on November 21, 2006
This was one of those serendipitous experiences that becomes one of your best trip memories, partly because of the destination, and partly because you never saw it coming. With a whole day to reach Las Vegas from Cedar City, we pulled into St. George in late morning after a stop and hike at Zion’s little-visited Kolob Canyons. We’d passed on several dinosaur opportunities already—footprints near Tuba City (see rubylu’s journal of a recent visit) on the way to Monument Valley and trackways south of Hurricane.
Dinosaur Discovery at Johnson's FarmSo when we left I-15 and immediately saw signs for ‘Dinosaur Tracks at Johnson’s Farm,’ we had time enough to follow the arrows. In a few miles, we found a new building resembling a fieldhouse, located amidst recently finished and yet-to-be-constructed subdivision, signs of the tremendous growth St. George is experiencing. In 2000, a local optometrist was preparing his land for subdividing with a front-end loader, when he turned over a slab covered with tracks. He’d uncovered a piece of ancient shoreline from a huge freshwater lake, where all kinds of creatures had left footprints in the mud. The footprints later filled with sand, which turned to stone after millions of years of pressure, resulting in ‘positive cast’ impressions that stick out of (not into) the surrounding rock. The shoreline dates from the Jurassic period, 200 million years ago. It’s the oldest track collection in North America, laid down even before the supercontinent Pangaea split up. Dr. Johnson and his wife gave the land to the City of Saint George, which opened the visitor center within the last year or so. It’s clearly a civic labor of love. Staffed by volunteers who are proud to share this treasure from their backyards, it features a massive slab covering one-third of the building. It preserves—in place—14 sets of tracks on the sloping rock. You walk along the edge of this, and through dozens of other examples discovered here.
Original track discovery, in situThere’s a number of amazing features: numerous sets of tracks from a wide variety of dinosaurs, skin impressions, swim tracks laid down by feet and tails scraping across the lake bottom, a rare impression of a squatting dinosaur, tracks from crabs and insects, and imprints from bacterial mats.There’s a short orientation movie geared towards kids, and some insights into the research and discovery still taking place here. Several people were working on tracks, including the large, featured block. My kids aren’t huge dinosaur fans, and they still enjoyed it a lot. We spent 90 minutes here, well worth the $14 admission for the family. If anyone in your clan is nuts about these creatures, you’ll have to stop here.Directions:Exit 10 from I-15 onto 3050 East (Pineview Drive). Head south; it swings to the southwest and becomes Riverside Drive. The visitor center will be on your left. Its web presence isn’t too strong yet.
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