridge and Muddy Comments

I decided to hike the Hogback trail (Dakota Ridge) today, because this particular trail is quite rocky and probably less susceptible to damage from the recent floods than other foothills trails.  I only noticed damage as I climbed the first hundred yards, where the trail was an ascending dirt path.  Fast water had made a mess of the path, cutting a foot-deep channel down the middle.

Instead of hiking out to the scenic overlook as usual and then retracing my steps back over the Hogback to the parking lot, I arrived at the overlook and then walked down the asphalt road running along the base of the Hogback hills.  This is a tourist area called Dinosaur Ridge.

I strolled down the road to the famous patch of dinosaur footprints on the side of the hill.  A colorful sign caught my eye.

Here is the text, with my comments in brackets: 

Tracks, trails, and other traces of animal activity are referred to as "trace fossils."  Paleontologists recognize three different types of dinosaurs and a crocodile from their tracks at this site.  The most common trackways are from ornithopods, possibly by Eolambia [the yellow mother and child]. The second most common trackways are from a small theropod, like an orthinomimid [the tan dinosaur on the right, who looks like a plucked ostrich accessorized with a whippy tail].  A few tracks suggest a larger theropod, perhaps an acrocanthosaur [the red dinosaur with a nasty expression], was also present. 

The tracks, marked lightly with charcoal by park volunteers for easier viewing, were fascinating. 

The big tracks were about sixteen inches wide.

 The smallest tracks were three-toed prints about six inches wide that looked like bird tracks.

 The next sign explained the habitat in which these dinosaurs were gadding about.

Here is the text:

Tidal flats are muddy or marshy areas near the beach.  Beach sand here was covered by a muddy marsh.  The muddy layers became mudstone and were later removed by erosion and excavation, leaving the sandy surface (the ancient beach) that you see here.

Detailed tracks excavated from the mudstone layer here suggest that the dinosaurs were walking in the mud, pressing it down and depressing the sandy layers below.  The upper layer where the original tracks were made is now gone and the underprints on the sandstone layer have been exposed.

Speaking of mud:  As I made my way back to the parking lot I saw a mud slide area.  A section of a Hogback hill sloughed off during the heavy rains last week.

The sight reminded me of one of my favorite lyrics by Warren Zevon, from his 1976 song Desperados Under the Eaves:

And if California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will

I predict this hotel will be standing until I pay my bill.

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