WordPress has a “search” feature in its Reader section. If you click on it without specifying a search parameter, it offers up a changing mix of other WP powered blogs (of which there are many). One fateful day it dredged up someone else’s hike to see dinosaur tracks in Texas.
That questionable purple dinosaur aside, who isn’t (or wasn’t) fascinated by dinosaurs? 🦕🦖 Still, up until this point, going out of our way to see dinosaur tracks wasn’t high on our endlessly expanding to do list. But, for whatever reason, this other person’s blog pushed some odd mental button, and suddenly we wanted tracks.
But going all the way to Texas just to see some gigantic reptile footprints seemed excessive. More wandering the web revealed additional state natural areas (SNA – other than the one harboring the tracks) and state parks north of San Antonio. So we planned a trip to the tracks plus to some other sites in the Lone Star state’s Hill Country.
Our noble urge to see these tracks was helped along by San Antonio being, ah, just a touch warmer (and more humid) than Minnesota is at this time of year. It was 12℉ (-11.1℃) when we left home and 82℉ (27.7℃) when we landed in San Antonio 3 hours later. If we were windshields, we would probably have cracked. 🥺
When I first visited San Antonio many years ago, it was still a fairly small city in southwest Texas. We’ve passed through it twice in recent years on the way to and from Big Bend National Park. Suffice to say, San Antonio has gotten much, much bigger since my first visit – and even expanded a bit more since our more recent visits. This is understandable since its among the fastest growing cities in one of the U.S.’s fastest growing states.
Since all of our planned hikes were north and west of central San Antonio, we established a basecamp at a mid-priced hotel off Interstate 10 north of the northern ring road (Highway 1604). This allowed us to avoid most, but not all, of the stupendous vehicle traffic that is a consequence of the accelerated population growth in this area. It also put us in position to duck into town when when we weren’t hiking.
Texas Park Reservations
The SNAs and parks within an hour or so of San Antonio are very popular. Timed entry reservations are strongly recommended. Even though we’d be visiting during the week, we nonetheless got the hint and used the easy-to-navigate Texas Parks online reservation system to pay our entrance fees and get timed entry reservations for all the SNAs and parks we planned to visit.
Since we visited during the week, we had no issues with crowds or waits. But weekends and holidays seem to be another matter. At Government Canyon, we saw signs along the entrance road saying how long you’d have to wait (up to an hour) for entry even with a reservation. Good luck without one! 😞 At Enchanted Rock, the rangers were bracing for the usual hoards of weekend visitors.
We found that making advance reservations not only assured us of an entry slot but also smoothed our way into each SNA and park. Our habit of an early start also helped us have the trails mostly to ourselves at most locations (Enchanted Rock being the one exception). So get an early timed entry if possible.
The dinosaur tracks are located in Government Canyon SNA on the northwest edge of San Antonio. This particular SNA is only open Friday through Monday, there is a $6/person entrance fee, and reservations for this close-in and popular SNA are strongly recommended.
We showed our reservation, got a large trail map, and glided on into the SNA to parking at the Frontcountry Trailhead. From there, we worked our way on the Recharge Trail to the Joe Johnson Route. The tracks are grouped together just off this route about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) north of the parking area. We could also have started from the Backcountry Trailhead had we been willing to walk along the paved road to reach it.
Like those in the state parks in Minnesota, the trails in the SNAs and parks we visited in Texas are generally obvious, with good signage and maps at each major trail junction. Navigation was more a matter of deciding which trail we wanted to follow rather than trying to find the trail itself.
Some 104 million years ago (well before that asteroid arrived), this area was a beach on the shoreline of a much more intrusive Gulf of Mexico. Dinosaurs walking along the edge of the sea left their tracks in the shoreline’s moist, fine grained, clay-like mud. These tracks dried in the sun, then the level of the Gulf rose, burying the hardened tracks in more sediment.
Time passed and this clay-like sediment lithified into limestone, preserving the tracks. Subsequent erosion and other forces ground down through this limestone, exposing the tracks.
There are three sets of tracks where the Joe Johnson crosses Government Canyon Creek: Lower Theropod (meat-eating dinosaurs 🦖) downstream of the trail crossing, Sauropod (plant-eating dinosaurs 🦕) downstream of the Lower Theropod, and Upper Theropod upstream of the trail crossing.
Frankly, you have to look closely to make out the tracks – they are not as clearly defined as you sometimes see in carefully lighted shots on TV nature shows. Maybe from a higher vantage point they might have looked more defined, but we were stuck on the ground. The round racks of the sauropods were the easiest to see – it looked like the creatures had just ambled down the creek.
Dinosaur tracks, Government Canyon State Natural Area, Texas
Some of the theropod footprints have the distinctive three-toed shape (see Jurassic Park for details) of a predatory, carnivorous dinosaur. We had to look closely to see the 3 toes in some of the footprints but they were definitely there.
The tracks may not have been as distinct as clever lighting might make them, but they were definitely there and fascinating to see up close. We rated them as definitely worth the travel for an in-person experience. 😁 Later we would complement this visit with one to The Witte Museum near downtown San Antonio to see their excellent displays of local and Antarctic dinosaurs.
On With the Loop
Judging from the Joe Johnson’s width, most visitors to this SNA are just going out-and-back to see the dinosaur tracks. But we decided to make a loop by continuing north on the Joe Johnson, past the pioneer Zizelmann House, to the Little Windmill Trail.
Ethnic Germans began arriving in Texas in the 1840s and many settled in the Hill Country around San Antonio. The Zizelmann House is believed to have been built by a family of German bakers in 1882.
Their business was in San Antonio and it’s not clear whether they ever actually lived in this house – which is a classic example of sturdy construction using native limestone. Unfortunately, it was so wrapped in a chainlink fence (to deter vandals) that is was hard to get a clear photo of it.
Past the Zizelmann House, we took the Little Windmill Trail, past another sort of house, to the Sendero Balcones Trail and followed it back to the trailhead.
Our loop came to 8.4 miles (13.5 km) with 360 feet (110 m) of elevation gain. This was a great introduction to hiking in the Texas Hill Country and the dinosaur tracks were the highlight of the loop. Some color was provided by a few wildflowers already in bloom (the flower guide says that there’s always some wildflower blooming somewhere in Texas at anytime of the year). 🌼 The weather cooperated fully by being sunny 😎 and cloudless plus cool in the morning and not advancing to hot and humid until we were almost back to the trailhead. 😁
Yes, I reminded myself of how warm it had been in Texas as I shoveled snow off our porch & front steps this morning. And more snow is due this weekend! On the other hand, 90F in Texas seemed prematurely hot, even for Texas. They could be in for a long, HOT summer down there.
My dinosaur-loving granddaughter would have loved this outing. Glad you could escape to a warm and sunny climate for awhile. Next MN winter storm due later this week, apparently.
Thanks! We went out to the OK highpoint back in 2000 but weren’t thinking about dino tracks back then – only tagging the highpoint. Summit fever and all that. 😞
Thanks! Yes, they don’t look like something from a David Attenborough special and my photos really don’t do them justice. As I said, some shots from above would have helped. But the 3 toes are clearly visit when you’re actually there.
Nice! As always I loved your pics. If you want to extend your travels, there are more dinosaur tracks to see close to Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s highpoint – that is in the far western part of the panhandle. We saw them when we highpointed OK. A bit far from San Antonio though.
Well, to me it seems possible these random depressions have been mis-interpreted. But smarter brains than mine have hopefully correctly identified them with dinosaurs. Nice write up. Thanks Bruce.