Road Trip Lucky Finds-Dinosaur Footprints!!!

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Road trips are a big part of America’s vacation culture.  I remember many hours spent in the car driving with my family to go camping or visit relatives.  Unfortunately, timelines often get tight so the actual driving part can be very boring for kids and doesn’t allow for many stops or side detours.  So when I started off on our “Great American West Road Trip” I knew I wanted to allow for some unexpected sightseeing in between our different home base destinations.  You never know what you can find, and if you’re willing to stop, some amazing discoveries await you!  We came across one by chance in the northeast corner of New Mexico, in route to Dallas, Texas from Colorado.

Clayton, New Mexico

Clayton, New Mexico

About 5 hours into our drive we were passing through the small New Mexico town of Clayton on highway 87 when I spotted some large dinosaur models on the side of the road in town.  The sign next to the triceratops and brontosaurus said “Clayton Dinosaur Track Way.”  I pulled into a parking lot to turn around and see what those dinosaur tracks were all about.  Next to the dinosaur models was a little tourist information building.  We went inside and inquired about the tracks.  As it turned out, flooding in the area near the lake washed away some ground cover that then revealed approximately 500 dinosaur tracks that had been preserved in the layers of earth below.  The woman in the office said it was 12 miles back west from where we were now, out at Lake Clayton, something we had seen signs for before entering the town.  The 12 miles didn’t seem too far to back track, even on a 35 mile per hour road and we had yet to stop to eat our lunches that I had packed in the cooler.  So off we went.

Dino tracks advertisement in the town.

Dino tracks advertisement in the town.


We drove the curvy road out to the lake in about 25 minutes from their downtown.  We drove into the park and found the sign directing down a dirt road to the dinosaur tracks.  We also noticed that different sections for camping and boat launching to go out on the lake.  We took the road directing us towards the track, at the end, you could park in a lot, but then had a quarter mile walk, around half of the lake, to the sight where the tracks were located.  We took a couple water bottles with us since the temperature was reaching 100.  The walk provided a few spots of shade along the way in addition to a bench under a tree half way along.  At the end of the quarter mile was a hut, with several informational signs inside about the dinosaur tracks.  It was a nice refuge from the sun and a chance for the kids to sit down one more time before we explored the tracks themselves.

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There were stairs that led down to the level of ground from the hut to where the tracks were.  A boardwalk encircled the most numerous and obvious collection of tracks to help preserve the find.  It was quite amazing to see just how many footprints there were.  That just like different types of animals today, they wandered around, intermixing and passing by different breads.  This was the first time that I had ever seen an actual dinosaur footprint!  I had scene a cast of one before in a museum, but never out in the natural environment where the dinosaur physically stepped and left it’s mark.  I have to admit, I think I was a little more blown away than the kids.  Nonetheless, they still asked some questions and thought it was “neat.”

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We slowly made our way back to the car, taking a pause again in all the shaded spots and being fascinated by the bugs that looked like a cross between a cricket and a butterfly.  At the car we unpacked our lunches from the cooler and set up acceptable eating stations at their seats so that we could get back on the road.  Our total detour time was 90 minutes.  Which put us about 30 minutes over the total of 2 hours that I had factored in for us to use as stopping time between southern Colorado and Dallas (we had stopped for an hour at a Wal-Mart that morning to stock up on water and food for the day).  But in the end, I marveled at the fact that we just stood next to the footprints of dinosaurs!  Something I will never forget and I hope my children will grow to appreciate.

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Washington to Utah. Road Trippin’ With a Toddler

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My counter argument to my husband’s idea about living a global nomad life is that I have this belief that you need to have a “home base” to compare all your travels to, a “sugar pill” so to say.  But in order to understand the country you live in you also have to spend some time traveling it.  Well this summer, I decided to start that journey with my kids.  Will they remember it all at ages 2, 5, and 7 years old? May not all of it, maybe not at all, but just like our international travel for this age, I believe the process of travel is just as beneficial to the future as the sights we visit.  So off we went on a 3 week expedition through 10 states.

My sons had the benefit of flying to Denver to meet their grandparents, while my husband and I drove with our 2 year old to meet them.  We left on a Friday night and planned for a Sunday evening arrival in Denver.  During my drive time, and for a few days after our arrival in Colorado, my boys were going to do some RV camping and touring of northern Colorado and Pike’s Peak.  This meant my husband and I experienced the long forgotten life of having just one child!  We loaded up the Yukon and hit the road at 7:30 p.m., hoping that after a movie or two our 2 year old would fall asleep and my husband and I could trade off driving and sleeping to make as much headway through the night.

On the road!

On the road!

We made it to the Oregon/Idaho border at 3:30 a.m. before my husband decided it was time for us to stop and we both took a 3 hour nap at a rest stop.  I woke at 7:30 a.m. local Idaho time, after the 1 hour time adjustment.  I decided that since my daugher was still asleep, I needed to get moving and try to shorten the distance between us and Salt Lake City as much as I could as this would be our first hotel stop.  This allowed my husband and her to sleep another hour as we pushed further along into Idaho.  I needed a personal stop just before Caldwell, Idaho where I found a Sinclair, “Stinker Fuel Stop” that had free showers and nice changing room/toilet stalls in the restrooms.  I quickly changed and we headed off again.

Great stop for free showers near Caldwell, Idaho.

Great stop for free showers near Caldwell, Idaho.

As my 2 year old woke up and became more alert, we all decided it was time for breakfast.  We were coming upon Twin Falls, Idaho and figured it was as good as any place to stop.  We used a quick Yelp search for recommendations and came up with a family style diner called Choate’s Family Diner.  It did not disappoint!  Inexpensive, delicious food was just what this road trip needed!  My daughter got a giant pancake, me an egg, bacon and 1/2 order of hashbrowns while my husband had a full chicken friend steak breakfast plate, $20 after tip fed us all.

Choate's Family Diner was a great breakfast stop in Jerome, Idaho.  Just outside of Twin Falls.

Choate’s Family Diner was a great breakfast stop in Jerome, Idaho. Just outside of Twin Falls.

From here we ventured on to the next gas station to fill up the tank and fill up our stock of beverages for the next hundred miles to the Utah border.  If we didn’t already know we were in America, the special at the fountain drink station said it all.  Just $1 for a size large (32 oz.) fountain drink while the medium size remained $1.55.

Can't beat a deal on caffeine in America. Just $1 each!

Can’t beat a deal on caffeine in America. Just $1 each!

Fully caffeinated, we were ready to cross into state #4 of the trip and begin a little discovering of the surrounding area of the Great Salt Lake.