So, what was it that drew our attention on the way out from Monument Valley on highway 160, near Tuba City?
Hand painted signs sprang up along the roadside offering dinosaur track tours. We very nearly drove on but then thought, hey, we may never be here again, we ought to stop and at least have a look. So stop we did. There were a handful of Navajo jewellery stalls and Navajo Indians milling about.
Incidentally, there are loads of Navajo jewellery stalls alongside the roads around Monument Valley and they’re well worth stopping at. Every stall has slightly different jewellery, usually made by the stall holder or relatives and it’s all very reasonable priced. There’s so much turquoise, a traditional Navajo stone in necklaces, bracelets and rings galore. Stop at enough stalls and you’re bound to find gifts for people and beautiful items for yourself. My daughters all bought necklaces and bracelets. Friends got bracelets as gifts and my only treat to myself in the whole holiday (apart from a $3 gnome riding a turtle from a bargain shop) was a beautiful bangle and a gorgeous silver and turquoise ring.
Anyway, back to the dinosaurs. A Navajo guide told us that he would give us a tour, for no fixed price; we could just give him what we thought it was worth at the end. So, we agreed and off we went. 5 yards away the tracks started.
We were mind blown. They’re so clear and imprinted into the rock surface all over a fairly large flat area. The guides squirt water on them to highlight them, although some don’t need this. We were told there were raptor tracks and a large tyrannosaurus rex print.
To be honest, we were unsure for the whole tour whether the tracks were real or fake. We decided that we didn’t really care either way, if they were fake they were very well done and all of us were completely absorbed in the story we were given by the guide. About a meteor landing in the sea off Mexico and sending a shock wave so hard and far that they thought these dinosaurs were killed as they stood there, hence leaving the tracks and the ‘spine’ bone and ‘raptor claw’ we were shown. We were also told that the tracks were formed when the area was boggy and swampy and the tracks then became in-filled with the liquid which helped to protect the underlying tracks, and, which over thousands of years turned to rock. We were also shown dinosaur poo and eggs but we were still uncertain as to whether this was a real or fake site but which had us all enthralled regardless!
The tour lasted about 25 minutes and we gave our guide $20 for his time – the best $20 we spent in our whole time in the USA and worth every dollar. That evening we were still so blown away by the tracks that we did a Google search to discover if it was in fact real or a hoax. Interestingly, it was a bit of both. The dinosaur tracks themselves are very real and have been verified by various palaeontologists as real, although not as raptors or Tyrannosaurus rex. The actual tracks are from the early Jurassic period about 202 – 200 millions years ago. To put that into perspective, tyrannosaurus rex was around 65 million years ago, so these tracks pre-date Ty rex by 130+ million years! The tracks are from carnivores such as Coelophysis kayentakatae and Dilophosaurus wetherilli. But sadly the rest of the tour showing us the dinosaur eggs and poo are just iron concretions (formations) and the most likely explanation for the raptor claw is a lung-fish gill-plate.
Did finding out that not all of our tour was factually correct make us regret our tour? Not at all. It remains one of the highlights of our road trip and a place none of us will ever forget. If you have the chance to visit, do it. Don’t drive past. It really is amazing.