Hike it Baby encourages hiking with kids, and challenges my 4-year-old son, Cole, and I to explore all kinds of new-to-us places near our Central Texas home. So when I saw a local blog post about real dinosaur tracks nearby, I knew we would have to find them. These tracks aren’t protected nor are they an official destination/trail.
Ready to embark on our dinosaur hunt, I happily announced to Cole when I picked him up from school that we were going on an adventure! He responded with tears, a tantrum that persisted for the entire 30-minute drive, and demands that I take him home. Fortunately, the weather was nice, traffic was light and I was able to employ my car’s superb backseat noise-canceling system: road noise from cheap tires, rolled down windows and a blaring radio. (Tantrum … what tantrum?)
Driving directions were essentially to drive down an unfamiliar highway to where said highway crossed the San Gabriel River. Just before the river, I exited per directions given, and turned on the road suggested, got slightly lost, found my way and parked alongside the road. Cole’s curiosity surpassed his desire to protest at this point and we set off excitedly.
Making our way on a new trail
Maybe 10 feet from our car, we found a decent-sized rattlesnake that appeared to have lost a fight with a car. Mr. Rattle, as Cole dubbed him, was the highlight of his adventure. After several minutes of investigating Mr. Rattle and mourning his early demise, we were ready to move on. Onward we went, thankful for the reminder that we share our trails – especially those surrounded by rocks, unkempt brush and near water – with snakes. It’s always good to have reminders like that when a hike is going to be mostly barefoot.
As we followed a Jeep trail alongside the highway overpass, I felt like a trespasser. The expansive trail was sandwiched between a concrete riser of the busy overpass and an open field. The trail had not seen much foot traffic and it did not have a welcoming feel. After about 50 yards, there was a cedar tree with miscellaneous clothes – including a bright pink bra – strewn about its branches. The highway overpass abandoned the trail here as it rose up to carry the road over the river, and the trail headed downward toward the San Gabriel River.
We rounded a bend and passed Random Dude parked in a Jeep. Random Dude is probably a nice guy in real life, but his presence along this trail was almost creepy enough for me to abort our mission. The fear wheels in my mom mind were spinning on high as I imagined other scenarios that could happen, and I felt concerned and vulnerable as a lone woman with a small child. Moments away from calling it quits, I saw a dad and kid on the other side of the river and felt comfortable enough to keep going.
Finding an oasis in the desert
Finally, we arrived at the riverbed and were greeted by its rocky surface covered in a plush carpet of moss. Summertime in Texas meant the water was low, so it was easy to pick our way barefoot through the shallow running water. The intermittently slippery moss and uneven terrain kept us at a steady but unhurried pace.
Soon the sound of running water stole our attention and we followed the sound down a very small and hidden watery trail with edges so overgrown with tall grass that the trail was barely visible. At the end of the short trail, we were rewarded with a small pool, a grotto-like feature, and a waterfall. The bluff walls were heavily shaded and covered in a green moss that gave our discovery a muted and magical feel. Two bold crawfish excited Cole and, of course, he shook hands with the waterfall.
We retreated from our oasis and went back to the river where we continued along the rock riverbed, pretending it was the surface of the moon. Eventually the divoted and potholed rock yielded to deep and stagnant water that blocked our path. By backtracking just a few yards, we found a way to exit the river and access a narrow deer trail on higher ground. The trail ran well below the scenic bluff, but the ridge it was on still afforded great views of the river. Barefoot, we picked our way along this trail, moving the tall grass and weeds aside as they vied to reclaim the barren path.
Walking in dinosaur tracks
It was only about a quarter of a mile before the riverbed was exposed again and we were able to descend from our trail on the ridge. In places here, the riverbed was so deeply channeled it seemed the rock itself was in motion. We splashed and played and picked our way through for a short while when, quite suddenly, we happened upon the dinosaur tracks we had come to find.
The three-toed Acrocanthosaurus tracks were in a flat rock part of the riverbed and very visible. In hindsight, we should not have stepped in them or contributed to their deterioration, but it was cool for Cole to be able to touch and see these tracks. He compared his foot size to that of his second-favorite dinosaur and took pleasure in walking where he knew a dinosaur had walked before.
After a short time, we retreated back down the river, along the deer trail, across the carpeted section of the riverbed, past Random Dude in the Jeep, past the clothes tree, past Mr. Rattle to our car. The entire hike was maybe 1.5 miles but it proved to be a trek jam-packed with adventure.
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Sandifer.
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As a full-time single mom, full-time mechanical contractor project manager, part-time hoof trimmer and house sitter, and cat herder extraordinaire, Jennifer puts the “work” in working mom. She lives in Central Texas with Cole, a rambunctious 4-year-old human, Mary the actual cat, Milo Mingus the adventurous wiener dog, Lizard the bearded dragon and Daniel the snake. Jennifer and Cole regularly explore the plentiful outdoor spaces in their neck of the woods and beyond. Water and its side-kick, mud, are Cole’s outdoor favorites, while Jennifer revels in seeing the world through Cole’s eyes. Jennifer also enjoys black coffee, cold beer and fantasizing about being able to sleep in.