Experience the Northern Dinosaur Trails
As Sherlock Holmes exclaimed to Dr. Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Abbey Grange, “The game is afoot!” And what a foot it is! In northwestern Alberta and northeastern British Colombia, the footprints of thousands of dinosaurs are preserved at numerous track sites snugged up against the Rocky Mountains. These footprints represent a unique category of fossils known as trace fossils.
Unlike the body fossils, such as bones or shells, which are the preserved remains of the animal itself, trace fossils preserve a record of an animal’s activity. According to Dr. Richard McCrea, paleontologist at the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre in Tumbler Ridge, BC, over the course of its lifetime, an animal could produce millions of tracks; as a result, it is actually more common to unearth the fossilized tracks of animals than to stumble upon their skeletal remains.
In fact, the conditions for producing a track site are not the same as those factors which would promote the fossilization of the bone in a skeleton. Tracks will most frequently occur in a rock that is very hard and resistant to erosion. It is not difficult to envision these conditions being met in the many deposits and formations in the Rockies.
Through the study of dinosaur trackways, we can learn how dinosaurs moved and interacted with their environment. The trackways also show which dinosaurs roamed solo and which moved about in groups. These trace fossils are named for the trace itself and not for the animal that made the trace.
According to Dr. McCrea, an initiative is gaining a toehold to one day link these many track sites together in a northern dinosaur trail. Let’s take a walk on the wild side and visit some current stops on the northern leg of the dinosaur trail.