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It's More than Dinosaur Tracks

by Mark Stein

Looking for a destination where you can hike five or ten miles on unpaved loop trails within 90 minutes of Dallas and enjoy a Hill Country landscape? Check out the backcountry of Dinosaur Valley State Park.

Dinosaur Valley State ParkDinosaur Valley State ParkFirst-time visitors to this park on FM Road 205 near Glen Rose generally come to see the footprints of dinosaurs-really big dinosaurs-the Paluxy River is constantly exposing in its limestone bed. When the Paluxy is running clear and not too high, one can see two types of prints from this little river's bluffs. Or you can wade into another reach of the Paluxy and put your own feet or hands inside them. The most famous of the tracks found here is now in the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West in New York City, but you can see a cast of the Museum's track where big carnivores and herbivores crossed paths and you may find other tracks preserved and recently exposed in the limestone river ledge. But phone before you come if you want to be sure some tracks are visible that day.

This park has an attractive tent camping loop, too, with hot water showers. All 46 sites were occupied on the October Saturday I visited, but in midweek, site availability is good.

Most visitors don't make it into the backcountry trails, though, which is more reason why you should visit this treasure of a park. The park's exhibits and campground sit in a green horseshoe bend of the Paluxy, but the backcountry trails wind into the steep hills ACROSS the river. To reach the trails from the park, you must wade the river, using one of two limestone fords. This adds to the adventure and trims hiker volume.

In dry weeks, the river's only a trickle and you can cross in your boots. The day I visited was sunny, but because it had been a rainy month, two feet of water rushed over the limestone fords, with enough sediment to obscure the bottom. It takes faith to cross what you can't see, but it can be worth the effort. Phone ahead to inquire about water depth. These are my tips if more than a few inches cover the ford:

  1. Wear water shoes. They sell them in the park store for $10. A park ranger told me she slips on the slick bottom every time she tries crossing barefoot.
  2. Use one or two poles to feel for the bottom and steady yourself. Or find a stout pole in the woods, as I did.
  3. Face upstream as you cross, sidestepping. I found it easier to keep balance facing the current, also knew I could see debris that might be coming my way.
  4. Zip sensitive gear into watertight bags.
  5. Don't try this if the water's higher than two feet or if you can't spot the ford by its riffles.

Once across the Paluxy, more treats await, particularly if the water was high. Springs in the underlying and outcropping limestone feed Denio and Buckeye Creeks. I discovered a source of Buckeye Creek when I heard water gushing from the ground, dropping three feet to a clear pool beneath a semi-circular fall.

There are backcountry camping areas. Sites 1 and 2 near Denio Creek looked good. Avoid campsites on the ridge at the east edge of the park only because you'll hear vehicles on SH 56 at night.

Most of the park trails don't appear on USGS topo maps. Be sure to take the trail map issued with your $5 park use fee. It's not to scale, but it shows all the trail junctions (marked by letters on the ground and on the map), the blaze colors of each trail and backcountry campsite locations. Trails into the north end of the park run off the park map, making that area interesting to explore with your navigation tools and skills. You can find the trails map, a park phone number and a link for campsite reservations by checking and navigating to the Dinosaur Valley pages.

Before or after your hike, Downtown Glen Rose is worth time to explore. Buildings around its quaint square are constructed of local stone. Get out of your car and explore Big Rocks Park on the Paluxy River (SH 144 between US 67 and downtown).

Or discover the other reason I chose Dinosaur Valley for hiking: the Loco Coyote for a barbecue fix and a cold beer. This shack is in the middle of nowhere, but it draws crowds and long waits unless you arrive mid-afternoon as I did. Go eight miles southwest of Glen Rose on US 67, then right on County Road 1004 for 3/4 mile. The Coyote has sawdust on its floor and an outdoor deck. It's open only Thursday and Friday nights, Saturday from 12 to 9 and Sunday from 11 to 3. Portions are obscenely huge, so consider splitting an order of ribs or a dessert.

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