Notebook: Where the Dinosaurs Roam
Journey to a land before time with a visit to the Connecticut Valley.
TWO HUNDRED MILLION YEARS BEFORE the Eastern tribes walked the Connecticut Valley, dinosaurs ruled New England. Follow in the footprints of the region’s fossil-rich past by visiting museums and parks, or by taking a river cruise. These dino destinations are just a short ride off Route I-91.
Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill
One of the largest preserved dinosaur trackways in North America, this is a place where visitors stroll just inches from fossilized dinosaur footprints. Scientists believe a ceratosaur (perhaps a Dilophosaurus) made this busy maze of three-toed tracks, and a push-button panel lets visitors highlight three distinct pathways left by the 20-foot-long carnivore. A life-size model of the creature dominates a nearby diorama that cycles through a typical dinosaur day, complete with a thunderstorm. Just beyond the park’s geodesic dome, easy nature trails evoke the forest primeval. Check the website for a materials list so you can arrive prepared to make your own plaster model from a real dinosaur footprint, an outdoor activity open May 1-Oct. 31. 860-529-8423, 860-529-5816, dinosaurstatepark.org
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven
If you feel small as you walk beside the skeletons of apatosaurus, stegosaurus and Camarasaurus, you’ll also feel young. Some of the fossils in the museum’s Great Hall date back about 360 million years. You can also see the bones of the giant sea turtle Archelon, 11 feet from nose to tail, as well as the ancient relatives of crocodiles and ostriches. Don’t miss a single creature in Rudolph Zallinger’s 110-foot-long mural, The Age of Reptiles. The painting tells the history of the earth’s evolution. Stop in the Discovery Room on the second floor for a bird’s-eye view of the Great Hall, and visit the third floor’s Magic Planet, an interactive earth that shows what the continents looked like when the dinosaurs were in charge. 203-432-5050, peabody.yale.edu
Dinosaur Footprints Reservation, Holyoke
Step into Triassic-era dinosaur footprints high above the bank of the Connecticut River. Bear left on the path that starts at the small parking area; it leads to open slabs of reddish-brown sandstone. Discerning eyes will spot where three-toed dinosaurs left 134 tracks. Put your hand into these marks in the sun-warmed stone and run your fingertips gently across the ripples from a long-ago lake. A trailhead kiosk offers maps and information. 413-684-0148, thetrustees.org/pages/298_dinosaur_footprints.cfm
Amherst College Museum of Natural History, Amherst
This new museum houses the world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints thanks to Edward Hitchcock, Amherst’s famed 19th-century professor and its third president, who was a pioneer in the science of ichnology—the study of animal traces. With three floors to showcase 80,000 rocks, minerals and fossils collected since 1825, there’s a wealth of stony treasures, including a hadrosaur skeleton and the skull of a triceratops. Rock slabs containing dinosaur tracks, plants and insects are displayed on open metal grids in a separate temperature-controlled room. “Exploration Drawers” give visitors a peek at stones and shells in storage. 413-542-2165, amherst.edu/museumofnaturalhistory
Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center, Northfield
Climb aboard the Quinnetukut II to cruise past exposed layers of Triassic shale that hint at the dynamic forces responsible for preserving eons-old fish, footprints, even raindrops, in stone. Though it’s not always possible to see the minute impressions of the past, bring your binoculars to watch the bald eagles that nest in nearby Barton Cove. The Cove was a rich source of early fossil discoveries, and a hike up the rugged path to the old quarry near the campground will reveal how deep Amherst’s Hitchcock was able to dig up dinosaur tracks. For those who prefer a softer sojourn, rent a canoe or kayak at Barton Cove Recreation Center’s roadside location in Gill. Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center, 800-859-2960, Barton Cove Recreation Center, 413-863-9300